Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Spanish Lessons

Language is rough sometimes. After Jerica left I caught myself thinking sometimes "gee, I'll have to have someone explain what that person was saying this afternoon" and then I would remember that I'm the closest thing we have to a translator. My two hundred level Spanish from Sophmore year is the best bridge we have between Johanna and I and...all of Bolivia. Including our Hogar. Sometimes I feel pretty proud of myself for how much I can stumble through with my limited vocabulary and poor grammar. Sometimes, however, it's a bit isolating and leaves me exhausted at the end of the day. Regardless, we're all learning a lot from each other.
Not only am I learning Spanish, I'm learning Cochabamban Spanish. Here are a few highlights:
First, in South America they don't use the vosotros form. However, in Cochabamba, they do use the word "vos". Usually you would use it when speaking informally to a group of people, but they'll use it when talking to only one person. They also use the vosotros form of commands when talking to only one person.
Next, They tend to use the past perfect tense (with haber), rather than the regular preterite almost anytime they're talking about the past. For example, instead of saying comio (she ate) they would say ha comido (she has eaten).
Also, as I've mentioned before, they add ito/ita on to everything, even adjectives (which usually means it's small, but here doesn't really mean anything). quesito (little cheese), zappatitos (little shoes), verdito (a little green), solita (a little alone). Everything. Out of this comes the expression mamita (little mama) and papita (little papa). Which can pretty much mean anyone. Usually it's used to refer to children but some of the people in the city have refered to me and some of the sisters as mamita too.
They also refer to people by putting an article in front of their name. Niki becomes La Niki (the Niki), Andre becomes El Andre (the Andre), etc.R is pronounced like rr, rr is pronounced like j.
Finally, a few words are just different altogether. We don't wear chaquetas (jackets), we wear chompas. It's not guapa (pretty), it's linda. We use "harto" instead of "muchO" (many much). Feo (ugly) describes almost anything unpleasant. Those shoes are feo, this smells feo, my homework is feo, etc. Flip Flops are Chinelas because they're vaguely Chinese looking.
A few more highlights from the teenage vocabulary:
Cochina: this words is used here for pig, but more commonly is used as a slang. As in "you didn't pick up your trash? Cochina!" or "Cochina! Close the door I'm trying to change!" Or "you like a boy!? Cochina!"
Por fis: slang for "por favor" or please. As in "I need ten more minutes on the computer to watch videos of Michael Jackson. Por fiiiiiiis"
Ya pues: the literal translation doesn't make any sense, but the expression is used for something like "come on" or "enough already." As in "Ya pues! I already finished my homework!" or "Give me back my copy of Harry Potter, ya pues!"
So there you go, feel informed.

Lord of the Dance

One of the things I love about living here is that I get to dance all the time. The sisters and the girls are always ready to teach you some traditional dance, either for a celebration of some sort or just for the heck of it. They're also completely fascinated by ballet or any sort of classical dance. Every day someone asks me to teach them something new. It's a blast.When I was at Whitworth I took Judy Mandeville's classes on sacred movement and also was part of Jubilation, our dance minsitry program. We spent a lot of time expressing our prayers, meditating on scripture, sharing the gospel, and praising God through movement. I try to remain faithful to this form of dance every time I share with the girls or the community. When the girls want to dance with me we start by talking about how our bodies like to say "gracias a Dios." When I danced for the school yesterday (which was a blast!) I danced a jubilation piece, "praise you with the dance" and was so happy to be able to share this prayer with the students and their families. The sisters even asked me to help choreograph their own praise dances that they perform for each other and for their students.
It's amazing to me how much more expressive they are here when it comes to moving their faith. At every mass there are teenagers up in front of the congregation moving their hands and arms in synch with the music. Almost all their religious music has some sort of movement associated with it. The sisters were shocked when I told them that that's not common in the states, and that adults especially don't really dance. While my own style and training seems very American to them, I'm being received in to a community that understands aspects of my prayer life a lot better than my home culture. Dance already has such a strong presence in the faith of the people here and I'm having an amazing experience learning how I can participate in that.
I also am realizing that one of the perks of being a missionary is that you get to do plenty of things you're "unqualified" for. Credentials and training are pretty much irrelevant. If you have something to offer, you better offer it. My high school dance team coach would probably be horrified at the thought of me teaching ballet, or out on the basketball court by myself in front of nine hundred kids representing American dance. But they love it. Little girls were running after me as I was leaving, asking when I would be teaching for the town. I love sharing this here, and I find that the more I do the more vividly I encounter God in the people around me.
Also...dancing in front of the school in a homemade green tutu with gigantic puffy sleeve, white spandex shorts, and pink tennis shoes felt hillarious. So fun!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happy Anniversary

