We officially have a God daughter!

Her name is Maria del Carmen Ribera Rivera, she´s 6 and just got baptized tonight.  She and her 2 other sisters came to the orphanage because their mother is in a long-term tuberculosis treatment facility and she couldn´t take care of them.   I´m unsure if there are any other family members active in their lives.   It is currently unknown if the sisters will ever be able to go back to living with their mother, but with her living, they can´t be adopted so for the time being they will be at the orphanage.  We plan to keep in touch with Maria even after we leave Bolivia if at all possible which will be easier if she stays at the orphanage but I hope for their sake that their mother can stay a part of their lives.   About 10 other children from the orphanage were also baptized tonight, ages 1-14.  We had a special dinner afterwards which was REALLY tasty.  It was a fun time.

World Class Orange Juice

I was out in the market at about 6:45 this morning, and there was a man there with a push cart selling freshly squeezed orange juice. I asked him how much it was and he said 2.5 Bs, which is like $0.17, for a glass. I said sure and he immediately went to work peeling and squeezing four oranges. The whole process took about a minute and a half! When was done I gave him the coins and he gave me possibly the best tasting glass of orange juice I’ve ever had in my life. When we finally do head back to the United States I´m really going to miss the great juices here!

From the Halls of Montezuma…

It’s Friday night and we survived another week in Montero.  In some ways it’s getting easier, in others harder.  As we understand more of what’s going on around us we feel more connected but it raises new cultural questions.   Just a few highlights from this week:

Every day at lunch time 12-2pm the marching band at the neighboring high school (colegio) practices.  So far their regime consists of “The Ants Go Marching,” and the  Marines’ Hymn and a third we don’t recognize.  We’re slightly curious if they know the association of the Marines’ Hymn with the U.S. Marines.

The city’s main vegetable market is just across the street from our house.  Somewhere in the market between 5-6:30am every morning someone feels the need to blare traditional Bolivian music for about an hour.  I appreciate the culture, but this disrupts my sleep pattern immensely.

It rained today!  The rain here is like a water spigot.  It turns on full blast and then turns off completely.  There’s not much inbetween (yet).  Everything got soaked and flooded, including our living room, from 5:30-6:30pm and then it was done.   By 7:30 most stuff was drying out except for the dirt roads.

Crazy kids.  I’ve been in the Preschool (Guarderia) all week in the mornings.  The kids are cute, sometimes, but the kindergarten-age ones are really out of control.  They don’t listen, they don’t stay inside, they don’t sit still.   Twice the teacher left me alone with them this week.  The first time I hadn’t figured out to lock the door yet so when I turned my back, kids would just run out the door and then not come back when I yelled.  One climbed the fence and ran out to the market and came back with two ice cream bars he had bought!  Unfortunately my spanish is not good enough to make children feel ashamed of their actions yet (which I have realized does take a certain amount of sophistication and knowledge about the culture and the child) so I couldn’t do anything.  Keep in mind that this kid is 5, maybe 6.  They are just crazy precocious.  They’re not smart though.  A lot of these kids can barely count to 10 and can’t write their names or numbers, but they have a lot of street smarts.   Today I finally calmed them down with some hokey-pokey singing but that was only after two other workers came over and yelled at them for me (and chased some of them down and returned them).  I had the door locked today too.

In other events, one of the 3-4 years olds dropped his pants and pooped in the playground (dirt floor) and then proceeded to bury it like a cat, acting as though this were normal.  I’m concerned that it might be.  The kids in the kindergarten are taught how to brush their teeth once a week but they do it in the playground area and all just spit on the ground.  Lesson learned:  never touch the dirt in Bolivian playgrounds.

Fireworks. We had fireworks tonight.  I think we may have mentioned this in a Sucre post but you will see fireworks here any time of the day or night, anywhere.  Oftentimes you will see them outside churches after weddings and at futbol (read: soccer) games.  Sometimes they’ll just be going off in the middle of the day which scares me because it kind of sounds like gun fire but I don’t think guns are very common here.  My point here though is that there are NO regulations against fireworks anywhere at anytime.  Even in VERY dry places such as Sucre we constantly heard fireworks.  At the Sucre Expo we were practically hit with one (these are city sanctioned fireworks), they were shooting them off so low that the fire balls were coming down in the crowd.  It’s just….surprising for a place where life already has plenty of obstacles to staying alive without having to worry about exploding fireballs.  (It’s like I’m living in a Super Mario Bros game, if I could just find one of those sparkly stars….)

