TIB: This is Bolivia

Just when you start getting comfortable and thinking, you know this place is alright,  I could live here, you get reminded:  This is Bolivia.

To all family and friends, please do not send us any packages in the mail until further notice.  We do really appreciate receiving mail but lately we have not been receiving it.  The Hogar receives lots of Christmas presents for the girls via mail during the Holidays and since the beginning of December EVERY package has arrived opened and generally missing at least one item.   For example one box contained 50 donated toothbrushes and arrived with ~25.  Among the other things stolen have been baby clothes, earrings, watches and possibly things we don’t even know about.  I’m hoping this is just a temporary problem because they know nicer things come through around Christmas but we don’t know for sure.  Between the other volunteers and us there are probably 10 packages that should have arrived and are unaccounted for.   Yes this is very frustrating and when confronted, the post office in Montero swears the problem is in Santa Cruz.   When you think to yourself, how can this go unpunished or unnoticed?  They are stealing toothbrushes from orphans.  You just take a deep breath and remember, this is Bolivia.

If you follow world news you may have heard about the recent gas price hike in Bolivia.  We received the following message from the Embassy on Monday:   On Sunday, December 26, and without prior notice, the Bolivian government announced an increase in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel by 73% nationwide, effective immediately.  The news of the price hike prompted a widespread negative reaction across many sectors of society given its expected multiplier effect on prices throughout the economy.

They announced on Sunday the day after Christmas that gas prices were practically going to double.  As you can imagine this led to wide spread panic, hoarding of gasoline and other commodities.  Now people are just bracing for the upcoming increase in everything from flour and sugar to clothing and electronics.  And though Morales has given reasons, saying that the price subsidy needed to end because it was unfairly helping the rich as well as the poor and that people were smuggling gas out of Bolivia because of its low prices, in reality, the poor and those on the edge of poverty will feel this blow most strongly.   Why the extreme change and odd timing?  A price hike at a time when many people are mid-travels and so now don’t know how much it will cost them to get home?  Tom and I had gone to a nearby city for a few days off but decided we couldn’t afford to do the tourist activities we wanted to do because we were worried there would be price-gouging for the taxi ride home.   Granted their surprise tactic did prevent many of the roadblocks that probably would have happened to protest the increase but could there have been another way to do it?  What about 5% increases over a few years time?  Apparently the military dispersed the roadblocks attempted on Tuesday and so Tom and I got home alright.  We’ll see what the ripple effects of this are in the coming months.   For now, the only answer to our questions of “why?” is: TIB, This is Bolivia.

Christmas Bolivian style

What a day.  Christmas started here on the 24th with a flurry of last-minute preparations for Christmas mass.  Then we had a “Buena Noche” dinner at 5pm of lamb, potatoes, rice and beet soup, yum!  After dinner Tom and I had our Christmas, we opened presents and listened to familiar Christmas carols.  Then at 8:30pm we took a shower to cool off and improve our smell (it was a hot one!) and got ready for Christmas Eve mass.  Mass started at 9:30 (despite the fact that we’d been told multiple times 9pm) with a Nativity Play by the older church youth group and then continued normally,  except that we gave multiple rounds of applauses to Baby Jesus (El Nino Jesus).  After mass we went with all the Sisters to the Hogar (orphanage/home for girls) and had a Buena Noche party with the girls, which consisted of a pig (choncho) dinner at 11:45pm, a LOT of fireworks at midnight (which apparently happens all over Latin America)  and lots of traditional Bolivian dancing.  The tradition is to dance in front of the Nativity Scene starting with a bow as a way to “adore” the Nino Jesus.   The dancing continued until 1:30am when Tom and I could barely stand anymore and decided to retire.

This morning started early at 6:30am with some fruitcake for breakfast (Incredibly popular here, we still don’t like it though) and I went to help prepare hot chocolate for the Centro Sagrado Corazon’s (Sister’s Sacred Heart youth center which is attached to the convent) Christmas party.  At 7:45am I grabbed a few last props and I headed to the church to unlock it and start dressing my actors for our Nativity Play; but fate was not on our side this morning.  At 7:30am it started drizzling.  At 8am it let up and I made it to the church generally dry and a few of my actors were there waiting for me.  At 8:30am the torrential downpour started.  Tom had gone to the Hogar to share Christmas breakfast with the girls since the other volunteers were making pancakes.   Once the rain started however the roads flooded quickly as we have no storm drains or drainage ditches, so he was stuck.   Luckily, just then the milk man showed up in his truck to deliver milk to the Hogar.   He was nice enough to drive Tom to the church and wouldn’t accept any money for it.  There’s some Christmas spirit!

