Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Day in the Life: Part 2

Ok.  I realize that there are probably MANY of you out there (because we all know I have a *massive* group of blog followers...) that have been just DYING to know for the last (almost) 2 months now what exactly I do on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Niños con Valor!!  Oh the suspense!  Well, I am happy to tell you the wait is over--all my MWF secret whereabouts and activities are revealed below.  But first, to give a quick recap about Niños, it's an organization that runs two children's homes, one for girls and one for boys.  There are currently 9 boys at the boys home ages 3-9.  The current number of girls is 21 ages 6-16. (Ps. I'm purposefully not going to use names for any of the kids in this blog post for confidentiality reasons.)

Monday and Wednesday mornings find me at the BOYS home.  I try and get there around 8am, which puts me right at the beginning of their breakfast, ie a wonderfully chaotic time which usually is made up of some part yelling, some part whining, some part smiling and laughing (if we're lucky!!), and typically ends with a fairly substantial amount of whatever is being eaten ending up on some part of my body... :)  Then it's upstairs for teeth brushing and potty time, before I head out to the front yard with the "peques" (short hand for "pequeños," which is spanish for the "little" or younger boys).  We get about an hour of play time in before the day Tia (ie day worker) comes in and herds all the younger boys downstairs to do "homework," which mainly consists of practicing coloring IN the lines, putting puzzles together, practicing their writing, and playing.  Below is a pictures of me with one of the kids with whom I spend a lot of my time.

I wish I could tell you that he's always smiling this much when he's around me, but a lot of the time I'm trying to avoid being bitten, scratched, or pinched.  Although he's 3, he's still non-verbal, which because of this? or in conjunction with this? he also tends to get frustrated very quickly and thus express his needs or wants in irritated bouts of lashing out at whoever happens to be closest to him (ie me!).  We're hoping to be able to teach him some basic sign language soon to help him to be able to communicate better and with any luck, also help him to be less frustrated.  I really feel for him.  I can't imagine how frustrated and/or irritated I would be if I had no way of communicating what I wanted to say!

When it's really hot or rainy outside we also tend to read in the morning.  Below is a picture of me with my same kido "reading" one of the many wonderful board books in the house.

Sometimes in the mornings, some of the older boys have activities they attend such as soccer practice or programs at their church.  This is especially true during Christmas break, which for the kids down here is during their summer.  During the school year, mornings are often times spent doing the day's homework for school in the afternoon.  (If you remember from a previous blog post, the kids down here typically only go to school for half a day, either in the morning or the afternoon).  Below is a picture of me helping one of the other Tias walk some of the boys to the trufi stop on their way to soccer practice.  I love this picture because it also gives a great view of the neighborhood the boys live in and the gorgeous mountains that surround the city!  The bottom picture is of us waiting *patiently* for the trufi to come.

Although I love ALL of the boys.  It's *possible* that the little one in the picture below is one of my ever-so-slightly favorites :)  I seriously could eat his face sometimes he's just that cute!!
After morning homework/activities/snack-time, it's time for lunch and then afterwards the three smallest boys go down for a nap.  This is my FAVORITE part of the day because putting them down often means rocking them, rubbing their back, and/or signing with them until they fall asleep.  *Sigh*  It's a magical enough time to make all of the whining/hitting/crying/yelling/pinching/biting of the morning slip completely out of my mind :)  Before leaving for the day (typically around 2pm), I make sure the house is clean (surprise surprise!) and check in with the other Tias to make sure they don't need anything else from me.  If it's a Monday, there's a 50% chance that I have a Maryknoll Lay Missioner meeting that afternoon (we tend to have them every other Monday) and if it's a Wednesday, then there's a 100% chance that I have my weekly Spanish lesson to look forward to.  Let's just say there is hardly ever a dull (or quiet!) moment in my life these days!


