My life at the Guarderia

I’d like to give you a little inside look of how I spend my mornings Monday-Friday at the Guarderia. Guarderia San Antonio was started by the Sisters about six years ago to meet a need for childcare for all the workers in the market. Many children would just be hanging around their parents’ stalls all day, relatively unsupervised. So, for 1.50 bs/day (25 cents) the kids can instead come learn and play at the Guarderia. The government pays the salaries of all the workers and provides some basic food stuffs such as rice, pasta, milk but the Sisters have to cover other food expenses, building upkeep, and supplies. The children also have to bring some art supplies, toilet paper, shampoo, soap and some fruit.

The Guarderia is open 7:30am-5:00pm and we feed the kids breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack and bathe them after lunch. I believe this is all the food and bathing most of them get, at least through the week. Some families eat a light dinner around 8pm but not everybody. I arrive at 8:30am and help with breakfast and then go into one of the classrooms to assist the workers. Unlike at the Kinder, I’m not assigned a specific role so I’m kind of free-agent for whoever needs help that day. Sometimes the workers need to go run errands so I cover for them or if they have an extra-large amount of children I come in and help manage the chaos. Most mornings though I start out with the babies aged 6 months to a year and a half.

We have 5 cribs and a bed in the room, some rarely-washed squeaky toys, balloons, and some wooden shapes. Most of the children are just content being spoken to and getting to practice standing up and sitting down all day. It’s really not too bad since they are happy to be put to sleep or drink a bottle when they get fussy. Things only get more hectic when we have more than 7 babies and one’s crying wakes the others up and then everyone’s cranky. We’ve had up to 13 babies in there at once (5 in cribs, 3 on bed, 2 on floor, 2 in strollers, 1 walking), but that wasn’t a great day. When I’m not in there, there’s just one worker and so generally 6 or under is a lot more manageable. Most of the mothers use cloth diapers (in that they just tie a piece of cloth around their bum) which are a little gross to change because you have to sack up the dirty diaper to send home with them. Also, multiple of the children who come regularly have issues. One is 9 months old and can’t sit up yet. One is 14 months old and is just now able to pull herself up to standing. Some of them are malnourished, or were malnourished and most of them are ill frequently with diarrhea, colds, coughs. A nurse from the government comes regularly to weigh them however and pass out vitamins so they are really trying to combat the malnourishment. The 14 month old’s mother admitted to not having money to buy formula, I don’t know if she was breast feeding or not.

Then there’s the older baby room, kids from walking to 3 years old. This is one of my favorite rooms because the kids are always happy to see me and they actually listen pretty well to what you say to them. Most of them haven’t developed that ‘no’ response to everything yet. In here are usually 12-17 kids with two workers.

The workers leave something to be desired in that they never talk to the kids except to scold them, they don’t read to them, sometimes they don’t even give them any toys, and they don’t watch the kids much. I like to go in and read books to them and play games like ring around the rosie and sing to them. That’s why the kids like me. I’m often in here for the bathing as well which can be quite a marathon. All we have is a shallow sink to bathe the kids in so while one worker strips them down, the other lifts each kid into the sink, makes them sit down and lathers them up. Some kids are more resistant and have to be held down so they don’t fling themselves out of the sink. You can imagine how slippery a soaped-up squirmy two-year can be. Once clean the kid is carried over and laid on a towel (the same towel for every kid) while the 1st worker redresses them and the next kid gets put in the sink. After doing this 15 times you really work up a sweat! When the temperature is below 70F or it’s raining, we don’t bathe the kids because it’s ‘bad’ for them. This room is also where most of the biting takes place and they implement an interesting Hammurabian punishment where the bitten child gets to bite the biter’s fingers as hard as they want until the biter cries. My other favorite is when they smack the kids and tell them that hitting is bad. The workers never hit the kids hard, but corporal punishment is certainly used. A good ear tug goes a long way.

The next level is ‘Nidito’ which is 3-4 years old and here they actually start doing some preschool-type work. They start learning to color, to draw lines and occasionally a book or two will be gotten out for them. This classroom has one worker and 12-15 kids but a few bad ones can really poison it. When the two difficult ones aren’t there, they’re angels. At least in this instance though I can see that the difficult children are also possibly less well cared for at home and maybe don’t receive a lot of parental attention. They tend to come dirty, covered in scratches and skin infections and with raggedy clothing. With these kids I like to talk about counting, colors, shapes and animals. We have a game where we act out all the sounds and actions different animals make. It’s amazing how the bad kids shape up when there’s an activity to do.