Also, there’s an American kid at the Kindergarten.  I haven’t gotten his whole story yet but he was born I think in the US and knows limited English (he’s only 6).   He looks as if at least one parent is from the US.  I’m not sure why you’d move to Montero for business, but I’m sure there most be a reason, maybe family.

I went to prison today

So as I was getting set to do some work this morning, Madre Clara (the sister who is my boss) comes up to me and says that I should get my camera, because she needs me to video something.  It turns out, we were going to the prison in the center of town, home to about 160 inmates.  She and the institute had been working with them to get them certificates (they’re super important here…like a diploma from a vo tech school) saying that they were proficient in a few different trades.  Anyway, it turned out there was also a baptism, confirmation, and the bishop was there for it…all at once.

However, the whole time I was there, I was a bit creeped out.   I’ve never been in an American prison, much less a harsh Bolivian one.  I’m not sure of the entire setup, but it seems that there are about 4 cells for all the people.  I think that everyone has a bed in one of those cells, but they seemed pretty packed.  I took a short video of the surroundings, but its kinda short and jerky.

Smoke and Visas

I can’t believe it’s October!   And 86 F at 9pm!   I miss pumpkins and leaves… back to reality though.  The smoke is back.  It started up again last night with an awful smell.  So from Sept.- November the sugar cane farmers apparently burn their fields (I assume after harvest).   And Montero is surrounded by corn, soybeans (feels like home) and sugar cane fields.   Which means that when they burn the fields, we live in smoke.  You know that feeling when you’re standing by a camp fire and the smoke blows in your eyes and it stings a little.  That’s how I’ve been feeling all day today and there’s no way to get away from it.  There is no “inside” because, like I mentioned, it’s 86 and there’s no air conditioning so everything is open air.   We actually saw blue sky for the first time on Saturday but most days the haze blocks out the sky and makes for a reddish sun.   There have been people on the news saying “Today is a red air quality day, etc.” and apparently a few days in September they had to shut down the airport because visibility was so low.  However, besides that, life doesn’t change because of the smoke.  Kids are still running around outside breathing it in and everybody just goes about their daily business.  I only assume that people with severe respiratory conditions must do something differently.  Either there aren’t as many kids with asthma here or it’s not diagnosed because I haven’t seen a single kid with an inhaler (and I’ve seen hundreds of kids).   I don’t say any of this to alarm you, we’re both still in fine health but it’s just shocking to me that they have to endure this every year.   The fact that the cars have no emissions standards doesn’t help the air quality even when there’s not smoke either.

For those of you wondering about our visas, we did get all of our paperwork turned in on Monday, hurray!  BUT we have to go back in a week to see if it’s all acceptable.  And then we have to go back in a month to see if they ACTUALLY accepted it.  Our co-volunteer Andrea came with us because hers was supposed to be ready to pick up (she had already been back for the one week check).  She sat in line for 3.5 hours only to told that there was some sheet she hadn’t signed so she had to sign it and come back in 3 days.  : /   You just never know what to expect.  It’s mostly a bummer because it’s such a time drain.  You basically lose a whole day doing it with the 2 hours of travel time and all the wait time.

Thanks for everyone’s comments!  We really enjoy hearing from you and knowing that someone is reading!   Rake some leaves for us.  :0)

Montero: Thurs-Sat.


Laura does not feel right. Nausea, diarrhea, oh boy, but we have to get back to Interpol to do Tom’s stuff. So we get ourselves to early mass again and on are on our way to Santa Cruz by 7:30am. We’re at Interpol by 8:15 and thank god, there’s no line. We’re out in 5 minutes. We push on and get a taxi to the Archbishop’s office (Arzobispo, kind of fun to say). He’s not there to sign our forms but we get the process started and back in Montero by 10am. Laura sleeps most of the rest of the day and watches a movie, not feeling well.