I can't believe it's been a month and then some. In the last week Ive had a lot of very mixed feelings about being here. Last Saturday I got pick pocketed on a micro (bus). Unfortunately, I had to choose between falling over on an old woman and giving up the five bucks in my pocket to the creepy guy smashed against me in the aisle. I started to feel really frustrated this week with my half-developed Spanish. I know enough to take care of anything Johanna or I really need, but this also means I know enough for people to expect me to pick up plans and news from the surrounding conversations, which i definitely can't do. Finally, I celebrated my one month site-anniversary from my bed after spending the night nearly sleeping on the bathroom floor with some sort of food poisoning. Surprisingly enough, getting sick really broke me out of the few days of frustration I had been building up towards Bolivia.
Anyone can point to the time lines and say "Yup, the one month slump, right on time." and tell me about culture shock and parasites and homesickness and sleep deprivation. For me, I realize that most aspects of life, even if they're not necessarily worse, are just more difficult. Speaking, making friends, making a phone call, is more difficult. Eating is more difficult. Going for a walk, with your white skin, your sea level lungs, and a city full of stray dogs, is more difficult. Sometimes we wake up and there's no water, either in our bottles or from our faucets. Nevertheless, I find that I grow to love this place a little more every week (Not quite every day. On Thursday when I had to check the toilet tank to make sure i had water before I started throwing up I was less than enamored). When I crawled out of bed on Friday, scratching my lice-infested scalp, I was so happy to see the clear Cochabamban sunshine pouring over the Andes as the girls ran across the street in the uniforms for school, shouting in Spanish and Quechua and, yes, singing Hannah Montanna. I was so glad to be wiping little noses and teaching ballet and singing along with the guitar in the garden with the older girls. I was so excited to think about going to the city and wandering through the tents of breads and crafts and colored fabrics. I love living with these people, even if the life they invite me in to is harder than mine ever has been. With the exception of the language frustrations, pretty much everything that's pushed me here is a fact of life for Bolivians. I'm not the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night with a new friend crawling around in my stomach. I'm not the only one who holds my breath when I try the faucets. I'm not the only one who eyes each passing stray, looking for the green tag that means someone has vaccinated this dog for rabies a few months ago. Even the sisters have stories about people on the street slashing their purses and grabbing at their pockets. These are the realities of poverty, and while each lesson is here is harder, I'm blessed to receive it.
So...Happy one-month site-anniversary to me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

When I was your age...