Next is PreKinder, ages 4-5. This is the classroom I was in most of February when we had a shortage of workers because the government decided not to pay them and it’s a long story but I kind of avoid it now. They generally have 20-30 kids with two workers and are all fairly good kids but demand a lot of attention because they’re very verbal and crave individual praise, which I go out of my way to give to them but tires me out a lot. They’re fun to sing songs with and do some more advanced coloring, drawing and collaging. The teachers also begin teachers numbers, letters, and colors to them.

Finally there’s Kinder (5-6 years old)! The Kinder counts for Kindergarten as far as getting into first grade although it’s really not the same. Most of the kids go the Kinder next door in the afternoon but a few for financial reasons don’t. The teacher is supposed to teach all the numbers, letters, colors, simple addition and subtraction but it just doesn’t really get done too thoroughly. I like to come in and help them with their work. Also, I’ve taught them how to do the hokey-pokey in English and we can play more advanced games like musical chairs, duck duck goose and we’re working on kickball.

If you’re still reading this and added up all the numbers you’ll see we usually have 50-70 kids at the Guarderia which means lots of work for the cooks so occasionally I’ll hang out in the kitchen and help them. This is how I learned they don’t have any hand soap and so ‘wash’ their hands with water and a dirty towel. This shed some light on my chronic stomach issues here since we eat their food for breakfast and lunch everyday. I’m slowly working on introducing a few of my ideas at the Guarderia, like asking the workers to wash their hands. The Guarderia is certainly the hardest thing I do every week, and probably where I pick up all my illnesses, but it is great to see their smiles every day.

First Day of Winter

Welcome to winter in the tropical Southern Hemisphere! Yesterday was the Solstice and the Aymara people’s New Year. It’s celebrated as a national cultural holiday so we were all off of work. There aren’t, however, many Aymara people on this side of the country so there weren’t any parties. Today (being winter and all) was a brisk high of 84F and low of 60F. One of the little boys at the Kinder had on a sweater AND sweatshirt under his uniform shirt. It is winter afterall. It looks like the winds are changing however and we’ll have a low of 50F by Sunday. Brrr….. Everything feels and looks pretty much the same. I took this picture today of our palm tree which apparently fruits during the winter. Madre Clara said it will grow good, edible coconuts.

Word on the street is that winter break for the schools might start July 4th. But they don’t actually declare it winter break until the weather gets cold. I guess you can do that when you only have 2 cold weeks a year. The schools aren’t heated or insulated so the idea is to stay home and keep warm. People are quite sensitive to the cold here so although it might only be 40F, it could still be a health concern for them. Tom and I on the other hand will be in heaven. Not quite as exciting as all the holiday parties to look forward to in the Northern Hemisphere, but I’m looking forward to two weeks of running and exercising without worrying about heatstroke. This solstice also marks the 1-year of straight summer that Tom and I have lived through (beginning last June in St. Louis, arriving in ‘spring’ here in Sucre, 70′s & 80′s and then 80′s & 90′s in Montero from October until now). And I have to say, with lots of experience to back it up, we still don’t particularly like summer weather.

Update: Tom just got back from class and said he saw a student with a puffy down coat, stocking cap and scarf on. It’s currently….61F. Try not to get frostbitten on the way home buddy ;)

Nine Months

So now that we’ve been in Boliva for nine months. A lot has happened, we’ve learned a ton about life here in Bolivia, the positives and the negatives.

I’m coming up to the end of my first semester. I have eight students left in my class (started with 10, one moved away another started a conflicting class), and they’re all doing well. They seem to do the best with the graphic design part (my weakest area), but they’re good with the photos, audio, and video too. At the end of the graphics section, they all created one page advertisements for their imaginary business. They did a great job on that project, several of them are high enough quality that they could go into the pages of a magazine…if it weren’t a fake company. Here are a few of my favorites.

