Friday, January 31, 2014

A Mansion Nobody Lived In and Child Miners

You may be a bit confused about what the two parts to the title of my post could possibly have in common, but I promise you, there is a connection :)  Let's start with the mansion.

Unknown to me (but apparently told to me by my lovely middle sister Molly), Cochabamba can claim to be the birthplace of one of the five wealthiest men in the world during the time of World War II.  Yup.  This man's official name is Simón Patiño, but he is often referred to as "The Tin King."  How do I know this information you may ask?  Why I had the pleasure of writing an entire one-page single-spaced essay on him (in SPANISH of course) for one of my professors.  I can't even begin to tell you how much fun that was, OR how appalled a 4th grade teacher in Cochabamba would have been upon observing all of my grammar and spelling mistakes :)   However, before I go on to tell you about his life, let's have a picture of Mr. Patiño.

In short, Simón Patiño came from a very poor family.  His mother was Quechua (one of the very prevalent indigenous groups in Bolivia) and his father, whom he never met, was French.  As a young adult, he started working in the mining industry and by a stroke of pure dumb luck he agreed to take the deed to a small mine as payment for a debt owed to him by a prospector.  Best decision ever.  This mine--believed by many to be a pretty pathetic piece of land--happened to contain an INCREDIBLY rich vein of tin.  And this is where it all began.  With the money from this mine (ie. lots of money), Mr. Patiño bought more and more mines and then moved on to pretty much buyout the entire tin industry.  At his peak, he owned mines in Bolivia and Chile, tin smelters in England and Germany, refining and finishing companies, and multiple boats and train lines with which to transport his goods.  According to Wikipedia, by the 1940s, this man controlled the entire international tin market.  I'd say this makes his "King" title quite fitting.

But enough about him.  Let's talk about the houses he owned, which were lots.  And by lots, I mean LOTS.  By the end of his life, Mr. Patiño had houses in the U.S., France (where much of his family still lives today), Bolivia, Spain, and Argentina.  Last Saturday my host mom took me to one such of his "houses" located right here in Cochabamba.  The word "houses" is in quotes, because this establishment looked an awful more like a palace than a house...  Let's look at some pictures.

 Picture on the left is of the front entrance.  You can't really tell, but there are a WHOLE lotta stairs leading up to it.  Picture on the right is a side view of the house.  I couldn't find a great picture that showed the entire house--probably because it's TOO BIG.

 Picture on the left is of the main hall once you get inside the front entrance.  All of the materials for building the house were imported from Europe.  ALL of them--from the marble on the floor to the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.  Mr. Patiño also imported all of the workers, artists, etc from Europe used to create the house.  The picture on the right is of the stairway leading from the main ballroom (below) up to a couple of guest rooms and his and his wife's bedrooms.  The ballroom, like many rooms in his house, was huge.

And here is a picture of a very small section of his extensive (and gorgeous!!) grounds full of trees and flowers with a couple fountains scattered here and there for good measure.  Ok.  And here comes the kicker.  As alluded to by the title, Mr. Patiño had this house built for him and then never once lived in it.  Not even for a day.  In fact, no one has ever lived in this house.  Ever.  It is now owned by the Simón Patiño foundation and is open to the public for tours and also provides space for free public concerts.  

As I think you can tell by the pictures of his amazing house, Simón Patiño very much represents the "good" side of mining--i.e. the side of mining where people earn enough (or as in his case, plenty more than enough) money to live on, and don't have to sacrifice their well-being to do so.  But sadly, like many lucrative endeavors in this world, this story also has a very very ugly side.  AND as fate would have it, the after visiting Simón Patiño's incredible mansion, I was assigned by one of my teachers to watch the movie "La Mina del Diablo"--translation "The Mine of the Devil."  Here's the link to the entire documentary on YouTube.  Sadly, I could not find a version with English subtitles, so you'll either have to watch it with someone who speaks Spanish (and doesn't mind explaining it to you), or just try to get what you can from the visuals.

