Kinda Famous

Last week I got into an Uber on the way to the office.  I know that is not a sentence that you would normally expect to see a Peace Corps Volunteer write.  Last year, due to security concerns on urban buses in the main cities, Peace Corps Colombia Volunteers were told to start using taxis and then ask for reimbursement from the office.  This was marginally better but created a huge headache for the office staff in charge of reimbursements.  And to be completely honest, grabbing a taxi off the street is not a safe guarantee.  Most taxis are affiliated but there’s always a chance that someone could be looking to get a little extra cash from an unsuspecting gringo.  After a while, headquarters approved our request to start using Uber.  The ride is charged directly to the Peace Corps Colombia account so there is no reimbursement paperwork headache.  And even better, the Peace Corps receives an email with the name of the driver, what route he took, and how long the volunteer was in the car.  It was a great move for security.

So anyway, I got into this Uber.  The Uber culture in Colombia is very different from the Uber culture in the states.  In the states, you sit in the back, don’t talk at all, and then get out and rate the experience 5 stars.  In Colombia, you have to sit in the front of the car.  That’s because the taxi union is so strongly against Uber that if they see someone sitting in the back seat, they’ll know it’s an Uber and either harass the driver or call the police and report him.  (I say him because in over two years of using Uber, I’ve only had three female drivers).  Also, most of the drivers are very talkative.  They are even more interested to know why this gringo just got into their car.  It’s something that is innate in Colombia culture.  They are curious and engaging.  They want to connect with everyone that crosses their path.  They want to tell you about their cousins living in Miami or how bad they were at English in high school.  They want to know about Peace Corps and what I think of Colombians and what about this weather? Hot, huh?

As I settled into the car, the man started the usual chatter.  What are you doing here? What’s Peace Corps? How long have you been here?  Three years?? Wow! You’re already Colombian! Where do you live? Fundación?? That’s hot, huh?  And then he started to tell me a story.  He said he often picks up gringos in his car.  They like to use Uber because taxis charge them double.  That’s the gringo price.

He told me that one time he was driving a gringa that also worked for an organization like mine.  She lived in a pueblo up in the mountains overlooking the sea. She was only supposed to work in Colombia for two years but she fell in love with a man from her pueblo and decided to stay.  But, tragically, she was moved 5 hours away to a city in the Magdalena department.  He couldn’t remember the name but it was very hot there.  She had to work in this other city and could only see the man she loved once a week when she came into Barranquilla for work.

I paused.  Okay… That story sounds suspiciously familiar.

“Did she used to live in a town called Tubará?” I asked. “And did she get moved to Fundación?”

“Yes!” He yelled, honking the horn in excitement.

“Okay that’s me but I have some clarifications and also a lot of questions.  Did I tell you that story?”

“Yes! I remember you now! I picked you and your boyfriend up from the mall and we dropped him off somewhere but you continued on with me and I asked about your relationship and you told me everything! I didn’t recognize you because you look very tired this time.”

“Ok, that’s oddly intimate for me to share with my Uber driver and also I’m not wearing any makeup but alright.  Also, I want you to remember this the next time you tell this story.  I did not stay in Colombia for a boy.  I stayed in Colombia because I knew I could do good work in my organization.  I stayed because I had an opportunity to make changes in Peace Corps Colombia.  I stayed because I truly love Colombia and want the work we do here to help the people.  I stayed for a million reasons, and yes, the boyfriend was an added bonus and I love him very much, but he was not the reason I stayed.”

He nodded along but I could tell he preferred the story of a gringa falling madly in love and deciding she was unable to leave her Colombian lover to return to her lonely life in the states.

And I knew the story he would tell every other person that got into his car would not be about the gringa who got a job in Colombia and stayed an extra year.  It would be about the gringa who fell in love with a boy, and a country, and couldn’t bear to leave.


Two Years

A year and a half ago I bored y’all with the details of my relationship with my Colombian boyfriend on our six-month “anniversary.”  Well guess what?? We just celebrated our two-year anniversary last month!  So I thought I would give you guys a little update and bore you again by being all lovey-dovey.

Two years.  To be completely honest, the first year of our relationship was relatively easy.  We lived a grand total of five minutes away from each other (walking) and would at least see each other every other day.  We could go on spontaneous dates to watch the sunset or walk to the tienda and get an ice cream.  We got to cook together and spend the evenings on the balcony watching the stars wink into existence.

