28 05 2009
Our classroom

Our classroom

OK, so I’m not that good at blog post titles.  But anyway, I did have a mini-adventure last night that I thought was worth writing about.  We were supposed to have class until 7:30, but I had permission to leave about seven to meet Gumy and make the 7:30 service at the mission.  (I think it adds a little more weight to such things that I’m able to say they asked me to play the piano.)

So I went to leave the building about 7:05.  It was almost pitch dark, and as I felt my way to the head of the stairs, I found the doors wouldn’t open … they were padlocked from the other side.  I went around the second story indoor “balcony” area, but the doors were locked there too.  Not being entirely without ingenuity, I remembered seeing another opening from where I had started that opened directly to the first floor patio, and I started out that pretty confidently, only to find that the big double doors leading out were padlocked as well.  That left me at a standstill.

So I headed back to where Marcelo was with the other two students and told him that everything was locked up … so he could get his keys and unlock the doors, right?  Think again.  He went up to our classroom on the 2-1/2 story floor in a hurry, and came back down again, and tried all the doors that I had tried, I think.  Then he asked me if I had a cell phone.  Then we went back and asked if either of the other two students had a cell phone.  The offices were locked up too, so we couldn’t use the school’s phones.

It looked rather as if we were going to spend the night at school, to me.  I had told my family not to wait up for me, as I was sure to be 9:00 getting back.  But I remember our Brazilian professor talking about how extreme need in Latin American countries tends to breed creativity.

Marcelo said, still quite confidently, that he was going to solve this problem, and disappeared.  After a few minutes, I went looking for him, and found him on a little glassed-in balcony overlooking the street corner.  He had raised one of the windows, and he explained to me that one of the school’s teachers parked right over there, and he thought he would come by to drive his car home at 7:30.  That wasn’t a lot of comfort to me, as I knew Gumy was waiting for me on the plaza a block away.  She was going to be very late for church at best, and if she didn’t wait for me I couldn’t make it.

But Marcelo was leaning out the window hollering at a little boy.  Somehow, another employee”s son was passing by just then, and Marcelo explained to him that they had locked us in … could he get his dad, please … no, his dad wasn’t at the school; he probably was at home; the school was locked up and we couldn’t get out ……. He remarked to me, “Tenemos suerte esta noche,” but I thought it was something more than luck.

If you want a mental picture, Marcelo is the only man I’ve seen in Bolivia with shoulder-length hair (nice and wavy), leaning out of the second story window overhanging a steady stream of buses, taxis, and other traffic, hollering at this little boy.  Then he went back to tell the other students what was going on, asking me to keep an eye out for the teacher who would be picking up his car.

Fortunately, Gumy knew I was going to be at school, and she wandered over that way, so before long we had a little nucleus of people on the other side of the narrow street, hollering back and forth in Spanish across the taxis with Marcelo.  There was the little boy, his mother carrying a baby, the teacher and a student that was with him, and Gumy.

Marcelo and I didn’t have much to do but enjoy the situation.  Besides, as he remarked, it was something not to forget, but he casually added at one point that he was going to kill some people today.  Finally the little boy’s dad arrived and made his way upstairs unlocking padlocks, and I made my way out.  It was just so much one of those things that you knew would never happen like that in the US … if only because all three of us would have had cell phones (and so would Marcelo if he hadn’t been beaten and robbed a couple of weeks ago, as he casually told us tonight, but that’s another story).

View of Sucre from the church

View of Sucre at night, from the church

On another note, I’m still really enjoying being able to attend the services at the mission church.  Although we were late last night (and we did take a taxi to make up for lost time), half of the church was later than we were.  When we got there, René was trying to play the accordion, left hand only, and lead the singing, and there was one person in the congregation.  He asked me to go ahead and play the keyboard, and we made it fairly well, I think.  If I entirely bungled it, he’d never give me a hint, though.  I really love these people – and I feel that they love me.