Now onto the GIRLS!  Fridays are my day to be at the girls home.  I used to get there bright and early at 8am, but that's before I started RUNNING with 3 of the girls at 6AM on Wednesday and SATURDAY mornings...  So because I now typically get up at 5am on Saturday, I decided to let myself sleep in a little bit on Friday and usually arrive at the girls home around 10.  This gives me enough time to say hi to everyone and quick use the bathroom before I start my first PIANO LESSON of the day.  Seriously.  I'm still in disbelief every single time I write that I "teach" piano.  Lessons typically consist of practicing a few songs from the books, going over note names, practicing COUNTING (now I totally understand why my non-counting drove Lynn CRAZY!), and then without fail I will be asked to play the "Titanic" song with them as a duet, where they play the top hand melody part and I play the bottom hand part.  I'm gonna need to pause here and give a quick "shout-out" to MEGAN HAMM (now Moran!) since she was the one who taught me this simplified version of the Celine Dion Titanic song.  The girls are obsessed (to put it lightly) and have begged me to teach it to them.  However, none of them are advanced enough to be able to play both hands together, which is why I end up playing the bottom part while they pound out the melody.  I have 4 piano "students"--two in the morning before lunch and two after lunch.  Below is a picture of me with one of my most dedicated students.  The top one is of me "teaching;" the bottom one is of us playing the Titanic song...

Before I end this blog, I just have a couple more pictures to share.  Below are pictures of my 3 running buddies.  I thought it would be a nice Christmas treat (and a good way to thank them for their early morning commitment) to have them over to my house to help me make Christmas cookies.  The top picture is of the baking part; the bottom picture is of the sampling part :)

We actually made the cookies with the purpose of bringing them all (or most... :) ) over to the girls home the following day to allow everyone the chance to decorate and sample a "traditional" US Christmas cookie.  Needless to say, they were a HUGE hit.  Below are some pictures of our decorating fun.  You'll notice the colors are not your typical food coloring colors.  That is because despite my very dedicated search for "normal" food coloring, I could only find a package of neon food coloring--thus the purple, turquoise, "green apple" green, and pink!

And there you have some information about the time I spend with Niños!  If you couldn't tell from the pictures, despite the fact that sometimes it can be very challenging to work with kids from both of the homes, I don't think it's possible for me to love all of them any more.  They bring so much joy into my life it's unreal at times.  I am positive there will be many more blog posts to come in the future that will highlight some of the very same faces you see in this blog.  And with any luck, my next blog post won't take me 2 more months to write... :)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Day in the Life: Part 1

So, with my last post, I gave generalities about what exactly I'm "doing" down here in Bolivia.  However, I thought I'd follow up by giving a more detailed day-to-day description of my life.  Why don't we start with my Tuesday/Thursdays with the Fundación San Lucas.  

Every Monday and Wednesday night, I text my co-worker Ariane to see where and when I need to meet her the next morning.  Often times, the response I get is "8am in the office," which is located downtown--about a 35 minute walk from my house.  Sometimes however, if we're going to a far away community, the time is earlier and the location is somewhere more in line with the route so Ariane can pick me up on the way.  So basically, ALL of this means that I often leave my house between 7-7:15, so I can first walk up to the corner and drop off my bag of garbage (the truck comes to pick up garbage every Tues, Thurs, and Sat at around 7:15) and either walk downtown or PRAY that I'll be able to find an un-full trufi to take me wherever I need to go.  Transportation is tight here in the morning, and depending on what route I need to take, I can sometimes wait up to 20+ minutes for a trufi to stop and let me in.  Super fun and not stressful AT ALL, especially on the rare mornings I'm running a bit late...

Ok.  So I'm finally with Ariane, which more often than not means we're driving in an ambulance.  That's right, I said ambulance!  Needless to say, we usually get some pretty good stares by all the other drivers and anyone else who happens to see us on the road.  First of all, it is very rare for any female to be seen driving any sort of official vehicle (ambulance, police car, state car, etc) let alone a very young looking female.  AND, once you throw ME into the mix--a young looking "gringa" female--you've really got something unusual.  However, we've gotten used to all the attention and spend the roughly 30 minutes of driving listening to Radio Disney (think top 40s USA mixed with top 40s Mundo Latino--it's amazing) and talking :)  Have I mentioned lately just how much I love Ariane??  Because she's pretty much the best.

Here's a picture of the ambulance we usually drive in.  It's not exactly like the ambulances in the US, but it does typically come with a stretcher in the back!  This picture is taken in a community called Alalalay (spelled correctly!) about 30 minutes south of the city center.