And then I moved.  Five hours and three bus rides away.  And that was not easy at all.  For anyone that’s done long-distance, did it kind of turn you into a crazy person for a little bit?  Just me?  Suddenly, missed phone calls seemed like travesties, canceled dates seemed like metaphors for the whole relationship, every question about how our relationship was going seemed like someone was just waiting to hear the juicy gossip of how it all fell apart.  That’s how I felt for the first month or so.  It didn’t seem worth it.  It seemed like I was just clinging to something because I didn’t know how to end it.  Because he was a good guy and didn’t deserve to be dumped just because I moved away.  I have a bad tendency of engaging in this self-fulfilling prophecy.  I wanted to tell myself that it was ok to end everything because it wasn’t going to work out anyway and it’s better to end it now instead of later.

Huh, this blog post isn’t as lovey-dovey as I thought it was going to be…

I didn’t really tell anyone that all these thoughts were going through my head.  I would just tell everyone that “things are going great!” and “it’s hard but worth it!”  And one night was I was skyping with my friend and she asked me how it was going and I did the usual, “things are going great so hard but so worth it distance makes the heart grow fonder blah blah blah.”

Pause. She squinted at me suspiciously.  “Do me a favor? No self-sabotaging this time around, ok?”

“Me??” Eyes wide, pretending to be shocked that anyone could think I would ever do a thing like that.

“Yeah dude. Give him a chance.”

And it wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I wasn’t giving him a chance at all.  That I was just looking for the excuse to end it all so it didn’t have to be hard.    Why are BFFs always right??

So I started putting in actual effort.  I tried to be more understanding.  I made an effort to see him at least once a week.  I was frequently traveling to the main city, Barranquilla, to train the new volunteers that arrive in country.  After a day of training, I would get on a bus and go back to Tubara to stay with Junior and his family (Colombians live with their parents until marriage).  I felt so guilty about that.  I felt like I was intruding on this poor family, making them cook me dinner despite my protests, making them accommodate me.  I complained to Junior frequently about how awkward I felt staying there until he finally said, “Katrina, you are part of this family.  My parents, my brother, my sister…they all love you and they love to see you.  And they see how hard this is for us and they see how happy you make me.  So you’re not being a burden to anyone.  This is your home as well.”


Things That Are Annoying About Long-Distance Relationships:

I like the convenience of texting throughout the day.  He hates texting.

He likes a phone call every night.  I hate talking on the phone in Spanish because it’s really hard to understand.

Whenever he comes and visits, usually just for a weekend, I end up cooking all his favorite dishes, which means we have enough food to feed a small army and I end up with weeks of leftovers and I get really sad if he doesn’t eat everything I cook even though it’s physically impossible.

I think my spine has compacted into a tiny little box from all the hundreds of hours I spend on a bus traveling to see him.

Our lunch dates in the city are rushed because we both have to get back to work or studying.

People here ask me if I want a boyfriend in Fundacion (my current town) since mine lives far away.

His friends joke he has girlfriends in Tubara and Barranquilla just to see how I’ll react and it takes all my will power to seem like a chill girlfriend and laugh it off instead of turning into the Incredible Hulk.



Things That Are Great About Long-Distance Relationships:

I sincerely value every second that we get to spend together, because they’re few and far between.



Sunset date nights


Still working on getting him to smile and pretend like he likes me


Trying to find a filter that works for both our skin tones aka stop making me look like a ghost


Eternal Summer of the Sweaty Mind

There’s something strange about living in the land of eternal summer.  First of all, anyone who says that California does not have seasons is sorely mistaken.  The coast of Colombia does NOT have seasons.  California has millions of seasons in comparison.

According to the locals there are seasons though.  Rainy season one and rainy season two.  The first rainy season is in April and lasts about a month or so.  This is the less intense rainy period.  In October and September there is the really rainy season.  That’s when it pours every single day and looks exactly like what you imagine a tropical coast to look like.

It took me about two years but now I can feel the imperceptible changes throughout the year.  December is “chilly” and brings the strong winds.  July is the hottest.  February is the calmest.  Which is probably why they have their week-long Carnaval celebrations during February.  It’s the most stable time.

Despite all of these miniscule changes, I am essentially living in an eternal summer.  This month marks three years of living in Colombia.  And I can’t believe it.  Like I literally cannot grasp that that much time has passed.  You could tell me that I am 22, just graduated college, and have been volunteering for a summer in Colombia before starting grad school in September.  You could tell me that only a few months have passed and I would 100% believe you.

I remember my first dinner in Colombia, in a hotel with 33 other tired, anxious and excited gringos.  The current volunteer sitting next me to looked at me and said, “The days are long but the years are short,” and I was like…yikes.  That sounds like the least pleasant way to spend a few years of my life.

