How was Bolivia?

So even though we have 7 and a half months left here, I’m already dreading going home and hearing this question.  The problem is there’s no answer to it really.  I’d like to give an example of one of my mornings last week.

I didn’t get up and workout with Tom this morning because I had diarrhea all day yesterday and wasn’t feeling well.  When I did get out of bed about 8:30 my sore throat reminded me of this cold I’ve had for going on a month now that won’t go away.  The sun was out and it was already heating up so I put on my lightest, breathable clothes.  I needed to clean the house today.  Yesterday I had started but was thrown through a loop when I encountered a brown widow living under one of our tables.  Once the extraction/identification was finished I had run out of cleaning time.

So this morning, I put my clothes on quickly and decided resolutely I will get this house cleaned.  Just then I look up and see the trail on the wall.  I know that trail.  Termites.  I start investigating and find them eating one of my t-shirts.  I take the t-shirt out to the burn bin and alert Tom.  We clear out the closet and see that the damage is contained but they’re clearly coming from the wall.  I go and eat some plain bread for breakfast and de-spider the kitchen while we wait for Madre Clara to pass by so we can ask her if she has any pesticide.  She looks at it and blames it on our room being too humid, which it is, but we keep the windows shut during the day to keep the heat out/cool in.

Madre Clara says, “Oh yeah we have to fumigate in here.  I’ll have to go buy the chemicals, maybe tomorrow.  Laura can you bring the photos over now I want to develop them today.”  So our fumigation gets put off and I go over to the Kinder with Madre Clara to organize all her digital photos.  Madre Clara has a camera, laptop, fancy scanner but she doesn’t really excel at using any of them, so periodically I have to sit down and clean up the chaos left by haphazard usage.  Anyway I spend a good hour on that so that we can print the Kinder photos from “Children’s Day.”

On the way back to our house, I see a beautiful white and purple butterfly I’d never seen before.  I believe it was in the Papilio genus but I haven’t been able to identify it further than that. I also hear the band from the school next door playing “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel.  Madre Clara told me they were practicing to play for the funeral today.  One of their third graders just died from dengue.

I get back to our house after 11am in time to talk to Madre Inez about the Children’s Day party I’m supposed to be help with the next day but have no information about.

Then all of a sudden it’s noon and I’m exhausted and still haven’t gotten the cleaning done.  We pickup some non-appetizing rice and undercooked eggs from the Guarderia to eat for lunch.

Bolivia is………. challenging, fun, frustrating, sad, inspiring, scary, different, exhausting, exhilarating, and yes sometimes even just fine.  Life here just is what it is.  You take it as it comes and try to keep smiling.  Isn’t that what we’re all just doing really?

Happy Easter

Easter was exhausting this year.  Actually I think I’m still exhausted from Easter.  After Easter Vigil Mass there was an all-night lock in for all the youth.  I opted to stay for it to hang out with my youth group.  It was actually was more fun than I had expected.  There was very little talking, it was mostly just singing and dancing.  Plus a guest artist came named Jose Luis Melgar and his band was WAY better than our regular music.  It was awesome to hear well-played music.

So we sung and danced the night away until 4am when the youth groups went out to greet the Risen Lord.  The march was pushed an hour earlier this year because of the lock-in but otherwise it was the same as last year.  We marched through the streets saying “Everyone wake up, Jesus is risen!”  I was on a different route this year; I did the St. John route.   Tom was on the Jesus route again and we all met up in the plaza in front of the church.

My route was a little late for the 5am rendezvous because we had a long way to go.  So we didn’t all march into the church until 5:15am, which turned out to be fine because the priest didn’t show up until 5:45am!  That half hour waiting was killer.  I hadn’t slept, I’d barely eaten anything all night and I’d just walked a mile and a half singing.  Luckily the Holy Spirit was with us and we persevered.  We got out of mass at 6:30am and by 6:45 I was eating breakfast at home.

Tom and I crashed in our beds at 7am but got up again at noon in order to have Easter dinner with the Hogar girls.  They had nice food as usual followed by some games and dancing.  Then after the party, I opened my store “Venta de Valores” for the girls to buy things with tickets they had earned and Tom helped Aubrey with the egg hunts.  The afternoon had ups and downs.  Tom taught Ophelia (age 8 ) how to use a fork and knife.  It was so adorable!  The girls are usually only given spoons to eat with.  And I found out that our God-daughter, Carmen, is failing second grade.  But her mom showed up to visit and I sat down and had a nice chat with her and we talked a little about how important education was for the girls.  I think their mom is basically illiterate and she told me she’s suffered because of “not studying.”

