Thanksgiving present

You may remember Madre Clara from our visa-related posts; she’s a highly-effective, spunky Sister that runs the Kinder and the Institute.   She and Madre Inez are in charge of giving us work to do and making sure we have what we need in our house.   And with Madre Clara around you just never know what’s going to come at you next.

Thursday morning we were bustling around getting things ready for the Thanksgiving meal that we were cooking for the Sisters, when I walked out of the convent through a group of sisters holding a baby.   I was passing along to do my work when Madre Clara calls, “Laura, someone left a baby for you.”  I gave her a funny look thinking I hadn’t understood correctly.  And so she says again, “For you, a baby was left.”  I say, “for me?” and she and the others sisters get excited and say, “Oh yes, a gift, for you.”  So I walk over and they hand me this 5-6 month old baby.   Madre Inez says, “Mama Laurita” and smiles while Madre Clara starts trying to teach it to say, “Papa Tomas, Papa Tomas.”   I look the baby over and say, “Thanks, bye” and pretend to walk away with it.  They laugh and I ask where the baby came from.  Apparently that morning two women showed up at the convent with this baby.  The story they told was that the mother of the baby was 16 and the father was 17.  The girl’s father said she had to get rid of the baby or he would kill it.  So this older woman who had 4 other children took it in.  But her husband got mad and said they didn’t have enough money to feed it so she showed up at the convent with it.   I started to feel uncomfortable as the Sisters continued to joke about me being the baby’s mother so I handed her back to one of the Sisters who gave her to one of the older girls from the orphanage saying, “Here take your new sister.”  She didn’t come with a name or a birth date but later that day at the doctor’s office they created a birth certificate for her, named her Dayana and estimated she was about 6 months old.  Overall it was a really unsettling experience for me to see this unwanted baby get passed around and to hold her knowing she needed a mother.  They know that we can’t adopt any children here (Bolivia doesn’t allow adoptions from the U.S.) but a part of me just wanted to give this baby a loving family.  It felt like in that moment no one would really have been affected if this baby were alive or dead.  That breaks my heart.

Pledge Drive

I hope everyone here has gone to the bathroom recently…because I’m not letting you out of here until we reach our goal.

Just kidding…you’re on your honor not to hit the back button.  

So, now that we’re a few months into our stay in Bolivia, we’ve had a chance to figure out what we’ll be doing here and how that will help improve the lives of the people in the community.  One of the things that I’ll be doing is teaching a multimedia design course.  There are quite a few jobs available here in publishing, television, radio, etc. where they can put skills with photos, graphics, audio, and video to use.  My goal here is to give them a skill where they will be able to support themselves in a way that they can make a decent living for their family.

Though I don’t have a ton of experience with multimedia creation going into this, (getting some with the videos for the blog though), I’ve been reading up on it and think I’m about ready to start with lesson plans.  However, the two things that are holding us back are that the computers currently in the Institute’s lab are really old (some are more than ten years old!), and the internet package that the school has is pretty slow, making it tough to work with some of the great online resources.

Therefore, I would like to ask you to consider donating money to help this new computer lab become a reality.  We’re looking to get about a dozen computers and monitors (about $500 a piece), and get an upgrade to the internet service for the next couple of years (about $30 per month).  If you decide to donate, you can be confident that we will put your money to good use and it will go directly to address an immediate need (classes start in February).

There are three options for sending us donations, you can send a check made out to Thomas Kent to my parent’s house:
Thomas Kent
Bolivia Operations
10342 Colorado Rd.
Bloomington, MN 55438

You can click our pay-pal button:

Or, if you would like your donation to be tax deductible, you can send it through our 501(c)(3) volunteer organization.  Be sure to put Thomas Kent Computers in the memo-line on the check.

Checks payable to: Salesian Sisters

VIDES East+USA c/o Sr. Denise
St. Joseph Center
655 Belmont Ave.
Haledon, NJ 07508

Thank you so much for considering to join us in providing this new aspect of job training for the people here and as always, thanks for all your prayers, love and support!

Pineapple for Dinner

Tonight we had pineapple for dinner.  To be exact, tonight we each had a WHOLE pineapple for dinner.   To be fair though they were single-serving size and it tasted really good after a 90 degree day (no we haven’t switched our brains to Celsius yet, we may never).  Fruit is definitely a different experience here.  We already shared about the many kinds of bananas and mangas but beyond that fruit is so much a part of daily life here.  There’s always fresh fruit juice for sale on the street and fruit is overall pretty inexpensive.  Sometimes you can buy 7-9 mangas for 1 boliviano.  That’s practically a penny a piece.  And, the Sisters always keep themselves and us pretty well stocked with a variety of fruit.