Meanwhile at the church, any of my actors that hadn’t arrived by 8:30am were now stranded in their homes or on the way (en camino) due to the rain.  All of the kids in our group live in the neighborhoods surrounding the church and few if any of their families have cars so they generally travel by foot.  Little by little drenched people trickled in.  At 9:50 the priest finally arrived (for 9am mass) and I had all of my actors except Angel Gabriel!  As we were about to dress my co-director Roxanna as Angel Gabriel, Katherine showed up!  We hurriedly dressed her as mass started and shooed all our angels out to listen to mass.  Those who had arrived at 8am were now pretty antsy and wanted to know when they were going to get to wear their wings!   We performed the Nativity Play (teatro) during the homily and amazingly it went very well despite a last-minute Magi recruitment and the set getting drenched by a leak in the roof.  Even our Baby Jesus, who was played by the 2 month old nephew of one of our Inn keepers, behaved well despite it being “cold” (80 degrees) in the church.  Another highlight was that two high school students dressed up as a burro and Mary actually rode it to Bethlehem!  Unfortunately our audience ended up being only about 20 people who lived close enough to brave the rain, the Sisters and some Hogar girls.  I think they enjoyed it though :) .   Below is a video of the Nativity play, note especially the abundant Christmas lights, even on the altar!

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After mass the rain finally gave us a break and we headed with all the children to the Centro Sagrado Corazon for the Christmas party.  We had hot chocolate, fried dough, cookies and candy and the kids put on dances to “adore” the Nino Jesus.  We also gave presents out to all the actors in the Nativity Play and all the kids that had taken part in the Novena Navidena, which consists of prayer, singing, and activities for children during the nine days before Christmas to help prepare them to welcome the Nino Jesus into their hearts and homes.  That wrapped up around 12:30pm and we both collapsed back in our house for about 30 minutes.

At 1pm we headed over to the Hogar to celebrate Christmas with everyone there.  We had lunch with the girls which was surprisingly tasty- rice and chicken salad with lots of veggies in it.  Then we played around with them for awhile until 3pm when it was time for Santa (Papa Noel) to come!  Tom dressed up in the Santa Claus costume they had and we rounded up all the girls to receive their presents from Papa Noel (presents bought with money donated by people from the US who sponsor each girl as “God-parents”).  “Papa Noel” gave out presents until 4:30pm or so and only made two babies cry ;) .  This is a good time to mention though that the only reason the Hogar does this is because of the influence of 20 years of having US volunteers there and the donated money.  Most people here don’t receive presents for Christmas, or maybe young children will receive one toy.  Christmas is more focused on giving presents to Jesus and adoring him.  Also, a lot of families just don’t have the money for extravagances.  The most common Christmas presents we saw in stores were baskets of food containing flour, sugar, toilet paper, etc., fruitcakes and bottles of really cheap, sweet sparkling cider.   Christmas is celebrated with a nice dinner, dancing, and fireworks instead of presents.  I asked one of the girls who was playing an Inn Keeper in our play about her family’s Christmas presents and she muttered something about, well my dad worked but he hasn’t gotten paid yet, we’re just having a dinner.

Jessica, Aide, and a third girl (we haven’t learned all the names yet, the Hogar has 112 girls) with Santa Tom.

Now it’s Christmas evening, we’re relaxing back at our house and the fireworks continue!

Merry Christmas!

We want to wish a special Merry Christmas to all our family and friends back home.

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Its been tough being away from the ‘states and we’re very grateful for all the support everyone has given us over these last few months.


So yesterday evening we went over to the orphanage in the next block, to drop off a christmas present for the girls and hang out with the volunteers there.  We returned back to our block at around 9:30pm, and as we were walking up, we could see that the field in front of our house was on fire!
Apparently, some kids from across the street had thought it would be fun to toss some flaming logs from their fire into our field, which had just been cut down last week and was full of long, dry clippings.  Needless to say the field went up like a match.
Luckily the wind was blowing away from our house, so we didn’t have to worry too much, but we didn’t want to go to sleep with it on fire, in case the wind changed direction or something.  So we got the three buckets we could find and a garden hose that had so many holes it could only get a trickle of water through it, and started fighting the fire.  It only took about a half hour to get it under control.  However, there were a couple spots that were basically overgrown compost piles, and they were still burning down in the bottom, and the fire was spreading to areas that hadn’t burned yet from the bottom up, so we spent the next couple hours pouring water on them and trying to keep that from re-starting.  Eventually we figured it would probably be OK for the night, so we went to bed.  Then, less than an hour later, it started to rain, and that pretty much took care of everything.

Here’s a video from that night when we got home, its pretty dark, but you can get an idea for it.

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Here’s a video I took this morning showing what burned.

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Fire update:  As we mentioned, we couldn’t put out the parts that were burning really deep down so we left them.  Tuesday around noon the fire flared up again and doubled in size the burned area.   Tom got up from his nap to monitor it when it started creeping it’s way over to the bushes in front of our house again.  Once again it subsided over night and so we left it and went to bed.  Then Wednesday when we got back from our Nth trip to Immigration, it had spread again, this time spreading the length of the field away from our house and tripling the original area.  Today, Thursday, it finally burned up the pile of branches that were on top of the under ground fire and so all of the fire area is exposed.  We think tonight it may finally go out.  What a crazy week before Christmas!