The documentary follows the life of 14-year-old Basilio Vargas and his 12-year-old brother Bernardino as they work in the mines of Cerro Rico (a mountain) on the outskirts of Potosi, Bolivia.  It is heartbreaking.  You learn that Basilio's father died when he was 2 and because of this, as the oldest son, he has been working in the mines since he was 10 in order to help support his mother and two younger siblings.  As you can imagine, the work is very hard and very dangerous, but without it, he and his family would go hungry.  He does attend school, but the sacrifices his family has to make in order to save up enough money to buy the right clothes, supplies, shoes, and haircuts (yup, you have to have a specific hair cut in order to attend school) are unreal.  I'm pretty sure his mother said they all went without food for awhile (except the 6ish-year-old younger sister) in order to save the money.  Like I said, unreal.

One of the worst parts of the documentary is that it was not made a zillion years ago.  Nope, it was made in 2008.  However, there is hope.  There is a newish program in place in Bolivia called the Bono Juancito Pinto, which gives school vouchers to children (an annual cash grant of 200 bolivianos or roughly $28.50) to help offset education costs and facilitate school attendance for all children regardless of economic standing.  This program includes children in grades 1-8 and, according to one of my professors, seems to be helping a great deal.  But clearly there is still a lot of work left to be done.  According to an article I read, although the number of child miners (and all child laborers in general) is down in Bolivia, there are still thousands who work in the mines in Potosi.  Below is a link to a very short NPR All Things Considered story talking about child mining in Bolivia.

NPR: Thousands Of Children As Young As 6 Work In Bolivia's Mines

So there you go.  In two days I first learned about the man who made a MASSIVE amount of money off of mining in Bolivia and next had to stomach learning a little bit about the grave reality of the people who did a large amount of the dirty work needed to make his wealth a reality.  I do realize the documentary did not take place during the lifespan of Simón Patiño.  However, from what I've read, and learned from my teachers, the very poor, hard, and dangerous lives of the children and adult miners in the documentary are similar--if not better and safer--than the lives of the miners who worked back in Mr. Patiño's day.  Let's just hope and pray that the same will not be able to be said of the lives of the miners to come.

Ok.  Enough.  If you've read this blog post to the end, thanks for sticking with me.  I had no idea it was going to turn out this long OR this intense.  It kind of got away from me.  I promise a lighter topic for my next post :)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia

And I'm back!  As anticipated, school is kicking my butt a little bit (maybe not quite as much as the kiswahili language school the Tanzanian lay missioners are currently attending...), which means I spend FAR more time studying and FAR less time blogging :)  For those who are curious, below is a picture of my textbook.
So far, I love my textbook.  According to my teachers, it's actually written for students who live in the United States and don't speak Spanish BUT have Spanish speaking parents originally from Spanish speaking countries.  Eesh!  Hope that last sentence made sense...  The book is broken up into  10 chapters, with each chapter covering a bit of the history and present day reality of a specific region in the Spanish speaking world.  For example, the first chapter focuses on the United States and Puerto Rico.  Immigration from Central and South America to the United States is the big topic in the US section.  

But enough about my book :)  Onto the topic I want to discuss today: Plurinationalism and Bolivia!  This past Wednesday (January 22) was a national holiday for Bolivia (officially titled Plurinational State Foundation Day).  It celebrated the day back in 2009 when President Evo Morales enacted a new Bolivian Constitution and re-founded Bolivia as a Plurinational State.  This "re-foundation" was an effort to demonstrate that Bolivia is not made up of one uniform group of people, or one "nation," but instead encompasses many nations of peoples living together in one state and having equal status and equal rights.  The new Constitution speaks to this idea directly by granting, "equal protection to all Bolivians" and guaranteeing "equal opportunities for people in the city and the country [the country folk are more typically of indigenous descent], and equality, dignity, and freedom for all Bolivian people."  As I'm sure you can imagine, like many other places in the world, the indigenous people living in Bolivia have historically been discriminated against and been treated as those of a lower class. This new Constitution is supposed to stop this discrimination (according to my host mother, it even includes sections that out-law the use of certain derogatory words traditionally used to describe indigenous people) and promote pride for one's indigenous identity and/or ancestry. 

