Monday, January 25, 2010

2009 in review

Five months ago, I arrived in Bogota with two big suitcases, a backpack, and no idea what to expect. I was immediately welcomed into Colombia by Audra, Laura-Catherine, Myriam, Oscar, and the Bishop. After a few months of learning the ropes, I feel like Colombia is my home. I love this country, the culture, and the people here. While looking forward to 2010, here are my top ten experiences/accomplishments of 2009 in Bogota:

10. Mastering the transportation system. After taking a few wrong buses with Brittany at the beginning, we have figured out the ins and outs of the buses and transmilenio. Of course, now they are trying to change the system on our street. We are a little confused, but I don't think anyone here really understands it yet.

9. Keeping up with my blog and emails. It has been so great to hear from everyone back home through emails and skype. I really miss everyone but it's so nice to know that I have your love and support...thank you! We also have a new site with all of our pictures from Colombia.
Click here to see it!

8. Operación de los pumas. We cleared out a hill and turned it into a place for the kids to play. The teamwork required to make it happen was amazing. Our kids really came together and worked hard. My Dad also made a huge difference, with the help of little Diego. It's great to know that they will have a place to play this year!

7. Arepas, ajiaco and bandeja paisa. I have tried almost all of the traditional colombian cuisine. Rice, beans, and fruit juice are an integral part of our diet now. Some of the "local treats" that I would rather not try again are chicken feet, liver, and cow hoofs.

6. Español. I can communicate pretty well with everyone now and my confidence level is much higher. We even learned the Lord's prayer in spanish so Brittany and I don't have to use the book of common prayer anymore.

5. Catching a piranha. My trip to the Amazon with Sam was amazing and I was able to see and do so much. After seeing pink dolphins, catching piranhas was the best part of the trip!

4. Novena. 9 days before Christmas: 3 in usme, 3 in soacha, 3 at the cathedral. It was a whirlwind of traveling to the missions, learning new songs, and celebrating Christmas. It was great to be able to share a few days of it with my mom and I really miss the songs we sang over and over and over again!

3. Building relationships with families throughout the church. Brittany and I had a blast exploring Padre Diego's family farm in Palmira. I have become very close with a displaced family in Soacha and I love staying with Padre Carlos and his amazing 3 kids. We always enjoy spending afternoons and saturday mornings with Padre Romero and his family.We have many special relationships with the cathedral congregation as well. A lady who cleans the office has a granddaughter, Sara, who hangs out with us during our office days. She's like a little sister to us. Lastly, Myriam and Oscar (my Colombian parents) were such an important part of my transition process and I am so fortunate to have had that special time with them together.

2. Oscar. My Colombian host dad made such an impact in my life in the short time I knew him. He opened his heart to me and made a huge difference in my life. Through him, I learned how much reaching out to people can help them feel more comfortable. I will never forget this life lesson that Oscar taught me during the brief time we shared such a special friendship. He will always hold a special place in my heart!
1. The pumas! When Brittany and I showed up that day in December and the kids came running down the hill to hug us, we were overcome with love and happiness. Those kids are so special to us and we love working with them. The relationships that we have built with every single child are so strong and remind us why we're here.

As you can see, it's been a great five months and I'm so happy to be here. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such loving and welcoming people. This is an amazing experience and I'm learning a lot. Thanks to everyone who has helped make this possible! We've been meeting with the priests here, and have a few meetings lined up this week to discuss the rest of our time here. My next blog will be full of our plans and goals for 2010.

Love, Kate

Friday, January 15, 2010

the amazon!

On my second trip to Colombia, Kate and I decided to explore the Amazon. When Kate first brought up the prospect of trekking into the jungles of Colombia, I was skeptical to say the least. After a little research we discovered that the town of Leticia was not only safe, but an excellent starting point for an Amazonian tour. We booked our guides through Amazon Jungle Trips and at 9 o'clock Monday morning, Kate and I departed the small port town of Tapatinga, Brazil with our boat driver Jorge and his son Frank. It was a 2.5 hour trip down the Amazon and Javari rivers, and we were able to meet some locals from the village of
Gamboa as well as a monkey named Martina that a family had in its backyard.

When we arrived at Zacambu lodge, our base camp for our 5 day tour, it seemed as if we might have the place to ourselves. Our solitude did not last long, as we were soon joined by an Irishman, a group of 4 Americans (2 young sisters, their mom and their aunt) and a group of 6 Americans and 1 Colombian (most of whom were teachers in the northern Colombian town of Baranquilla). We ended up sharing a boat and guide (also named Jorge) with this group of 7, and Kate now has a great group of friends to visit.