Some fruit is eaten a little bit differently however.  Apples, peaches, and oranges are peeled completely before eaten.  However oranges are peeled with a knife.  Oranges here are yellow/green, never orange, and the peel is so thin and hard that it’s impossible to peel by hand.  So they peel the whole thing with a paring knife and then cut it in half and suck the orange out of the white part.  Also seedless oranges don’t exist so that makes the seed extraction easier.  Mangoes on the other hand are not peeled.  Most small mangoes are just bitten open and then the mango part is squished with your hands and sucked out of the hole.  For larger mangoes the fruit is cut off of the seed and eaten out of the peel.  Both of which are amazingly mess-free.

In the Guarderia it often falls to me to prepare the kids’ snacks for them.  The morning snack is always fruit that the kids bring from home.   Some kids bring easy things like bananas and mangoes; I just wash them and give them to the child, sometimes I help them peel it.   Then there are the kids who bring apples and oranges which are a bit more stressful because I have one dull paring knife and 16 kids clamoring around me but I get it done.  One was kind enough to say one day, “The other Tia (what they call us) peels a lot faster than you do.”  Yeah, thanks.  Then there are the kids that show up with whole papayas and pineapples that they just hand to you and expect you to hand back to them in edible form.  Today for example, I was handed three pineapples, a bag of (tiny) plums, 2 apples and 5 bananas.  I ended up leaving the other Tia with the plums, apples and bananas and escaping to the kitchen to get the pineapple situation under control.  As I was frantically carving up the pineapples, the other Tia strolls in and sees that I’m only on my second and says, “Oh is this hard for you?”  Feeling a little frustrated I’m thinking in my head “Actually, where I come from it’s considered hard for most people.”  But I just said, “Yes, it’s always difficult for me.”  Perhaps I should have added, actually this is possibly the 5th pineapple I’ve ever cut in my life, the first being just 2 weeks ago!  Sigh, the standard skill-set for a woman of my age is definitely different here.

Life in Montero

Life in Montero is beginning to have a certain rhythm to it after 4 weeks.  You can watch the movie below to see all the places that we live and work and read on if you’d like a more detailed look at a week in our life.

the Flash Player
to see this video.

You can also view it in 720p here or on YouTube.

We get up 6-7am, and eat breakfast in our kitchen, usually bread, jam, margarine and dulce de leche.   Then we get a little bit of computer time in before 8:30am.  At 8:30am Laura goes to the Guarderia (Day Care/Preschool) for the morning and Tom works on one of various photo or video editing projects that Madre Clara has assigned him, or he works on other odd jobs.  Around 12-12:30ish Laura picks up our lunch from the kitchen at the Guarderia and brings it back to our house (about a 200 ft walk).  Lunch is always soup, rice and a mixed-up mush of meat and vegetables (made for the kids).  Many days they supplement our lunch with extra chicken or vegetables however.   At 2pm it’s back to work.  Laura and Tom both go to the Kinder (kindergarten).  Tom has been working as the official Kinder photographer as well as helping out in computer classes for the kindergarteners.  Laura goes into different classrooms everyday to basically be a teaching assistant and learn how to run a classroom in Spanish.   At 5pm Kinder gets out and we go back to our house.  We eat dinner at 6:30-7ish, usually leftovers from lunch; we try to make it a smaller meal which is the custom here.   Then in the evening M, W, F there are classes over at the Institute that Tom might observe or help in and Tues and Thurs. we teach an English class together to high school and college students from 7:30-8:30pm at the Institute.   Otherwise evenings are spent relaxing or doing class prep.  Saturdays Tom is once again on call for Madre Clara which can mean any number of things from going shopping in Santa Cruz to filming a confirmation ceremony at the prison.  We also sometimes work on laundry in the mornings and then Laura prepares for IAM meetings.  Laura is in charge of a group of the Infancia and Adolescencia Misioneros at the pastoral center Saturdays 3-4pm.   Basically it’s a group of young people who pray together and read the Bible and play games.  We talk about how to be a Christian in the world and how we pray for all peoples around the world, because we’re all a family.   Then 4-5pm Laura stays around for “Seguidores de Cristo” which is a group of high school and young college students.   Saturday evenings has become movie night for us, and a chance to take a break from Spanish.  Sunday mornings we’re out of the house by 8:30am and head over to the orphanage to help take the girls to church.  This involves lots of hand-holding and yelling “Wait!” at intersections at the motorcycles fly by.   By 11:30am we’ve generally dropped the girls off back at the orphanage and then we start our actual “off time.”  But often Tom will still get conscripted to take video somewhere or there will be some celebration to attend at the pastoral center.  It’s hard to really get a full day off when there’s so much going on here.   And that’s a week in our life here!

