Eerily quiet night followed by a peaceful morning. Bolivian Census Day.
“For a 24 hour period, starting at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, November 21, all non-emergency offices and businesses have been ordered to remain closed, and individuals instructed to remain at home and await the census taker. No pedestrians, private vehicles, or public transportation will be allowed on the roads without prior authorization (i.e., a special permit) from the National Institute of Statistics and violators will be fined.”
Today we were counted in the Bolivian census, taken every 10 years. The questions were pretty routine, where were you born, what do you do, your education level, how many children do you have. The only unsettling question was how many children have you given birth to that have died. The guy expected a number and asked twice to confirm it was zero.
It was interesting to see the whole country on lock-down. We don’t have a TV but I imagine there wasn’t even news today because the news broadcasters had to be in their homes to be counted also. It’s like we were all just on pause for 24 hours. I don’t know about the rest of Bolivia, but I used the time to do a really good cleaning of the house.
On Jan. 8th, our friend Katie Zoller from Iowa State flew into Bolivia as part of her round-the-world travels and so we took a week off and explored southwestern Bolivia with her. First we all flew to Sucre, spent a night there and then got a bus to Potosi. Despite all the time Tom and I had spent in Sucre (language school, with Tom’s parents), we had never ventured to the other cities to the south so we devoted this trip to the region called Potosi, the capital of which is the city of Potosi. From Sucre, Potosi is a three-hour up-down, up-down bus drive which eventually took us from 10,000 ft to 13,300 feet. The city of Potosi is one of the highest in the world and is home to an enormous silver mine, which the Spanish colonists greatly exploited, using the locals as slaves, and the Spanish colonial mint where coins for the whole Spanish empire (and after independence, Bolivia) were made. (Ironically, since 1951 the mint has been closed and now Bolivia imports their currency from Canada, France and Chile). Potosi was cold and rainy and our hostel only turned their heat on for a few hours at night, but even still we enjoyed the two days we spent there.
At our hostel, suited up and ready to go on the mine tour. Our hostel “La Casona Hostel” was an old colonial house built in 1792.
We learned how to detonate dynamite and that it won’t explode if you just light it on fire (as the guy explaining this takes his lighter and lights the stick of dynamite on fire right in front of us).
Once the dynamite blows, they use these carts to get the rocks out of the mine. Three men push/pull one cart that weighs over a ton! They currently pull out silver, tin, lead and zinc from the mountain but arsenic is literally oozing out of all the walls.
Katie and I inside the mine with a group of miners, we had gone ‘down’ several levels so it was quite warm here. All the miners wanted kisses from us on the way out (they work 12-24 hour shifts…all men…you can imagine). I should note that despite the fact that they let tourists in, the mines are still working mines complete with daily dynamiting. Luckily the day we were there was a no-dynamite day because they were doing safety-checks on the supports in all the tunnels. The mine used to be nationalized but the state decided it wasn’t profitable anymore and so now independent co-ops each own a different mine-entrance. There are two problems with this: 1. when a miner is injured or dies there is no organization or insurance that pays out, the family’s just SOL; and 2. The groups are fiercely competitive and so don’t talk to each other about their movements inside the mountain. Meaning, you could have someone dynamiting the wall right next to you, and you’d have no idea. UNESCO wants to shut down the mines and turn the mountain into an historical site. However that would turn 20,000 people out of work and so they are vehemently opposed to this and HATE UNESCO for suggesting it. Mining has been in families for generations and it seems like if there wasn’t mining in Potosi, people would feel like they’d lost their identity.
Spending time with the girls at the Hogar and the kids at the Guarderia we’ve come to appreciate how much of a difference it makes in a child’s life to have a strong, consistent Mother-figure. For learning everything from proper hygiene to manners and morals, there is no replacement for a loving mother. There are many things that we now appreciate more about our previous lives in the U.S. like air conditioning, clean streets, having a car; but the thing we realized we have most taken for granted in our lives are our amazing mothers. Seeing now what our lives could have been like, all we can say from the bottom of our hearts is, “Thank you God for giving us Mothers who love and care for us. We know now that few people in the world are as blessed as we are.”
We love you mom,
Tom and Laura
So since we’re in the Southern Hemisphere our school has been wrapping up here over the past few weeks and the heat of summer is now fully upon us! Here are a few highlights from the end of the year.
Institute Graduation: Tom and I didn’t have a big role to play in this graduation, Tom was going to take some pictures and provided some technical support that day. So, we sauntered over at 7:05 (it was supposed to start at 7:oopm). No one was there. So we hung out some more and wandered over again at 8pm. This time everyone was there milling around and Madre Clara hustled over to us as we walked in with her usual, “Tomas, fotos.” Tom is her official photographer now. Then she turned to me and said “Laura can you do me favor? Will you be the madrina for my two nephews?” and she motioned towards two young men. I said, “Sure but should I change clothes?” and she says, “Yes something more elegant.” So I run back to our house and hurriedly put on a black skirt and sparkly top. So I should explain, in Bolivian graduations each graduate is called by name and walked down the aisle by a parent or god-parent (who’s name is also called). “This is Laura Alice Kent escorted by her husband Thomas Martin Kent” for example. So I got to walk the two guys, Javier and Richard, down the aisle!
Richard, Me, Javier, Madre Clara. Javier was taking it a little more seriously.
Then, if this wasn’t enough, when I went to sit down with all the other families Madre Clara grabs me and says, “Can you help hand out the certificates?” and pulls me to the stage. The people on stage were the Provincial, Madre Christina, the Madre General from Poland, and the actual professors. I don’t know why I was there! But as soon as I get there a professor hands me a certificate and I have to go and present it. I was all prepared for the shake with the right, receive certificate with the left but it’s much more complicated here. All the women are holding flowers and sometimes teddy bears so they can’t really shake your hand and you have to give them a kiss also, sometimes on one side, sometimes on both sides and then hand them the certificate. And you have to congratulate their accompanying person also and some of them wanted to kiss me too. I kissed some of older men, I don’t know if I was supposed to do that or not. It was very culturally awkward.
So we’re very sorry for anyone who came running to our blog the moment they got the address only to find….nothing. We’re not actually leaving for Bolivia until Sept 18th, so the little blurb at the top saying “We’re currently volunteering in Montero, Bolivia” is actually from the future, and I can time travel (don’t ask how though, its a secret).
For those who didn’t get a 2-page e-mail from us explaining what’s up, that probably means we don’t have your e-mail address. I’ve put the big explanation into a separate page here.
Also, for those with questions about how the e-mail subscriptions work, you only get an e-mail when we write a post that is written in the “Major Announcements” category, which we’ll try to do a bit less than once a month. This post is not one of those, as it is in the “Uncategorized” category. See the “Subscribing” page for more details.
I just put together a page that explains how you can subscribe to our blog…and get updates when we change it.
To read how, just click the “Subscribing” link under the picture above or click here.
Its laura, i just wanted to say I beat tom to posting on the blog.