So now we’ve finished the Photos, Graphics, and Audio sections and we’re working on the video editing. They’re currently each editing together some footage I took of the town square, so soon I’ll have those videos up here for you to see, in the meantime, here’s a picture of them hard at work:

I’ve also just about finished writing the text for the course (which is good because the semester is ending and I’d be in trouble if I didn’t have it!).  This has actually taken a lot more of my time than actually teaching the class.  I’m hoping that with this done I’ll have a little more time to myself next semester, even though I’m teaching two sections instead of one.  The text is available online (I’m still working on the formatting, but all the content is there). If you want to read it, you can get to it from, I’d love any comments or critiques you have, its in English here!

Laura has been keeping busy working the mornings (4 days a week) at the Day Care (Guarderia) and the Kindergarten in the afternoons.  Every Saturday she works with two different youth groups at the parish center.  Starting in July, she’s going to be teaching an English class at the Institute two nights a week also.

At the Kindergarten she has 45 minutes with every class each week. In her computer lab they work on the basics of computer usage: moving the mouse, clicking on things, etc.  She also spends time teaching them English. The biggest accomplishment with English is that she has them all singing a song called “What’s Your Name?” where they learn how to introduce themselves and say ‘nice to meet you.’ Not bad for 45min/wk with a class of kindergarteners! Some of them have also learned her name, “Miss Laura” although it comes out more like “izdora.”

Laura has put a lot of work into getting the (very old) computers in her lab up and running, and more recently when my family was here, my dad and brothers helped out there for a couple days.  Unfortunately there isn’t a lot that can be done for the computers still running Windows 98, which can’t run most of the programs she’s using in her class.  With some of the leftover money from building my computer lab, we were able to get six new (very cheap) computers, which are more than enough for the programs she runs.  These six are great, and have a whole range of (free) simple learning programs that we downloaded off the internet. Currently she has 26 computers functioning for classes of 30-36 students. Fairly often fights have to be broken up over who got to a computer first and kids walk around saying “Teacher, there’s no spot for me.” The long range plan is to replace all eight of the Windows 98 computers with new ones and buy four more to eventually have 30 computers.


I’ve been remarkably healthy since I’ve been here. I had one bout with an extremely nasty bug around the start of the year, and then a minor urinary infection a couple months back, along with a couple of very minor bouts of diarrhea. Laura on the other hand has had a lot of illness to struggle with.  We think this is mostly because she works with the little (often sick) kids a the Guarderia each morning.  There’s a lot of germs floating around there, and unlike the other teachers who work there, Laura hasn’t had a lifetime to build up defenses against Bolivian illnesses. In addition, her digestive system has always been more sensitive to insults, even in the U.S., so little things that don’t bother others end up as a week of diarrhea for her. But, please don’t worry, she takes her vitamins and probiotics faithfully and so far has bounced back from everything just fine.

As far as what we’ve learned about the health conditions here…there’s some pros and cons. Malaria is virtually non-existent in this region of Bolivia. We haven’t encountered anyone with it. Most people will say they know of someone once-upon-a-time who had it, but nothing recent or concrete. I’m not sure if this is because of eradication efforts or that its more prevalent in other areas and that’s where the people talked about were when they got ill.

Dengue fever, tuberculosis, and Chagas are some of the major diseases here. There was a wave of dengue in April, but it seems to have subsided now, however 20 people died and, for a few months the hospitals were overflowing.  Tuberculosis is a more constant issue. We’ve heard of several people who have had it.  The mother of our god-daughter was in the hospital with it for several months.  When she got out, she had to go to Buenos Aires to get a job to pay back her medical bills, that’s why our god-daughter and her two sisters are still living at the orphanage (Hogar). Also, a 21-year old woman who worked with Laura at the Guarderia had apparently started working there after she finished her 6-month treatment. In addition, when Laura went to the Japanese Hospital in Santa Cruz for her sinus infection, we found it’s general practice to require every person that comes in for a consultation to get a chest x-ray.

Chagas is considered endemic in the older population. It is caused by a parasite transmitted by bites from “vinchuca” bugs and largely asymptomatic until later in life when heart, back, or digestive problems may develop. For most people that die of heart attacks in their 50′s or 60′s here, there’s some Chagas influence involved. The vinchuca bug lives in the walls and roofs of the more traditional adobe/clay and thatch houses so as urbanization grows, the disease is less a threat.

Aside from those three major diseases, there are just a lot of colds, food poisoning, worms, and skin infections.  There is little done to fight it here. People don’t frequently wash their hands, put meat in a refrigerator, or wash vegetables. Its really sad to see all the kids with awful skin rashes and diarrhea, when it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to prevent a whole lot of that.