Once we get to our destination, usually a school or day care, but sometimes a private home, we find out where the 6 and under children are and get to work!  Below are some pictures of me in various settings performing the Denver screening (which if you remember from my previous post, screens for potential cognitive, physical, and social disabilities) on a couple different kids.

This first picture shows me at a day care.  This child was brought to us due to concerns about his hearing.  However, about two seconds after meeting him, both Ariane and I realized this his hearing was just fine and his lack of communication and response to social cues was due to him being somewhere on the autism spectrum.  Autism is not well known in Bolivia, and the resources are sometimes hard to come by, which means that early detection can be crucial in helping get a child (and his/her caregivers) the resources and support they need.

 This next picture helps depict just how popular we are when we show up with our box of "toys" and want to "play" with the kids!  Here I am asking this boy to build a tower using 8 blocks--playing with the blocks is usually one of the most popular activities we ask the kids to do!

These next two pictures show us screening a child in his home.  He was referred to us by a local teacher who told us that he had a "bad arm and leg."  He did in fact have left-sided weakness in both is arm and leg, so we spent the afternoon screening both him and his SUPER cute sister (see picture below this one) and talking to his mother about the potential resources available to him.  

The next picture shows me with my co-worker Christian in a very rural community located about a 3 hour drive up into the surrounding hills of Cochabamba.  The child we're currently screening only speaks Quechua, and my co-worker at the time was new to the screening process, which meant I asked him the questions and he then in turn translated them to the girl!  Quechua-only speakers is something we run into every so often, which can make for a pretty frustrating day if we don't happen to have any Quechua speakers in our group at the time.  I'm giving myself at least one year of purely learning Spanish before I even BEGIN to think about tackling this difficult, very-different-from-English, language.

Below are three more pictures taken in this same community.  This was a big day for us: there was also a volunteer from the Netherlands along for the ride who was a Physical Therapist.  She was awesome and helped give on-the-spot easy exercises for some of the children to do.

This first picture is of Ariane, Marije (the volunteer), and I getting ready to head up to the daycare center.  Don't let Marije's open sweatshirt fool you, it was FREEZING cold outside.

Here's Marjie doing her own screening on the children.  I love this picture because it shows what a "typical" daycare that we visit looks like--children, daycare workers, and the room itself--in many of the rural settings.

And this is a picture of another co-worker, Genoveva, or "Geno" for short, showing pictures to two of the kids are the daycare.  Geno is like our work mother.  She's an excellent cook, quick to give a kind word, and is always noticing and looking out for the needs of others.  She is WELL loved by both Ariane and me :) 

Here are a couple more pictures from other rural areas.  Both are very representative of many of the rural communities we visit.  I LOVE the picture of the cow just chillin' outside of the school.  And the bottom picture nicely shows how popular Evo Morales is with people who live in rural areas--all of those blue and white flags you see are in support of Evo's political party--MAS.

Ok.  We'll end this post with a couple of pictures taken at one of the communities that I've been to many times: Laraty.  The San Lucas Foundation actually used to run the medical post here (before giving it over to local governance a couple years ago), so the connection with this community goes back many years.  I've been here not only to screen children, but also to bring clothing donations, help run a community empowerment workshop, and last, but CERTAINLY not least, help Ariane do 26 PAP SMEARS one day.  Below is a picture of me in my "lab" gear spreading a sample on a slide that Ariane just took from a woman's CERVIX.  Yup.  Don't worry about it.  And yes, Nancy (my wonderful godmother who also happens to be an OB-GYN Physician's Assistant) was the very first person to hear about this new and "interesting" experience :)

Here's a picture of the lake located just below the medical post.  There was minimal editing done to this picture folks.  And as you can imagine, the picture doesn't even begin to do the natural beauty here justice.  If it weren't for the super long and often impossible commute (due to a lack of trufis and taxis in the area), you're looking at exactly where I would want to be living right now.

