Happy Thanksgiving!

We just celebrated volunteer Thanksgiving this weekend in Montero.  We had a great turn out; all the current volunteers came plus some new friends.  In total we had 21 people, 2 turkeys, 3 cans of cranberry sauce, 2 pumpkin pies and all the fixings.  Everyone chipped in to make something and/or import something from the US to help make it a success.

Here is a portion of the group with the spread:

Left to right: Monica, Christy, Lorena, Michelle, Tania, Vivian, Judy, Eliana, Me, Tom

And everyone stayed until Sunday so we had lots of time to chat and catch up.  Here’s a picture of all the current salesian volunteers in Bolivia, right before we started saying our goodbyes.

Left to Right, Front to Back:  Katie, Lainie, Maggie, (2nd row) Lorena, Vivian, Tania, Stephanie, Christy, Me, Monica, Eliana, Monica, (3rd row) Judy, Michelle, Tom, Marcos

This was our third Bolivian Thanksgiving and certainly was a time for us to sit back and reflect on how many, many things we are thankful for from this experience.  Thank you to all of our friends and family back home who have supported us while we’ve been here.  Thank you to the Salesians who matched us up with the sisters in Montero and have provided spiritual support.  Thank you to the Sacred Heart Sisters who really took us under their wing and helped us feel welcome.  Thank you to our community of fellow volunteers that have provided emotional support and sanity over the past two years.  Thank you to the many people that have been patient with us while we learned a new language and new culture.  And thank you to God for the many blessings we’ve received through this experience, for picking us up when we fall and forgiving us when we fail.

Bolivian Census

Eerily quiet night followed by a peaceful morning.  Bolivian Census Day.

“For a 24 hour period, starting at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, November 21, all non-emergency offices and businesses have been ordered to remain closed, and individuals instructed to remain at home and await the census taker.  No pedestrians, private vehicles, or public transportation will be allowed on the roads without prior authorization (i.e., a special permit) from the National Institute of Statistics and violators will be fined.”

Today we were counted in the Bolivian census, taken every 10 years.  The questions were pretty routine, where were you born, what do you do, your education level, how many children do you have.  The only unsettling question was how many children have you given birth to that have died.  The guy expected a number and asked twice to confirm it was zero.

It was interesting to see the whole country on lock-down.  We don’t have a TV but I imagine there wasn’t even news today because the news broadcasters had to be in their homes to be counted also.  It’s like we were all just on pause for 24 hours.  I don’t know about the rest of Bolivia, but I used the time to do a really good cleaning of the house.


The joys and sorrows of having a God-daughter #2

Our second God-daughter is Angie (name changed).  She was baptized this past June.  She’s an extremely bright child, although a little timid at first, but we had a lot of fun getting to know her.  She is very verbal and in Kinder was already reading and writing like a second-grader.  Her father always told us he had big plans of her being a doctor and possibly going to the U.S. and clearly wanted us to have some part in that.  Not making any promises, I thought to myself, I’d be happy to help such a bright child succeed in life.

We had lunch with her and her parents a few times and helped host a small party after her baptism.  The father was currently working as a barber but had worked as a grade school teacher in the past.  The mom was taking beauty classes at our Institute and working in the home.  The mother was a little hard to get know, however, as she is deaf in one ear and hearing-impaired in the other.  She often didn’t understand what I said even if I tried yelling.  She had no hearing aid, and according to the father she didn’t want to use one. Knowing that people here a little shy sometimes about seeking medical attention, I just accepted it.  Everything was going well until her mom said she was going home to visit her family for a week over winter break.  It seemed odd that the daughter would stay with her father for a week instead of traveling with the mom to visit family, particularly in this culture, but the father insisted Angie did not want to go.

In Montero, the three of them lived in a rented room that was bed, table and kitchen all together.

The mom’s return date got delayed and apparently the father got overwhelmed with working full-time and taking care of a 6-year-old, so he called us up and asked if Angie could stay with us for a few days.  We said sure and brought her over to our house on Friday after school.  She went to church with me, had dinner with us and I set up the spare bedroom for her to sleep in.  I thought she might like having her own room for the first time but she spent most of the night crying.  I tried warm milk, stories, laying next to her but it turned out to be a long night for both of us.  The next day Madre Inez just happened to mention to me that she wants to talk to the husband of the Institute student who’s hard of hearing.  I said, well I have his daughter here with me and he’ll be by tomorrow to get her.