But she was right.  The hot days seem to drag on forever.  You could have been working all morning, sweating, trying to corral students, dealing with problems, chatting with counterparts, calling other Peace Corps Volunteers, cleaning the house, cooking lunch, and then you look at the clock and it’s 10 am.  But I swear to you that the years have passed in the blink of an eye.  Three years of my life.  That’s grad school.  That’s a job.  That’s a relationship.  That’s a few seasons of Game of Thrones.

I’ve heard before that time is a construct.  And that is not a concept that I am mentally able to grasp.  I can’t understand how we could construct something that moves in a seemingly linear fashion.  One hour leads to another leads to a day leads to a week leads to a month leads to a year leads to a lifetime.  It seems like a natural progression.  It’s worked that way my entire life.  But this… I don’t know. This feels different.  This feels unimaginably circular.  It’s something I’m clearly having trouble expressing.  But I feel like I’ve been here for no more than a day… but also I’ve been here my whole life.  When summer never ends that means there’s no fall, no winter, no spring.  That means the natural milestones that I’ve always had no longer direct and control my life.  It might also have something to do with the fact that for the first time in 22 years my calendar is not focused on a school year.  School starts in August.  Christmas break when it gets cold.  Spring break when it starts to get warm enough.  Summer break.  Repeat.

So it’s hard to say if this is new passage of time is due to becoming a real live adult (yikes) or due to my eternal Colombian summer.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is… you’re not allowed to get mad at me for not keeping up my blog every week like I promised.  Because I’m pretty sure I just posted something yesterday.

Mango Cheesecake

I promised I would try to write at least once a week and I’m actually following through!  This time we’re going to do something a little different.

On the Colombia coast we are in my favorite season: mango season.  Loyal fans of the blog have already heard me talk about mangoes A LOT.  You can literally see the boughs of the trees bending toward the earth because they are so laden with fruit.  When you walk through the streets you are guaranteed to see gangs of youngsters crowded underneath the shade of the trees, plotting on how they are going to knock the fruit out of the upper branches, arguing over the merits of a long stick or a well-thrown shoe, scrambling to catch the falling fruit before it splats on the well-packed dirt.

As much as I love mangoes, I can only eat about 30 a day before I start to get tired of them.  So I decided to try some new kitchen experiments.  I present you: Mango Cheesecake!  A couple of notes first.  And I know, no one ever reads the notes on a cooking blog (they just skip to the recipe) but these are important!

Below I have two different versions.  The first one is a version that you bake and then refrigerate.  I am one of the fortunate few in Peace Corps that has an oven.  Most Colombian households on the coast don’t have an oven.  Or if they do it is not used at all, instead becoming an extra Tupperware cupboard.  However I also attached a second version, which is a no-bake cheesecake.  For those of you that are blessed with an oven and can’t decide which one to make, there are a few differences.  The first version was adapted from the TV show The Great British Baking Show, so it is very decadent and rich.  The second version is very light and refreshing.  Both are delicious and I honestly don’t have a favorite.




mango cheesecake

Mango Cheesecake (bake and refrigerate)

For the crust

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 large egg, beaten, for the egg wash


For the filling

About 2/3 cup mango puree (I added almost a cup to make it super mango-y)

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Zest from a lime

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 1/2 cups mascarpone (I had to substitute this… there was no way I was going to find mascarpone in the pueblo) OR 16 ounces cream cheese, ½ cup sour cream, ¼ cup heavy whipping cream (mix well)

1 cup crème fraiche (also had to substitute this) OR 1 cup sour cream

4 large eggs, plus 4 large egg yolks


For the whipped cream (optional)

Buy it at the store or use heavy whipping cream with a little bit of white sugar and vanilla extract and make your own.

If you are in Colombia, you should buy a packet of Chantilly Royal and then add a cup of milk (and be prepared to sweat a lot when you whisk it until it has stiff peaks).  It will either be in the powdered milk section, the baking section, or the gelatin section.  That’s the only way you can make whipped cream here without the cream turning chunky.



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust: Combine the light brown sugar, butter, and flour in a food processor; pulse just until they start to clump. Add the oats and pulse just until incorporated. The mixture should be fairly uniform and cohesive.  If you don’t want to use a food processor, or you’re like me and don’t want to wash out the blender, you can mix with your hands.  Make sure to cube the butter beforehand if you mix with your hands.

Use a little more butter to grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Press the crust mixture into the base of the pan; bake for 10 minutes or until browned. Brush the crust with the egg wash, then bake for another 5 minutes. Let cool; leave the oven on. If you do not have a springform pan: I used a regular shallow pie pan.  However when I poured the mango mixture in, I had about half leftover.  So I just made another one a few days later. You will have to make the crust again.

