You’re staring down your last ten days in El Bramadero and the last two months have been eye-opening to say the least. In true Progressio style it is now time for some reflection. 

It’s fair to say that I have both learnt new skills and had a complete reality shock, mainly centred around realising how much of an entitled lazy brat I was in England. I used to refuse to drink water. Water? Who doesn’t drink water? (Personally, I blame my parents - sorry mum) If I didn’t drink water here I think I’d actually have turned orange and exploded from drinking too much Mirinda. Not to mention the diabetes…

It was a personal goal of mine to become a normal twenty-one-year-old female and not gag every time I accidentally sipped water, and honestly... I did it.

I digress…, in England I lived the life of a very demotivated university student. I used to sleep until 1 or 2pm (whether I’d been drinking or not), watch some TV, consume an average of 3000 calories in snacks (seriously, I worked it out once), socialise, watch some more TV and then return to a food induced coma to repeat said actions the next day. I did all of this while drinking squash or gasiosas (this fact is very important). Let me be very clear, the people here (and in fact most people in England) put you to shame. Laziness and complacency are the least attractive qualities to have. I mean, think about it, would you put them on your (tinder profile...) curriculum vitae?

Without distraction, in the last two months I have achieved more than I have in the previous year at university. I now have a grasp of a language I never studied before and won an award for the most improved (not saying much as I didn’t know the word ‘adios’ before I came out here, but I’ll take it).

Above all this, I have a confession: I haven’t sipped alcohol in two months. That sounds like the beginning of an AA meeting but when you really think about the last time you gave your liver a break from the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol you’d be surprised – this is actually the longest amount of time I’ve gone without drinking in about four years. The alcohol culture in England is too normalised, too unconscious and being out here has made me much more aware of that. This isn’t to say that I’m not going to get absolutely bladdered immediately upon my return to England (hello lower alcohol tolerance!) but my decision as to whether I have a drink at mealtimes or a casual bevvy when I’m home from my day will be made with much more consideration.

Oh, the internet, I am so amazed by how much I don’t need you. It’s amazing how much you learn about people when you can’t google the answer to your questions, you unveil stories, memories and often initiate heated arguments about who knows the answer to said question (often with no resolution until the next visit to Wi-Fi). I recognise the desire I had in England to be constantly connected to everyone and everything, the FOMO (google it) I had about missing the latest vine. Now, internet every week is not even a requirement. Even when we do go to use Wi-Fi everybody is satisfied after about half an hour of (intense) internet usage; it puts my hours scrolling aimlessly through Facebook and Instagram into perspective.

Enough reflection for me or this will start getting soppy – and no one wants that. I’ve included some excerpts from the other Brits’ letters to themselves:

Chloe - NEVER, and I mean never complain about washing clothes ever again! In case you’ve forgotten what washing clothes is like in El Bramadero, I will remind you.

So, after your hands hurt so much from scrubbing your disgustingly dirty clothes on a rock, you carry the barely clean clothes up the path to hang them up. You go to hang them over the barbed wire washing line, which rips massive holes in everything you own, when you accidentally drop them all on the muddy floor. I have never felt rage like what I experience every time this happens. Deciding then that you don’t need clean clothes and just leave them to dry muddy.

After doing that for three months I can never complain about literally putting dirty clothes into a machine and then magically becoming clean in half an hour. YOUR LIFE IS SO EASY.

Billy - I cut a chickens head off, plucked it, gutted it, cooked it and ate it.

I squirted cow’s milk in my mouth fresh from the teet.

I roast and grind my own coffee beans.

Anna - One of the things I have learnt whilst in El Bram has been to get up earlier. Although 6am in the UK would be very rare for me, that’s a lie in for our host family, who are normally up at 4 or 5am.

Tomi - Getting up, going on a run, smashing a workout, all before 7am is something that I never expected to do but I’m really glad I did and I’ll definitely continue to do in the UK, maybe not before 7am though. XD teehee. 

Amanda - Family life and love! Why did I think it was alright to visit my parents’ place once every six weeks, or see the rest of my family on Christmas and that’s it? It’s definitely not! You so incredibly easily get caught up in the busy rat race and ‘excuse yourself’ from quality family time for the next best exciting event announced on Facebook or TimeOut. After living here for six months so close to my host family, surrounded by their love and hospitality, I’ve definitely learnt to never again let visiting family fall into the ‘must’ category. 

Beth - Before arriving in El Bramadero I thoroughly believed that I felt grateful at home for everything I had; food, my home, my family and running hot water. However, I have discovered many things that I took for granted at home such as washing machines and access to Wi-Fi and 4G. Many skills that I have learnt from being here are mainly due to being without the luxuries of living in England. Washing clothes using cold water and a rock, using my brain instead of using my phone (because I lost it in week 3) or internet, killing, preparing and cooking my own chicken, and attempting to use a machete and grinding my own coffee. Everyone should experience ICS, in order to experience life. 

Hassan - The similarities between El Bramadero and South East London are pretty clear pretty quickly, in El Bram you see chickens on every corner and in London you see chicken and chip shops on every corner, almost exactly the same… I think many of the things that we lack in communities in the UK can be found here; support, interaction and spirit and if we are able to take a little bit of what we have learnt here back home we would all be a lot happier.  

Sam - Washing myself and my clothes in the river everyday has been a very humbling experience. Living in a house made from compressed earth, not having access to a bathroom, only using a latrine and occasionally going several days without electricity when a storm rolls in has been a real eye opener to what we consider we ‘need’ in order to live our lives. Families living in El Bramadero have practically nothing in terms of personal possessions in comparison to the UK, however they spend almost all day, every day with their extended families, are extremely generous and are very happy people. 

Below are some photos to make you envious of my life in this community: 

Both the Parcila and El Bramadero groups at the waterfall

I learnt to milk a cow!

Ice cream has never tasted so good

A picture that epitomises Chloe and Hassan’s relationship. “Derp” – “What are you doing?”

View from the hike up a nearby mountain

Group photo: what a good looking bunch of people

Written by ICS volunteer Victoria Read