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!

One thought on “Nine Months

  1. It is great to hear from you again. It sounds like it has been an enlightening experience so far. Thank you for keeping us in touch.
    We look forward to all of your notes.

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