All this is just the how things are for the time being. Classes are just getting out for the summer down here, so we’re expecting lots of changes in schedule in the next couple weeks. Then, when the next school year starts in February Tom will be teaching a lot at the Institute. There will definitely be a class on Graphic Design and Multimedia production (there is a lot of demand for these skills at the Newspaper/TV studios) and possibly a class in computer construction/repair and networking. Every afternoon Laura will be teaching english classes to the kindergarten students, and (probably) still working at the Guarderia in the mornings. We’ll be sure to give you an update once we actually start all that after the first of the year.

On a more personal note, we’re missing everybody a lot. Its tougher than just moving to a new city has been in the past, as all our cultural norms and customs changed along with our move. We’re on the internet fairly frequently, so if you ever see us on facebook, google, or skype don’t hesitate to say hi (also our old phone number 314-266-8359 still works, and is free).

Hope everyone is enjoying reading our blog!

Laura and Tom

Curse continues

Tom and I naively thought we were going to be able to avoid our awful poison ivy allergy for two whole years by coming to South America.  (Note: not the only reason we came)  This has backfired in a most unfortunate way.  Turns out mangoes are in the same plant family as poison ivy and poison oak and contain the same irritant in their sap!  Curse you world!   Not only are they extremely delicious, and probably my favorite fruit, but they’re in season right now and all over the place!   The good news however is that I have probably found an explanation for the itchy/burning weird rash I’ve had on my mouth and face for the last week and a half (which was starting to show up on other parts of my body also- just like poison ivy!).   No more mangoes for awhile :( .

Culture Shock

So there are more interesting things that we see/experience here everyday then we can possibly share with you all but here are a few of my favorites from the last month.

Need a dead baby llama and are just not sure which tienda will give you the best price?  Seek no longer, friend.  The colored squares beneath the llama I believe are some how made from llama parts and are associated with some form of traditional spirituality / witchcraft.   Will let you know when I learn more about it.

mmm…tasty.  We spied these behind one of the meat counters at the market.  Sometimes you can see the guys in the back with saws cutting up the animals.  All I espoused for years about eating fresh, local meat and vegetables is  really coming back to haunt me here.  I am literally eating my words.  For those of you good at eye-spy you might notice a chicken foot in there also.

There’s no such thing as a banana, sorry to burst everyone’s Northern-hemisphere bubble.  These are cajitas dulces (above) which are very tasty and have a very thin skin, at lunch today I had something slightly larger that’s called a guineo.  The next size up which is more what you might imagine as a banana is a walele, and there are about 100 more kinds that I haven’t learned yet.  Then of course there are your larger platanos which are specifically called platanos machos and they have an almost sweet potato-like texture, look like a banana but aren’t sweet.   They do taste delicious fried however.   The overall name for this whole group of fruits is platanos.

Dyslexic graphic designer?  Under-educated editor?  You be the judge.  English, like in many places in the world is “cool” here.  But unfortunately English is poorly taught in schools and so no one really knows much, but they try not to let on.  Everybody has shirts with English on them that they have no idea what they say and store owners are constantly trying to use English in their advertisement.  One haircut place is called “Leidy” which is funny because it’s clear they sounded out the vowel sounds using spanish vowels but somehow still managed to keep the “dy” at the end.

This is what the Capilla that we attend on Sundays looks like.  It’s really quite pretty.  In this picture you can see part of the 150 or so strong First Communion class that had their celebration today (which meant an hour an half mass in a VERY hot and crowded church) but anyway yay for them.  The interesting thing was today lots of extra people actually went to communion, beyond the usuals.  Maybe they’re just special occasion Communion-goers?

Here’s one of the little geckos that lives in our house.  It was one of these that I saw crawl under the couch about a week ago, we’ve seen them from 2 inches to about 6-7 inches long.  Not sure about the species yet, could be multiple.  We had a really exciting show last night, there were a bunch of bugs flittering around outside our windows because we had the indoor lights on, then two geckos showed up to eat their evening meal.  We got to watch them stalk and catch the moths through the window, it was great!  Like a live Animal Planet or Discovery Channel.  Which is great because we don’t have a tv here.  As I was writing this, another little guy ran under my chair, they’re hard to get pictures of because they’re fast and think we want to eat them.  None has asked us to buy car insurance yet but we’re prepared to say no if they do (it’s actually not required here- scary considering the way people drive).

Day in the market

So, we haven’t been great at posting a lot of the day-to-day stuff we’ve been working on…here’s a shot at changing that. Also, as a teaser, we’re almost done with our video tour of the center we’re working in, so check back soon for more on that.

Anyway, today I was doing my laundry at our washing machine
Washing Machine
when Madre Clara, the one in charge of the center (the center is: the day care, kindergarten, vocational school, and orphanage, plus where we live), shouted across the field that she was going to the market in Santa Cruz (the large city of 1 million plus people, 1hr to the south of our city) and that I should come help her. So, I quickly finished up my clothes, and left Laura to put them on the line (thanks honey!). We got in the truck and headed down. Our driver, Javier, was her nephew who is 20 and studying to be an accountant, and trying to learn English, so for the hour long drive down there I ran through basic English phrases with him.