He asked for testimonies before prayer, and I wanted to testify.  We had a good service Sunday morning (and I wasn’t able to find the church in the evening).  But I wasn’t sure whether it wouldn’t be forward of me.  Many of the local people seem a little reluctant, and my Spanish is limited, and … I just didn’t have the confidence.  So I began praying that if I ought to testify, the Lord would let René ask me to.  The more I thought about it, the more impossible it looked.  To start with, I had never seen him ask anyone to testify, and it isn’t customary to do so in holiness services except right at the start.  He was talking, and encouraging people to testify, and no one was, and that wasn’t abnormal.  But in addition, I knew that he knew I can have trouble putting a simple sentence together in Spanish, and he wouldn’t want to embarass me.  I didn’t know that, on top of that, he had forgotten my name, but it did add up to impossibility.

Gumy testified, and I decided that either I wasn’t supposed to testify, or I had set too hard a test.  But at about that point, René said that they hadn’t heard anything from me yet, and – pardon his forgetting my name – but he asked me to testify.  I confess being rather astounded, though I shouldn’t have been.  At least I didn’t forget what I was going to say, and I did manage to get something out that I think was fairly intelligible.

Again, the congregation piled into the SUV to go home.  There were hardly any children this time.  René has become comfortable enough to laugh at me (as when I remarked that my Spanish was overly formal).  All of the people are very friendly with me.  We have enough common ground that I don’t have to struggle with overcoming barriers like I do with a lot of the people outside the church, although I’m not saying the barriers aren’t imaginary ones mostly on my part.

Well, I had better wrap this up.  I still want to post pictures from the Potosí trip, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.  Hopefully I’ll have a chance fairly soon.  Thanks to everyone who is reading this!  If you have any questions, feel free to post them, and I’ll try to make at least a quick response.  (You can click on the itty-bitty “comments” link at the end of the post.)  I try to post what’s interesting, but there’s so much going on that I feel like it’s just random snapshots.


A typical day… if there is such a thing here.

26 05 2009

Well, there’s an hour and a half left till lunch time, which means maybe a couple of hours till lunch is served.  I’m here at the school where internet is free, so I’m going to try to write something else.  The last post had a lot of pictures, and I think I’m going to wait to upload my Potosí ones till I have a little more leisure.  I thought I would try to give you an idea about how life functions here.  The more I think about it, the more it seems to center around meal time, though!

Last week I had class from 8:15 until 12:10, with a break in the middle; this week it is supposed to be from 2:30 until … I suppose six-ish.  There weren’t any classes yesterday, though.

I get up in the morning somewhere in the neighborhood of seven.  (If we’re going to be honest about it, that doesn’t mean six-something.)  The maids are usually serving breakfast about 7:45, so it can be tough to get to school.  Breakfast is a bowl of sliced apple, guayava, and banana, with a thin yogurt to pour over it.  The temperature drops into the sixties, maybe even fifties now, so they wouldn’t dream of serving or even offering anything cold to drink.  If you ask for milk, it will be served hot.  As I’m not a tea or coffee person, I go with hot chocolate.  They are all wearing jackets … this morning, Freddy (the husband) was in a bathrobe with a scarf.  Go figure. 

On top of the fruit and the hot drink, if anyone is there, they will be pressuring you to eat some form of bread, with guayava or strawberry marmalade, and anything else they can think of to give you (except cold milk).  If I decline a couple of apples, or a slightly toasted ham and cheese sandwich, Finita (the wife) is going to insist on wrapping it up to take and eat during the break at school.  After all, that’s 2 hours after breakfast and before lunch, so surely I’m going to be hungry, right?

Actually, I usually am.  I have found my appetite here.  It probably has something to do with going virtually everywhere on foot, and I can’t stay inside.  I have been through the “downtown” part, el centro, quite a bit, and I plan to try a couple of other directions this week.  So I have either the morning or the afternoon to do as I please.  I just know found opportunity to ask one of the people here about their volunteering programs, and she is supposed to get back to me this afternoon during the break.

Lunch is officially served at 1:00, and that might happen.  One feels obligated to be ready then, at least.  With lunch, they serve fresh fruit juice.  It took a few days for me to get used to drinking more than a little … I probably was about to get dehydrated without realizing it.  Now I’ll drink three glasses of orange juice, or papaya juice, or anything else … I’ve given up asking what it is, because a lot of the fruits I’m not familiar with in English anyway.  Lunch is probably going to have rice with it, and usually quite a bit of meat.  I haven’t had any real problems with anything they served yet. 

