It's been an exciting few weeks!
My mom came to visit for my Birthday last Saturday and we had all sorts of adventures. Despite going on one adventure after another for over a week, I still feel like there was so much more to show her. It was fun to see her respond to things that have become so normal to me (dogs running around the church during mass, vans packed full of un-belted people swinging around potholes and outracing one another turning through intersections, high schoolers dancing diablada, morenada, and caporales in high heels and miniskirts for their music grade, etc). The sisters told me not to worry about the hogar, but to go have fun with my mom. They said my job was to make her like Bolivia so that she'll let me stay. Turns out they were very serious. At the end of the week they sat down at lunch and asked her about her time in Bolivia; what she liked, what surprised her, how she felt seeing where I lived, etc. Then they asked her if she would let me stay if that's what I wanted. When my mom said I could do whatever made me happy, they all clapped and shouted and celebrated. I'm not sure how long I'll be here, but it's definitely nice to know I'm wanted.
My birthday was absolutely wonderful, and full of people I love. My mom, of course, was here, and we started off celebrating with the sisters at breakfast like we do with all the sisters. We sang and ate quesadilla (a cheesy corn-bread type cake Hna. Alicia bakes for every birthday) and the sisters gave me a beautiful cross necklace and saints bracelet in addition to the coat they took me to pick out in La Paz ("you just never keep your lungs warm enough, Niki!"). The Zapata family (a family I've been visiting every Saturday in the city) called me to wish me happy birthday and ask if they could throw me a party that afternoon, but we already had some big plans for the day. After a quick birthday visit from the girls from the transition home across the street, who completely surprised me with a beautiful rosary and a new wallet, we headed out for the day. The school put on an all-day ballet folklorico festival complete with elaborate costumes and traditional dishes for lunch. Almost all our girls danced and I have some great pictures I'll put up as soon as I get a chance.
After the dancing finished up the girls killed an hour in the hogar dressing me up in all their traditional costumes. Those pictures, however, might not be posted. Fortunately I peeled off my Morenada boots (or, rather, the girls worked together to pry those ridiculous things off me) just before my two Sunday English students arrived with a beautiful (and far out of their budget) birthday cake complete with my name written on top. They had practiced all week to greet my mom, ask her name, introduce themselves, and play "go fish" in English. A few hours later they left right as they started up a birthday party in the hogar. After a fantastic dinner, the girls danced danced danced danced danced (again...pictures to come) until we ended the night leaping around dancing "Torba," cake in hand in the salon. I honestly can't imagine a better day. I felt so loved and appreciated by this community that I've grown to love so much. It's strange to think about how overwhelmed and out of place I felt nine and a half months ago when I feel so at home now.
This last week, though my mom has headed back home to recuperate from a wild week at nausea-inducing altitude, has been just as busy. Things with the girls are going great and the programs I'm putting in place for the girls struggling the most in school are starting to get some notable results. It feels really good to see them starting to move forward bit by bit. Just about every free hour has been taken up by dancing. The high school seniors asked me to choreograph and teach them a dance to perform Monday (they asked Tuesday and it's a four minute song. That's pretty good notice for Bolivia) for our belated celebration of Mary Help of Christians (Maria Auxiliadora de los Cristianos). That, in addition to the dance I'm performing myself Monday, plus my twice a week class in the city (I was invited to join the Cuerpo de Baile and the Jazz Academy. It's been tough but I'm learning a lot...and really sore) had me busy enough when the girls asked Thursday to create and teach them a dance for Hna. Angelita's birthday on Friday (that's a much better example of Bolivian preparation). But we did it! And they looked great! We're going to clean it up a bit and perform it next Friday for Dia del Profesor. Hopefully Monday's dances and my own piece for next Friday turn out just as well.
So, as you can see, I'm quite settled here. Work that I love, a community that takes great care of me, new friends of all ages (Rosby Zapata, the mother of the family I visit each week took me to meet all her extended family and introduced me as her adopted daughter). It was great to be able to show this new life to my mom. It was funny to see it so brand new and strange to her, while it's become so natural and complete for me. It's strange to think that many of the volunteers in our program have already bought their tickets to come home and new volunteers are applying for their visas to come replace them. I don't know what I would do if I had to leave this place right now. I have a hard enough time accepting that some day, a year or so in to the future, I'll have to head back to the US to pay off my loans and head to grad school. That's going to be a really tough transition and I spend a lot of time trying to avoid thinking about it.