Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Finally! Pictures! Actually...this is only probably the first month of pictures, but it will keep you occupied until I put the rest up (hopefully this week).


Don't worry, there are still plenty of pictures to come of our trip to Christo de Concordia, Rosa and Veronica making their first communion, and the legendary PE showcase.

Are they really going to light that?

This week the students at the school that the sisters run had a presentation for educacion fisica (PE) and traditional dancing. It was pretty fun to watch, but I can't imagine anything like this in the states. Every class performed some sort of dance or ran an obstacle course. One class of what looked like maybe third or fourth graders made a series of different types of pyramids together on the pavement. People just milled around the school, buying popcorn and saltenas for about three hours while the kids performed. The whole time the PE teacher stood in front of the kids blowing in to a whistle and occasionaly waving a stick around. One of the last demonstrations was a class of boys running through the concha (basketball court), launching themselves off a little trampoline, flipping in the air, and landing on a stack of old mattresses. The boys (either by their own eagerness or the suggestion of their teacher, I'm not sure) were dressed up in various costumes. There were a few Mexican luchadores (wrestlers), a few zoros, some hulks, lots of spidermen, and a clown. Gradually the obstacles got higher and higher or more difficult (a hoop, for example) until they brought out a rope with a wound center, doused it in gasoline, and lit it on fire. That night I had trouble explaining to the sisters why we would never be allowed to do that in The States. I may have avoided high school PE until I was threatened with not graduating, but I realize now I had a lot to be thankful for. No one ever made me do tae bo in front of nine hundred people. I also never had to dress up like zoro and do flips over a flaming rope.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I'm still here...really

Two and a half months now and things are going really well. I'm sorry I haven't kept you all up to date lately, it seems the more settled we are the busier we are.
I don't have anything particularly profound to share today, I just thought I'd let you all know what we've been up to.

Johanna and I have finally made a friend outside of Itocta. Chris, who is part of our Salesian program, has been studying at the language school and living with a widowed woman who is happy to have us visit even after Chris moves to his site near Santa Cruz. Dona Celia is excited to take us to some of the other cities in the departamento (similar to American states. Cochabamba, while a city, is actually the name of the entire departamento in the valley of the Andes). We're also hoping she'll share a bit of her fabulous cooking skills with us. Finally the orthodontist I take girls to every week can stop scolding me for not having seen anything outside of Itocta and the city of Cochabamba.

On Thursday we introduced the sisters to burritos for the first time. South American food is actually very very different from say, Mexcian food. They had never eaten tortillas before and were really excited. They also think it's really funny that they're called burritos (meaning "little burro" or "donkey" in Spanish).

This week the school is giving the students an opportunity to show off a bit. Friday morning they had a few hours of short plays put on by each class. It was great to see a few of our girls up there in front of their peers or showing off the beautiful scenery pieces they have been working on all week. Next week we'll get to see a few of them presenting all the music and traditional dances they've been working on this year. I think there's even a PE demonstration some of our little ones will be part of.

I'm still amazed by how much my relationships with the girls have changed over these weeks. My first month here I was convinced that there would always be quite a distance between myself and some of the older girls. I'm so surprised to find how close we've grown. As we adjusted here it was easier to divide our time between "working hours" (meaning the time we were actually scheduled to be in the computer lab and library and studies) and our off hours. Now it seems everything just flows together. Tutoring and playing and resting and everything in between all flows together in a very family-like way. "working hours" are sometimes packed full of algebra and quizing little girls about Christopher Colombus ("and then he killed their king and enslaved them all" um...correct) and teaching Elohina, a young woman in her mid twenties with traumatic brain injury, how to write the number five. Some days, however, they're spent teaching guitar (I started learning from the sisters when I got here and I love it!) or laying in the sun being quized on Spanish vocabularly by the older girls. Similarly, our "off hours" are sometimes completely free- we wash clothes, Johanna gives me a singing lesson, I play ridiculous amounts of sudoku, etc. Sometimes, however, they're completely naturally spent with our new family. I meet girls outside at 5:30 am and we wait for the sun to come up so I can take them running, we read Stelaluna in Spanish after lunch, I run downstairs at ten pm because I know one of the girls needs a few last minute run throughs before her speach tomorrow, etc. The day is beginning to run together in a way that is at once full (from running at dawn to night prayers with the girls at 8:30...and maybe some last minute studying after that) and relaxed. I craved more structure at first, but there's always so much to do that it doesn't seem to matter. I can see more clearly now how it is more important for us to create a family and home structure here than it is for us to act as good "employees."