We got home from the Hogar around 6pm and made dinner and called family.  Monday morning was rough but gotta be happy because:  Cristo ha resucitado Alleuya Alleuya.  Verdaderamente ha resucitado Alleuya Alleuya

Holy Week Extravaganza

It has been a crazy holy week here in Bolivia…here’s what we’ve been up to.

Early in the Week
We had classes as normal Monday-Wednesday, however, Tuesday night I got really nauseous during class (I think it was something I ate) and was sick on my back all day Wednesday.  Luckily I was feeling pretty much better by Wednesday night (24hrs) and except for being a bit tired was back to normal Thursday.

Holy Thursday
While I was resting up Thursday afternoon, Laura went to help decorate the church for mass that night.  She was the one in charge of getting Mary dressed up:

Mass went well, the feet-washing was a performance of the last supper.  They dressed the priest in simple clothes and had 12 young men, dressed up as apostles whose feet he washed.

Finally, we cleared the alter and moved to a side chapel that we built for the evening.  Here we had an exposition and people prayed long into the night.   Here’s Laura reenacting afterwards:

Good Friday
Good Friday’s service in Bolivia is a long event (even longer than the Vigil), mostly because towards the end of the service (which includes a reenactment play of the passion) we all get up and go outside for a couple mile long stations of the cross.  After this we all return into the church to finish the service by seeing Jesus inside a tomb built into a 15ft. tall (permanent) mountain.

During the stations of the cross, we (about 2000 people) walk from station to station saying prayers and singing hymns.  At each station, we stop and and the same group that acted out the passion in the church acts out that station on the back of a flat-bed truck.  As we walk we are lead by the Mary statue (that Laura dressed up the day before) and a statue of Jesus which is kept in a glass coffin:

One of the stations, setup by the girls at the orphanage:

Holy Saturday
What can I say, a HUGE bonfire (~10ft tall) to start it off.  Fireworks during the gloria.  Everybody bringing their own water to be blessed (to have holy water in their homes).  Lots of praying, now off to bed…our Easter Sunday starts with a march at 4AM!


Palm Sundathon

Palm Sunday is a huge deal in Bolivia.  My Palm Sunday celebration was a marathon that started on Friday when Jesus riding a ‘donkey’ paraded through the Kinder.

Then on Saturday at my 5pm youth group, we were reminded that we had to decorate the church for Palm Sunday.  AND we had to bring all the materials to do so.  Well, in classic Bolivian style, we had nothing but we started looking. For starters we needed 10 huge palm fronds from a palm tree called Motacu.

Luckily, one of the girls showed up and said that her family had a Motacu and had just cut a bunch of fronds so we all went over to her house to see how many we could use.   There were some mutterings about using a taxi or a motorcycle but Sister Inez said, “No, you can’t drag them, you have to carry them!”  Not knowing what exactly we were getting into, I went happily to her house with the five other girls from our group.  But when we arrived I was a little shocked, the palms were easily 14 feet long and not light.  Plus, we needed to carry 10 of them and we were now 6 blocks away from the church.   We decided quickly we had to carry them between two people to avoid dragging and Celia says, “Ok well each pair has to take three then.”  Another girl and I attempt to pick up three but I can’t and drop them all.  So, we decide to take two.  I’ve got the leafy side and so I’m completely buried in palm, not able to see anything but my feet, as we walk the six blocks to the church.  I had many doubts along the way but amazingly we arrived as did the other two teams.  When we went back for the second round, a few more people showed up including two guys so the work was much lighter.

We spent the next two hours tying the palms up and I finally got back to our house exhausted about 8pm.  But no rest for the weary, Sunday morning I had to be up at 6:30am to cook my contribution for lunch and be ready to march at 7:30 as we paraded to a local high school for the annual World Youth Day celebration. This is a full-day event with a very long mass, dancing, break-out sessions and unending singing.  After helping with cleanup, we finally starting walking home at 4:30pm.  Thankfully, when I got home my wonderful husband was already cooking dinner, so I rested until 6pm when we had dinner with the other volunteers.  Then at 7pm I headed to church for evening mass.  My youth group was also in charge of the evening mass for Palm Sunday and I had volunteered to read the first reading.  This was really exciting for me since it’s the first time I’ve done a reading in Bolivia!  I really tried hard on my accent so that people would understand me and afterwards Sister Inez said it sounded good.  (Positive praise is so rare from the Sisters, especially Sister Inez so I just want you to appreciate how amazing I felt).  In addition, after going to two 2-hour masses in one day, I felt my spot in heaven was assured and it was nice to see everyone enjoying all our hard work decorating.  The finished product looked great but it did seem a bit overboard, to me anyway.

And since it’s a celebration, I also splurged for the biggest palm I could find from the vendors outside the church.  This one set me back 5 bolivianos.  The herbs in it, once blessed, are supposed to ward off bad spirits.

Blessed Holy Week to you all, stay tuned for more stories.