The good news on the health front is that the drinking water here in town seems to be clean. We’ve been washing our fruits and vegetables in it, brushing our teeth with it, and washing dishes with it. We still don’t drink it, but that’s not because we’re worried about getting diseases from it, but because it has a fair amount of silt in it.

The People

We’ve had a great time getting to know all sorts of people. A special shout-out to the two other volunteers who have been working here with us, Andrea and Melia (at the Hogar). Its been great to share our community with them, and we’re sad to see them go as they wrap up their year of service.  It has been a great support to have other Americans around to relax and puzzle over the mysteries of Bolivia with.

The sisters that we live with have been great to us, and we’re enjoying getting to know them better. Our boss Sister Clara is also the one who takes care of the five dogs and two cats that live on either side of our house. Many nights we’ll spend out on our porch with her playing with the dogs and cats and having her tell us about all the activities going on around the center.  Each week on Thursday we go to eat lunch with all the sisters at the convent, and they seem to have a great time joking around with us. Especially picking on me, who is usually the only male in the room.

Then there are all the teachers that we work with at the Guarderia, Institute, and Kinder.  We’ve gotten to know some better than others, but the important part is that we feel that we’ve been accepted amongst them. Last week we got to share our first Bolivian barbecue with them to celebrate Teacher’s Day. That was a fun event that consisted mostly of dancing and eating :-)

With our students, although communication is sometimes not 100%, we’ve really enjoyed getting to know them as well. One of my students brings me fruit and cookies, and for Teacher’s Day a mini-Bible. Laura is often hailed walking down the street with shouts of “Hola Profesora!” Most of the kids that go to the Kinder and Guarderia live in the surrounding neighborhood and their parents work in the market. This makes us feel more connected to the community.

At the Hogar, we have slowly been building relationships with the girls also. We walk with them to church every Sunday and spend some time afterwards talking with them. Though we do focus a lot of our attention on our god-daughter, Carmen, we also try to get to know the other girls. We have a few new facebook friends now and most of the girls, especially the younger ones, know our names. Laura also has the opportunity to teach 12 of the younger girls at the Kinder. She enjoys getting to see them out of the Hogar and their interactions with other kids. School and mass are basically the only times the girls come out of the Hogar.


For E-Mail Blog Subscribers

A note to all those who are receiving e-mail for this. We have put together fewer big, substantive posts that we think are worthy of sending out to everyone than we had originally imagined. Our original plan was to do one every few weeks, but this is only our third or fourth of them :-( So, based on popular demand, we’ve decided to change it so that if you’re on the e-mail list, you’ll get a message for all of our posts. We are averaging a bit more than one per week. If that’s too much for you, let me know and I can get you off the list. If you want to get on the list, follow this link or any time through the subscription link at the top of the screen. We hope you enjoy hearing about our adventures!


Easter season as always flew by way too fast. Pentecost in Bolivia is a big event. Most notably, they hold a vigil all night from 9pm to 5am beginning and ending with mass. Here in Villa Cochabamba it was attended by all the young people 13-20. Tom and I, being oldfolk, decided not to attend and instead got a good night’s sleep and attended the masses the next day. The church was as always beautifully decorated also.

Pentecost means something more to me here in Bolivia because it is truly the gifts of the Holy Spirit that keep me going everyday. Every Sunday at mass I pray for the strength to live the next week with love, patience, and understanding. Then it dawned on me today, that what I’m really doing is continually asking for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Strength gets me through the hot days, the sick days, and the days when I don’t understand anything. I am constantly seeking the Wisdom to see what God wants of me each day and to know how to show God’s love when constantly facing material and spiritual poverty. I pray for Counsel and Knowledge to know how best to offer assistance for all the needs we’re surrounded by; how to empower people and avoid handouts; how to let children know that they’re loved and valued.

The gift of Understanding became clearer to me while I was reflecting on the Gospel this week. It had always bothered me how the disciples spoke and everyone understood in their own language, until this week, when I connected that with my own experiences communicating in other languages. It wasn’t the way the disciples said it that was the miracle, it was the way the people heard it. I have had many experiences like this in my life where I understand something but I don’t know why I can understand it. I’ve always been gifted with languages in that I can pick them up quickly and develop an ear for new accents quickly. Sometimes, I can even listen to a language I’ve never heard before and understand, which to me is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. The other interesting thing about this understanding is that it’s not language-based. I couldn’t tell you the words the people used, I can just tell you what I heard, heard more in my heart than through my ears. I imagine it must have been like that for the people listening to the disciples also. They didn’t need to know all the words to get the message, because God speaks right to your heart.