For the filling: Reduce the oven temperature to 320 degrees. Wrap the outside of the springform pan in a double layer of aluminum foil (to prevent water from getting in) and place it inside the roasting pan. If you aren’t using a springform you don’t have to wrap anything. Boil a kettle of water.

Combine the mango puree, lime juice, lime zest, granulated sugar, mascarpone, crème fraîche, eggs and egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed until smooth. Pour the mixture into the springform pan or your regular pan (seated in the roasting pan); you can fill it all the way to the top; it doesn’t rise; transfer the roasting pan to the middle oven rack, then pour in enough boiling water so it comes halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until the cake is set, with a slight wobble in the center. Check the water level during baking; you may need to add more to maintain the same level before the cake is done.

Transfer the springform pan from the water bath to a wire cooling rack; discard the foil and try to blot up any water that might have pooled in the base of the pan. Let the cheesecake cool to room temperature; cover with plastic wrap (if it comes in contact with the surface, that’s okay), then refrigerate for at least a few hours and preferably overnight.

You can then serve with a dollop of whipped cream!  If you want to go wild you can use coconut cream to make your whipped cream and top it with toasted coconut flakes.



No-Bake Mango Cheesecake

1 cup finely crushed graham crackers

½ cup unsalted butter, melted

½ cup white sugar



1½ cup cream cheese

1 cup heavy cream (Colombia edit: I use crema de leche)

½ cup mango pulp

½ cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon gelatin

½ cup hot water




Make the crust: Combine the graham crackers, sugar and melted butter. Press this mixture to a loose bottom tin or the dish you are using.  I used a large rectangular pan that I usually use for cheesecake.  Refrigerate it while you make the rest of the cheesecake.

Make the filling: Dissolve gelatin in hot water. Whip heavy cream with two to three tablespoons of sugar until soft-medium peaks form (if you’re making this in Colombia, whip until it thickens).  Set aside.  Add the rest of the powdered sugar to the cream cheese and mix until it becomes smooth. Combine the mango puree and warm gelatin mixture. Add this to the cream cheese mixture. Mix well. Fold in the heavy cream and mix.  Pour this mixture over the crust and return it to the fridge. Refrigerate for about four hours, or until you notice that it has set.

My New Job

Surprise! I’m still alive.  And very embarrassed that it’s been five months since I’ve last posted an entry.  If I thought my life was busy the last two years, I was sorely mistaken.  I’m going to try not to make excuses though.  It’s time for me pick back up where I left off.


So, I no longer live in Tubará, but I still live in Colombia.  I live in a town called Fundación.  It is vastly different from Tubará.  Tubará had about 3,000 people.  Fundación has 70,000.  That’s the size of my home town in the states.  That’s a city. That’s not this small little idyllic town on a hill above the sea that I was used to.  It takes me five hours to travel by bus from Tubará to Fundación.  There isn’t an ocean but there is a river, and the only coal train left in Colombia passes by every thirty minutes, bringing the coal from the sierra nevadas to the interior or to the coast for export.  My house is also an office.  I have two computers, internet, a printer, and an extra bed.  This is so that volunteers that live nearby, relatively speaking, can come and use my apartment like a “hub,” so they don’t have to travel all the way to the main office in Barranquilla.


For those of you familiar with Peace Corps, you’re probably wondering, “Why is Katrina still in Colombia?  I thought service was only two years long.”  Peace Corps service is only two years.  However, I applied and was accepted to be a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader.  I share that title with another guy from my group, Alex, who also applied to stay.  We’re the only ones still in the country from our original group of 33 volunteers.  The extension is for one year, so we’ll be wrapping up in late November.


This new job is vastly different.  I am not longer working in the school as an English teacher, nor working in the community in development projects.  It is now my job, as the experienced and wizened volunteer, to train and support current and incoming volunteers.  This is honestly something that I love doing, and, not to be cocky, it’s something that I’m really good at.  You guys have heard a lot of self-deprecating remarks over the years.  I figure it’s time to throw in some compliments every once in a while.


A new group of Practical English for Success Volunteers (English teachers) arrived in January and for the following three months I trained them alongside the office staff.  My big project was called “Resiliency,” a six-session program that works to train volunteers on recognizing the unique difficulties of Peace Corps and how to overcome them.  Focusing on mental health early on is extremely important, and can help volunteers to have better service, both in terms of productivity and wellbeing.  I introduced them to the Cycle of Vulnerability, showing them that the highs and lows of their service are going to follow a predictable rollercoaster of emotion.  At the three-month mark volunteers are generally elated and super productive.  At the one year mark volunteers are generally depressed and frustrated.  Knowing about these ups and downs before they happen can help volunteers move through the tough times.  As any woman can attest, sometimes it’s nice to know why once a month you are irrationally angry and also cry a lot.


