Friendship Day / Dia de Amistad

Last Saturday, July 23rd, was National Friendship Day here in Bolivia. I don’t why it’s on July 23rd particularly but it’s celebrated very similarly to Valentine’s Day in the US. The market stalls were overflowing with pink, white and red teddy bears and things saying ‘Love’ sell at a premium. It is also common to do a “Secret Friend” gift exchange. So amongst my youth group and amongst my co-workers at the Guarderia, I drew a secret friend’s name out of a hat. Not knowing exactly what was a customary gift, but trying to give something useful, I bought some eye shadow for the college student and put together a bowl of cooking supplies and a cookie recipe for Madre Inez (my secret friend from the Guarderia). She had complimented me previously on my oatmeal raisin cookies and in general Bolivians do not know how to make American cookies so I thought she might appreciate it.

On Saturday we had a party with all the youth groups from the center to eat, dance and exchange presents.

I gifted the eye shadow and received a white teddy bear that played a song that I didn’t recognize. In one of my classic cultural blunders, the college student who opened the eye shadow said, “oh I’ve never worn makeup, I don’t even know how to put it on.” Despite the fact that she wears nice clothes and always has on jewelry, I guess I hadn’t adequately taken into account what a luxury item makeup is and that most young people don’t have expendable income to that level. Oh well, I hope she enjoys learning how to use it.

Also some people gave out Valentines at the party.

The next day at the Hogar I passed my teddy bear along to our god-daughter, Carmen, along with a head band and some pictures I’d printed out for her. She had been worrying that she was invited to a birthday party that day and didn’t have a present to bring so I told her she should pick one thing from her present to re-gift. She decided to re-gift the head band. I was happy to have an opportunity to teach about sharing and generosity.

Despite what the picture would suggest, she was actually very excited about the bear. It’s kind of a cultural thing here to look serious in photos. I think she learned it from her mom, anyway that’s why she’s rarely smiling. (I think it’s because people have such bad teeth, just like in the US 100 years ago when no one would smile. They’re still in that practice here. With adults, it’s understandable since many have golden crowns or are missing teeth.)

In other events, I also got pooped on by a pigeon, which the Italian volunteer, Georgia, insisted was good luck.

And we handed out lollipops to all the girls for Friendship Day. This is Carmen and her older sister Ana Paola. We in general have a no-sweets policy for the Hogar girls since they have such bad teeth and we don’t want to be part of the problem, but I said, well just this once.

On Monday, we had a dinner with all the Guarderia staff and exchanged our secret presents, but we never got to find out who actually gave us the present which disappointed me. Anyway I think Madre Inez liked her present. I put in a few already-baked cookies as an example and the other workers joked that if her cookies didn’t turn out the same she should ‘return it.’ I received a fluffy pink ‘Love’ pillow which made me quite glad I had already passed along the teddy bear, otherwise our living room might be in cute overload. I guess what I learned from both gift exchanges is that Dia de Amistad is generally celebrated with fluffy, pink, useless gifts.

June – July recap!

I apologize for the ‘radio silence,’ we’ve been getting used to new schedules here since the end of winter break. So to catch you up:

Thursday June 23 was the feast of Corpus Christi and we were off school and had a big mass in the stadium with a cold and long procession afterwards back to the parish church. This was more or less the first COLD day!

The night after Corpus Christi mass everyone has a San Juan (St. John) dinner which involves eating barbecue at midnight, dancing and doing silly things like taking cold showers and walking on hot coals. We just had some barbecue with the Sisters and went to bed. Of course there were fireworks though!

July 1-2: Feast of the Sacred Heart
We had two really nice masses followed by dance presentations Friday and Saturday night. I (Laura) danced in both. Friday night was the youth groups of the parish center so I danced with my “Followers of Christ” group and then Saturday night was at the Hogar and we danced with all the other volunteers to Boot Scoot Boogie! Everyone loved it. At this point there were six of us: Tom and I, Paris and Annamarie (UK), Georgia (Italy) and Melia (US).

Happy Feast Day Sisters! Left to right, back: Sr. Christina, Sr. Dorotea, Sr. Anita, Sr. Fatima, Sr. Paola, Sr. Andrea, Sr. Clara, front: Sr. Rosario, Fr. ?, novice, Sr. Angela.

July 3: We leave for Peru!
Tom took a week off from the Institute and I had two weeks off from Kinder so we did a quick tour of Southern Peru. Our friend, Bob Zager, from St. Louis flew down to join us and we spent 7 days touring through Cuzco, Macchu Picchu, Arequipa, Puno, Lake Titicaca and finally La Paz, Bolivia. We also had the great fortune to meet up with two other great friends, Caty Hughes and Emily Fifield in Arequipa. It was great to see so many familiar faces! Some of the highlights from the trip were petting llamas, eating Guinea pig, seeing huge viscachas at Macchu Picchu (and the ruins too), reaching 14,905 feet on a bus, seeing flamingos at 14,000 feet, eating at McDonald’s (for Tom), eating Twix bars, eating trout from Lake Titicaca, and visiting the group of knitters that Emily F. works with in Arequipa. They’re economically-disadvantaged women providing for their family by knitting sweaters, gloves, finger puppets and selling them to local tourist shops but Emily is helping them improve their products for the U.S. fair trade market- in stores now in Des Moines, Iowa and hopefully someday St. Louis too.

Group in Arequipa

Me and my new best friend. We were told later it was actually a vicuña not a llama.
Lake Titicaca

July 10: We returned from Peru and winter had ended :( . It basically was only two coldish weeks. We’re still expecting a few days in the 60′s here and there before September but nothing that will stay. This was a hard reality at first for me to accept but we do indeed live in a tropical climate. ::sigh::

July 11: Tom graduates his first 6 students from Intro to Multimedia at St. Sebastian Pelczar Institute.

July 12: New semester starts and I’m officially an English professor! Madre Clara even went to Santa Cruz and bought me top-notch English textbooks and I have 9 adult students that I’m teaching English to three nights a week! I really enjoy it so far even though it makes for some long days for me. Tom’s classes are doing well also he now has two sections with 5 in the first and 12 in the second.

First Semester Down!

I just turned in my grades for my first semester as a teacher! Over-all it went well, the fact that I was teaching in Spanish was definitely the most challenging aspect. It was a great experience to be able to put together a course that many can benefit from (you can too) and to work with the students, getting them to understand it all.

I especially want to thank all those who donated towards building the computer lab that I worked in, I couldn’t have done any of this without you!

In case you didn’t see it before, here’s a picture of my first graduating class!