Madre Inez had heard from Angie’s mom that the husband was physically abusive and had made her stop going to her classes since he said she, “couldn’t do anything well.”  Madre Inez asked Angie a few questions and her responses pretty much confirmed the domestic problems.  She told about how the mom has other children down where her family lives and that Angie had wanted to go with her mom but the dad didn’t allow it.  She told about how the dad will hit the mom whenever she does something wrong.  Even if it’s just that she’s made food for lunch he doesn’t like.  It painted the story of a controlling, abusive husband and we began rethinking everything we knew about him so far.

After this Angie went home to her dad and the mom came back in town but a week later she and Angie skip town.  The dad is distraught and comes to the kinder saying the mom has carried Angie off to the country and won’t let her finish school.  Madre Inez and I finally get down to brass tax with the dad and ask him why he hits his wife and he why he thinks any woman should stay with him.  The dad goes down to try to talk the mom into coming back with Angie but they just go deeper into the country to avoid him.  This is a very rural part of the country with few roads and no electricity.  The mom grew up in this region so she has family members that are helping them.  The dad tries legal means to force the mom to come back but that leads to us getting a call from the office of child and family services.  They inform us that the father is a fugitive from the law and is accused of sexual abuse.

Obviously with this news any attempt on our end to put up with the father ended.  He has come to the Kinder a few times asking for Angie’s report card and official papers but Madre Clara told him we’re not dealing with him anymore.  He gave us some phone numbers to try contacting the mom’s family but they haven’t returned our calls.  The problem is that without the correct papers, Angie won’t be able to enroll for first grade.  But we only want to give those papers to the mother.

As god-parents, we’ve pretty much given up hope of regaining contact with Angie, but we’ll always keep her in our prayers.

The joys and sorrows of having a God-daughter

Our first God-daughter in Bolivia, Maria del Carmen (7) from the Hogar, was baptized just two months after we got here.  She was 5 at the time.  Our Spanish was still rough and communication was awkward at first, but now two years later we have a strong relationship with her.  We see her every Sunday and often bring her gifts of toothpaste, socks, whatever she needs.  I also spend an hour every Sunday reading with her to help get her up to grade level.

Carmen has two sisters, Ana Paola (11) and Saray (5).  Naturally as we started doing things for Carmen like birthday parties or special gifts we would try to include the sisters also whenever possible.  Over time we also started to get know their family.  Their mom would come to visit when she wasn’t working in Argentina.  I sat down multiple times and chatted with her about how the girls were doing.  She was always very emphatic about them getting a good education as she herself was uneducated and had suffered in life because of this.  Their father had abandoned them but we ran into him one Day of the Dead during mass at the cemetery.  He said hi and gave the girls a few coins.  Only the oldest, Ana Paola, really recognized him.  We have also met their aunts when they stop by church to buy the girls snacks on Sundays that the mom was out of town.

Ana Paola and Carmen with their mom at this year’s stations of the cross

The girls talked frequently about the day when they would leave the hogar and get to live in their house again with their mom.   We had already told her that we wanted to swap numbers and stay in contact with her in case she did take them out of the hogar after we left Bolivia.

Then on Friday October 26th their mom died suddenly of a heart attack.  She was probably 32-35 years old.  She had had tuberculosis but beyond that she didn’t have any major health issues of which I was familiar.  She worked as a cleaning lady at a local medical clinic and died while at work.  Apparently the doctors couldn’t save her, although my previous experience with that clinic has been so dismal I hate to say I wasn’t surprised.

Since then, we have tried to step it up a bit being there for all three of the girls.  Their extended family has very much stayed active in their lives also.  On this years Day of the Dead, all the aunts and uncles came to visit the girls and Tom and I got a chance to talk more concretely with them about the girls future.  They also are vehement about the girls staying in the hogar and getting an education.  We traded numbers with them and  promised to try to stay in contact.

Here we are with all three sisters this past Saturday celebrating Ana Paola’s birthday