During training I also work with volunteers on understanding the Colombian culture, the history, and the education system.  It’s important to have the insight of a current volunteer who has already gone through everything that you are about to go through.  As hard as the office tries, they will never truly know what it means to be a volunteer.  They don’t know what it’s like to take a bus for eight hours sitting next to squawking chickens and kids throwing up and music blaring from every speaker.  They don’t know what it’s like to take bucket showers or eat in the dark because the lights have gone out again.  They don’t know what it’s like to try to walk into the classroom of someone who’s been teaching for 40 years and try to get them to reinvent their entire curriculum.  That’s something only we understand.


On a daily basis I get phone calls about host family issues, counterpart issues, Spanish issues, safety issues, and anything else you can imagine.  I’m the in-between person.  I’m part of the administration but I also know the reality of Peace Corps service.


Finally, the best part of my job is site visits.  I get to visit every volunteer in their town, meet their host family, work with their counterparts, walk the streets of their town, try food from their favorite street vendor, work through any issues they’ve been having, and sit down and have a long talk with the volunteer.  This is my absolute favorite part of the job.  My travel journal is already bulging with all the new places that I get to write down every week.  Over the next month I will be visiting over 25 towns on the coast of Colombia.  What an incredible way to get to know a country I love so much.


Again, I’m so sorry for the long hiatus.  I’ve set a goal of updating every single week, even if it’s just something small.


That being said, see you next week!

Goodbye Tubará

I don’t know how to say goodbye to my beloved Tubará.  I’ve been sitting here staring at this blinking cursor, thinking about how I can put into words the reason my heart is so heavy today.

Today is my last day living in Tubará.  I’ve been accepted to extend my service for another year, but unfortunately, I will need to move to another town a few hours away. I will go more into that in a later blog entry.

I’ve spent two years in this pueblo, in this casa.  That’s the longest I’ve lived somewhere without packing my life up in boxes for a long time.  It’s not a perfect house.  The sink leaks when I wash the dishes and I have to mop every night.  The walls are littered with scuff marks from overenthusiastic breakdancing, spontaneous play fighting, and vigorous dance parties.  There are paw prints from Lucy chasing giant praying mantises and moths up the wall.  The ceiling is starting to show water leakage marks from the relentless December rains.  My closet smells like humidity and the clothes I never wear in the back smell so badly I’ll probably just throw them away at this point.  My shower door comes off if you don’t open it in exactly the right way.  Some of the false bricks on the front of the house have fallen and the lime green paint is chipped and dirty.

But it’s one of my favorite places in the world.  Sitting on the balcony, drinking coffee in the early evening, a book propped up on my knees, feeling the cool breeze, calling out to people passing by below, Lucy perched on the edge like a gargoyle, the music from the pool hall down the street… that might be my definition of heaven.  Sweating in the kitchen, cooking for my friends while they filter in and out of my house, sometimes perched on the stairs overlooking the kitchen, talking with me or talking amongst themselves or simply sitting in silence, watching me work, sometimes in the living room, playing twister or shouting over the music resonating from their tiny speaker.  Even when they break a glass or the sofa collapses under the combined weight of ten people piled one of top of the other, my little slice of heaven is perfect.

I never thought I would love a place so much.  I never thought spending two years away from my parents, my friends, my house, Trader Joe’s, air conditioning, and English speakers would be so meaningful and beautiful.

I don’t know how to say goodbye.  I want to sneak away in the dead of the night, take my suitcase and board the rickety old bus, sit in the window seat, listen to the vallenato music blaring from the speaker, and cry in the darkness, letting the wind from the cracked window whisk away my tears before they fall from my face as we barrel down the dirt road.

I want Tubará to know that I tried to stay.  I tried so hard.  I want the people to know that it was never my intention to whirl into town like a hurricane, fall in love with every person and every moment and every sun-drenched house and shaded porch, and then disappear as suddenly as a clap of thunder, leaving behind an oppressive rain cloud and memories hanging like heavy mangoes from every tree, bending the branch toward the warm packed earth below.  I didn’t mean to make a home in your hearts and then leave an empty cavern after two years.

I was only supposed to come to this pueblo, teach English, and then go back to my American life, my real life.  But something happened.  And I don’t know when it happened.  But I do know when I realized it.  Someone asked me in class one day, “When do you head home?” And I paused.  And I had to ask, “Do you mean this afternoon or to the United States?”