Fear of God was never one of my favorites but Bolivia certainly puts the Fear of God into people. There is a very strong emphasis on confession here, such that people won’t go to Communion unless they’ve literally JUST confessed. I don’t think this is totally healthy but I think they do have more reminders that our time on the Earth is short. It’s not always easy to live in Bolivia but it is easy to die. In a country with practically no safety regulations, no safety nets, not so much as an ambulance to come get you if you fall in your own front yard, it’s just between you and God. If you’re still alive, it’s because of the grace of God because He’s had plenty of opportunities to end it.

I also feel like I’ve increased in Piety since beginning this journey last July. In July we lived and prayed with Salesian Sisters in New Jersey for three weeks. At first I felt the 6am prayers and daily rosary was just unnecessary, but after awhile it really grew on me. Having structured-in reflection time each day really provides an amazing amount of peace and strength. Now in Montero, though we don’t do the Liturgy of the Hours with the Sisters we occasionally join them for rosary or Adoration and always attend first-Friday mass in the Chapel. People have also started calling me “Hermanita” despite the fact that they should know I’m married. They don’t know what to make of a married person without children that lives in a convent though.

Fire to the West

Sugar cane harvesting is just starting to ramp up to high-gear. This weekend we drove by the refinery that is to the north of town and saw 50+ semi trucks filled with sugar cane. The down side to this is that a lot of farmers burn the fields as part of the harvesting process, which makes the air quality awful here.

I walked out of the house on a nice sunny day last week, and noticed little bits of black floating to the ground nearby, when I went to look at one closer, it was clearly a bit of charred husk.  Then after that the soot got really bad.  I was burning some DVDs for the sisters, and after leaving one of them on the coffee table for an hour, it had a whole bunch of black flecks on it.  I’m expecting that we’ll have to do a lot of cleaning over the next few weeks.

Then the other night right before sunset, we saw our first big plume from a fire somewhere west of town.  We went up to the top of the Institute to take some pictures of it…here’s the best one (click for full resolution):

I also took a short video of it:

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Kents in Santa Cruz

Wednesday morning I had to get up early to go the Japanese Hospital for a recheck on my sinuses so Patrick and Dad-Tom nicely offer to accompany me (which involves leaving Montero at 6am so REALLY nice of them). Tom even got up for 5am rosary that morning! I slept in. In reward for getting up early, I gave them the whole Santa Cruz experience. We took moto-taxis to the plaza then walked to the trufi station and squeezed into a trufi. We got off at the third ring in Santa Cruz and took a micro(bus) over the Japanese Hospital. The buses are often standing-room even to the point that people are hanging out the door and Tom bravely managed the door-spot on our way back from the Hospital. The Japanese Hospital, despite it’s name, is still quite Bolivian so we spent most of the morning standing in line. But by 10am I had a clean bill of health from the doctor and we headed over to meet everyone else at the zoo. When we got there though it was just Tom and Kevin (who was feeling better) as the other two had decided to stay in bed. The zoo was GREAT. It was a cooler, rainy day so there were few people but the animals were really active. Despite not fulfilling Kevin’s dream of seeing a South American guinea pig, we saw lots of jaguars close up, rheas trying to eat lizards, and monkeys that walked on two feet and took food out of our hands.

Wednesday we hit the food court in Santa Cruz for lunch (a really nice place to eat! I had sushi) and we headed back for Kinder. In the afternoon and evening, those who weren’t sick in bed worked in the computer lab and had homemade pizza for dinner (thanks to buying some mozzarella in Santa Cruz).

Thursday morning the crew continued working hard in the computer lab and Maureen was feeling better so she and I went for a walk around the market to buy the few things we needed to make wild rice for the Sisters for lunch. On Thursdays, all the volunteers eat lunch in the convent with the Sisters so all the family was invited also. We brought Minnesotan wild rice and Starburst jelly beans to contribute to lunch and share a taste of the U.S. with the Sisters. Thursday afternoon was the Mother’s Day celebration at the Kinder so of course the Kent family was invited as ‘honored guests.’