One of my favorites was a lightly seasoned rice, cooked with shreds of meat, and with slices of fried plantain (I think) on top.  They also like to experiment with their versions of Chinese or English (a couple I’ve had), which are about as authentic as our Mexican food is Mexican, in my opinion.  They’ll serve meatballs, or more frequently slices of meat.  The meat is tougher here. 

It is impolite to cut off chunks with your fork.  You use the knife to cut it into bite-size pieces.  It is impolite to use your fingers to eat almost anything but bread, and generally speaking to lift more off your plate than you will eat in one bite.  That includes fruit … you will cut it up and use the fork to eat one bite at a time.  You’ll also tear the bread into more or less bite-sized pieces before picking it up.

After they’ve stuffed you with lunch (yesterday being a holiday, it lasted from two till four … and the siesta came afterwards), they theoretically don’t eat much for supper.   But they will lie in wait for you and insist that you “take some tea” … more hot chocolate, with fruit or bread.  I can get out of it only by holding up a Coca-Cola bottle to prove that I wanted something cold so much I went out and bought it.  If I’ve been walking, I’m warm, but otherwise I will go ahead and take the hot chocolate. 

I wanted to write some about the classes, but there’s another girl waiting to get online, and this will be too long for a lot of people to read if I keep on anyway.

¡Hasta luego!


25 05 2009
La Casa Magariños (the family where I'm staying)

La Casa Magariños (the family where I'm staying)

Finally, some more pictures.  I hope to be able to help you guys understand a little bit better what I’m seeing here.  The Academia has placed me in a very nice (very, very nice) home in Sucre.  As you might be able to guess, it’s quite a bit nicer than the one I’m used to!  I believe my room might be showing at the far right of the second story.  And yes, that’s me in front.  I got one of the students to take my picture when they were over for lunch this afternoon.  The family has three maids, girls probably in their teens.  I would guess that they are quite happy to have a position in a family like this one (and they do seem to enjoy themselves most of the time).  It certainly is something that seems strange to me.

Lady visiting the houseI was surprised one day last week when I came into the kitchen at lunch time and looked at the window to the “little house” where the cooking is mostly done.  There was an old lady sitting there, obviously (from her dress) poor and probably indigenous.  I asked the family’s son who she was, and he explained that she is an acquaintance of his mother who comes periodically to sit a while and for them to give her something to eat.  I happened to be watching after dinner as a maid helped her across the slick hardwoord floor and out the front door.  I had my camera, but was a little hesitant to take a picture, but the maid signaled me to, and I did as she went past the bushes toward the gate.

Gumy and me

Gumy and me

On Thursday, I got an invitation from a lady who is so kind to come to her home at supper time.  (That’s a light meal here; the main one is lunch.)  She brought me across town to her home, in a relatively poor area.  She shares a courtyard with her sister’s family and one or two other families.  Her home has two rooms; one of them is simply a short hallway between the door and the bedroom with a table, phone, and her sewing machine and ironing board.  She earns a living sewing.  She brought up her best dishes (I know they were) to serve me, along with her 8-year-old niece and 4-year-old nephew, a chocolate cake made with a recipe she got from the missionaries, and tea (she hoped I would like it….)  She took a picture of me with the children, and the niece took one of Gumy and me.  It is all so nice and clean that you can’t tell the floor is concrete, and the wall decorations are just posters with scriptures on them, or that there aren’t many windows, or that she has to go out to the courtyard where there is a bathroom and pour water in the toilet with a bucket.

Children on the outskirts of town

Children on the outskirts of town

She made my day by asking me to come with her Friday afternoon to the outskirts of town, where she goes weekly to give the children there a little bit of a Bible lesson.  We climbed the hill past pigs, dogs, five sheep, women sitting on the sidewalk trying to do handiwork, and lots of dirty children, to a house right before the dirt turned to pine trees.  Gumy knocked on the door and a little girl let her in.  She introduced me to the woman who lived there, who I think was spinning wool into a coarse cord tied to a tree, which eventually, when it got long enough, would go into the trademark woven products characteristic of Bolivia, which tourists can go into shops and buy for a few dollars.  We went into the adobe “hut” out of the sun, where the flies were staying out of the heat by hovering above the three wooden benches the children would sit on.  Gumy sat and coaxed the children.  A couple of little girls came in, and then eventually two or three more, but they tried to get a very little girl to sit by me and she started crying and left; then some more children came in, and then all but one went out to try to get some others in, and then he went out to, and then they started straggling back in.  Gumy said it was normal.  Eventually there were 10, I think.  We sang some songs, and then Gumy prayed (she asked me to, but no way in Spanish … probably the children wouldn’t even have understood.)