And finally a picture of the health post itself, complete with Ariane talking to the dog that, according to the medical staff, showed up one day and decided he liked it, so he stayed.  Can you really blame him?? :)

And there you have it.  Now you know in detail what I do for half of my work week!  Please stay tuned for Part 2 about my time spent with Niños con Valor, and *potentially* Part 3 talking about what my weekends look like :)

Friday, September 26, 2014

And now for the Meat and Potatoes

I bet some of you are wondering what exactly I'm doing down here in Bolivia, since the term "lay missioner" doesn't really explain all that much...  Well grab a comfy chair and something to munch on (preferably something gluten-free...) because you're in luck: this post is focused on just that :)

First I'll quickly explain the process I went through of choosing a ministry site.  After my three months of language school were finished, I was allowed up to two more months to explore potential ministry sites.  During this time I was encouraged to not only look at places where I could see myself working, but really take this time to look at any and all ministry sites of the people who are a part of and associated with the Maryknoll "family"--ie Maryknoll Lay Missioners, former Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Maryknoll Priests and Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, Maryknoll Affiliates, etc. And due to the wonderful abundance of Maryknoll people in Cochabamba, I got to see a lot of really interesting and inspiring ministry sites.  And I mean A LOT.  Highlights included a day-long trip into the surrounding more rural area of Cochabamba, getting my hair done in a local women's prisons, and spending a day in a clinic adamantly refusing to give immunizations to small joke :) 

In the end, I chose two ministry sites--both working with children (lets be honest, adults were never my thing, wouldn't you agree Wayne??) and both loosely using my skills as an RN.  I have found it tricky here to work in a "regular" or "full-time" RN position largely due to my lack of Spanish fluency, but also very much due to my lack of Bolivian culture fluency.  It will be interesting to see how my jobs change or morph with time as I become more comfortable in both the language and culture of Bolivia. 

Ok.  Enough already. On to descriptions of my ministry sites:

First off we have...wait for it...NIÑOS CON VALOR!  This wonderful organization, which means "Kids with Value" in English, runs two homes--one for girls and another for boys--for children who have been orphaned, abandoned, or removed from high-risk situations.  What peaked my interest from the beginning was their further emphasis on providing loving and safe environments for children with HIV/AIDS and other health issues.  HIV/AIDS is HUGELY stigmatized in Bolivia, making a home that strives to provide a "normal" loving experience for children with this disease incredibly important.  I'm at the boys home one and a half days a week, and at the girls home just one day a week.  And although I'm currently *just* hanging out with the kids during this time (and helping the "Tias" as the kids call them, aka employees, as much as I can), the potential for assisting with small health-related projects such as taking heights and weights of kids, improving disease control measures, and helping to create and update medical forms is very much there.  Also, humorously (?) enough, I might end up teaching PIANO LESSONS to some of the older girls!  Never did I ever think those words would be written by these hands (which have not played piano seriously since senior year of high school)...  If this in fact does happen, I will try my best to channel my inner Lynn Najem and hope and pray that none of my students act even remotely like me :)  Here's the link to the Niños con Valor website if you want to learn more:

They also have a FACEBOOK page for those of you who would like to "like" them and follow what they're doing!  Click on the link below the picture to go directly to their page:

For the other two days of the week, I spend my time at ministry site number TWO: a foundation called "Fundación San Lucas," or the San Lucas Foundation in English.  This foundation is run under the Archbishop's office here in Cochabamba and focuses on improving the quality of life of the "most excluded" communities in the department of Cochabamba--with a special emphasis on integrative and preventative health.  There are many programs that are run under this foundation, including a mobile hospital which some of you may have seen pictures of on Facebook from my recent excursion with this hospital into the Bolivian countryside.  However, that's not something I do regularly!  My "regular" day job with this foundation is helping a doctor (named Ariane) use a screening tool (called the Denver Developmental Screening Test) to screen children ages 0-6 for potential disabilities--be those cognitive, behavioral, or physical.  Let's just say that for about the first month or so, this was incredibly difficult seeing as you have to ASK many questions in SPANISH in order to give this test...  The best is when we're in pretty rural areas and the children only speak Quechua, which means I'm in double trouble and am pretty much useless unless I can snag one of the teachers or childcare providers to help me translate :)  Who would have thought that I would need to learn TWO languages living here!  But that's a topic for a future blog...  