They say that when you begin to travel, you will never feel complete again.  You will always be longing for your home, or your other home, or your next adventure, or your last adventure.  You will never feel content and you will always wonder if you should be somewhere else.  When I first started contemplating my departure from Tubará, I felt that sentiment.  Deeply.  How will be happy in one place when my heart is completely torn in two? One part is nestled next to the fireplace in my parents’ house, listening to jazz and hearing the soft bustle of the kitchen, wrapped tightly in blankets and love.  The other part is sitting on the edge of a hill, watching the sun melt into the ocean as the day draws to a close and fireflies begin to flit into existence.

Today, though, my heart doesn’t feel split in two.  It feels like it is brimming over, spilling into the lives of every person I touch.  It feels like it cannot contain the love that I feel from every person in my life.  I didn’t become incomplete when I fell in love with Tubará.  I became whole.


Laundry day sucks for everyone, right?

High school: Ugh this is pure torture.  My clothes have to make it from my floor to the laundry hamper. Why is life is cruel?? And once in a blue moon I will have to move allllllll those clothes from the washer to the dryer.  And then I might have to fold them??

College: This is the grossest thing ever, I’m using washers that other people put their dirty clothes in.  Why do I need to pay for ten dryer cycles just to get my jeans dry??  Who even uses quarters anymore?  Now it’s snowing outside and the 30 second walk back to my dorm is going to be brutal.

Peace Corps: Ok, doing laundry in the developed world is the easiest thing ever.  This is what laundry day looks like for this Peace Corps Colombia volunteer.

First, you need to do it on a Sunday or Saturday.  Because it takes all day.  I have to drag myself out of bed on one of my few precious days that I should be sleeping in.  As soon as the sun is up, so am I.  I throw all my dirty clothes into a pile, and if I’m very unlucky, my sheets and towels as well.  Normally I can’t wash my towels on the same day as I wash my sheets, because both need substantial time in the sun and I have limited space.  That means that sometimes, if everything is starting to get smelly, both Saturday and Sunday become laundry days.  And why does everything get smelly?  Because I live in 100% humidity 100% of the time, which means mold and that ever so pleasant mold smell are always lurking around the corner.  I’ve been able to keep my clothes in pretty good condition but there have definitely been some days when I’ve arrived to a meeting and suddenly realized that awful smell is coming from me… which is why I’ve now become the kind of person to keep perfume in my purse.

Once I get everything collected I head out back to the sink, checking there are no toads or spiders in my washing buckets.  I separate everything out, making sure that darks and lights are separated.  More importantly though, I separate things into piles of “What Takes Longest To Dry” and what doesn’t.  I wash the bulkier things first: jeans, sheets, towels, my one jacket.  I fill a bucket with water, dump about five or six articles of clothing in (or a single bedsheet or towel), pour in some laundry detergent (the powder, not the liquid kind; I’m not some kind of millionaire), and then vigorously agitate the water/soap/clothing mixture.  I have two buckets so I can get two “loads” going at once.  Then, I leave the clothes in the buckets to soak for a little bit.  I come back, agitate the water again, let them soak, and then pour the bucket out in the sink.  I run water over the clothes and wring them out over and over and over again, until all the soap bubbles are gone.  Then wring them out one last time, trying to get them as dry as possible.  If it is something large, like the sheets or towels, I fling it over the laundry line and twist the ends until all the water pours out.

When I had chikungunya I had extreme pain in my joints, especially my wrists.  Any pressure or movement would send shooting pains through my bones.  So imagine poor Katrina, trying to wring out her jeans or bedsheets, crying, pouring sweat, unable to get anything dry.  I can honestly say it was one of the more painful experiences of my life, more than anything because it was a necessary evil that I knew I had to do and would spend all day dreading.

Once the clothes are more or less dry, I hang them up on the line.  My laundry line is in the shade for some reason, so I put the less bulky clothes like t-shirts and underwear there, because they dry in about an hour.  Jeans, sheets, and towels I bring to the front of the house.  My porch is closed off by white bars, which are in the direct sun from about 7 am to 1 pm.  I fling my sheets over the bars and within an hour or so, they are already dry and crisp.  I have to say, sun-dried clothing smells and feels amazing.  Especially when they come from this sun.  It feels like I’m taking my clothes out of the over.  Nothing is ever wrinkled because they are all drip dried and crisped by the sun.

I don’t enjoy washing my clothes by hand.  It is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and difficult.  And half the time I get distracted and forget I have clothes sitting in water and then at 3 pm I remember and by then it’s too late and nothing will dry and I have to keep everything out on the line overnight and wait until the next day.

I know when I get back into the states I will be very appreciative of any laundry situation I have, whether it be my own machines or if I have to lug my clothes to the nearest laundromat.   But I also think this newfound appreciation won’t last long.  We as humans are, by nature, adaptable.  One day I will forget how hard it was to wash every item of clothing by hand.  One day I won’t remember the sweating and the joint pain and the feeling that the soap would NEVER come out.  And I’ll go back to complaining about moving things from the washer to the dryer and having to clean out the lint trap.

