Colombia Update #5: Service in Cartagena

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Alex provides a tour of Cartagena

Kiira writes:
We have been in Cartagena since Saturday working with Alex Rocha and his students in the barrio San Francisco, a neighborhood about a 20 minute collectivo ride from the old colonial city. Life in this barrio looks much different from places we have visited so far on this trip — being away from the tourist center of town, we have had the opportunity to live and work in a real Colombian community.
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Our days have been fairly regular with service work and excursions to explore the history of Cartagena.  In the process, we have gained an appreciation for “Colombian time,” in which meetings and schedules are often bent less around the clock than around what matters in life. Waking up with empanadas, mangoes, and coffee for breakfast easily spills into time playing soccer and dancing on the street outside the center before school.
photo[1]After time for our own Explorations classes and a siesta in the heat of the day, we have enjoyed teaching after-school English classes at the center. On two occasions we ventured into the old city to explore the cobbled streets and Bougainvillea-lined balconies, sip on tropical fruit palettas, and take a dip in the Caribbean. Today we held class atop the old city wall and talked about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, having just toured the sites he writes about in town. We are in heaven. Students continue to enjoy patacones (fried plantains) and coconut rice as staples of all meals.
photo[7]Sonya writes about playing with the Colombian students:
Children’s screams of “gringo, gringo” cut through thick air ablaze with scents and sounds. They run down the narrow street with impressions of small feet and laughter, overjoyed at our return. Little hands reach up with a clear message and purpose: “Pick me up, let’s play!” With one child on my shoulders and one in my arms we walk to the new Alex Rocha center. I put them down and am instantly surrounded by pleading eyes and sharp voices saying, “Hombros por favor” in the most pathetic voice they can muster. I lift one over my head and onto my shoulders. As I run chasing their friends I can hear the glee in their voices and giggles. With aching shoulders I try to put the child down, but she clings to me with surprising strength.
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Our group left Cartagena with a fond goodbye, made difficult because so much bonding took place in so little time.  In departing, the Explorations students, so moved by the people of the barrio and by Alex Rocha, pooled a significant amount of their spending money to leave a group donation to support the continued work of the Alex Rocha Center.  They then departed for the airport and caught their flight to Medellin.  Our next report will reflect their Medellin activities.
Once again — though it may not be news at this point — the experiences of this trip are proving to be very powerful and truly moving for our students!
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