If and when we find signs of potential or very apparent disabilities, Ariane refers these children to appropriate medical specialists and/or supportive organizations in Cochabamba.  The foundation then pays for the costs of further needed testing AND provides a medical escort (sometimes Ariane, but they also have another RN and MD on staff to help out with this part) so the parents know what the heck's going on when they attend these appointments!  It's a wonderfully thorough process and one that they are finding really works.  However, as always, the problem is funding.  The grant that supports this work allots 100Bs (a little less than $15) per child to cover all medical testing expenses, which sometimes is not enough, especially if expensive tests like MRIs or CT scans are needed.  They are working on this though, and I hope a solution is found very soon!

Here's their website if you're interested in reading more about the foundation--sadly it's only in Spanish, so I apologize in advance for those who find Spanish as daunting as I find Quechua...

And they (like Niños) also have a Facebook page that you can "like" if you so desire.  Below is the link:

And that's my work in a nutshell :)  However, before I end this post, I want to take a second to talk about why I'm loving both of my jobs so much right now--the same reason I loved my job (at times... :)) on P4 back in Madison--it's the PEOPLE!  At Niños con Valor, the staff and volunteers are just incredible--very dedicated to the children, friendly and warm with me, and overall wonderful people.  And of course the CHILDREN are the reason why I'm pretty much hooked for life with this organization.  You wouldn't believe some of the back stories to some of these children, but you typically wouldn't know it by looking at them or interacting with them.  Talk about loving and fun spirits to be around (most of the time!).  It is a pure joy to spend time with them, even when they do find it hilarious to make fun of my Spanish...all.the.time :)

And with the San Lucas Foundation, I seriously couldn't love Ariane any more than I do :)  She just turned 25, so is very new to her medical profession, but she is incredibly knowledgeable, professional, and kind and is an absolute pleasure to work with!  Also over the past couple months, she has a lot more than just my "co-worker" and I think I can safely say, that although I have many Bolivian acquaintances, she is my one true Bolivian friend down here.  I'm scheduled to go with her and a couple friends to Sucre at the beginning of November to help her pick out her wedding dress :)  Here she is below:

And that's where I'll end.  Now that I've posted about the broad overview of my ministry sites, I'll be sure to start giving more detailed stories about what I'm experiencing on a day to day basis in future posts, so STAY TUNED :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Well look who finally has a place to live!

Hello blogging world!

Sorry it's been so long...  It's been quite the past couple of months with moving into my own new place (complete with my VERY OWN set of keys!) and finalizing my choice of two ministry placements (something I'll discuss in my next blog post).  Talk about life changes!

I should start with stating that it was through great fortune that I was able to find the place I live.  At the beginning of my search I was advised by current and ex-Maryknoll Lay Missioners that the process of finding housing (especially as a single foreign female) in Cochabamba can fall anywhere on the spectrum of horrible to traumatizing.  Awesome.  That said, I was very grateful when one of the Maryknoll Sisters here in Coch gave me a lead to a small single "casita" owned by a former Maryknoll Language Institute teacher and located in back of a much larger house, currently lived in by a family of renters.  This situation allows me to live in my own space while still having the advantage of being able to rely on many eyes (and I mean MANY--this house feels like a clown car sometimes with the amount of people coming and going) making sure my house remains un-robbed when I'm not there (which is actually a big problem in the richer areas of Cochabamba and not just me being paranoid).  The rent is a bit steep for my liking (I pay $175/month not including utilities), but the advantages are well worth it--I feel safe coming and going, even at night, I have great access to a large number of trufis (ie the means of public transportation down here), and I live within walking distance of all of my ministry sites as well as a LAUNDROMAT!  That's right.  I'm a princess.  Let's just get it out there right now.  Many of the other lay missioners wash their clothes by hand, but with the lack of reliable access to my shared clothes-washing area and my slightly larger lack of desire to wash all of my clothes by hand, I play my princess card every week and walk the 5 blocks to the laundromat where for a mere 20Bs (approx $3) I can wash my laundry and then bring it home to dry all in a matter of 40 minutes.

But enough talking.  Onto pictures!

We'll start with my bedroom!  Here it is in all of it's glory :)  As you can see, I am sleeping in a single bed for the first time since college-- something I might try and change in the near future.  Otherwise, I love the wood floor and although not in the picture, I have two large built in closets that are AMAZING and easily fit all of the few clothes and other possessions I brought down with me!