Children & their puppy at this home

Children & their puppy at this home

She used some pretty pictures to illustrate her Bible story … somehow, Bible stories seem more accessible here sometimes.  Or more relevant?  The Old Testament seems more real, anyway, when you’re seeing aspects of the setting in front of you.   (The pictures were A Beka ones … I have an idea she might appreciate more; I don’t know what all she has.)  After she passed out a puzzle/coloring sheet,  she told me to go ahead and take a picture of the youngsters.  Inside the dark hut, the flash scared them all at first.  But within five seconds, they were clustered around me, clutching at the camera and begging to see, begging for me to take another picture while they posed, and another, and another “of me by myself.”  Yeah, my nice new digital camera has fingerprints on it.  I haven’t wiped them off yet.

Children from the "Friday School"

Children from the "Friday School"

I didn’t get pictures of the pigs, or the sheep, or the woman working, or some of the other things I wish I could show you so you could understand how things are here.  But it certainly is different from where I go to sleep at night.

Casa Magariños

Casa Magariños

"My" sala ... the 3rd floor of the house devoted to the students' use

"My" sala ... the 3rd floor of the house devoted to the students' use

OK, I have already spent over an hour online, and it’s getting dark.  I had better get off of here.  I was going to write another post about our trip to Potosí on Saturday, but I don’t have time right now.  I don’t feel like I have done a very good job of getting this across at all, but it is the best I can do unless you want to come see what I’m talking about.  Anyway, my throat is getting tired of breathing cigarette smoke here around this internet cafe…

New Friends

21 05 2009

Hello again … I’ve  been busy!  This will be a little bit longer post, if I can get my thoughts together and get it finished in the time I have. 

On Monday, the missionaries introduced me to Gumy (if I’m spelling that right), and she has helped me out some since then.  Her sister, for example, wanted to ¨buy dollars,¨ so she gave me a 1% better exchange rate for bolivianos than most places are giving.  She also helped me find a phone card yesterday, which I had tried so many times by myself without any success.  She also volunteered to help me make it to the church, which I really would be afraid to try to find by myself after dark.  I have an invitation to vist her at home this evening at 5:30.

Last night, then, she told me to meet her at the Plaza 25 de Mayo downtown at 7:00 en punto (on the dot).  I hurried and was a little early … She was there perhaps 5-10 minutes late.  She and I walked together to one of the places where buses line up, and she showed me which one to take and how to pay.  There was nothing shocking about the bus ride (if you were hoping). 

By the way, I have figured out how traffic works here, and it’s a much simpler rule than you ever heard.  It is just this: The people here have 12 times the tolerance for risk than we do in the US.  That is a precise calculation.  Six inches of clearance here is equivalent to six feet in the US.  Also, as to “mad drivers honking their horns all the time” – That’s not true.  They honk their horns for things like coming up to blind intersections with no traffic control; that way cross traffic knows that someone is coming through.  As a matter of fact, I think I function better on the streets here than in Wichita.  As almost if not quite a country girl, I never have figured out city traffic at home.

Anyway, we made it within a few short blocks from the church for 20-some cents.  The service was to start at 7:30, and at five till 8, René and his family pulled up in the SUV usually driven by the missionary family who is on furlough right now.  (I don’t know what time we got there, but we didn’t wait 25 minutes.)  He unlocked the gate, and we all went in together.  I would say that there eventually were about 10 adults and 10 youngsters.