I've got much more to say about what I'm learning here about myself, life, poverty, God, children, etc. but this will have to do for now because we're heading out to do some travelling in a neighboring city this afternoon. I'll do my best to share some more reflections with you soon and in the meantime I'd love to hear from each of you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I started thinking a bit about gratitude here after starting Henri Nouwen's book "Gracias." I sent an email to my friend Lee that sparked some reflections I'd like to share with you all.

Things are going really well for me here the last few weeks. The changing factor, I genuinely believe, is adopting an attitude of sincere gratitude.

I often have very little to offer here other than simply delighting in the people around me. Five months ago I had an opportunity to prove my competence every day through exams, meetings, and projects. I saw the fruits of my labor (usually). I knew I had value because I could contribute to my environment. I could set goals and meet them every day. I could work towards graduation or a new job or a good grade for months or years. Arriving in Bolivia, I couldn't reaffirm my worth in the same ways. I couldn't prove myself by checking items off my to-do list, and it was difficult to realize that the sisters and the girls weren't asking me to. Henri Nouwen describes how his own experience of vulnerability in Bolivia lead him to gratitude in his book "Gracias!"

"One of the most rewarding aspects of living in a strange land is the experience of being loved not for what we can do, but for who we are. When we become aware that our stuttering, failing, vulnerable selves are loved even when we hardly progress, we can let go of our compulsion to prove ourselves and be free to live with others in a fellowship of the weak. That is true healing."

Being loved by the girls and by my community in Bolivia has nothing to do with my abilities. Getting an email from a friend or a package from my family has nothing to do with anything I can do for them from here. I often feel I am far from "earning my keep" here. The love I experience in the hogar and in Bolivia reflects the perfect love of Christ, who asks nothing in return. My existence is enough. Here in Bolivia I have the opportunity to feel the selfless love of God through the people around me, but it requires me to make myself entirely humble and dependent. I must experience my own weakness to better understand God's love through my hosts and the people supporting me from "home."

Because of this, it is difficult sometimes for us, as humans who desire to feel complete and in control, to simply receive. However, receiving is absolutely essential to understanding our relationship to God and to eachother. In addition, Nouwen reminds us that receiving is an act of liberation. When we receive one another with gratitude we remind each other of the trumendous power we have in our world. My willingness to receive is, I'm surprised to find, an act of service. Think of the people who have deeply impacted your life. It's likely they were people who listened to your story with eagerness, grateful to know you better. They asked you to teach them. They trusted you to exercise your power with love and responsibility by caring for them. In short, they received you and everything you had to offer with gratitude and a reverence for the unique being that you are. This reverence, this gratitude, this thankfulness is mine to offer when I am willing to admit that I am wanting for something here.

On the other hand, our unwillingness to receive from our communities places them in a position of subordinance. In Genesis 23, the Hittites try to give Abraham the land to bury his wife and he has a heck of a time persuading them to let him purchase it. Had he accepted it, he would not have an opportunity to be the rightful property owner. Their "generosity" was actually depriving Abraham (who was disadvantaged as a foreigner in that land) of an opportunity to build a life for himself. As affirming as it is to provide for the people around us, we must not do so at the expense of another's autonomy. Furthermore, When I refuse to be provided for by my host country, and I strive to impose my "competence" on them, I instill in them the same insecurity and helplessness that I myself feel as a displaced missionary, but in their own home and country. What a terrible trespass against my hosts.

Learning to be truly grateful for every email, every conversation, every little girl, every hour spent reading (over and over and over) the book about the crocodile lurking under the bed, has so dramatically changed my experience here. I was having so much trouble until I started ending the day by recounting what I received rather than what I contributed. The day suddenly became full and meaningful and beautiful when I meditated on the works of God rather than the works of my own hands.

In unrelated news: I learned how to eat chicken feet today. Champion!