Tag Archives: peace corps

A las Mujeres antes que yo.

I’m bored.

“Pues pontes a limpiar.” “start cleaning” My inner (mother) voice goes. I look at my surroundings, take out the trash, organize my counter space, and fold my blankets. I look at my laundry, I just did it yesterday but the trick with laundry is it’s never truly done. So I take it the bathroom and start the hand-washing process, filling the buckets with water, adding the detergent and fabric softener, I tie my house dress up to stop it from getting wet( y asi tu sabes que soy una mujer viejita) (and that’s how you know I’m an old lady), and I assume the position, squatted aside the buckets taking my dirty laundry in hands and scrubbing them against each other.

I laugh, if my grandfather could see me now. Laundry day was a day of excitement for him when I lived in Puerto Rico, mostly cause it was the only day he would ever see me clean. He truly believes that I’ll never find a man because I don’t like cleaning and according to him I couldn’t keep a house to save my life…or keep a man. It’s a very antiquated thought process but it’s how he was raised.

Then I start thinking about his mother. Abuela Candita. I’ve never met her, only seen pictures and heard stories. Apparently she was a hard-ass, and I can believe it. The one picture of her that hangs in my grandfather’s house has her in what appears to be the living room, with an expression that just says “Atrevete.” “I dare you”. I think about how she must’ve looked when doing the laundry the way I am now. I wonder if she had a machine or had to do it by hand, and if my memory serves me right I think she had to do it by hand, going down to the river and cleaning whatever laundry she had and hauling it up, then hanging it in the Caribbean sun to dry.

Then I think of my other Abuela. Abuela Carmen. She had four daughters so I wonder if this process was more work or less, women are typically expected to take on the chores in a Latino family. But still, was it the same process?

Abuela Carmen and Myself

At this point I am almost done the laundry, but still thinking on the women before me. My Tia Nilda says the women in our family are Amazons, I’m never sure if she’s referring to the way we are built or our personalities. But I know she means our strength, both physical and mental. The women in my family are incredible, each in their own way, I look at my direct bloodline and I have my triathlete madre, my world-traveling, highly educated Abuela, and the matriarch of our family, the woman who started this line, my Bisabuela Carmen. My grandfather says that I will continue the line of strong women, he says that I remind him so much of my Abuela that it’s crazy, and he says Abuela Candita would’ve loved me for my strength.

And now the laundry is done, it’s hanging to dry in the Thai sun. Maybe the next time I’m bored I take a hint from my grandfather and just watch the day and listen to the birds.

Or just take a nap, like mom

Pero ma, estoy bien.

So I’m on a call with my biological mother, (I say biological because now I also have a Thai mother) and the lights go out and the call ends. Third time this week, and every single time I get Hurricane Maria flashbacks, I prepare myself for the potential days without electricity, starting oddly enough with first checking my water, and then checking my flashlight, then backup batteries, I even begin to dig my solar panel out of my luggage. But then before I get to far into my bags, the lights are back on. I wait about five minutes for the wi-fi to kick in and get back on the call with my bio mom.

Bio Mom for Show cause she’s adorable

“But are you okay? You can’t hang up on me like that!”

“Ma, I’m good, the electricity just went out for a minute. It’s normal”, I say exasperated.

“But why is that normal? I thought you said you were in a good area!”

“I am mom, but come on, it’s still the Peace Corps I’m not in the lap of luxury.”

“Okay, just next time let me know when you aren’t going to have electricity.”

“Yeah, cause I totally know when that will happen.”

The Latina mother is one to always worry, and mine is no exception. She pretends she doesn’t with her motto of I raised you to be strong. But deep down she always worries, and I can tell because she’ll tell me to control things that I clear as day cannot.

I’ve noted that Thai women and Latina women are cut from the same sheet. Both want you to eat, and honestly when push comes to shove, will make you eat. Both want to just take care of you, especially if you’re a boy, cause girls should already know these things. Both are super nervous about you getting hurt, my Thai counterparts have already matched my mother on holding my hand while we cross the street, they even scream if I go without them.

And worst/best of all. I can always hear my mother saying “Pero nina, tu eres gorda” or “Pero nina, tu eres bien flaca, ponte a comer.” as my Thai Mother would tell me, “Very skinny, eat much” or “Very big, eat little”

I miss my bio mom, and I miss my Thai mom. But it’s amazing to see how motherhood transcends cultures. But Moms, I’m fine. I’m eating. I’m not hurt I swear. And yes, I tell you the next time the electricity is about to go out.

