Monday, August 24, 2009

a few more lessons

10. There's always room for one more in any vehicle
11. It is perfectly acceptable for strangers to fall asleep on you on the bus
12. Milk a cow into the glass, add some sugar, and drink.
13. When you pick lice out of a little girl's hair, be sure to pinch them between your finger nails before you throw them.
14. It's not a meal in Bolivia until you've eaten something fried
15. Funnel cake and popcorn is a perfectly acceptable dinner
16. If you want to sound like you're from Cochabamba, add ita or ito (which is Spanish means something is little) to the end of every word.
17. It's never too late for the neighboring houses to blast their music. It's also never too early for the roosters to start crowing.
18. It's easy to get out of bed when you know there will be a dozen girls on your way to breakfast ready to give you huge hugs good morning.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Padrinos de Caca

In Bolivia we use the word Padrino or Madrina for Godfather/mother but also for the patron or sponsor of something. For example, I will be the Madrina de Torta this month because I will be buying cake for one of the parties. I think it's a role that suits me, as I hate to say a party lacking in cake. Anyway, yesterday we needed some fertilizer for the garden so we payed a visit to Hermana Nemecia's cows. Or as I like to call them, Los Padrinos de Caca. So Johanna, a few of the sisters, and a few of the older girls and I loaded up a cart and road back to the hogar on a mountain of cow poo. I'll post some pictures soon of us assuming our rightful place as queens of the mountain.

We got a chance to be queens of the mountain (or maybe just gringas of the hill) once again this morning. Jerica, Johanna and I hiked up the hill behind the hogar to get a view of Itocta and the nearest two towns, Pucaria and Primero de Mayo, from above. It was a beautiful morning and it was great to be greeted by the girls again when we got home. The afternoons are usually spent helping with homework and playing games or singing and dancing as they finished (Johanna is a fabulous music teacher). The girls are obsessed with ballet and beg to learn when we have free time. Turns out the sisters are almost as excited as the girls are and after dinner last night I spent about two hours dancing with them in the salon out back. Talk about a great way to end the day.

Time to head out (Jerica and I are going over to the neighbor's house to milk cows). Hope all is well at home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Como se llama?

I'm having a great time with all the girls so far, and getting to know them has proved to be an entertaining process. The confusion usually starts immediately, as little kids who have grown up speaking Ketchua or Spanish can't pronounce the vowels in my name. It usually goes something like this:

Como se llama?
Hambre? (which means hunger)
No, Amber
Hombre? (which means man)
uh...Puede llamarme Niki. (you can call me Niki)
Y su apellido? (and your last name?)
And so on...

So far I've gotten to know a few of the girls pretty well. I'm surprised how quickly we've fallen in to a routine together. School runs in two sessions each day, so half the girls are there in the morning and the other half are there in the afternoon. It's really nice to help them with their homework or play games with them in smaller groups throughout the day. A lot of the girls have been begging to learn ballet or swing dancing and want to teach me traditional Bolivian dances and we have a blast together in the evenings. The sisters love to dance too and it seems that any occasion calls for music and dance. Last night they celebrated one of the sister's birthdays by performing all sorts of dances, including one where they dressed up as little old hunch backed ladies. They also played a few songs together because learning guitar is actually part of their formation. As you can tell, I love how important music and dance is here. It really works in our favor because singing and dancing has helped us connect with the girls and the sisters so quickly!
Last night we got a chance to see even more dancing at the festival of Maria de Urkupenia. People come from all over Bolivia this weekend to a little town where there was a (maybe legit/maybe not) Marian apparition. There was a parade for hours with the most elaborate dancing and costumes and music from different areas of Bolivia. It was amazing, I'd never seen anything like it before. I would show you pictures, but we didn't take anything but our bus fare with us (events like this attract a lot of ladrones, or thieves). While we were there we saw about a dozen other gringos (amongst what seemed like millions of people), which is pretty unusual for Cochabamba. It's pretty obvious to everyone we're from the US and it's an enlightening experience to be so painfully aware of my race (Yes, sir, I know I'm from Los Estados Unidos. No, I will not take a picture with your buddy so he can hang it on his wall and reminisce to his friends about all those crazy nights we didn't spend together).

All in all, it's been a good, but exhausting week. Happy Feast of the Assumption!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Estamos aqui!

A short update:

I'm in Cochabamba! Our little village, Itocta, is surrounded by the Andes and is absolutely beautiful. The girls gave us a warm welcome and we were smothered in the most delightful way by hugs and rapid introductions in Spanish and little girls attempting to carry suitcases bigger than they are. That night they hosted a special welcome celebration where the girls performed dances they had prepared themselves, complete with beautiful costumes and printed programs with a message to each of us inside. One of the sisters welcomed us to the home and reminded us that it will be wonderful, but also tought sometimes but to hang in there because we are family now and that's what families do. Needless to say, we're feeling eager to settle right in.