Onto the bathroom.  My second favorite room in the house (after the kitchen)!  I'm super lucky and actually have gas heated water in my house.  (If you remember from one of my first posts, most houses don't have this luxury and thus have suicide shower heads that electrically heat the water immediately before it falls onto your head.)  However, due to an article sent to me by another Maryknoll Lay Missioner living in Cambodia (KAREN BORTVEDT!), I have been in the habit of taking cold showers for health benefit and environmental reasons!  So there.

Dining room and "living room" next.

To the left is a picture of my dining room complete with table, chairs, and of course a non-working COPY MACHINE which I'm storing for my land lady.  Adds a lot to the ambiance, don't you think? :)  I also took this picture with the blinds open so you can begin to appreciate just how close my house is to the house in front of me... I can literally hear everything that goes on in their kitchen--from water boiling on the stove to the TV shows the whole family watches during dinner :)

And directly across from the dining area is my "living space"--complete with my awesome Grundig radio which self-proclaims "made in W. Germany" and my *massive* refrigerator, that typically remains close to empty most of the time...  This fridge is roughly 2-3 times larger than all of the other refrigerators I have seen in other Bolivian houses.  The size of the freezer is about as big as the refrigerator's get here...  Thank goodness it's very energy efficient!

Next stops on the tour: "study" and kitchen!

 Located to the left of my "living area" is my "study"--both of which are in quotes since they are both VERY MUCH works in progress.  As you can see by the almost completely bare shelves and walls of my "study," I have quite a bit of work to do here.  However, the desk is a lovely new addition (thank you Maryknoll Sisters!) and I'm working on getting the couch switched out for something that isn't broken and is actually comfortable to sleep on!

And finally, my kitchen--aka, the love of my life :)  It has good counter space, a stove that's hooked up to a gas line (which means I don't have to buy gas garrafas from trucks on the street that hook up to the stove--see below picture),


and an awesome window!  The only thing it doesn't have is a working light, but I'm currently getting by with a small counter-top lamp :)

Now for the outside:

Here's the best picture I could take of the entire outside of my "casita."  On the left are the windows into the study, the center are the windows to the dining area, and on the far right, are the windows to my bedroom.

Here's a better look at the clothes washing area, which miraculously is empty right now (it is typically FILLED with clothes soaking to be washed).  You can also see my water tank on the left, which I have to check the level of daily to make sure I have enough water for use in my house!

Here's one last look of the outside clothes washing/water tank area from the inside of my study.  You can see the water tank a bit better from here (it's the concrete box in the lower right corner with the red lid).  You can also see the small walkway I get to use from the street along the two parked cars to get back to my house!  It can sometimes pose a bit of a challenge with lots of groceries :)

A few other interesting Bolivian logistics:
First is the trash.  Here there is no curbside pick-up.  Instead the garbage truck comes 2-3 times a week and bangs a large metal rod against the outside of the truck to alert the neighborhood of its presence.  In my neighborhood, this happens every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7:15am.  At this point, everyone (who have been waiting outside in their pajamas) carries their trash to the truck.  I'm lucky and actually have a spot about half a block from my house where you can put your trash and have it picked up when the truck passes by.  However, it's not a good idea to put your trash out the night before or too early in the morning, otherwise the dogs get into it and it gets spread ALL OVER the street!

Second is the water.  The water in Cochabamba is not clean enough to drink straight out of the faucet, so instead, I boil my drinking water in a large pot on my stove every day to every two days.  Many others buy large water jugs (5 gallons? 10 gallons?) of drinkable water--which is actually very affordable at approx. $1.50 a jug.

And third is my NEIGHBORS :)  I think I can safely say that as a whole, Bolivians seem to be very interested in what is going on with e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e around them.  This means that since I live within sneezing distance from the house in front of me, they tend to be all up in my business.  All the time.  It's something we're working on :)  Out of the crew, the person I like the best is their live-in "empleada" or maid.  Her name is Elizabeth, she's 22 and is from the Potosi area of Bolivia.  She has dreams of studying to become a nurse someday (!!) and is very sweet.  I wish I had a picture of her to share with you, but I don't.  That will have to wait for another blog!