With this new Constitution and re-foundation also came the edition of a second Bolivian flag to represent the Plurinational State of Bolivia.  Below are pictures of the two Bolivian flags:

The flag on the left is the original flag of Bolivia created and approved way back in the mid 1800s.  The flag on the right is the Wiphala flag, which, as stated above, was adopted as a national symbol by the new Constitution enacted in 2009.  "Wiphala" is an Aymara word meaning "flag."  The Aymara are one of the largest indigenous groups living in Bolivia (only slightly second to the Quechua) and are a native nation of the Andes and Altiplano (ie. very high Andean plateau) region of Bolivia, Peru, and Chile.  The majority of the Aymara live in what is present day Bolivia, with a large concentration found in La Paz.  (Fun fact: President Evo Morales is himself Aymara.)

So there you have it.  Everything I picked up from my host mother and Spanish teachers about Plurinational State Foundation Day.  My greatest source of information was one of my Spanish teachers who himself is Aymara and originally from La Paz.  According to him, although the new Constitution and the election of Bolivia's first indigenous President (Evo Morales) have not been "fix-alls" in the area of indigenous rights in Bolivia, they certainly have been very powerful tools in the fight for equality for all Bolivians.  How exciting :)  I hope that in my time spent in Bolivia I will get to understand this struggle better and find ways to assist in promoting this wonderful idea of "equality, dignity, and freedom for all Bolivian people."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Espanol here I come!!

It finally arrived!  MY VERY FIRST DAY OF LANGUAGE SCHOOL!  Below is my best attempt at a first day of school picture.  For very obvious reasons I am very grateful that I won't ever be formally graded on taking a selfie... (Side note, big shout out to my grandmother Leedle for heavily suggesting that I get the blue jacket I'm wearing--I have worn it for some amount of time almost every single day since I've been down here!)
So onto my day.  In short, I LOVED it.  The teachers are amazing, and I'm very very happy to finally be studying all of the grammar and sentence structures I have learned and re-learned multiple times and then promptly forgotten...  Eesh.  Why aren't the Babel fish from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy real??  Ok.  Back to the details.  Classes start at 9am and go until 12:35pm.  The school day is broken up into four 45 minute sessions.  All of the students are one on one with a different teacher each session.  However, the teachers do not work independently, but collaborate after each session for about 5 minutes to figure out how best to serve each individual student.  Yup.  I have never felt more spoiled or excited to learn in my life.  Today was basically spent evaluating where I stand in my Spanish proficiency (or un-proficiency).  I quite literally talked about everything and anything (including butchering a short oration over the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr...  SO embarrassing.  I can guarantee you that teacher thinks I know absolutely nothing about the man OR the Civil Rights Movement...awesome).  Tomorrow I get to find out what work book will be my source of lots of homework over the next couple of months!  YAY!  But honestly, I am super excited about homework and learning.  If I haven't mentioned yet that not being able to express myself is s.l.o.w.l.y. killing me, then I'll do so right now.  I need my voice.  My heart goes out to all of those who live in a place where they don't speak and/or understand the language of those around them.  It might be one of the most humbling and frustrating experiences I have ever had.  This will forever even more so increase my compassion for non-English speakers in the U.S.  The next time you see/hear someone having a problem surrounding the use of English (and I don't mean poor grammar used by those who should know better...), think of my "struggles" down here and maybe shoot a kind smile their way :)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Let me present the Franciscan Lay Missioners

For the next 8 weeks, my trusty companions at language school will be 4 Franciscan Lay Missioners.  They sadly won't be there for my whole 12 week stay, but I'm glad to have them even for this shorter amount of time.  And actually, one of them is already fluent in Spanish (Hady), so she'll only be studying with us for the first 2 weeks. (Como se dice "lucky duck" en espanol...)

Let's start with the couple:

Mary and Nate Mortenson!  Both of them were born and raised in the midwest--Nate is from La Crosse, WI and Mary is from a small town in Minnesota.  And better yet, BOTH of them went to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which is where I got my BSN degree!  They definitely remind me a lot of home and I'm very happy to have them down here with me for a bit.