Now we have our game faces on. We have to pick-up FELCC, Interpol, blood results and Archbishop’s letter each in a certain time interval and at offices spread across the city. This time Laura does NOT eat lunch in Santa Cruz and instead has some Sprite and a piece of bread brought from Montero. Tom attempts a 10 boliviano lunch only to have his glass break when he poured soda into it- the whole bottom snapped off and then his chicken isn’t cooked, still bleeding practically. He leaves the food and we walk out. Anyway, after trufis, taxis, micros (city buses), and a second trufi we get all our paperwork picked up and we’re back in Montero by 6pm. Laura is feeling MUCH better after a day of bread and Sprite.


Tom not feeling 100% (we’ve officially learned our lesson about lunches in Santa Cruz) but we get wisked away in the morning for a full day of work. Tom does some video-editing for Madre Clara while Laura attends a training conference for preschool educators and mothers. We talked nutrition, food preparation, and did crafts. Then in the afternoon I got to help out with the religious “animation” or religious education of the young people. This I think I will really enjoy! I’m going to co-lead a small group of 13-15 year old girls. The language is tough but the material is great, just talking about how to live your faith and life. That brings us up to present. Tom is feeling better, his stomach is much stronger than mine in general. And, Monday (cross your fingers) we’re going to try to turn in all of our visa papers! This won’t even be late yet which is amazing, thanks only to the other volunteers’ help and the miracles listed above worked by the sisters. I’m still expecting more roadblocks but maybe fate will cut us a break, you never know :) .

Montero: Wed.

FELCC: Bolivian for needless bureaucracy.  So we drop off our papers at the Felcc office in Montero Tuesday afternoon, feeling good about having made some progress that day.  He says come back tomorrow, we say okay.  Now this guy ran the other two volunteers all over town to get their paperwork done.  Each time they came back he asked for something new, one document at a time and then when they had everything the price somehow quadrupled.  He’s a real tool.  He’s not nice to the locals either.  So we don’t got to see him without a Sister to do the talking.  Anyway we were on top of our game and had everything he could possibly ask for, plus a Sister so of course guess what?  When we came back the next day he says, oh you can’t file this here, the new rule is that you have to go to Santa Cruz.  (Actually blessing in disguise, but we were frustrated at this point because he didn’t get around to telling this to us until 10am) Luckily we had Madre Clara with us (she’s the superior of the convent right now, born in Montero and can get things done). She walks us down the street to the taxi station to Santa Cruz and makes some phone calls. After about a half-hour wait, her nephew shows up in a nice SUV with leather seats and wisks us off to Santa Cruz. We breeze in the FELCC office an hour later (now 11:30) and Madre Clara throws some elbows and gets us a seat at one of the desks.  Anyway turns out we don’t need half of what Senor Tool in Montero had asked for, the price is half of what he charges and it’s done in under 5 minutes.  Pick up on Friday.

So we zoom back out to the car and Madre Clara decides we can make it to the blood place by 12:30. But then we need gas and we need to pick up Sr. Christina and we roll into Cenetrop for HIV tests at 12:29:30. This time Madre Christina the tall Polish Sister heads things up and talks her way into the office with sad puppy eyes and a story about how we drove all the way from Montero just for this. We get our blood drawn and we’re out of there by 12:45. (Miracle #2)

Now Madre Clara’s nephew has to go to class, he’s 19 and a university student in Santa Cruz and amazingly nice to drive us all over that morning, so Tom and I get dropped off for lunch and we’re on our own for the afternoon. This is where our luck begins to turn, but we eat a nice lunch for $2 at a restaurant and then try to go to Interpol to get Santa Cruz background checks. It’s not open yet so we kill some time checking out Bolivian Burger King and eat some ice cream. At Interpol there’s already 20 some people there when it opens and I walk right through their not-on metal detector but the guard says to Tom, no you can’t come in. I thought it was the backpack so he gives me the paperwork and I go and try to do everything for both of us. Now Interpol has got a really nice thing going, there’s two offices in there and the guy in the actual background check office won’t talk to you until you have an official letter from the guy in the other office which conveniently costs 40 bolivianos. So you stand in line to buy your piece of paper- the guy literally sits there with a word document open on his computer, types your name in and hits print.  Anyway, then you wait in anther 30 minute line to talk to guy in the other office. Once you talk to him, he tells me I have to go back to the other office and buy the forms I need filled out, which conveniently cost 50 bolivianos each. So back to the first line, and then back to the second line. Two hours later I get my stuff done and as much of Tom’s as I can without him coming in. By this time I’m annoyed for many reasons but one of them being that there are tons of people in there with backpacks. Come to realize, that the reason Tom wasn’t allowed in was because he was wearing SHORTS. I then noticed clearly posted on the door was a dress code: no shorts, no flip-flops, no tank-tops. Now sure this might make sense at a nice government building or a court house but it’s about 95 F and humid, no air conditioning, and this place is a dump. The ‘walls’ of the offices are glorified cubicle dividers, there are wires hanging out the ceiling where they should be lights, the walls are filthy, oh but they have standards I guess, I’m sorry.