Ok. I think that's it! That's my house!  As you can see, although not prefect, I do have a room that can easily be used to accommodate guests, so if you find yourself itching for a Bolivian adventure, COME ON DOWN :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Cochabamba

I realize this post is a bit overdue, and I probably should have saved my immigration rant for the blog after this one, but clearly my frustrations won over.  So here it goes: tales from my first experience of Semana Santa in Cochabamba :)

Holy Wednesday
Although typically held on Holy Thursday, due to the multiple Bolivian activities that already take place on Holy Thursday, Mary and Nate (two of the new Franciscan lay missioners) hosted a Seder meal the evening of Holy Wednesday.  It was lovely.  Mary even provided a Christian adapted Haggadah (ie Seder meal script) for everyone and we spent the evening reading and celebrating the Exodus story of God's deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  Our experience even included one of the other Franciscan lay missioners playing the part of the child in the script and asking the four important questions and completing other necessary "child" tasks (thanks Jeff!).  Below is a picture of us raising one of the four (very full) glasses of wine you are scripted to drink throughout the night as well as picture of me helping to wash people's hands at the beginning of the meal.  I hope this is a tradition that continues during my time here in Bolivia :)

Please note that the cup being raised to my left is full of juice, which is the same for the one being held by Lexie directly across from me!  Mine however is full of wine.  Eesh.  Let's just say I had a *tiny* bit of a headache the following morning :)

The women getting her hands washed is Hady, one of the Franciscan lay missioners who arrived down in Cochabamba around the same time I did.  The other person in the photo is Kitzi.  She is also a Franciscan lay missioner, but has been in Cochabamba for 2+ years already!

Holy Thursday
Hold on to your hats for the description of this day folks...we're about to go for a ride!  The tradition in Cochabamba is to try and visit the 12 churches near the center of the city.  However, for those that find that number daunting (ie everyone), I was told by my host mother and my Spanish teachers that you really only have to visit 7 in order to receive the Holy Thursday "blessing."  I had great plans of taking a picture in front of each of my 7 churches and posting the proof on this blog to show everyone how "holy" I was on Holy Thursday.  However, that did not happen for various reasons.  The most major reason was that although inside the churches the atmosphere was very pious, outside in the streets was a whole different story.  I want you to picture a night time carnival scene complete with games, bouncy houses, crazy amounts of food, and tons of different venders selling everything from jewelry to large religious statutes to very intricate animal balloon creations.  Yup.  The street crowds would have been enough to keep me away, but throw bright carnival lights and venders at every turn into the mix and the experience was just too overwhelming for this girl :)  But don't you worry.  It wasn't too overwhelming for me to not take pictures.  Below are some of my favorites:

I'll start with the two pictures I took of the throngs of people entering into the churches.  Although the lines were continuously moving, they weren't going all that fast...  Basically, you shuffled your way into the church, took a minute to cross yourself in front of the host, and then shuffled your way out (I know this because I thankfully did manage to rally my energy enough to make it into one church!!).  The picture on the left I think really encompasses the whole experience--you have a family eating, throngs entering a church, AND balloon animals being sold all at the same time!

And now for the carnival-like pictures:

If you were thinking to yourself that the picture on the left looks an awful lot like a mechanical bull, you would be CORRECT!  I was trying to get a picture of the girl riding the mechanical bull, but only managed to snap one right after she fell off...  The picture on the right is of one of the multiple bouncy house/slides that were present.

Here's a picture of different piggy banks that one vender was selling.  I had my eye on the multiple "cars" ones for Ian, but thought with no good way to get it back up to the states, I better let some other small child buy them :)

And here is one of the carnival-type games.  I can't remember exactly what you had to do to try and win one of the stuffed animals, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with using a toy gun to hit a target...

And finally a picture of my favorite part of all the festivites: the balloon animals.  I don't know how well you can see what the vender is selling, but these balloons are in the shape of dragons.  The kids LOVED them.  There were also ones in the shape of bears if I remember correctly and some penguins.