Now for Hady:
This chica bonita was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY by Puerto Rican parents and as I mentioned earlier already speaks Spanish like a pro.  Most likely due to the fact that she grew up speaking it...  She is blunt (in a very good, very New York way), full of life, and just a good time all around.  She is also very good at explaining things to me that completely go over my head, for example, why everyone was clapping at the end of the Gospel reading today at mass (apparently the priest asked everyone to give an applause to the word of God...??), and how to correctly get in line for communion...(apparently I would have bowled over an old woman in the mad dash to get into the communion line if Hady hadn't grabbed my coat and pulled me back...).  Goodness. Looks like I need to take her everywhere with me :)

And last but not least, VALERIE!
Valerie is also a midwesterner at her core!  She is originally from Wichita, Kansas, but most recently has lived in Tampa, Florida.  She, very much like myself, also loves kids, and hopes to work with them down here in Cochabamba.  And if you remember from previous posts, she actually shares her name with my 6-year-old host niece!  However, very much unlike my host niece, THIS Valerie does not cheat at soccer, pat my belly and tell me that I should run more (reahslfesaklhfskla), or make up rules in the middle of a card game just to make sure she wins...  Oh, but I digress...  In fact, THIS Valerie is very kind and calm and I'm very happy to have her in my life :)

So there they are: my soon to be partners in crime (that is if any of us ever gets up enough courage to go out after dark, especially after the safety talk we had the other day...).  Language school starts tomorrow, so I'm sure I will have many stories to share about all of these wonderful people in the very near future!  And with any luck, some of those stories will actually include a time when I was speaking Spanish and someone was understanding me :)  Poco a poco as my host mother constantly tells me--I just wish my "poco" wasn't so little!

Friday, January 17, 2014

La Cancha, Q'owa, and dead baby llamas

I have officially survived my first trip to la cancha--the huge market, or more like market system in the southern area of Cochbamba.  Probably the best way to describe it is an extensive maze of multiple large indoor markets surrounded and connected by a multitude of outdoor street markets.  It is full of anything you could possibly want and has just as many smells and noises to go along with its extensive range of goods.  (Bridget I'm pretty sure you would have tossed your cookies walking past the rows and rows of raw meat in the butcher was an experience I will not soon forget). It is definitely organized into department-like sections, ie the artisan market, the live animal market (complete with sheep, chickens, and pigs I'm told--we didn't quite make it that far), the home goods market, the baked goods market (unfortunately lacking a gluten-free section...), the fresh produce market, etc.  I think some of you may have experienced something of this sort either in Costa Rica (with Hannah), or other places.  Below are some pictures from the web that I think best represent my experience:
Here's a good taste of what the meat section looks like (now picture rows and rows of these stands...and try not to breath the pungent smells too deeply...)--Bridget I added this picture specifically for you :)

All three of the above pictures show different sections in la cancha.  Top one is of the artisan goods, bottom left is your everyday household section (I think with some food and cooking ingredients mixed in??) and bottom right is the guitar/music section.  You can kind of get a feel for how expansive the markets feel by the seemingly endless row shown in the top picture.

Another Maryknoll Lay Missioner Mihn was my brave and knowledgable guide. However, she told me that even after having lived in Cochabamba for more than 3 years, and doing most of her shopping in la cancha for almost just as long, she still gets lost in the endless rows of wares.  She often stops and asks venders which way to a certain market area (which she did multiple times when I was with her) or which way the exit is...  I'm telling you, this is no place for anyone who has any sort of claustrophobia or does not like the idea of getting lost!

Alright.  Now onto Q'owa (pronounced koh-qah).  Let's start with the basics (ie what I learned from Mihn and some of the other Maryknoll Lay Missioners and a bit of what I filled in from researching online).  Q'owa is a Bolivian ritual from the Andean tradition used for the purpose of bringing good luck and happiness to oneself, one's home, one's business, etc.  It traditionally has been practiced on the first Friday of each month and the Tuesday in Carnival (ie Fat Tuesday), but more recently people in Cochabamba have been doing the ritual every Friday.  Q'owa is a burnt offering to the Panchamama (Mother Earth) and can be made up of a variety of things such as herbs, llama fat, coca leaves, the q'owa plant (where the ritual gets its name from), incense sticks, and small charms made of sugar (with each charm having a picture depicting a unique wish/hope such as love, success, happiness, good health, etc).  Below is a couple pictures I found on the web of Q'woa offerings.

