Wednesday, April 30, 2008

6 months in Bolivia

Time sure flies in the country where time is not all that important. I knew before I even got here that Latino time was very different from the time I was accustomed to. This was evident the first time I got to church very “late”( 30 minutes past the time I intended to be there), and found that most of the Bolivians where just arriving as well. Everything here takes time. It takes time to learn this language and learn it well. It takes time to develop friendships. It takes time to even go into La Cancha (the market) to get the few items that you needed. Taking public transportation takes time, its good and cheap, but at times seems to take forever and a day to get where you wanting to be (esp when it is hot and crowded in the Micro-the bus). I keep thinking that I have all the time in the world since I’m planning on being here long term. In some ways that is true. But I have realized that teammates come and go, friends come and go, life changes quickly. Bolivians are very much the kind of people that live for today, not for tomorrow. I am trying to learn how to live like that but it is very hard!

Bolivians work very hard, so hard that it puts me to shame. It never ceases to amaze me how many children are working. They work the markets, often offering use of a wheelbarrow for folks buying a lot of stuff. They are street performers in training and they juggle and do cartwheels. Or they are window washers and attack your car windows when you are stopped at a red light. They walk the streets with items to sell such as flowers, candy, ect. It was an awkward moment when the man I was meeting with at an outdoor café had to buy a rose from a small girl while explaining to her that I wasn’t his girlfriend and the rose was for his wife at home! Others offer to shine your shoes, even if you are not wearing shinable shoes, or sing you a “nice” song. Still others just ask you for money. It is upsetting to think about the parents of these young ones, how can they force them to do this work? And I believe the answer is poverty. After 6 months in Bolivia I still can’t understand poverty. Why does it exist? What can be done to eliminate it? How can we get parents to stop drinking and take care of their kids? I don’t have any solution. But this is a daily reality in my life.

Some fun things that I have learned in the last 6 months:
1. I have learned to appreciate taxi drivers that wait for me to enter into my home before driving off. This happens maybe 50% of the time.
2. I have also learned to appreciate taxi’s that flash their head lights at you, rather then honk, to see if you need a ride.
3. I have learned to look both ways before crossing a one way street (not kidding!). 4. I seem to need to re-learn daily that pedestrians have no rights!
5. I have learned that it is better to cross then street when cars are moving then when they are stopped.
6. I have learned that everything, literally everything, is cheaper if you buy it in La Cancha.
7. I have learned that La Cancha is a never ending madhouse.
8. I have come to appreciate my wonderful Bolivian friends that are bi-lingual and very patient with me as I stumble through nearly everything I say. They help me so much!
9. I have learned to laugh at myself, which is more important then I ever knew before.
10. I have learned the importance of the siesta! A 30 min power nap after lunch does my brain a world of good.
11. I have learned that Spanish is really hard but that English is even harder! I know I’m doing well though because I have learned how to be funny in Spanish!
12. I have learned that I have a knack for pronouncing difficult words in Quechua.
13. I have learned that a Coca-Cola does a better job of keeping me awake then a cup of coffee.

Things work related:
It is hard to do a lot of missionary work without being fluent in the language. It is hard, but not impossible. I am currently doing most of my missionary work on the weekends and focusing on Spanish during the week (except Viviana’s therapy).

Since I have a good deal of Spanish under my belt, we are currently trying to find my exact place on my team. I would appreciate your prayers concerning this.

I am currently helping out two other ministries on the weekends. I continue to volunteer at Babywashing and I continue to volunteer Sunday afternoons to help my church group in their ministry in Sacaba. See previous blog postings for more information on the ministry in Sacaba.

My weeks tend to go by in a whirl wind of activities. At the end of the day I often find myself forgetting what it was I did even that morning!

There is a lot of work to do that is for sure, but I never underestimate the importance of spending time with God and developing “outside of work” friendships. Worshipping in Spanish is still difficult at times and I miss singing in English. Unfortunately, I am still unable to understand the bulk of sermons. My Bolivian friends, like I said before, are absolutely wonderful. They have adopted me and loved me in a way that still amazes me. They help me to understand this culture more and give me the invaluable gift of conversational Spanish. They have also invited me to participate in their ministries as well. I love my new friends!

