No bags rule

So this weekend was actually really good for a lot of reasons. We had two different retreats, one Saturday with the Professors of Kinder, Institute and Guarderia, and Sunday with the Secular Order of Franciscans we’ve joined. There was lots of reflection time and listening to talks. For me it was a nice affirmation of the faith that the people I work with everyday have; as well as a testament to how many people in the Santa Cruz region are dedicated to living a Franciscan lifestyle. It left me feeling good about the people of Bolivia and the outlook for the future.

Sometimes it’s easy to get comfortable like that and forget: This is Bolivia. No sooner had we finished the retreat than we got robbed. At 6, we went out for dinner with the other volunteers. There’s a new restaurant that looks decent and is only one house down from the convent. So we walk over and sit down. We’re the first ones there because it’s still early for dinner here. And the food’s not ready yet (it’s a set menu) so we get some drinks and wait. A guy walks in and asks about food, but when the server walks back to the kitchen, the guy walks over, grabs Ramona’s purse off the back of her chair and runs! Tom moved the fastest and starts chasing him, but the guy had his friend outside with a motorcycle so once he hopped on that the chase was mostly lost. I ran after Tom, desperately trying to remember Spanish and I finally I get some “Ayuda, Ayuda” screams out while the motorcycle was still in view. The only hope was that a car would block the road so they couldn’t escape. But unfortunately the car that came thought Tom was the robber, since he was running, and didn’t try to stop the guys on the motorcycle. No doubt the motorcycle already had the escape route planned so there was no point in following on a motorcycle. After that things were just confusing, and I wasn’t sure who to trust. A bunch of people came out of their houses and crowded around and said they saw the guy or that they tried to help. Some kid walked up and said he knew the guy but didn’t know his name. I questioned the server, wondering if he wasn’t complicit with the whole thing. We’ll never know. I ran back over to the convent to ask the Sisters if there was anything we could do to report it and they said that even if you gave a description, because I got a really good look at the guy, the police wouldn’t do anything to catch him.

The most frustrating part is that I’m almost certain it’s the same two men that have been causing trouble in our neighborhood for the last few weeks. Another volunteer, Fionn got robbed in the market, right in front of the Kinder in broad daylight. And the night before, Hermana (Sister) Manuela was walking home from her classes at the University and got her bag and head veil stolen right off of her! I don’t know how many other people have been hit, sounds like most people don’t even report it because they think the police are useless. It’s just insane, three robberies on the same block in two weeks time, most likely by the same guys, and no one’s going to do anything about it? Anyway, for now since they certainly know to target volunteers, we’ve instituted a “no bags rule” meaning that we don’t go out in the street with anything except money stuffed in our underwear or hidden pockets. Last night I was thinking about, what can you do when the police in your city don’t fight crime? Oh that’s right, call Batman.

March Highlights

March has just been flying by and so I wanted to take a minute to tell you about all the great things that have been happening here.

March 4th we celebrated the 8th birthday of our goddaughter, Carmen.  We took her and two other girls out for a nice lunch and some ice cream.  She was super excited about her new shampoo; Head and Shoulders is their favorite in the Hogar.

Then the next weekend I went on a three day retreat with another young woman from the parish center.   Most of the young people at the retreat were 15-19 years old but somehow I still had an awesome time and made new friends.  We learned lots of songs and games to do with our youth groups which is going to help me out immensely with my ‘Infancia Misionera’ group on Saturdays.  The best part of the retreat was that it was totally focused on how to be a missionary.  It was like an affirmation of the work I’m doing and a great spiritual check-in.  All in all a great time.

Finally I’m an officially certified missionary!

We also has the celebration of Dia del Padre, or Father’s Day, this past Monday.  It’s celebrated on the feast of St. Joseph.  Makes sense right?  Our god-daughter made this really sweet card for Tom.

Break My Heart

There are too many things that happen here to possibly recount them all, but a few really touch my heart, here’s a sampling:

An Hogar (girls’ home) little girl that comes to the Kinder always seeks me out during recess to hold my hand and wants to be picked up.  I told her she needed to act like a big girl and go make friends and play with the other kids.  She said, “I don’t want friends, I want my mom.”  She’s been at the Hogar since Christmas.  I don’t know what her situation is or if she’ll ever be able to live with her mom again but she doesn’t stop talking about her mom and her house.  Just the other night she was telling me about how any day now she’d be going back to her house.  For her sake, I want it to be true.

On the playground today at the Kinder a little girl who knew me from last year because she did pre-kinder with us walked over and so I said, “Hi, how are you?”  She pauses for a minute and says “My mom doesn’t recognize me.  She’s in Spain.”  After the shock settled, I said “Well of course it’s because you’ve grown so much this summer.”   I know it’s a reality in many parts of the world where one or both parents goes to another country to work while the children stay behind with an aunt or grandma.  It’s an accepted part of society here and I can understand the desire to have a better life.  However when I see the effects in the children, I’m convinced it’s not worth it.

On the Monday of Carnaval, the happiest, smiling 5-year-old at the Hogar got her finger smashed in a door.  Apparently the cuts were pretty deep so they took her to the medical clinic.  Unfortunately with it being Carnaval there was no doctor there and the doctor on call either couldn’t or wouldn’t come in.  They went around to the few other free/low cost hospitals in town and none of them had any doctors/surgeons working either apparently.   So they finally end up back to the first clinic with her at which point a doctor does show up and says that the wound is too old and can’t be stitched up because they hadn’t put ice on it.  Therefore, he amputates the whole first digit of her middle finger.  And for what? Because no one involved, not even the nurses at that clinic, had the wherewithal to give the poor 5-year-old some ice?   Because the doctor took his sweet time arriving at the clinic?   I have no word for the mixture of anger/sadness/frustration I felt.

To end, another Kinder story.  I was sitting after class talking to a little girl about the noisy boys at her table.  I said “Oh those boys are so bothersome, they like to hit each other right?”  She says “yeah,” and I say “They’re bad.” She says, “My mom’s bad.”   I’m confused and say “I’m sure your mom’s not bad, why do you say she’s bad?”  She replies, “Yes she’s bad.  My dad hits her because she’s bad.”  I said, “Does he hit you?”  She said, “No but he’s doesn’t hit her now.”  I said, “Ok good, hitting is bad.”  She says “yeah….” looking thoughtful and our conversation trails off.