I played the piano … they try to do things so correctly here that I don’t even get eye contact to signal what I’m supposed to do.  But they asked me last week.  I really have begun to like the pastor.  He and his wife seem just a few years older than I am; they have a 1-2 year old and another son that is maybe seven.  He is very serious, to appearances; he has a lot of zeal, a real “go get ’em” attitude.  He also has a good sense of humor, which you can see occasionally.  After service, prayer, and a couple of testimonies, he called an older lady up to the front and sat down with his family.  I thought she was going to sing, but it turned out he must have asked her to preach.

She preached on “cleaning our nets,” from the first few verses of Luke 5.  I mention it because it seemed pretty original to me.  Our nets, she said, are our lives, and they must be in good condition if we are to be fishers of men.  I enjoy the delivery here.  Although they seem so formal to me at times, René and this lady have both preached with a lot of expression and feeling.

After the service, the youngsters ran around and played (well, wait a minute; they’d been doing that all through the service, more or less).  A couple of the women wanted to talk to me, and after a few minutes I adjusted fairly well to the new accent, and I suppose they adjusted to my listening capabilities even more.  Some one of the ladies brought out a bunch of Christmas shoeboxes filled by Operation Good Samaritan and handed them out to the children.  (Now I know why some of them come without their parents.) 

When we were done with fellowship, everyone filed out with René and his family.  I was quite lost and asked Gumy where we were going.  She said we were riding in the SUV, although she didn’t yet know how.  I am fairly sure we didn’t get an invitation; if there was an excuse given, it probably was that I was “suffering from the cold,” as I had forgot my jacket and the rest of them were bundled up against the 60 degrees.  I am quite sure that 2/3 to 3/4 of the congregation piled into that SUV.  I would say that we were four wide on the bench seat, but that would be neglecting to mention that the woman to my left was wearing her 8-month-old grandson on her back, and the woman to her left had two children sitting on her lap.  The back was full of children, and the pastor’s son was standing up facing his mother in the front seat, leaning against the dashboard.  We stopped to let off one lady in a poor part of town.  We made another stop, and I thought we were letting out someone else, but we had come back to pick up Gumy and a couple of teenagers.  They let me off next, so I don’t know where everyone else ended up.

They treat me with entirely too much respect for a 24-year-old.  One of the ladies asked me a question, and after I answered I realized that all the adults were listening, and the pastor asked me another question about it.

Well, I am supposed to meet Gumy in five minutes, so I had better get off of here.  I don’t feel like I have conveyed it very well, but I hope you get some idea of what’s going on.  I will get more pictures sooner or later.

Talk to you later!


19 05 2009

Well, I don’t know how much I’ll have time for right now, but let’s try this quickly.  I wish I could tell about every single thing that was happening, but I just don’t have the time, so I will try to share some special moments with you.

Last night, we had been given the grand tour of the city, and it was almost dark when it ended.  Since we’re responsible for our own supper, five of us went together to get something.  (Three of us were the scholarship people, and two have already been here a while and knew a little about what was going on.)  We all agreed that we wanted something authentic (whatever that is), so we didn’t stop at the pizza or sandwich shops.  In fact, we kept going until we reached el mercado de campesinos (the farmer’s market).  Personally, I think that was kinda stupid, and I expected to suffer for it, but none of us had any ill effects … and the food was really good!  (To know why it was stupid you would have to see the farmers’ market, without any hand-washing facilities.  Unfortunately, I didn’t even think to take any pictures.)

But what I wanted to tell you about was later on, while we were standing on the street in front of a shop, conferring over our maps about where our respective houses were.  This little four- or five-year-old girl was coming up along the crowded sidewalk, her right hand firmly grasped in her mother’s.  As she neared me, she looked up and said loudly, “¡Hola!”   I said, “¡Hola!”  Then she reached up with her free hand and grabbed mine, and would have hung onto it, except her mother, smiling at me, pulled her on past, and she disappeared.

Yeah, sure, I know.  She took one look and thought I was a freak from a circus show.  I really don’t care.

Some pictures

18 05 2009
Florida from the plain

Florida from the plane

OK, I took this first picture from the plane as we were leaving Florida, I believe.  I had window seats on two of the flights that day, and I confess I was glued to the window the whole time.

View from the house

This is one of the view from the beautiful home where I am staying.  It is altogether too nice for a Kansas girl.  I knew that it would be nice, but I didn’t really believe it until I got the tour!