At the end Maureen and I were both presented with special mother’s gifts because as Madre Clara said, I would be a mother soon, to which one of the profesoras yelled “next year!” They like to pressure us about the kids thing a lot here. Most Bolivians start having kids even before they get married so the idea of getting married and waiting is about as foreign as we are.
The last part of the Mother’s Day party was a chicken dinner. Madre Clara asked me the night before how the family liked their chicken cooked and I basically answered “not by a Bolivian” so she gave me the chicken the night before and I washed it and cooked it for us. The chicken for everyone else I believe sat out all night or else was only semi-refrigerated. After a quick dinner, we headed over to get a trufi to Buena Vista. It was just the six of us since Tom had to teach until 9pm. We were hoping to get a van that holds seven but when we arrived the last van was already full of people and all that was left were cars. So, we sucked it in and squeezed all six of us plus a driver into something the size of a Honda Civic. It was a tight-bonding-experience with Kathleen, Patrick, and Kevin and me all in the back seat as our trufi driver passed cars and semis on the dark road but an hour later we arrived safe and sound at Buena Vista Hotel.

The hotel has a beautiful view of the Andes and after checking in, we got a beer at the bar and met with Marcos from Amboro tours to plan our hiking trip into Amboro Park for the next day. Luckily Maureen was still feeling better but Kathleen didn’t want to risk digestive distress in the rainforest, so she stayed behind with her ipad. I think they had a wonderful time. The rest of us got up early and headed into the rainforest with Julian, our guide. We piled into a 1979 Toyota Land cruiser (which would NOT have held 7 people so we lucked out there) and started our 2 hour drive to the Park.

This included lots of river crossings

and other interesting off-roading experiences. We also got to see some rural communities on the way and lots of orange and mandarina groves. Once in the park, we hiked 2 hours to a beautiful tropical waterfall.

We saw lots of interesting ants along the way, like army ants and leaf-cutter ants. The ants go marching 2 by 2…
Unfortunately we didn’t see any mammals but we did see tracks of a medium-sized cat and some jaguar scratches (the jaguar had apparently been walking down our path the night before!). And on the way out of the park we saw some mini-macaws! I believe they were Chestnut-Fronted Macaw. I was too busy with my binoculars to get pictures though. That night we went to the nicest restaurant in Buena Vista (and possibly the nicest in 50 km for that matter) and got some very average cheese pizza and fettucine alfredo but enjoyed each other’s company nonetheless. Then we played some hearts and went to bed.

Saturday morning we returned to Montero, finished up things in the computer lab and went to the Parish Center’s Mother’s Day celebration. Theirs was considerably less-well organized but my youth group did a dance and highschool-age group did a skit. Lots of prizes were raffled off for the mothers and everyone was served hot dogs and soda. Kathleen was feeling better also, so the whole family was there.

Sunday morning we went to church with the Hogar girls and the family said good bye to them. Also, they had brought a gift for our god-daughter Carmen, a Dora the Explorer book and some stickers so Tom and Maureen sat down with Carmen and read her the book. I don’t know if she has a lot of experience being read to, particularly by a mother and father, so it was nice to see. The Sisters invited us all to lunch on Sunday (we brought pancakes to make sure there was something safe for everyone to eat) and they presented gifts to all the family members and thanked them for coming and thanked them for sending Tom and me here to help. Tom and Maureen thanked the Sisters for their hospitality and kindness. Everyone said their thank yous and goodbyes and we headed to Santa Cruz.

We did a little touring of Santa Cruz that evening, mainly the plaza and Cathedral, ate some Pique Macho, played more Hearts- quite a thrilling game actually when Dad-Tom came back from 89 points to almost win, and went to bed early. At 7am we took the shuttle to the airport and by 10:00am (ish) the Kents were on their way back to Miami. Safe, sound, and mostly-healthy. Iron-stomach award goes to the Tom and Patrick for surviving Bolivian food without a scratch! Thank you all for coming! We loved having you here!

The Kent family comes to Bolivia!

We were so blessed at the end of May to have Tom’s WHOLE family come down to visit us here in Montero. There was plenty of pre-trip stress getting plane tickets, hotel reservation, vaccines, visas, and travel medicine for five people but they prevailed through it all and landed here in Bolivia May 17th. They toured in La Paz on their own for two days and then we met them in Sucre for a weekend of touristing.