I don't think either of us fully knew what to expect from the jungle, but each day was full of new adventures. From a three hour trek through the jungle where we viewed a variety of plant and animal life, to piranha fishing and pink dolphin spotting, Kate and I now have numerous once-in-a-lifetime memories that I never thought I would have the opportunity to experience. Some of the best times were even just relaxing on the river, enjoying each other's company, as well as that of our guides and new friends. On our last night at the lodge, we were lucky enough to view not only an amazing Amazonian sunset, but multiple pink and gray dolphins. It was a perfect ending to a great trip.

Returning to Leticia, we were able to enjoy a few of the luxuries we had cell phone service and a few ice cold beverages (only $.80 each). As our plane took off and we looked back on the vast sea of trees, all I could think of was Dr. Alan Grant when he leaves the island of Jurassic Park, and I couldn't believe the trip we had been loking forward to for so long was already over.

My second trip to Colombia not only opened my eyes to an entirely new world, it also made my appreciation for the city of Bogota grow immensely. Kate is amazing for all that she has done and all that she has learned while being down there. While it is difficult to be away from someone I love so much, I know that she is in the right place and that the Colombian people are fortunate to have her. I look forward to my return!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Love to Haiti

I was shocked to find out Tuesday evening about the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti. I immediately thought about Mallory and Jude, fellow YASCers serving at an Anglican seminary in Port-au-Prince. Brittany and I were very worried about the safety of our friends and of all the people of Haiti. The next day, after many hours of refreshing my email and facebook messages from Curt (another YASCer serving in Ecuador), we were relieved to find out that they were both safe! Please keep Jude, Mallory, all the people of Haiti, and their families in your prayers.
(Mallory is in the middle with the yellow headband. This is from our orientation in Toronto)
(Jude and Emily at our orientation)YASCers 2009-10. I love this group! While waiting to hear about Jude and Mallory, everyone was in touch with eachother from 3 different continents (South America, Africa, and Asia). We are a very close-knit group and are always looking out for each other. For more details and for ways to help Haiti, click here.
Love, Kate

Saturday, January 9, 2010

hija mia!

It took a few minutes for it to sink in. I couldn't believe it, and still am having trouble comprehending this incredible loss. Arriving to Colombia about four months ago, I was nervous and didn't know what to expect. When Audra and Laura-Catherine dropped me off at Oscar and Myriam's apartment, I immediately felt at home. That first night, Oscar kept me up until 1am, telling me all about his family, his travel adventures, Colombian politics, how to stay safe in Bogota, etc...
Throughout my month living in their apartment, we shared meals together every day. We would alternate saying grace, and his would always be the longest, being sure not to leave anyone out, including my family and friends back home. He would always ask about my family and "tio sam" (his nickname for Sam). One morning, when I went to Bosa for the first time, he surprised me by waking up at 6:45am just to walk me to the transmilenio (metro) stop. He was always looking out for me.
I have spent time with his huge family through many reunions and dinners. He loved talking about his kids and grandchildren, and how much he missed them all the way in Canada. The church community loved him and he would always bring lighthearted humor to every service or meeting. Everyone at the apartment complex knew him and his jokes. Needless to say, he touched a lot of lives and will be missed greatly.
One of my favorite memories of Oscar happened about a month ago. I went to Exito (my favorite Colombian store..basically a "target") to buy my usual cornflakes and granola bars. As I was getting ready to check out, I saw Oscar walk in. I ran up to him and gave him a big hug. With a huge smile he told me that he was very happy to see me and that he was waiting for Myriam to get there. I decided to wait with him and we spent about 20 minutes talking on a bench in the women's clothing section. He always knew how to make me laugh and it was so nice to spend that special time together.
Like I mentioned in a recent blog from when my mom was here, we went out to dinner with Miriam, Oscar, Brittany and Andrew. Oscar didn't order dessert, but he knew that he could get away with eating over half of my bowl ice cream...and did. I know that my entire family is so grateful for all that he and Miriam have done for me. I'm so glad that my mom was able to express that to them in person that night.

After hearing the news yesterday, I thought about all of my special memories with Oscar on the plane back. Even though I only knew him for about four months, they are endless. When I arrived in Bogota last night, I gave Myriam a call and I couldn't help breaking down. She is such a strong woman with an incredible faith. She reminded me that he is in a better place and will always be looking over us. Oscar knew how much we all loved him and went peacefully in her arms. This morning, Brittany, Laura-Catherine, and I went over to her apartment for breakfast. There were moments of laughter and tears as we reminisced. I'm sure church tomorrow won't be the same, but I know he will be there with us.
I hope everyone had a great time ringing in the new year. Feliz 2010 from Bogota. I will soon post an update on my incredible trip to the amazon with Sam. Please keep Myriam, Oscar's mother and family, the church community, and all of those who knew and loved him in your prayers.

Love, Kate