You can find all the ingredients for a Q'owa offering in the witch market section of la cancha.  In fact, it usually comes in a nice little package complete with charcoal and sometimes even a small metal stand where the offering can be burned (see picture on the right).

AND YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE YOU CAN FIND IN THE WITCH SECTION OF LA CANCHA?!?  DEAD AND DRIED BABY LLAMAS AND LLAMA FETUSES!!  I could hardly believe my eyes when we got to this section.  Mihn kindly told me that if it was all "too much" for me, we could leave.  I reminded her that I am a nurse and have seen and cleaned up far grosser things...  However, before I go on, below is a much needed picture to help with my explanation.
And there they are folks, just as I saw them in all their glory hanging en masse from the tiendas of the witch section of la cancha.  You can only really see the dried baby llamas in this picture.  For those that are curious, the dried llama fetuses were also hanging from the tiendas--only they are much smaller and black.  And why are they sold this way you may ask?!? Dried llama fetuses and baby llamas are one of the most important parts of many offerings to Panchamama and are especially used to help protect a new building or house.  I even read on a website that an estimated 99% of Bolivian families have a dried llama fetus under the foundation of their house to help bring them luck (may or may not be true...).  And for all of you animal lovers out there, don't despair too much.  I was told that most of the dried llamas and fetuses are results of miscarriages, still births, or llamas who die young from natural causes.

Ok.  I think that's enough information for today.  Thanks for sticking with me.  I promise no talk of morose topics in my next post--and certainly no pictures of dead animal, dried or butchered :) 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

T9, hiking, and coca leaves: all in a couple days work!

Yesterday was a big day for me! I bought a cell phone!! And not just any cell phone, oh no, it is a cell phone like the one I had back in Ireland in 2004 complete with snake and T9 texting. It only took me roughly 30 minutes to painstakingly type in 10 numbers and send out ONE text to the group with my cell number.  This is going to be a very steep learning curve...and as of today I can no longer claim to be able to text faster than either of my parents...
I placed the phone next to the chocolate bar for two reasons.  First to help show the size (itty bitty), and second to show the awesome surprise I found in the bottom of my backpack earlier today!  I had completely forgotten about having this bar of heavenly goodness and was very excited to find it!

So now on to today.  My morning was amazing.  I was picked up at my door (I have been very spoiled) by one of the other Maryknoll Lay Missioners Bill and we took a taxi trufi (#120 to univalle) to the small town Bill and his wife Eileen live, called Tiquipaya, which is located just outside of Cochabamba. We then took another trufi (127?? M??) up towards the mountains just north of town and went for a HIKE!  It was so nice to get ouf of the city and see some greenery.  The hike went along the aquduct system the town uses for irrigation as well as drinking/etc water.  
This is a bridge connecting the town of Tipuipaya with another small town close by.  Eileen walks over this bridge every day on her way to work.  LUCKY WOMAN!
Picture on the left is of the waterfall!  It was very pretty and seemed to come down out of the sky. I thought it looked like a lovely place to shower (although a bit cold), and apparently someone else did too as evidenced by the used shampoo bottle found on the ground...  The picture on the right is looking down into the Cochabamba valley.  You can see the city of Cochabamba in the distance.

Above is a picture of Bill and Eileen's little slice of heaven!  They live in this cute little house on pretty extensive grounds, which include many fruit trees, the house of the owners of the "compound," the house of the caretaker, and two VERY friendly and jumpy dogs (you can see one sitting in his perferred spot right in front of Bill and Eilleen's house).  The owners don't actually live here now, they live over in Germany--the wife is Bolivian and the husband is German.  