First Section of Class Text

Hey everybody, sorry I’ve been so quiet on the blog (and facebook) lately, I’ve been working really hard to prep for the class that I’m going to be teaching starting in Feb.  I have good news on that front though, the first section of the text that I’m writing for the class is complete!

Now, I have a great opportunity for you, the devoted reader to our blog.  You have the chance to learn all about multimedia design, starting with photo editing…for free!  The first two sections (an introduction and the section on photo editing) are available on my website, just click here to check it out.

If you’ve ever wanted to help teach valuable skills that will help people get a leg up on poverty, here’s your chance…and you don’t even have to leave your house (you could come to Bolivia if you want though).  I’m looking for people to read through the material and give me any feedback they have so I can incorporate it.  I’m going to start the translation of this section to Spanish at the beginning of January, so if you have a couple free hours after Christmas, check it out.

Remember, this is a chance for you to help the less fortunate and learn how to make all your digital photos look good all in one, talk about win-win!

Again, the web site is:
please e-mail me any feedback you have, my address is teeks99@yahoo.com.

Also, thank you very much to everyone who has made donations to building a computer lab we will be using to teach this course.  We’re well over half-way to reaching our goal, so if the donations keep up things will be looking good for February!   (If you’ve been meaning to make a donation and keep forgetting, don’t wait any longer…get the details from the other post.)

What century are we in again?

So, as you all have seen from our pictures and movies, overall things are pretty well-developed here.  We have running water, electricity, a solid roof over our heads and Bolivia is quickly entering the computer age.  But sometimes I wonder…

One day when I was working in the Kinder, the teacher handed me 35 sheets of paper and asked me to stamp the numbers 1-20 on each one.  However the only stamps we had were individual numbers 0-9 and so I had to take each individual number and stamp the ink pad and stamp the paper over and over and over.   And I thought to myself, you know I think someone has come up with a faster way to do this type of thing, Gutenberg?  I seem to recall he had a good idea for this.  Not to mention photocopiers.

Then, on Tuesday while we were doing our end of year cleaning at the Guarderia, Madre Inez asks me to fix any loose chairs we have and to re-attach the back of our cabinet.   She brings some short nails and some long nails, gives us instructions, and leaves.   So I say to Carmen, well what am I supposed to nail with, where’s the hammer?  So she calls back to Madre Inez, “You didn’t bring us anything to nail with” to which Madre Inez replies, “Yeah, just find a rock or something.”  So we found a rock and a piece of wood and we nailed those nails.  But I couldn’t help but think to myself, “wait, what century are we in again?”

Before anyone jumps up and puts a hammer in the mail for us (that would be heavy!), they have tools here; it’s just that Madre Inez didn’t want to go and look for a hammer for us.  And I guess the part that (culture) shocked me was that she felt it was an adequate equivalent to tell us to find a rock.

End of year- Guarderia

A few weeks back we had a Guarderia Exposition in Montero’s Central Plaza where each Guarderia sets up a table with crafts, food and presents a dance.  So, it fell to Carmen and me to teach our kids a traditional Bolivian dance.  This is not one of my strongest talents but I rose to the occasion and now can put Bolivian dance teacher on my CV, ok maybe not really but we did alright.  Here’s a picture of us herding our troops as they perform for the mayor.

Here’s a picture where you can see more faces, the boys from front to back are Albaro, Saul and Limbert, three of my favorites from this year.  Albaro’s mom is the woman in the picture above shaking her finger at him.  He’s a good kid but she keeps a close eye on him.  Limbert’s a real sweet heart but he comes off as stupid because his parents only speak Quechua at home so he doesn’t really know Spanish.   That’s a story for another post though.

Also, at the Guarderia we had our end of the year party which included the Kinder-aged kids putting on a Living Nativity Play for everyone.  Since this is the main classroom I’ve been helping with I ended up having a large role in the organizing of this.  Luckily one of the other workers volunteered to write the script so I spent most of my time drilling the lines with the kids (hoping they didn’t pick up my pronunciation) and teaching them Christmas carols.  Madre Inez said they needed to sing two Christmas carols at the end so with the help of the other educadoras, I quickly picked up two spanish Christmas carols and helped teach them to the kids.  I even choreographed a dance to one of them.  We also had to fit the kids for their costumes (safety pins) and build the set.  It was a lot of work for a very short production but I hope the kids at least enjoyed it.

You’ll notice how authentic the baby Jesus looks.  That’s because it was a real 2-week-old baby.  One of the workers in the baby room was very pregnant when I got here and just gave birth Nov. 27th.  For this reason, I helped out in the baby room for a week to give an extra hand.  They didn’t need me any longer than that because she and the baby were back at work Dec. 7th.   That’s just 10 days after she gave birth!  The baby seems pretty healthy but it makes me really nervous having it around so many other children and I can’t believe that the mom was able to just go right back to working 11 hour days.   I joked to Tom that I think we had a more authentic Jesus than most movies have.

End of year- Institute

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.