My health has been amazingly good, Praise God! I am sure to take vitamins everyday though at times I wonder if I need them. My host family is very careful to buy good food and clean everything well. I am also very particular about the restaurants I eat in. “Gingo friendly” has become a part of my vocabulary. I have come down with a few sinus infections and/or chest colds but, praise the Lord, nothing over the counter antibiotics (isn’t that cool?) couldn’t cure. I now weight 15 pounds more then I did when I left the states!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Finally, photos from Sacaba

I finally felt I had reached the point where I could take pictures at Horita Feliz (happy hour) at my ministry site in Sacaba. First let me tell you this story. I had mentioned in a past blog about a little girl named Nyleen that was speaking to me in Quechua. This litle girl and her sister Nadia have settled into a very special place in my heart. I barely get out of the car when Nyleen is running towards me with outstretched hands yelling ¨hermanita, hermanita!¨ ¨Sister, sister¨ in English. Thats a very common title given to Christian workers when they don´t know your name. And mine name is tough for them to remember. My heart just melts when she runs to me like that. Its on the level of a child running to his mother saying ¨mommy, mommy.¨ We do have a bond of some sort developing, I love her so much. Her sister Nadia as well. These two sit on my lap during lesson time, one on each leg. So here we/they are:

These are some other photos from yesterday. A whole bunch of kids:

Lesson time and giving food:

And this is a picture of the next age group up. There is also a group of teenagers that meet in another area that I didn´t get to take a picture of.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Field trip

This last week we had a short term team of 8 here. On Thursday I took the day off of Spanish and hung out with them. The biggest part of the day was visiting a children´s nutrition center. A nutrition center is not a hospital. They care for malnurished kids aged 0-5. Some live there and another part is like a daycare center. Most of the kids have 8 or 9 brothers and sisters or they are orphans. It was really hard because the kids don´t smile hardly at all. No laughing, no one bouncing off the walls. They are there to get better and then they move on. One baby I was holding was so skinny... and mad at the world it seemed. He was probably only 2or 3 months old. I think it was time for him to eat. I had to leave him screaming in his crib. The center and a hospital were founded by a family that got rich off the mines in Bolivia and suprisingly enough, gave back to Bolivia. They are very professionally run, they have child councelors, students of psycology, and nutritionists all on stuff. They disinfect everything, make their own clothes for the kids, measure all the food and monitar every child very closely. Yet they are starved for affection. You look at a child in a crib and they just start crying cause they want to be picked up. We helped to feed them lunch. A lot of the kids in the daycare are sick with coughs and whatnot. My girl could hardly eat between coughing fits. She eventually threw up a little and I called it quits. What the point if she can´t keep it down cause of the cough. Regardless, it was a very eye opening day as the facilities look like they were transplanted here from the states. Maybe at some future time I might be able to go back there and just hold those babies!

I was also able to help the team a good deal with their tourist shopping in La Concha. It felt really good to know that I know enough spanish that I can finally be of a help to my team! Praise the Lord!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

El Día del Niño

I apologize again for not keeping up with this blog weekly. I have been waiting to post because I wanted to add pictures to this entry. But it seems everytime I try, I´m on a computer with a non working USB port. So I will write this now and add the pictures later.

El Día del Niño is Kid´s Day in English. Its not entirely different then Mother´s, Father´s,or Grandparent´s Day in the states. Its simply a day to celebrate kids being kids. I think the US should adopt this holiday! The date was April 19th, a week ago yesterday. The festivities actually began on the Friday before. Never is a holiday here restricted to 1 day! All the schools celebrated as did the physical therapy at the hospital. Viviana left that day with a balloon in hand.

Saturday my team was split into two groups and assigned to our two orphanages. The first home decided to take their kids to the water park. Can you imagine a waterpark on kids day? Yeah, we couldn´t even get the car near the entrance. We had to drop them off a couple of blocks away. The report after that was ¨That place was insane!¨ But the kids had a blast and thats what matters right?

My team went up to the home in Villa Israel and we took the kids to the play ground. We had some games planned like:
A clothing relay

Three legged Race

and the all time favorite, Water Balloon Toss. I got a kick out of what I call the water ballon bandits. Cute huh?

After an hour in the blazing sun, we went back to the house for some treats.

In the afternoon, rather then having the Super Saturday ministry, the main ministry (what we normally just call the Center) had a fair for the kids in the community. I was manning one of three game booths. I had the mini basketball toss. My friends had the ring toss and ¨bozo¨ buckets. The kids had a blast with facepainting, prizes, and treats. I was nearing exhaustion but I was glad to help. I literally ran out of there in order to get ready to attend a wedding reception.

Sunday the festivities continued. Rather then have our regular program for the kids in Sacaba we simply played games with them for an hour. And of course, treats were a given. One little girl, Nylin, has adopted me as her favorite ¨leader.¨ Every week now I have her in my arms. She kept repeating a word to me last week that I didn´t undertand. I asked a spanish friend and she didn´t know it either. She thought she was mispronouncing another spanish word. When I said the word to my tutor she simply said ¨Quechua.¨ Oh, now that made sense. What I thought was ¨marcame¨ in spanish (I thought it was some kind of command form) was actually mark´away in Quechua. The little girl is only 4 and wasn´t pronouncing the ¨k´¨sound that would have told me right away that it was Quechua. Anyway, in Spanish the equivilant is ¨levantarse¨ or ¨pick me up¨ in english. Thats a rough translation anyway. Apparently I pronounce Quechua words very well, my tutor is bugging me to take Quechua after Spanish. I told her one langauge at a time. My spanish still has a long long way to go!