An Outsider’s Inside View

Tomorrow, October 2nd, 2016, the citizens of Colombia will be heading to the polls to decide if they are going to vote “SI” or “NO” on the peace accord signed back in August.  The Colombian government, under President Juan Manuel Santos, has been in peace negotiations with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in an attempt to end the 52-year-long conflict that has been ravaging Colombia for five decades.

220,000 lives lost; more than 80% were civilians

359 people were killed by landmines in 2013 alone

78 human rights defenders were assassinated in 2013

1,982 massacres

5.7 million internally displaced Colombians

25,000 people disappeared

27,000 kidnappings

Countless victims of sexual assault

These are the numbers of the conflict.  These are the numbers that have defined Colombia for so long.  And tomorrow the people of Colombia will go to the polls and they will decide, “Is this deal the best way to truly achieve peace?”

There is heavy criticism of this peace accord.  But before I get into that I need to say something.

I am an outsider.  I have no right to say what is right and what is wrong for the people of Colombia.  My degree in International Relations with a concentration in Latin American studies does not mean I understand.  The fact that I read The New York Times does not mean I have a grasp on the toll of this conflict.  Even my two years of living immersed in Colombia does not give me any right to tell the Colombian people what they need to do tomorrow.  I have not had a brother go off to fight and never come back.  My parents were not murdered in front of me as a child.  My kids were not disappeared.  My sister was not sexually abused.  I studied this conflict from research essays in the library stacks and articles read from the comfort of a Starbucks.  Even the last two years talking with people in my village about the effect of the war has definitely given me insight and allowed me to sympathize, but I cannot empathize.  And due to the fact that I am an outsider I acknowledge that my role in this historic moment is to listen and try to understand.  I can say from an analytical point of view this deal should be signed.  Actually, the deal is already signed. It was brought before the United Nations last week and signed there.  The FARC is already disarming and traveling from village to village, pleading with the victims to take the next steps toward peace and asking for forgiveness.  So tomorrow, then the people are asked to vote yes or no, I know that the “yes” vote will just affirm the steps that are already being taken.  I do not know what a “no” vote means, since this country is already taking the steps specified in this accord.

Why is there so much resistance to this deal?  In order to reach a compromise with the FARC, the Colombian government had to make some concessions.  There is a clause stating that if an alleged war criminal fully and without hesitation confesses to the entirety of crimes he committed, he will be allowed to go free and might even have a chance to enter Congress, if he can get elected.  Obviously this has people furious.  There are eight million victims in Colombia.  Eight million people that might see their tormentor one day hold a position of power in Congress.  However, if we look at the reality of the clause, there is actually a very small possibility that this would happen.  Let’s say, for example, that a war criminal confesses in detail to the 230 charges against him.  If ever a moment arises in which a 231st crime is discovered that he did not declare in the trial, he will be immediately put into jail for 20 years.  If the prosecutors even find his evidence lacking, he is looking at five to eight years.  The majority of the war criminals will end up in prison.

For many victims, especially families of the disappeared, what they want is truth and reparations, not vengeful punishment.  This clause will hopefully give some peace to the victims.

The government has been working very hard to change the minds of the Colombian people.  A month ago, when the deal was announced, the majority of the people I talked to were firmly against the peace accord.  However, the government has flooded the radio, TV, newspapers, and billboards with messages of support for the deal.  This propaganda has actually had an effect on the people.  Now, when I talk to Colombians I hear more tentative support, even if it is hesitant.  The most common refrain I hear is, “The past is the past; it’s time for us to move on.”  It’s hard to hear.  Many people do not see this deal as the harbinger of peace and prosperity.  After 52 years, sometimes it’s hard to believe it can truly be over.

Tomorrow will be a significant moment in the lives of the Colombian people, whether the vote is si or no.  I hope that this deal will bring true peace to Colombia, so that this incredible country can live up to its potential and show to the rest of the world what the Colombians, and I, already know: this beautiful and vibrant country has so much to offer, if you would only give it a chance.


Vote “yes” and stop this war already



I once read an article that said the thing that makes America great is its postal service, which is actually NOT the first thing that would have come to my mind, surprisingly enough.  Normally we think of things like liberty, freedom of speech, fast food drive-thru windows open at 2 am, and football.  But the editorial said that the ability to send and receive mail and packages with relative confidence that it would arrive, unopened and undamaged, is almost mind-blowingly amazing.

