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 :)