And now for the exciting portion of the blog where I get to talk about...COCA!  It is very common in Bolivia for people of all ages and genders to chew coca leaves, which yes, if used with malintent are the base for cocaine.  However, in their pure form, coca leaves are a mild stimulant, appetite suppressant, mild pain killer (has a slight numbing quality) and help with the adjustment to higher altitudes.  This plant has been used for centuries by the indigenous people of Bolivia for all of these beneficial properties.  Bill chews coca leaves a couple times a day, usually with coworkers, and finds that it gives him a calm steady sense of energy--unlike caffeine, which can lend itself to jitteriness along with its energy boost.  Also, just in case you're wondering, coca is also non-habit forming and can be used as often or infrequently as desired :)  Often times it's chewed with a little bit of sodium bicarbonate, which somehow acts as a catalyst to increase the taste and effects of the coca.
Above is a picture of the bag of coca leaves Bill gave me along with a small bag of sodium bicarbonate.  I plan on chewing some each day during language school to help keep me focused and un-sleepy so I can learn me a whole lotta Spanish!  To all of you who are curious and want to know more information, below is a link to a website I found on myths and facts surrounding coca.

Tomorrow I have plans to go to the GIANT open air market in Cochabamba called "la cancha."  I sadly won't be able to take any pictures because as I was told today by Bill, "you only bring things to the cancha that you want to leave at the cancha"--ie the pickpocketing is unreal and most people have had money/phones/etc stolen from them while they were there at one point or another.  Good thing I have so many experienced people to help me not make the same mistakes :)  


Monday, January 13, 2014

Is it really only Day 3?

I realize I only landed in Cochabamba on Saturday morning, but it feels like I've been here for weeks already (in a good way!).  Today was fairly eventful.  I "slept in" until 8am and was greeted by my very worried host mother wondering if I was feeling OK since I had "slept so late."  I assured her that I was feeling just fine.  This could get interesting if I end up going out late some night and don't feel like getting up before 8am...  After breakfast, I went with my host mother to the market on her daily grocery shopping spree.  I found out "the market" actually meant roughly 5 different stores where she separetly bought meat (two different stores), vegetables, bread, and milk.  Have I mentioned that I love her?  Because I do.  She speaks very slowly and clearly and thinks I'm AMAZING at Spanish since I can at times string together a coherent sentence (in the present tense only let's remember...).  I promise pictures of her soon.

In the afternoon one of the other Maryknoll Lay Missioners Eileen took me downtown to an ATM and then to her favorite money exchange place so I could get money to pay this month's room and board to my host mother.  We also walked around downtown and of course got ICE CREAM!!!  I not surprisingly chose mocha and it was delicious--not quite as good as mocha macchiato from babcock, but still very good.  

Both of my excrusions today involved taking public transportation, which I'm still trying to fully understand.  Here's what I got so far:

"Micro" = a small bus.  It has a fixed route, but no fixed stops.  You can hail it just like a cab (if you're on its route of course) and when you want to get off, all you have to do is tell the driver to pull over and he (only saw male drivers) will let you off.

"trufi" =  a mini-van.  Usually can sit about 8 people REALLY squeezed in!  It also has a fixed route and no fixed stops and acts the same of a micro, only smaller.

"trufi taxi" = basically a shared cab.  Fixed route, no fixed stops, fits even less people than the two previous, you get the drill.

"taxi" = means the same as it does in the states.

After getting home frorm my time with Eileen, I was once again suckered into playing with my host mother's grandneice Valeria (age 6).  Talk about energy!  In order to tire her out, I made up an obstacle course in the front yard and timed her over and over and over again... (per her request of course!!) :)  I also worked hard during our "play time" by sitting on a chair shaded from the sun, drinking copious amounts of water, and yelling encouraging comments.  Below are pictures of our play area and the LARGEST aloe plant I have ever seen.  It is gigantic.