View of Sucre from the house

View of Sucre from the house

I’m not sure that this is the best view, but it seems to be what I have on my camera right now.  I think it was in the morning.

I am sitting here listening to children chattering in Spanish as they go home from a school near here, or at least I think that’s what’s going on!  I had better get off of here before I run up more of a bill than I want to.

An update

17 05 2009

I have no idea where to start. I suppose I ought to start with the plane trip, since that was my first ever, but that has already been two days, and today was even more exciting. Am I writing that? I think it’s the truth. Really, my mind is too scattered to write things out the way I would like to, so for now you’ll just have to take what you can get. Due to an extremely slow dial-up internet connection, you’re not going to be getting this the way I meant for it to be, and I also can’t access any pictures from this computer (it is at the host family’s).

So I arrived yesterday (Saturday) at about noon. I spent all day Friday flying, and spent the night in Santa Cruz. After getting here, I called home, ate lunch, slept a couple of hours, unpacked, and found that I couldn’t remain three minutes in the same place. After a while, I decided to go ahead and get in touch with a missionary family that I knew was here (it’s a long story – the whole chain bringing me here amazes them, and they have hardly heard half of it). Needless to say, they were rather shocked to hear from me , not knowing I existed, but they have taken me in like an old friend. In fact, in true holiness folks style, we spent half the afternoon today trying to come up with common acquaintances. The field was surprisingly barren … for those who are interested, we had one preacher (Winfield Poe) in common, and the husband went to the Bible college that my grandmother attended in … one of the states north of Kansas, whichever. For holiness folks, that is pretty slim pickings!

They picked me up last night and took me to their young people’s meeting, which was very small. I got to meet the native pastor’s family. (For future reference, his name is René – that’s the only one I remember.) The missionary wife (Barbara) plays the piano, but this is the last weekend they will be here until I am gone. So this morning, she was tending a fussy baby, and she asked me to play the piano. After they consulted with René after the service, I was informed that I have a job.

I was supposed to get the tour of the town tomorrow through the school I am attending, but as circumstances would have it, I got it this morning, and perhaps a more thorough one. When the missionary family (the Biggers) came to pick me up, they were fifteen minutes late. They said that for some reason, police were blocking off many of the roads. We drove around town for an hour and forty-some minutes trying to make the 10-15 minute trip to church! Finally, they figured out it was a bicycle race. If it had been me, I admit I eventually would have given up and sat in a park somewhere until things cleared up and we could go home for lunch. An hour or so into the “trip,” the three-year-old asked if we were almost to Tarija yet (the town where they usually live)! Finally, at 11:40, they parked and we started to walk to church, only to find that the race ended just then. So we piled back into the truck and drove on over, where, to my surprise, the congregation was still waiting for someone to come and unlock the door. We went on in and had church, the service lasting until about 1:00. After that, we took a couple of women home, one of them an older woman (so I saw more of the “slum” section than I probably will tomorrow), and they took me home with them for Sunday dinner.

After dinner, Barbara and I took a taxi and went to visit a lady in the hospital, and then she had the taxi driver drop me off here (at “home”) where I am now. And I decided to see if I could get my blog to work from here. I believe it will. However, my Yahoo email isn’t working, so I’m not going to be able to notify everyone that I want to right now.

I am going to go again to the church service tonight, and I think they plan to introduce me to another Bolivian lady that lives nearer to where I am tomorrow (she’s gone this weekend), and then school starts tomorrow afternoon. After that, I will be on my own as far as Americans go. I was more relieved than I thought I would be to be in contact with this family yesterday and today, though. I think it helped me get my bearings as to how I will be negotiating this. Also, I can understand some 85+% of the native preacher’s message. I found that exciting! I can communicate fairly well here, although I think part of it is that most of the natives I’ve been in contact with so far are used to horrible accents.

Anyway, I had better close before this gets so long that nobody will read it all. Once I find an internet place where the computers are a tad faster and my regular email works, I’ll try to officially launch this thing … right now I’ll just be able to email the addresses that I have memorized. Talk to you all later!

Oh, by the way, it’s 6:00 local time.