Anyway we’re still in good-spirits because I got my paperwork done and so we get some wifi at the hotel across the street and wait for our ride home from some of the sisters who are in town doing errands.

Montero: Mon-Tues.

Sorry we haven’t been posting as much this week.  There is a LOT to say but it’s been hectic getting used to our new schedule.  We don’t really know what we’re doing each day until someone shows up at our dour and says we’re supposed to be somewhere in 5 minutes.  To catch you up to speed we arrived on Monday and had a tour of the whole compound.  It’s quite extensive and really nice.  There’s a whole parochial center where they have hundreds of young people come Saturdays and Sundays for Sunday-school type stuff and preparation for the sacraments.   Today I was in a life-teen-like praise and worship session with close to 150 teen-age girls (very impressive I think).   There’s also a kindergarten with over 250 kindergarteners, and a preschool with another 50-80 kids under 5.  It’s no surprise they can use extra hands around here.  Then there’s also an orphanage with 80-100 girls (?) ages 0-18.  I haven’t seen all the girls together yet but I saw a lot of beds.   There are just a LOT of kids in this town and they all need to learn some good, Christian values.  That’s where we come in.

Below is the tortoise that lives at the orphanage.

So then Tuesday we tried to go to Santa Cruz for the first time to start our visa process.  We went to morning mass which is at 6:45am in the church on the Plaza.  It’s pretty hilarious seeing all the sisters pack into one truck to go to church (there are 12-15 including postulates here).

When we got to church at 6:40 there were already a bunch of people there and then this group of women marches in with a loud speaker saying the end of their walking rosary (who knows what time they started) which appears to happen daily because the sisters are completely un-phased despite the fact that this woman is singing off key into a loud-speaker, now inside of the church.   Anyway then mass starts with some rousing synthesizer beats and an opening song from the guy upfront with an electric keyboard and a microphone.  Keep in mind it’s still 6:45am and I am not a morning person.  It was an experience.  After mass we went to try to get a trufi (see definition below) to Santa Cruz but on the TV they reported there was a blockade between Montero and Santa Cruz.  Apparently some merchants who wanted better spots to sell their wares decided to sit in the road for a few hours to make their point.  It seems to be a pretty popular form of political protest here.  Anyway, we decided not to go to Santa Cruz to avoid any political entanglements.  So instead we stayed in Montero and worked on getting the necessary paperwork together for FELCC.

Trufi: a car or minivan with extra seats stuffed in.  You pay $1 to ride an hour to Santa Cruz sans air conditioning sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with your closest stranger.  For example your retro-fitted family minivan holds 7 passengers and a driver.  Two of those lucky passengers ride up front and the really lucky one is shoulder-to-shoulder with the driver, legs trying to avoid the stick-shift that is right in front of you.  I had that seat on the way back one day.  Not great.

Visas and starting in Montero

So in the three and a half days we’ve been here in Montero, we’ve spent almost all our time trying to get our long-term Visas finalized.  Things are going relatively smoothly, but it still is a slow process with lots to do.  The last two days we’ve been down in Santa Cruz (the really big city…2 million people vs. ~100k in Montero) in and out of government offices, and we have at least two more days to go.

Apart from Visas I got in to my first class today, I was helping out the teacher of a computer class for kindergardeners.  About half of them were playing around in Microsoft Paint, the other half used some simple educational games.  Tomorrow I’ll spend a bit with my first young adult class, which promises to be a bit more challenging.

Also, I’ve got the picture of our house that I promised in the last post:

The window to the left of the door is our bedroom, and the window to the right is our kitchen and living room (which you enter through a door just outside the right of the picture).  The next door down is an empty bedroom, visitors welcome!