Monday, November 28, 2011

New beginnings and giving thanks

Wow. I cannot believe it has been over a year since I last wrote. In many ways, it seems as if my life is completely different. The location is the same, but the people, my job, my attitude have all changed. Where to begin?

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. It is always a little difficult for me to be away from my family on important holidays. Especially when you live in the hot caribbean and even the weather reminds you that you are a million miles away. Last year, I had a whole house of gringos to commiserate with. We had TWO full turkey dinners and a whole day of cooking and drinking sangria to make me feel at home. This year, my only gringo friends were all 2 hours away in Cartagena and I had no oven. not even a microwave. For awhile, I thought I might have to go to a Chinese restaurant and call it a day.

But, the holiday turned out so much better than I had hoped! First, thursday is not a holiday here in Colombia, so since everyone had to work, I was a little on my own. BUT, I got to skype in with my family Wednesday night while they cooked. It was awesome. ALmost like being there, minus the smell of food and stealing tastes. We just chatted for like two hours while they chopped vegetables. I loved it. I also got to skype in with the whole family the next day. I got to see everyone and badger people for their Christmas Lists. Ah, tradition. Skype is hands down, one of the most useful inventions ever.

Then, Friday I got to partake in my other favorite holiday. Black Friday. I spent my morning shopping online. My afternoon shopping at the mall (minus the amazing sales). Also dispersed in there was my normal Thanksgiving dash. Trying to find all the ingredients I needed for Thanksgiving. That's right. Tony's family offered their kitchen (and oven) for my Thanksgiving feast. Let me tell you, it is not easy to find things here. I spent all week looking for pumpkin or pumpkin pie. Except for Halloween weekend, there is absolutely NO PUMPKIN anywhere in Barranquilla. I went to every big or international or colombian grocery store. every international restaurant. every bakery. I had all but given up, when I FINALLY found the last and only pumpkin pie in the city. It was like a golden prize at the end of a race. glowing. heavenly music. the whole deal. I practically did a happy dance (and by practically I mean really). By the end of the day. I was all ready. pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, turkey, etc. The only thing I lacked was actual experience. I had never made Thanksgiving dinner alone before.

The actual day (Saturday) was almost flawless. we started early, like 1030 am. I had the cooking schedule down and it went perfectly. I had plenty of happy helpers (read: Tony's family) to chop vegetables, help prepare the turkey, and to give me all the cooking advice I could ask for. While most of the recipes weren't familiar to them, they were full of great ideas and cooking experience that certainly came in handy. By 630, we had a table full of people (Tony's parents, grandmother, sister's boyfriend, and us) and his sister on skype from Canada (it was her birthday). We went around the table to give thanks. With the beautiful christmas tree in the background, it felt like it came straight out the movies. The turkey and gravy were moist and full of flavor, the potatoes were creamy. And the wine put everyone in a great mood.

Thanksgiving this year may not have been with my real family, and cool fall weather, and 5am black friday shopping. But it was still so special to me. I really do have an amazing second family here. And despite our language and cultural barriers, they not only made me feel welcome in their home, but they helped make this holiday amazing.

I am so thankful for so many things this holiday season. And yes, I know that everyone does these lists, but I feel the need to say it out loud. for everyone to hear. So bear with me. (PS - it gets a little cheesy, so feel free to skip this part if you aren't the sentimental type)

- my amazing family - Who supports me through every crazy decision I make. From my trip to Africa to 2 years already in another country (and counting). My amazing family, who has dealt with communication errors, technology errors, travel errors, etc. and has never once complained. My family who has mailed me credit cards (upon credit cards), and care packages, and flowers, and letters. Who has visited me in Colombia more times than most other families would ever dream. Who has taken care of my dog, while I am off skirting my responsibilities elsewhere. Who has supported me when I had to make difficult decisions, caring more that I do what is right for me and not telling me to just come home already, when I know that this is really what they are thinking. I am so lucky to have you all in my life.

- my amazing boyfriend - who has always been there for me. From helping me with the concrete things, like helping me find an apartment to fixing my leaking roof. To the not-so-concrete things, like keeping me company when I'm missing home. We have laughed together. We have traveled together. We have had more adventures than most people have in a lifetime. And as I enter this next stage in my life, I'm excited to think of you next to me, and of the crazy adventures that lay before us.

- my many Colombian families - I am so fortunate so have both second and third families here in Colombia.
First, my La Playa families have done so much to make me feel at home here the past two years. You took me in when the only words in Spanish that I knew were si, no, and pollo. When I think about our first dinners together, it's amazing that we managed to have conversations that lasted the entire day. Now, it comes naturally (no, not perfectly, but it doesn't have to). We have shared triumphs and tragedies together, laughed about my language mishaps, and watched each other grow. I wouldn't trade those afternoons for anything.
Also, as I mentioned before, Tony's family has become another second family to me. From the very beginning, despite the language barrier and my uncertainty about Colombian customs, they accepted me into their home and made me feel welcome. So many people, when they realize that your Spanish isn't great, they simply stop talking to you. But this family never did that. We have had hour-long discussions about CosteƱo language, philosophy, history, family memories. We have shared everything together: birthdays, holidays, parties, beach trips, sunday afternoons, triple dates. They have painted beds for me, helped me find an apartment, given me rides and even let me stay in their house when I had nowhere to live. I would probably be homeless without them. If not, then definitely at least homesick. I truly feel I have a home away from home with them.

- my friends (both American and Colombian) - Simply put, I have the best friends in the world. It is difficult for any friendship when you are so far apart, but my friends are fabulous. They are always waiting and excited to see me, every time I come home. It doesn't matter if its been 2 months or 12 months. Whenever I have a question, or im bored, or I just want to chat, my friends are there for me. Colombian or American. English or Spanish. Near and Far. I am the luckiest girl in the world.

- my new job - In a time when so many (especially young adults) are without work, I feel very fortunate to have found a job that I love. Not only is it doing exactly what I want to do, but it allows me to stay in a city that I have come to fall in love with. Sometimes, I feel like its a joke. No one gets this lucky. A job that you are perfectly qualified for (probably the ONLY job I am perfectly qualified for) AND its with an organization that I love AND its fighting for a cause that I believe in. Who wouldn't be thankful for that?

I am the luckiest girl in the world. And as I look at spending another year in Colombia, I know that wherever life takes me, I will have friendly faces near and far to keep me company. :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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