Monday, December 27, 2010

Massive Photo Dump!!!

As always, I have tons to say and not enough time to say it. Good thing a picture is worth a thousand words. Now you have an entire library to sift through while you wait for me to update you on...
Changes in our workload
New little members of our family
New little members of my blood family
And a whole lot more...though not necessarily in that order.

In the meantime...enjoy!


October 10

Cosechando Talentos / Hogar Maria Auxiliadora y Revolution Jazz Dance

Christmas 2010!

December 10

Monday, December 6, 2010

If you haven't heard yet...

So I have some really exciting news that's only about three weeks old. Whoops. See, it was so exciting that I called my family, baked banana cookies, smothered these little ones in hugs and kisses, and called it a day. Now I realize that the blog post I intended to write was never written (see how convenient the passive voice is, I don't have to take responsibility for my poor communication).

Here we go...brace yourselves...(getting to break the news a second time is way too much fun!)

All of the girls from first through seventh grade...(I have no way to effectively pull off a dramatic pause in writing)...every single one of them...(I swear I really will tell you now)... passed! In every subject!!!

I know. I know. Whoopdidoo, right? But seriously, last year at this time, when I started teaching summer classes in the hogar, every one of them had failed at least one subject, if not the entire grade. They were out of control behaviorally, embarrassed and self-concious, hostile towards their peers, their teachers, and me during their classes, and shockingly behind their peers academically. That was one year ago.

I got to tell the eight girls I work most intensively with myself and I wish I could have preserved that moment somehow. Even the too-cool ten year olds squealed and giggled and hugged eachother. That is, after they kept asking me "are you SURE? Did my teacher know you guys were talking about ME?" That's right my little friend, we most definitely were talking about YOU and how smart I always told you you are!!!

I wish I could express what an incredible turn around this is, how proud I am of the girls, how positively this impacts their self-esteem, what a dramatic difference it makes to set them back on course while they're young, etc. This also has such a great impact on the hogar. The older girls were shocked too, and had to rethink the way they talk about the little ones like they're dumb. Both inside and outside the hogar, we got a chance to show what these girls are capable of and I pray the effects will continue in to the next school year, which begins in February.

This was also a really wonderful moment for me, not just through the empathetic celebration I get to have with the girls. A lot of people have a very romanticized view of orphanages. The truth is, the kids can be really tough. Trying to take on their educational needs has been a rough road and there are many days, sitting through time-outs, getting sassed by fourth graders, searching for my students hidden under their beds, sitting through dismal meetings with teachers, when I felt defeated, racking my brain for a sixth new way to respond to "I don't get it".

But I kept reminding myself that if I gave up on this task, I was giving up on these girls. No matter how much they fought back I wanted them to know that I believed in their ability to succeed, even if most days it seemed they wished that I didn't. Every person has value, and every one of these girls deserves the chance to see what she's capable of. And they did it!! The struggle through the school year was not in vain because these girls, unbeknownst to them, are diamonds in the rough. It is such a blessing to be able to polish them up and show them that!

And now we're in the lazy days of summer break. The little ones are practicing reading and basic math every day and the older elementary students have a one-hour class each weekday to keep their hard-won skills fresh and that's about it. It's nowhere near the exhausting marathon of classes and tutoring and tantrums that it was throughout the entire last year beginning with summer break, especially when divided between my new site-partner Mary Pat and I. At first I felt a little guilty about all the new free time, but looking back over the year I think we ALL deserve a little rest.

God has answered my prayers for these girls and blessed me trumendously by allowing me to see the fruits of this challenging year! My prayer for you all is that, at least once in your professional or vocational life, you have a moment like this that affirms the beliefs and hopes that push you onward every day.

And just think...if I had left in August I would have missed it!

Embrace the Absurd...RIP Choca

While I can say without a doubt that living in Bolivia has so far made me a more compassionate person, I have to admit that it has desensitized me to some of the more challenging aspects of daily living. As a result, my sense of humor, which was a little on the dark side to begin with, may have crossed in to completely warped by now. It’s not just me. I remember months ago hearing the mother superior talk about her aunt who had cancer. She was talking with someone whose family member was ill and in her even, motherly tone, said something to this effect:

Well first, she had radiation, that was pretty tough.
Then she had to have chemotherapy.
Then she had surgery.
And then…she died anyway! Bahahaha!