So how’s Goal Two going?

“Soy primeramente Boricua, Americana Segunda.”

Those words are pretty important to me when people ask about my background, since many still struggle to understand that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. It translates to “I am Puerto Rican first, American second.” and while that sounds more harsh in English it’s just our explanation that we love our island, and align with our culture more than the American culture.

So when I explain to people at my site that I am Puerto Rican most don’t even know where that is. So I pull out my trusty little phone map and show them that it is off the coast of Florida, then I explain further and say that the USVI is also part of America, just further out. This helps many understand the concept much more, and even when they don’t fully understand it most just say “Okay.” and move on from the subject. They know that I am still the volunteer that they signed up for, and I feel happy because I got to share my culture for a bit.

What else has been done to share my Puerto Rican side, well some methods are very low-key. As simple as making my classroom playlist consist of albums like “Marc Anthony for Babies”, some students enjoy it, while others don’t know what to make of it. Even when I’m getting ready and hanging out in my classroom most of the visitors are welcomed by some form of salsa, bomba y plena, or reggaeton. Then for the adults when we are out on the town and they want to cheers we take the second to learn how to cheers in English, and in Spanish, saying loudly and for the first couple of tries messing it up. But at the end of the night everyone is saying “Arriba, Abajo, Al Centro, Pa Dentro!”

Then there’s other times where my Puerto Rican influence goes all out. It’s going to take a killer experience to overshadow the night that my host family and I gathered in the kitchen to make Mofongo and Coquito. With my aunt and I managing the Pilon, my Yai handling the fryer, and my mom peeling all the plantains, it was a wonderful time where I got to explain to my family how Puerto Rican culture is. Why we use plantains in most of our food, what else do Puerto Ricans eat? Why is mofongo called mofongo? and one question that had nothing to do with food but I could tell was driving them crazy since day one I told them I was Puerto Rican. What is Puerto Rico? No matter how odd the question was I answered it, and shared my culture and stories with them. Did they enjoy the mofongo you may ask? No they didn’t really care for it, they wanted spicier food and that got answered with “Most Puerto Rican food isn’t spicy”

I am a Puerto Rican first, an American second, in Thailand. The joy of travel is the sharing of cultures and I’m happy to be in a country so intrigued by mine, I can’t wait to share more and see the connections that it can make. Who knows maybe my school will have the first Bomba Club in Thailand.

Con Sabai Sabai

What do you get when you mix Thai enthusiasm with Puerto Rican zest? You get a wild cooking night.

So this past week the Peace Corps 131 had American Day, a lovely day meant to share our culture with our Thai Families. I took this opportunity to show my family one of my favorite foods. Mofongo. Now if you’ve ever even met a Puerto Rican you’ve probably heard of this dish but for those who haven’t it’s mashed plantains (or unripe bananas because Thailand doesn’t have plantains), seasoned with an abundance of garlic and onion, deep fried and covered with olive oil or garlic butter. All together it’s absolutely delicious.

So I assumed that my family wouldn’t want to cook this because of how labor intensive it is but I was so pleased to come home to my host mom, host aunt and grandmother all at the ready. Mom peeled the bananas, grandma handled the fryer, and auntie mashed. We talked for around 6 hours while making around 50 mofongos. I explained how the dish came to be and they laughed at the pronunciation each time I said it. We giggled about how our boobs would sag if we spent too much time mashing the plantains.

All together it was a wonderful experience and reminded me how thankful I am to have such a fantastic host family. It truly completes the experience and they will always have a special place in my heart for being able to welcome this strange Puerto Rican into their home.

So today…

So today my Peace Corps group had the chance to meet the Governor of our Province where we are doing our Pre-Service Training. Everyone was practicing how to introduce themselves correctly this week because when it’s in Thai it’s no longer as simple as “Hi, My name is….” we aren’t Eminem after all. Our introductions include formally saying our first name, last name, city, state and country and formal ending determined by your gender, in the correct order and tones (since Thai is a tonal language one tone off and you could offend someone).