I realize I haven't spoken much about the most obvious part of my life here: I live with about 4 dozen girls between 3 and 18 years old. For the most part, it's great! These children are all so full of energy and say and do some of the funniest things. It's incredible how our relationships with them have grown so much already in just a short month. I absolutely love coming downstairs every morning to a busy home full of girls and knowing my day will be full from beginning to end with their faces.
The majority of the girls are in their teens, which has been rather thought provoking. I run the computer lab in the afternoons, which gives me a chance to see the girls in all their thirteen year old glory. To be honest, it was baffling at first. I spent most of the time sputtering in Spanish and wondering what was wrong with these girls. Was I ever this entranced by the computer? Was I ever willing to sit and play children's addition games for hours if I could get away with it just because it meant I could plant myself in front of this ridiculous machine? Did I beg for two more minutes and start opening a program I couldn't possibly make any use of in such short time? Did I whine incessantly about how there's no way I could have finished my homework in the time given to me, even though I just spent half of it googling my own name (or Korean soap opera stars). Did I insist that I could not be interupted at this moment because, clearly, the desktop background MUST be adjusted to properly display the true beauty of the cast of High School Musical? Did I beg someone to let me in to the computer room an hour early (despite being unable to say what educational need it would meet) as they were getting on to a bus?
Any moms, aunties, grandmas, and teachers out there reading this are laughing right now. Of course I was guilty of at least some of this. Almost every kid was.
Posting the rules of the room on the door, Never allowing more people than computers in the room at once, and being consistent with consequences (No, you can't use the computer today, all you did yesterday was make a collage of pictures of The Jonas Brothers) and rewards (I can see you haven't been doing anything but homework in here, of course you can stay on a bit longer) helped, but not as much as realizing that I did the same things at that age. The basic thought processes of teenagers don't seem to vary much, even across time and culture.
So needless to say, I'm learning a lot. A few of the girls made me a "cartita" last night with a hand drawn Hello Kitty catching butterflies (I think this is the first time Hello Kitty has ever been on my wall, in truth she/it really freaks me out). Underneath is a little letter of friendship. The very middle reads "perdonamos si algunas veces te hemos hecho, que te sientas mal" which means, roughly "forgive us if we've done some things that make you feel bad." It's my reminder now that, despite the moments of frustration, I am so happy to be surrounded by these girls, and (what a gift!) they're glad I'm here too.
Here are a few more lessons to add to the list:
19. No matter how difficult they can be, these girls will always make my day somehow.
20. Have patience, all of us were young and abnoxious once
21. Enforcing reasonable and known consequences will NOT hurt your relationship with a child. Give them five minutes and they won't even remember why they were mad at you in the first place.
22. There is a lot of wisdom to the Salesian teaching that says that children will do a lot when they know they are loved. The harder you work to help a child know they are cared for, the most likely they are to listen to you, even when they're "in trouble".
23. Don't plead, don't yell, don't bargain. Just calmly give directions as though you expect people to respond and they most likely will.
24. Don't forget to celebrate each person when they're at their best, especially regularly "difficult" kids. It's important that they can clearly see a distinction between disliking their actions and disliking them.

And yes, in case you were wondering, the computer lab is running beautifully now.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How time flies...

It's been a busy week (and in response to all your emails, yes I am still alive and well)! We're settling in to a bit of a routine now, which is always nice.
Every day we have breakfast with the sisters just after seven, help with dishes before heading out to wash our own clothes and such before the day really starts, and then are downstairs sometime before nine. At nine we open up the library and computer room and help with homework, check out books, monitor the girls on the computer, etc from 9-12 and 3-6. In between we spend some more time (usually 12:30 to around 1:30 or 2) with the sisters for lunch, play with the girls, help with last minute studying (the girls have been singing Hoobastank's "The Reason" for a week straight prepping for an English exam), etc. At six the girls pray the rosary before dinner, and we're usually at the sister's house until around eight at night before coming back to dance, play, sing, whatever with the girls before prayer around 8:30 or 9. The day usually ends with a few of the older girls in our room, telling stories we pretend to understand, whispering about their secret crushes, and looking through our pictures to see if we know Hannah Montanna or the cast of High School Musical.
On Tuesday and Thursday evenings we have mass, and on Friday mornings before nine I take a guitar class with the aspirants (learning guitar is actually part of their formation. Awesome, right?).
We also spend a lot of time preparing for all those celebrations we're ready to sing and dance for. On Sunday the archbishop came to bless the new transition house for the girls aging out of the hogar and afterwards we had a big dinner for him, the communities of sisters in neighboring Pucarita and Primero de Mayo, and the girls who will live there. The day after we had yet another party, this time for Hermana Rosi, who was the Mother Superior of the entire order before "retiring" to Cochabamba where she is now helping run the aspirancy (which is where we are) and the new transition apartments. The sisters asked me to dance ballet for her birthday (how can I say no) and afterwards (apparently it went well) asked me to teach something to the pequanitas (little ones) for Padre Pepe's birthday on Monday and prepare two pieces to dance for the high school in three weeks.
Okay...that was a really long winded, and poorly written explanation of why you haven't heard from me in a bit. It's nothing personal, honest.
I'm caught up (for a day or so) on laundry, visa paperwork, and dancing, so hopefully I'll have a bit more to say this week.