Valeria standing in the front doorway of the house.
To the left of the doorway.  Mom and Dad recognize the purple nerf football?? Valeria LOVES playing with it (which mainly means trying to use it as a baseball bat, still unsure why she thinks this is a good idea...)
To the right of the doorway.  You can see my waterbottle sitting on the table right near my very comfortable  and umbrella shaded chair :)
The aloe "plant" or more like BUSH!  That is not a close up folks, those badboys probably reach about as high as my waist.  I guess I know where to find some relief if I ever get a sunburn...

Tomorrow I will try my best to locate some of the places Eileen and I walked to today all by myself.  If any of you know the type of sense of direction I inherited from my mother, you will understand that any sort of success in this mission will be nothing short of a miracle.  I also have plans to buy a cell phone and maybe visit the house of one of the other Lay Missioners.  More reports to come :)  Love to you all! 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and...

I'm in BOLIVIA!  I made it into Cochabamba around 9am this morning and could not be happier to be done.with.traveling.  Blah.  It will be a loooong time before I am ready to attempt that trip again!  I was met at the airport by my host mother and the current Maryknoll Lay Missioners--they even cheered for me as I walked from the plane into the baggage claim area AND greeted me with this beautiful sign.  I feel very lucky :)
My host mother's name is Ana Maria and she is lovely.  I've been told mulltiple times that all I should be doing today is resting and drinking TONS of water so as not to be affected by the change in altitude.  HOWEVER, although I did rest a bit, I of course was unable to resist the request of Ana Maria's neice's daughter Valeria to play with her (surprising to all of you, I'm sure :) ).  Valeria is 6 years old and so far after watching her "accidently" throw the ball we were playing with over the garden wall into the street multiple times AND spit water on me more than once, I gather that she's a bit of trouble maker.  Wouldn't have it any other way.  Here's a picture of the two of us she took on my computer.
She told me I didn't look like myself in this picture.  I thanked her graciously for obvious reasons ;)  I have also met Ana Maria's son Jimmy and his son Lucas (age 10).  I was told Jimmy also has a daughter Ariana (age 7) and wife (didn't catch the wife's name).  

My room is large with many couches and chairs, a desk, and a bed with a gold metalic bedspread (holler!).  I also have a great window with a pretty nice view! See pictures below.
Look who came with me to Bolivia!  Marnie, does that cute little bear look familiar? And please note the bed is not made--so maybe i'm not completely perfect afterall ;)
Here's the view from the bed.  I honestly don't think they could have squeezed any more furniature into this room!  I'm sure it will be very nice to have so much space to myself (read when the children aren't around...) while trying to acclimate to a new culture.
And the view out my window!  It's wide open right now and letting in a wonderful breeze.  Don't think I'm going to be finding it too challenging to get used to this weather.

Tomorrow I'll go to mass and lunch with the other lay missioners.  I'm not exactly sure of what this week will hold for me, but am under the assumption that I'll spend a lot of my time visiting the other missioners' work sites.  Language school doessn't officially start until the following week.  I could not be any more excited about getting my Spanish back in gear. I kind of wish I was starting tomorrow.  So far, my present tense comments/stories/questions have gone over perfectly.  The same may or may not also be true for those *attempted* to be told in the past...  *cough*  At least I know, I can only get better from here.  Much love to you all.  All of the excitement of arriving has not completely dulled my sadness of leaving everyone in the states, but I am positive this is the start of something great :)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

All my bags are packed...

Well, here they are: all of my bags (and only one of them is overweight!!)!  Ahhhh!  I can't believe this is all really happening!  Thank you so much for all of the packing help and emotional support I got last night from Hannah and Lindsey.  My parents should get BIG shout-outs as well for putting up with my less-than-ideal stressed-out attitude as of late...  They have both been very supportive and loving, even when I have not deserved it!  I leave early out of O'Hare tomorrow morning.  My route (sorry Bridget and Pam #thisamericanlife) will be Chicago to Panama City to Santa Cruz to Cochabamba.  In total, the flights and layovers will take me roughly 18 hours.  I will be greeted at the airport by my host family and all of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners who are already in Cochabamba!  Very excited and ready for this adventure to start--but also very sad to be leaving all of my wonderful friends and family back in the states.  That said, let the Bolivian vacation planning begin *hint, hint* ;)