Everyone was healthy and happy when we met them in Sucre and oh what an amazing feeling it was to be standing at the Sucre airport and see familiar faces for the first time in 8 months! In Sucre we hit a lot of the major tourist sites such as the Crustacean, er I mean Cretassic Park (largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world!), the Casa de la Libertad, Cathedral, Cementery, Folkdance show, and Folklore masks museum.
Yes those are Dinosaur footprints!
And on Sunday the family went for a beautiful hike on the Inca Trail. Unfortunately I had arrived from Montero with some lingering food-borne illness and spent most of Saturday and Sunday in bed.

In Sucre, we stayed at Casa Verde, a cute B&B run by a Belgian man named Rene which I would definitely recommend to anyone. He even gave me some electrolytes to drink when I was sick in bed (just a fun Bolivian-traveler note, out of the 8 bedrooms I wasn’t the only one bed-ridden. There was another German? wife also sick in bed. It’s a fairly common occurrence.) Anyway we also filled up on good food in Sucre from Para Ti chocolates to dinner at La Casona and JoyRide. It’s better to arrive in Montero fat and happy because you sure won’t leave that way! Hah…oh it’s not funny though because it’s true.

Casa Verde

Monday we flew to Santa Cruz and were met in the airport by Madre Clara and her nephew Javier who gave roses to all the family members. Then they drove us back to Montero. It was lunchtime and we had meant to eat something at the airport but both Madre Clara and I totally forgot so we thought, oh no worries we’ll go to the Chinese place in Montero. The Chinese restaurant is the ONLY restaurant in Montero that Tom and I really feel safe eating at and taking other people to. There are some fried chicken places that look okay also but I’d say you’re always gambling, kind of like digestive Russian Roulette. And the little roadside tables that the locals eat at look just down right poisonous (note this is not a judgement on their food or their culture, but a realistic knowledge that their sanitation and food preparation practices are not what U.S. stomachs are accustomed to). Anyway, we get to the Chinese restaurant and it’s abandoned. Apparently it changed locations but left no information about where it had gone! We had lost our only restaurant! I felt like posting signs on lightposts LOST: clean Chinese restaurant If found please call: Laura. Anyway, jokes aside we swung by the grocery store and made hamburgers back at the convent. We gave the family the grand tour that afternoon and the girls at the Hogar LOVED them. Then we cooked dinner and relaxed (we were invited to a festival that evening but declined). Monday night: Kevin gets sick. Cause: snack in Sucre Mon. morn?

Tuesday Tom and I put everybody to work! While I ran around and did some errands with Madre Clara, Tom got everyone starting cleaning my Kinder computer lab, spin-rite-ing all the hard drives and trouble-shooting my problem computers. I got back at about 11am and showed Maureen and Kathleen around the Guarderia that I thought they would help out at on Thursday. Tuesday lunch we ate from the Guarderia, except that it wasn’t at all the normal food that Tom and I eat, it was beef, vegetables, and noodles made especially for them. That afternoon the Kinder put together a welcome ceremony for the family with dancing and singing. It was really sweet and I had all the kids talk to them in the few words I’d taught they so far in English. Also each family member was presented a present and hugged by a student. I think the biggest surprise of the day though was Patrick! He was a BIG hit with all the female profesoras. I thought they were going to gang up on him and force him to stay in Bolivia and marry one of them. They were just all a flutter, it must have been the beard. Bolivian men don’t grow facial hair. Kevin was back on his feet and made it to the second-half of the Kinder party.

Tuesday night we had our normal community dinner with the other volunteers except that Andrea had two friends visiting her also so we had 13 people for dinner! I had to request more place settings from the Sisters and we ate over in the Guarderia dining room, where the Kindergarteners usually eat. It was a regular loaves and fishes kind of meal. Despite only have one chicken to cook, everyone ate well and we still had food leftover. Everyone had a good time visiting afterwards and there was also time to go over and observe Tom teaching his class.

Kevin, Kathleen and Patrick talking with Melia and Andrea (Hogar volunteers) and Andrea’s two visiting friends (front two) on our front porch area.
Tuesday night: Despite mostly avoiding the vegetables all day, Maureen and Kathleen get sick. Cause: lunch from Guarderia? vegetables at dinner?