The sisters found out I love to dance and invited me to help choreograph a dance with them for a party this weekend. I'm so excited to jump right in not only with the girls but with the community too. It's easy to forget we've only been here about two days. Sometimes I get impatient about not understanding a certain song or prayer yet, or about having so many names left to learn, or about having no idea where in the town certain things are. Then I remember that I got here Monday and have an entire year to go. Nevertheless, here are a few things I've learned so far:

1. Toilet paper goes in the trash can, not the toilet. Yes, you read that correctly
2. Hand washing your clothes is an acquired skill, but make sure you do it regularly because a pile of laundry doesn't fit very well in the plastic tubs.
3. Use your water sparingly. Espcially your precious minutes of hot water.
4. Never understimate the power of hospitality. Making someone feel welcome is a trumendous gift.
5. Don't bother learning tons of Spanish music. All the girls want to hear from Americans are Disney songs and the theme from Titanic.
6. You may have to choose between living lice-free and snuggling with adorable litle girls. Oh well.
7. You know how we speak Spanglish by adding an O on to everything? Apparently English sounds like everything ends in "ation." Nation, recreation, addition, etc. If you want to sound like you're speaking Bolivian Spanish add ito or ita on to everything. Even if that thing is large (ita typically implies that it's tiny), hermanita, papito, ahorita, librito etc.
8. You will never know how many varieties of potatoe exist in the world.

Tengo que irme. Chau!

9. In bolivia, use "chau" instead of "adios." Adios is saved for long term goodbyes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

There's No Place Like (a new) Home...

"La Union es La Fuerza"
(Unity is Strength)
-Bolivian national motto

I'm sure you all want to know a bit more about where I am. Actually, that's not true. I'm sure it's all the same to many of you and a small handful (mom) would like a short essay. So here are a few facts you're welcome to glance at if you're curious.

Bolivia is one of two landlocked countries in South America. It's East of Chile and Peru and North of Argentina. It's a very diverse country because they have such a large indigenous population compared to other countries. About half of the country is Amerindian, a third is Mestizo, and the remainder are white (Spanish, American, German, etc). This not only creates a wonderfully rich culture, it also means that there are over 35 native languages in addition to the main language (Spanish) spoken around the country. In addition to being one of the most diverse countries in South America, it is also one of the poorest. About two thirds of the population (which is around 9,100,000) is below the poverty level.

Politically speaking, Bolivia has experienced quite a bit of unrest over the course of its history. Between winning independence from Spain in 1825 and beginning a new era of relative stability in 1981, Bolivia averaged a change of government about once every ten months (that's 193 coups d'etat for anyone who's counting). Don't worry though, Bolivia has transitioned comparatively peacefully since then. Current socialist president Juan Evo Morales Ayma, who took office in 2006, is from the indigenous Aymaras, thus his election marks a turning from a long history of primarily white and Mestizo power in the majority native population. Morales has drawn attention in the last few years by re nationalizing natural gas and hydrocarbon production, promising to relax coca farming restrictions put in place by agreements with the United States, and beginning a new constitution which will empower the indigenous majority. These actions, particularly the latter, have been met on occasion with rioting.

So that's the brief rundown. Or at least everything that will make my mother sweat. Despite it's political and economic struggles, Bolivia is a beautiful country enlivened by an active culture and wonderful people. Don't you worry.

More about Cochabamba in particular to come. And yes...most of this is straight out of Wikipedia.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Salesian Family

After two weeks at Maryknoll training, we spent a week in Port Chester, trying to better understand what Salesian ministry looks like. The Salesians are a Catholic order devoted to youth. They were started by Don Bosco, who reached out to children and teenagers by making himself a trustworthy companion. Every Salesian ministry contains the "four oratory criteria" which were essential to the oratories Don Bosco started over 150 years ago. Oratories should be a home, playground, school and church all in one. Children should be able to learn, pray, play, and know they are loved all at once. The Salesians began when boys attending the oratories started to take a peer ministry role and eventually decided to stick around to help with the younger kids. Pretty soon they grew to a whole group of people who became known as the Salesians.It's a very relationship-based method known as the preventive system. Basically, the idea is that if a child knows they are loved, is given high expectations and the means to meet them, and is kept busy in a positive way, they've probably got a shot. Peer modeling is really important in the Salesian method, and it was pretty cool to see it in action in Port Chester. Kids from the school grew up to work at the summer camps. Kids from the summer camps talked about wanting to help at the food pantry and clothes closet when they got older. Most of the volunteers, teachers, and counselors we met grew up in Salesian parishes. They really are a family of sorts.

In fact, that's why the Salesians are in America to begin with. A lot of people don't realize that the Salesians are actually the second largest religious order in the world. In Africa, India, South America, and parts of Europe they're pretty well known. They only came up to America to help care for communities of immigrants from countries they originally served. I talked to someone about my age who said that he came here from Peru, where he attended a Salesian school and parish, when his Dad found a statue of Mary Help of Christians (Maria Auxiliadora, our patron) and realized he was at home here amongst the Salesians.

On a side note, this whole "Salesian family" thing works out to be a pretty good deal sometimes. Like, say, when people grow up in Salesian communities, become persons of influence in the UN, hear there are some Salesians visiting, and decide to exercise some hospitality. Here we are in the General Assembly room, that's my lovely and talented site companion, Johanna.

Anyway, that's all for now, take care and be good.