To my shock the whole table burst in to laughter along with her. Including the woman she intended to console.

I guess when you live surrounded by violence and hardship and political turmoil, there’s not much else you can do but turn “twisted”. That said, I have a story that may only be funny to me…or anyone else who has spent “too much” time in the third world.

Last week the neighbor poisoned our dog. Don’t worry, that’s not the funny part. Choca was a nearly-perpetually pregnant stray who hung around the hogar. The girls decided years ago that she belonged to them in a way, so they were pretty upset (though not as traumatized as I would have expected) to see her dying, rolling her head through the muddy water in the nearly empty drainage ditch beside the road last Saturday. The whole ordeal didn’t last long, but it wasn’t pretty so I’ll spare you the details. Turns out the neighbors had poisoned her because she bothered them at night.

That afternoon started a subtle face-off. Who could out-wait who? Neither the hogar who had somewhat claimed the dog, nor the neighbors who killed her, wanted to fish her bloated and wet body out of the ditch. My English student, a fruit farmer from a remote community outside Cochabamba, came for class the next day and walked through the door with his nose wrinkled up. The monotonous tone of the conversation, in retrospect, was probably the most bizarre part.

Did you know there’s a dead dog out there?
Oh that? Yeah. The neighbors poisoned her.
Oh, I see. Did you see her dying?
Yeah, it was pretty awful, but quick.
Well, if you saw her dying, why didn’t you coax her in to a big rice sack then so you wouldn’t have to deal with the body later?

Let's just take a moment to visualize this suggestion...

Maybe you’ve been in Bolivia too long when your first reaction isn’t “what! That’s terrible!” but rather “do we even have a sack that big?”

The sisters assured us that one good rain will just wash it away. They seem to have forgotten that a: we’re entering a state of disaster due to the current drought. And b: The body will still be there, decomposing in someone’s yard, even if we can’t see it anymore.

Fortunately , the next day the girls commented that the neighbor and some little boys were messing with the dog. I figured it was the neighbor who killed the dog finally taking responsibility for the situation and was relieved to see the ditch dog-free that evening. Yet I had an almost superstitious suspicion that if I glanced over there I would still see the corpse rotting in the mud and tried not to look too hard when I came in and out of the hogar. After giving in a few times I noticed something strange. I kept it to myself for a few days until I was good and sure, then I broke the news to Mary Pat. If you look carefully, it’s obvious that one of the mud mounds in the ditch is beginning to reveal a few tufts of rotting fur.

That’s right, Choca IS haunting me. Instead of cleaning things up, the neighbors were simply packing her in to a little mud coffin and praying for rain. Maybe Romulo was on to something with the rice sack. Mary Pat and I fell over laughing and the absolutely ridiculousness of the entire ordeal, proving that fitting in to polite society once again in the US is going to be quite a challenge.

Let’s recap: In Bolivia…
If a dog is bothersome at night you should: poison her in front of dozens of children
If you notice said dog dying you should: save yourself the trouble of dealing with the body later by throwing some chicken feet in a rice sack and congratulating yourself for planning ahead.
If Plan A falls through, resort to plan B: pile mud over the body until you’re able to trick the neighborhood for over a week in to believing their rotting animal problems are taken care of.
When Plan B falls through, resort to plan C: Pray for enough rain to wash the heap down the way, far enough to become someone else’s problem.
When in doubt: forget about the morbidity of the situation and enjoy its pure absurdity instead.

One more magic Bolivia moment that maybe shouldn’t be funny…

A few weeks ago the aunt and uncle of two of the girls came to visit from another remote community in the Amazonian area of Bolivia. They had heard that the older sister had recently fainted a few times, though we’re still not sure why. “she used to do that sometimes when she was little. But someone in the town told us what to do and it worked, so we brought this.” The uncle said…then he held up a bag of live baby bats.

Ummm…what are we supposed to do with a bag a live baby bats? The exact instructions he gave us were to “peel and juice them” and have her drink it.

Again, just take a little moment to savor this situation.

I was beyond thankful when Hna. Leticia told him he was welcome to “peel and juice” whatever he wanted, but we were not about to take charge of this bag of bats, or persuading a sixteen year old girl to chug that concoction.

Oh, Bolivia. Sixteen months in and you keep on surprising me.