So that was El Día del Niño in Cochabamba. Next week: 6 month update.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

¨Day 1¨

My friend has started a ministry that is branching off of an existing ministry (same location) that she has been involved in for the last several months. This ¨new ministry¨ is called ¨Super Saturdays¨ and runs from 3-5pm on Saturdays. She has asked me to help her to get things started. I said ok, I can do that. Our target age group is about 5-12. Its not geared towards teenagers. This last Saturday was Day 1.

Basically the program consists of 1 hour of free time in which the kids trickle in and play whatever games they want to. We have puzzles and board games, foozball, legos, matress and tires (don´t ask!), and many other things to choose from. Keep in mind folks that these kids don´t have a playroom full of toys in their homes. Their play area is the dirt and their toys are the trash in the streets. This hour of free time is really important to them.

At about 4pm we put all the stuff away and we play some kind of group game. Saturday it was musical chairs. They laughed and loved it even if most of them were trying to cheat. And we did manage to break one plastic chair in the process. I was in charge of turning the music on and off.

Then we had them get into a big group (about 15 of them or so) and we tried to teach them 3 popular childrens songs (originally in English but translated to spanish). Our Bolivian helper wrote out the words for us and then I am writing them out on large poster board. That didn´t go that well as the kids have seemingly never heard these songs. It will take some time to teach them. Us leaders need to learn the spanish words too! I´m confident that they will be singing and doing actions very soon.

And then we had our lesson time in which my friend did the talking and had a rather messy object lesson. Which of course the kids loved! The special thing about this program is that it is not only speaking of the Bible but is also addressing the very real practical needs of these kids. Saturday we talked about the importance of washing your hands with soap. Such a simple thing right? These things are never taught to these kids by their parents. At the end of our time we gave out bars of soap for them to take home.

After the lesson we have them wash their hands and faces in washtubs that we provide and then we give them some food. The average milk intake for kids in Bolivia in 2 liters A YEAR (a knowledgeable Bolivian friend told me this, I can´t direct you to a website for the statistic). So as often as possible, we give out milk or yogurt (drinkable). One package cost about .20 US. We also gave them some cookies, not so healthy! But they enjoy it :)

Next time I will be introducing puppets which is my greatest challenge so far. One, I am a puppet team of 1. Two, I am voicing the script, its not on CD. Three, I am writing the script! Four, I´m doing it all in Spanish! At this point it is a very simple script using very simple language. But they are kids after all. I don´t think they will hold it against me. It was a proud moment for me when I handed my first script to my spanish teacher for her to proof-read and correct and she changed very very little of what I wrote! Praise the Lord :)

So please be in prayer for this little ministry. That we would be able to teach the word of God and meet their practical needs as well. Next time we will be talking about the importance of brushing your teeth or you will get cavities and in the same way how sin eats away at you, ect. Photos to come in two weeks hopefully as well as an update on how things are going.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Little update

I´ve decided to wait to do the 6 month recap till the end of the month. Then I will have been here for 6 months. So here is just a little update for the beginning of month 6.

I´ve been a little behind on weekly blog postings simply because there is not that much that happens outside of ¨big¨ events (like Tunari). I´ve decided that my life just seems more intresting because I´m living it in Latin America. And so it makes my daily activities sound really exciting compared to those of you at home. Really truely, my everyday life is pretty typical!

I said goodbye to a good Bolivian friend this weekend. And that was hard for me, much harder then I thought it would be. I never expected to have to say goodbye to another friend so soon. But he is now off to go to seminary in Gautamaula (sp?). But coninciding with his leaving, it seems I have passed some kind of test in my youth group. Its like the group is finally realizing that I´m here and I´m not leaving. I dug my heels in, made friends, joined ministry, and found out that I am really really happy. I run into my friends on the streets all the time and thats a good feeling, I don´t know, I guess... just being known. And accepted. There are a few foriegners in the group, most have been here for years and speak nearly perfect spanish. Me, I still bumble through nearly everything I say, and they like me anyway! Go figure.

For all who are asking... I come home on furlough the first weekend in Oct until just after Thanksgiving. I will be in a wedding in Southern Il the second weekend of Oct. I have a lot of things to do when I get home but there will be time to see everyone. No te preocupes :) That means, don´t you worry.

More stuff coming soon... I promise.