Living in Colombia for two years has actually given me a different perspective.   What makes America truly great is its SIDEWALKS.  In the small village that I live in, sidewalks are not important at all.  You can walk down the street and only have to dodge the occasional motorcycle and bus roaring through town.  But in the major cities, the sidewalk situation is a DISASTER.  Barranquilla, the main city closest to me, has a population of 1.1 million people and I swear to God it does not have a single functioning sidewalk.

I’m not even sure I’m able to accurately explain what a travesty this is.  It’s one of those things you truly have to experience to understand just how annoying the whole thing is.  Every week when I go to the office, I get off the bus and walk 45 minutes through a “good” part of Barranquilla instead of taking a $2 taxi.  I’ve been told the savings are totally worth it.  About ¼ of the walk does not have sidewalks.  That means you get to walk in the street next to the four lane of cars trying to smoosh themselves into the two actual lanes, all the while dodging motorcycles, buses, bikers, and donkey-drawn carts.  Also make sure you duck to avoid any hanging electrical wires.  You never know if they are live.  In the parts that do have sidewalks it’s almost worse.  Trees have ripped up so many concrete slabs that you feel like you are on a very not-fun roller coaster.  There is no uniformity, so your walking time triples as you weave back and forth on the mismatched paths.  And, there is no law or obligation saying you have to keep the sidewalk clear.  So there are ALWAYS cars and motorcycles blocking your path, jutting out from the driveway meant to fit one car and actually housing 700.  Constantly wedging yourself between the cars and trying not to touch the hot metal that’s been sitting in the Caribbean sun for five hours is like the least-fun version of “the floor is lava.”  Sometimes I give up on the sidewalks and try to walk in the street, but that brings me back to the whole cars/bikes/motos/donkey situation.  And if it rains?  Don’t even think about it.  The streets turn into arroyos, literally floods, that can carry whole buses away.  This phenomenon happens because the streets have no sewer system and city planning was not the number one priority of Barranquilla.

Colombia has not had the political stability to be able focus on infrastructure.  They don’t have the political capital to waste on making sure cars aren’t parked in front of sidewalks.  Colombia is in a process of reassessing what their government is possible of, after 52 years of just trying not to give in to the demands of the FARC.

Be that as it may, I prefer to walk around my beautiful village Tubara, where everybody knows my name and hands me free empanadas and bolis (a fruit popsicle you eat out of a plastic bag) and the streets are wide and recently paved and the only thing you have to worry about is one of the thousands of mango trees dropping a ripe mango onto your head.


I recently learned how to make arepas (uh-REY-puh) using corn flour and now I am going to share the “recipe” and, more importantly, the process, with you!

Arepas are like the pancakes of Colombia, and maybe South America in general.  They can be made with either wheat flour or corn flour, but are more traditionally made with corn flour.  I learned a few months ago how to make corn flour but that is a VERY labor intensive process, so I usually cheat and buy corn flour for a dollar at the local tienda.

Now when I said I was going to tell you the “recipe,” that term in itself is very lose.  The recipe is:

Pour corn flour in bowl.

Add a little bit of salt.

Add a little bit of sugar.

Add water until it becomes the desired consistency.


The end.

The desired consistency is the part that is hardest for me.  It should almost be like play-dough.  It should stick together and form a perfect ball, it shouldn’t stick to your fingers, and when you press the ball down, the edges shouldn’t crack.


This is my friend, Richards, who helped teach me how to make arepas.  The ball of dough in his hand is roughly the size you want the arepa to be.


Then you lay down plastic wrap, put the dough on top, and fold the plastic back over the top, leaving room at the fold for the arepa to spread out.  You then use a cutting board or flat object to flatten the ball inside the plastic wrap.  The edges should not crack.  If they crack, put the dough back and add a little more water.


Before and after picture of the arepa.  Do you see the small hole in the flat arepa?  That needs to be in ever single arepa.  Close to the edge but not so close that the dough breaks off. This is tradition.  The hole needs to be there so when you dump it in a vat of frying oil, you can fish the arepa out with a hook.  Even though I had neither the vat of oil nor the hook, it was still necessary to make the hole.


My boys working hard in a blisteringly hot kitchen to teach me this staple of Colombian food. Left to right: Richards, Samir, and Junior.


Junior flipping the arepa in the non-tradition way… with a spatula.


Midway through the cooking process.



The finished product!  It is put on paper towels or napkins to absorb the grease and then eaten plain.  You can add butter, or honey, or any number of things (hot sauce for me, not for the Colombians).

This is the process for a fried arepa, but you can also grill them with grated cheese and they are incredible.

Ultimately, any way that you serve these delicious little pancakes will result in the manifestation of this Colombian proverb:

“Barriga llena, corazon conteno”

“Full stomach, happy heart”

Buen provecho!!