So we all took our turns and as I see my groups go I feel pride for each one. But most of all I feel pride for the Latinos, here we are so far from our home and culture and we all sympathize with one another and appreciate each other because by speaking Spanish we can bring ourselves home if only for a moment. Each of us went, sounding slightly off because transitioning from Thai to Spanish is quite the feat, but as Ortega, Santos, and Puentes speak I feel a sense of unity and knowing that we have each other in this. We may struggle learning Thai but we’ve all been through this before, some learning English, others with Spanish, but we all rejoice in knowing at the end of this we will be poly lingual.

Why is the Latino Pride so important? I feel Latino pride so heavily that I’ve even been accused of self segregation. The truth of the matter is whether it be intentional or not there is a certain behavior and mannerisms that can be observed in each racial group. White Americans (from my observations), tend to put a happy face on and appear friendly with every group, but they are the ones that are just as quick to turn and gossip about you. While in some cases Americans are seen as direct, they’re not. With that said most every time I spend time with White Americans I find myself confused as they both insult and compliment one another. However, with Latinos what you see is what you get, that is especially true with Latinas, we are queens of giving honest, rough truths. We are queens of observing, and giving our opinions and moreover we are queens of saying our truths in the most clever way. Does this make us many friends? No. Do we care? Not really. But the friends we do have stick with us through thick and thin. Do all of these instances stand true? Not really, but based on my observations it’s what I believe. I have had white friends that mean the world to me, but I have also had Latino friends that I can’t stand. So with that said, it’s not always a “race thing” it’s a this is who I choose to associate myself with thing.

Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres.

Spanish Proverb, y tu Madre.

Things To Remember When Peace Corps Gets Rough.

Why did you join? Was it to better yourself? Or better a community? Well yes and yes. Travel has always been a fantastic way to better yourself, and when you return you have stories that inspire and fascinate. Through some of these stories you encourage others to travel and the chain begins, each traveler shares their story and from that everyone benefits and everyone learns. Bettering the community? I can only hope I affect the whole community where I am stationed but I imagine that it will end up being one person or a small group that I inspire and that most certainly will be enough. I joined so that I could see through new and refreshed eyes, for though I love my home, both Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico, life was hitting a standstill and becoming routine. May I never go back to being the bitter bartender closing one restaurant and opening the other the next day. May I never be the server having to force out laughs, or repeating the same question 150 times a day, “Black beans or refried?” May the next time that I hear mariachi music be on the shore in Mexico, and god forbid I sing another franchise happy birthday song. When times are rough, and they will be. Think of the anticipation you had before coming to Thailand. Think of how you anxiously counted down the days before you left and eagerly stashed away the money hoping to eat every Thai dish imaginable. Think of how proud your family is and will be when you complete your service. Think of the next journey, but remember to enjoy the day. Count your blessings for they are so obviously in front of you and remember, it may be a bad day, but it’s a bad day in Thailand.

Changes

At what point does one say to themselves, “It’s time to change?” Maybe a during  tough relationship, financial crisis, or just finding yourself tired of the monotony of daily life. Now I wouldn’t say I was looking for change but I definitely needed it. If you are close to me you know I have joined the Peace Corps and am currently working through my TEFL certification, and come January 3rd, should all go according to plan I will be in Thailand beginning my new phase in life. 

What was it that drew me to the Peace Corps? As many know I love travel, since I was introduced to it by one of my dear friends I have found the thrill to be exhilarating. Peace Corps has offered me a wonderful opportunity to find more purpose within my travel, while in Thailand I will be a co-teacher in EFL. I can’t wait to meet my future students as well as my future coworkers. I hope we have plenty of travels together when we are off duty, and even more wonderful successful triumphs at the work place. 

Are you scared? Yes. A new country is always a bit nerve wracking but it’s part of life. I feel like life wouldn’t be as satisfying as it is if we didn’t do things we were kind of scared of. The comfort zone is no place to live. 

Why Thailand? Land of 1,000 smiles sounds pretty welcoming right? I won’t sit here and lie but I have a pretty solid RBF (resting bitch face) and maybe Thailand will change that. I’m not certain about that theory but the food’s is definitely going to be amazing,

What are you going to miss? Friends. But that’s obvious. Food too, as a little fat kid I’m going to miss the wonderful saturated fats that the US has to offer; Taco Bell, Twinkies, Wawa, Flamin Hot Cheetos, and any other pastry. 

All together I am excited for this change and it’s following journey. For now I have to prepare and just get my mind in order.