Good Friday
The activities on the morning of Good Friday were a stark difference to the festivities in the streets of the night before.  At 5am (well before sunrise...) some of the Franciscan and Maryknoll lay missioners and I met up with about 100 other people to do a Stations of the Cross hike up to the Cristo.  The procession took around 4 hours with the sun only starting to show its face around Station 7.  The final station took place on the backside of the huge Cristo statue where a pretend Jesus corpse was laid to rest through a door in the base of the statue.  Overall, the experience was very powerful.  The sense of community I felt with all of the other people who had also gotten up well before God intended was very special and the gorgeous morning scenery wasn't too shabby either.  Below are some pictures I took along the way:

The picture in the upper left is taken at the very beginning of the procession.  As you can see in all three of these pictures, the sky is pitch black.  That would be God telling us that it is still time to be sleeping.  In a nice warm bed.

The picture in the upper right is looking up at the Cristo towering over us.  It might have been a bit discouraging at this point in time to see just how far away it looked as we all began our slow walk towards it...

And in the bottom left we have a picture of my hiking and stationing companions.  I was grateful that there was such a big crowd.  It definitely helped me feel a lot less crazy :)

And here we have a picture of what the cross looked like against a slowly awakening sky.  The dawn was breathtakingly beautiful and the way the cross was lit up by the the pink glow behind it was a gorgeous sight for tired eyes :)

And finally, we made it to the top!  Here are two pictures of the final station.  You can see the "tomb" covered by the sheet in the background.  The picture on the right gives a better idea as to just how large this Cristo statue is.

Below is one last picture of all of us at the top of the Cristo.  Somehow I got cut out (I'm actually standing right next to Marc on the left), but you all know what I look like, so I figured it was ok!  From left to right we have Marc and Lexie (a MK lay missioner couple), Mary, Val, Jeff, Nate, Hady (all Franciscan lay missioners), Donna (a former MK lay missioner), Shaun (a MK Seminarian), and two guys from the parish that Shaun works at (sorry mom for the bad grammar, but the correct way just sounds way too formal...).  

Holy Saturday
This day should also be titled "Emma's birthday."  On Saturday, I spent the afternoon at Jim and Karen's house decorating eggs, making confetti to shove into hollowed out eggs (so they later could be smashed on people's heads!), and eating too many pieces of ice cream cake in celebration of their middle child Emma's 11th birthday.  Jim and Karen are a former Maryknoll Lay Missioner couple living and working in the Southern Zone of Cochabmaba with their three wonderful children Dan (14), Emma (11), and Jake (6).  They were kind enough to invite me to share in their Easter festivities which included the aforementioned egg and birthday activities, going to an Easter Vigil that night at their local church, spending the night, and waking up in the morning to an Easter egg hunt in their front yard!  It was a wondeful way to spend my Easter and definitely helped lesson the sadness of not being home with my own family during this holiday.

Above is a picture of all thee kids with all of their eggs from the Easter egg hunt!  And to the right we have Jake holding a real live Easter bunny (the family owns many!).  In his mouth is a chocolate egg from his Easter basket.

Above is a picture of Jake's eggs (or maybe Emma's??).  You can see how well decorated all of the Easter eggs were :)  And to the right we have the whole family!  This was their "silly" family picture.

Easter Sunday
Another birthday day for the Maryknoll family!  This time the person to be celebrated was Jason, another former Maryknoll Lay Missioner living and working in Cochabamba.  After leaving Jim and Karen's, I went home to nap for a bit before heading back out to an Easter dinner potluck/birthday celebration at the home of the Franciscan Lay Missioners who have been in Cochabamba for at least a year already (some have been here longer)--Jeff, Kitzi, and Annemarie.  They just moved into a new place located in the Southern Zone of Cochabamba and it is lovely.  Below is a picture Valerie took during our time together:

The birthday boy is sitting to the left of me on the couch and to the left of him is a Maryknoll Sister, Lil, who may be one of my very favorite people here in Cochabamba :)  The rest of the people in the group are either current or former Maryknoll or Franciscan Lay Missioners, or have other ties to Maryknoll.

So there you have my Holy Week--filled with known and new traditions, some I loved and some that will take a bit of getting used to.  Overall though, this week left me feeling very blessed to be surrounded by the rich and beautiful Bolivian culture as well as many new but dear faces :)