Sunday, November 28, 2010

“The City of Eternal Spring”

Right. Apparently “spring” in Spanish is the equivalent of monsoon! This weather is so reminiscent of the rainy seasons in both Thailand and India that I could almost believe I were in either place when I sit here. I’m on the newly green veranda right now and although sitting ten feet inside the roof, am still getting sprayed. The thunder is rumbling and cracking overhead and the lightning is beginning to flash. There’s barely a pause between the two; the storm is literally right above us and I think this valley must have excellent acoustics because it is impossibly loud.

This rain happens every single day and you can watch the dark clouds roll across the sky and see the misty silver rain envelop the valley. It keeps the vegetation green and the air clean and fresh, but this constant rain is also causing mudslides and flooding all over the country. Apparently this weather has been constant since July and, Miles assures me, is quite uncharacteristic. It’s the result of La Niña and El Niño occurring in the same year, the weather patterns that are probably responsible for the unseasonable snow that Seattle is having right now.

But who doesn’t love a good thunderstorm? And Bowie doesn’t seem to mind, accustomed as she is to the daily hammering, drilling, etc. that forms our daily soundtrack at the hostel. Plus, what better way to discover the less than watertight sections of the roof?! Even so, with my hot-blooded tendencies molded so carefully by a few years in the tropics, I’ll welcome the “springier” side of this city when it finally arrives.

Operation Fluency

Call me a nerd, but I LOVE learning languages. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to be learning Spanish. There was a time in Thailand when I somewhat dejectedly accepted the fact that I would never know another language as well as I did Chinese. After all, I‘d had the benefit of university courses and full-immersion language programs to help me. But oh, how times have changed.

Spanish and I, we’re going to be best friends. Best friends forever, even. BFFs. I don’t just want to get by in Spanish, speaking enough to order food and direct a taxi. I don’t just want to formulate broken sentences, stringing enough words together to have the same simple conversations over and over again about my family, work, and where I’m from. I don’t want to only know the conjugations of verbs in the forms that I use and need most frequently. In fact, I don’t want even a part or a little bit of anything . . . I want it ALL.

I want to casually read the newspaper with my cup of coffee in the morning, skim a Garcia Marquez short story in the afternoon, and dip into Cervantes’ Don Quixote before I fall asleep at night. I want to make grocery lists, write emails, and keep my journal in Spanish. I want to know every conjugation of every verb and use flawless grammar. I want to always know the exact words to express my sentiments and never need to substitute one that only half means what I want to say. I want to wax poetic about the weather with the checkout lady at Exito, delve into human rights with taxi drivers, and debate politics with the fruit vendor down the street.

So, I’m not there yet, but a girl can dream. And in this case, I truly believe that I can make this dream a reality. Maybe I only just learned the past tense, get lost if a conversation takes an unexpected direction, and fall over even the words and phrases that I do know when put on the spot, but I’ll get there. I’ve only been here for two months and really learning Spanish for one. And I’m making progress with the help of my teacher, Ruben, and his infinite patience with my long pauses and probing language questions; Miles and his tolerance of my adding basic Spanish queries to the barrage of questions he is faced with and explanations he has to give at the hostel everyday; and my dearest friend Collins, Spanish Dictionary extraordinaire. It’s only a matter of time . . .

Farewell, RDF

There’s been a spell of quiet on my blog as I’ve focused on finishing my work for RDF and settling into Medellin. I worked remotely for RDF through the end of October and ended up running over one week into November. This was mostly writing and finishing as many projects as possible given my early departure from the organization. I wrote the content for the website, drafted a volunteer information packet, wrote new items for a flashier version of the Annual Report, and wrote a report on the Washington University program from the summer.

All of this work was with the intention of putting as much of the knowledge that I gained over the last year down on paper to serve as a guide and reference for future volunteers and employees. Nearly everything I did at RDF was from scratch since I was filling positions that hadn’t previously existed, there was very little documentation, and few systems were in place. Hopefully, this will allow for greater productivity and less reinventing of the wheel.

As much as I loved my work with RDF, I have to say I’m relieved to have officially finished. I’ll continue to be available in a consulting type position whenever necessary for volunteers in the future, but my official responsibilities are over. I found it difficult to stay as involved and inspired as usual during the last month of work. Of course, part of this is due to the conflict between needing to be at a computer working and wanting to explore this new city, culture and language. However, I think a larger factor was that, although I often perform best when left to my own devices, I also thrive off of contact with and feedback from others as well as inspiration from my surroundings. Most of all, I detest feeling as though I’m not performing at my best. Although I enjoy when my environment challenges me to perform better, I’d rather not fight against it, especially an environment as lovely as Medellin.

So here’s a final farewell to RDF, in a working capacity, and a thank you for the incredible amount of knowledge that I have gained about the inner working of nonprofits, life in rural India, and myself.