When we got to the market, which is contained in a steel building larger than several football fields, we entered and started to walk up and down the aisles looking for what was on the list. Each aisle has about 5-7ft of width (similar to the aisles in a super market), but there are a ton of people in them, and on the sides of the aisles are hundreds of different stands all about 10ft across. For some of the bigger operations, they will rent (I assume renting is the system here) two or three adjacent stands.

I basically took on the role of Dagwood, carrying the purchases (40 clip-on ties for kindergarten graduation, 20 steel rollers for keyboard trays in the computer lab, 10 aprons for teachers, and the largest container of paper I have ever seen) behind Madre Clara’s Blondie as she tore through the crowded aisles looking at different stands for the best deals. I wish I could have taken pictures or videos of this, but I was a bit afraid to pull out my camera and announce to any pick pockets that might be around that I had a nice electronic in my pocket.   Amazingly, we got through the market in about an hour and a half (it would have taken me much longer) and then headed back to Montero.

Mass in Bolivia

I feel like we’ve had varied enough experience now that I can make some overall comments about the Catholic experience in Bolivia.  First off, it’s just overall rougher.  The pews are not comfortable and you can forget about cushions (and Tom can attest that they’re all made for 5 ft tall people).  Also, none of the kneelers have cushions they’re just plain wood, but that’s if you’re even lucky enough to get a kneeler.  In some churches, the first half has pews but the back half just has benches and you’re expected to just kneel on the floor.  I had decided to politely sit and bow my head but when the 60 year-old woman next to me got done on the floor I was shamed into doing so also.  Not comfortable on the knees.  Also the churches themselves don’t generally own instruments or song books.  Usually a musician will come with their synthesizer or guitar, hook up to a speaker and play whatever songs they know.  If you’re lucky you’ll get a whole band but it’s still electric instruments generally.  We were in one Cathedral with a pipe organ, but that’s pretty high-society here.  This makes the music more unpredictable and hard for me to learn, particularly when I can’t see the words or notes.  Also, every time there’s any kind of discernible beat to the song everybody claps.  Which is great…if they were all clapping on the same beat.  It seems to only matter that you are clapping not when exactly you clap so everyone is just clapping at their own rhythm.   Sometimes a Sister will get up and lead the clapping and that helps.

As far as the mass itself, everything is pretty much identical except in Spanish.  Things get funny again around Communion.   There’s no pew-by-pew here.  Getting into the Communion line is just chaos, you get up whenever you want and walk towards the center aisle.  This would be a problem except that only 10% of the people actually go to Communion, sometimes less.  The Sisters here (Bolivian Sisters) have expressed their frustration at this as well.  It’s possible that some of the people have never had their 1st Communion.  Despite being a very Catholic country, receiving Sacraments seems to get overlooked often.  You will find children of all ages not Baptized or without 1st Communion.  In the current 1st Communion class the ages range from 8-18.  But the Sisters say they know some of the people are practicing Catholics and can’t possibly have mortal sins every week, and so they really don’t know why people don’t receive Communion.  Another note about Communion, it’s pretty much always by mouth and there’s almost never wine.   The receiving-by-mouth really threw me at first but now I like it because my hands are never clean here, it actually makes some sense.  I just had some awkward moments the first few weeks when I would get up there and forget.

So everybody stays seated during Communion, but if the priest comes out with some holy water after church to give blessings to people, sculptures, flowers, or whatever else some trotted into church with, the pews clear in SECONDS.  Elderly women are hauling ass, throwing elbows to be the first in line to get sprinkled with holy water.  I do not understand this.  It’s almost like that’s the whole reason they came to church.  It seems to me somehow equivalent to Communion to them.  Anyone that can shed light on this for me, please go ahead.  I plan to try asking the sisters about it some more this week.

Today, by the way is the Dia de los muertos and with yesterday being All Saints Day and the previous day Sunday, we’re on a three-day streak for going to mass here so I’ve been thinking about these things a lot.  Last night there was seriously a stampede to get to the altar when the priest came forward with the holy water bucket, you would think he were giving away gold coins.  A few other interesting things from last night were before mass started, a stray dog was wandering around the church, a girl walked in holding a Chihuahua and proceeded to sit it down next to her all through mass, the man in front of us answered his cellphone during the Opening Prayer/Hosana and just stood there talking on it, and they read a list of names of dead people for 40 minutes straight.  Apparently the Sisters have this thing going where people pay them to write down the names of ALL of their family members who have ever died and then the Sisters read those names at mass.  The Sisters must be raking it in because the list is ridiculous.

Happy Day of the Dead, and too bad we have to go back to work tomorrow : (.  We enjoyed the surprise four day weekend.