Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Recently it has been brought to my attention that, as of late, I have tended towards making more of the disparaging-type comments about Bolivia and less of the complementary? praising? NICE? comments about this wonderful country that I live in. Now, let's back up for a second. There have been a few recent incidences that definitely have contributed to this bout of negativeness. First, if we recall my last blog post, culture shock was a big part of my experience down here not all that long ago. Additionally, I had the pleasure of being mugged at gunpoint about six weeks ago--a scary incident that could have happened anywhere, but to me was much more scary in a country where I'm still not "fluent" in either the language or the culture. And lastly, for the past two-three months I have yet again been dealing with a wonderful Bolivian gift of stomach bugs, this one a little more serious than the other times I've found myself playing "host" to amoebas and giardia.

However, even as I write about these unpleasant experiences, I hear in my head, "excuses, excuses, EXCUSES!" And in a way they are. In a way, I have been holding onto them for a *little bit* too long in almost an unhealthy martyr-type way--but why is the question? To show the world/myself how "strong" I am?  That I can "tough it out" even under the most "dire" of circumstances (which I am not even close to living under)? To justify why I can't, or don't want to, be fully emotionally present to myself and others? To allow myself, even if for just a tiny moment, to be somewhat taken care of by others, even though I'm usually the one who does the care taking? To cover up some of the loneliness and homesickness I sometimes feel being so far away from friends and family in the states? To mask some of the grieving I still find myself going through at times after so many good friends have left Bolivia? I'm sure there are even more possibilities I could add to this list, and I'm not even sure what the "correct" answer is. I can only imagine that it's somewhat of a mix of all of the above.

So where does this all leave me? The person I referred to at the beginning of the blog--the one who called me out on being a negative Nancy (sorry Nancy!), also followed up with the question, "So why are you here then?" (ie if you hate Bolivia as much as it seems). And she then challenged me to come up with ONE thing I like about Bolivia every time I see her, starting RIGHT THEN. And I drew a blank. I could literally think of nothing. Because for so long I guess I've only been focusing on all the rotten things that any society/place/community will naturally have.

So I guess that leaves me with a choice. I can very much choose to keep going down that martyr's path of negativity and frustration (which at times is almost too easy to justify), OR I can choose to focus on the good things around me, the beautiful aspects of the culture that I am blessed to live in, with some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Because lesbihonest, most, if not all of this unhappiness I'm holding onto so tightly really doesn't have anything to do with Bolivia per say, because life can be difficult and challenging ANYWHERE. And really, overall, my unhappiness has to do with whatever is inside of me that is reacting so negatively to all that is going on outside of me and (typically) outside of my control. Which means then that the "fix" isn't something outside of me (like moving back to the states--sorry Mom!), but really needs to happen from within. Clearly easier said than done. And a commitment that needs to be made over and over again, at least in the beginning. So with that in mind, I'm going to start with something small. I'm going to dedicate the rest of this blog to my "Top 10" list on things I love about Bolivia. Because really, who wants to be a Debbie Downer all of the time. Not this girl :)

The amount physical affection that occurs in normal everyday life. 
For example, let's just start with the typical kiss on the cheek greeting (sometimes both cheeks!), which you do with pretty much EVERYONE you see. I realize there are many people from the states who would find this greeting both invasive and disconcerting, however, I am most definitely NOT one of those people. I couldn't love it more. One of my absolute favorite things about arriving or leaving the boys or girls home where I work is that I get to kiss EVERYONE in the process. And then there's the hand-holding I get to see on a regular basis between parents and their children. My favorite by far is the amount of hand-holding that goes on between a dad and his son that in the states would be considered *just* a bit too old to be holding his dad's hand, but here it's normal. And my second favorite is that hand holding is pretty much a given during the recitation of the Lord's Prayer during mass. It doesn't matter if you know that person next to you or not, you're gonna be holding his/her hand while you pray, which of course is followed by cheek kisses with EVERYONE during the passing of the peace. Below is a photo of two women greeting each other in the typical Bolivian fashion.

The generosity, hospitality, and openness of the Bolivian people. 
Clearly there are always exceptions to rules, but overall, I have found Bolivians to be incredibly open to inviting me to share a meal with their family, or have a "cafecita" with them, or offer whatever little (or lot) that they have. Just the other day, a simple good morning I said to a woman on the street turned into a ten minute conversation followed by the offer to stop by anytime for a "cafecita." 

The traditional Bolivian dances and music. 
First are the incredible costumes that span from the SUPER ornate to more "typical" indigenous Bolivian dress. Second are the super cool dance moves  and the deep historical significance of most dances. And third is the beautiful traditional music that goes along with most of the dances, which although I have heard quite a lot over the past year and a half, I still love. My favorite dance overall is the Tinku, not only because it's a pretty active/fun dance to watch, but also because the women actually get to do more (like a lot more) than just look pretty and swing their hips back and forth... Here's a link to a blog that explains some of the most "famous" Bolivian dances. And below is a photo of traditional Tinku costumes.

The readily available and great quality of fresh fruits and vegetables. all.year.round.
I can buy fresh papaya, banana, oranges, tangerines, persimmons, grapes, pineapple, mango, strawberries, avocado, onions, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, peas, asparagus, fennel, potatoes, garlic, yucca, zucchini, squash, carrots, and SO MUCH MORE on a daily basis. And it's cheap and delicious and available everywhere. Below is a picture of a more or less typical Bolivian market place.

One word: Coca.
I don't think there is anything I don't love about coca. I love how it smells, I love how it tastes, I love the calm focused energy it gives me, and I love how it's used--which is typically either in an offering to the pachamama (mother earth), or as a shared experience between friends or even strangers. It is definitely something I will miss when I go back to the states.

Public transportation
It is plentiful and cheap, and it gets you to where you need to go in typically a reasonable amount of time. This also includes travel between the different regions and major cities in Bolivia.

The beautiful colors used in Bolivian aguayos and other Bolivian fabrics.
I love walking through the cancha (the big open air market here in Cochabamba) for many reasons, but a major one is seeing all of the different colorful aguayos and skirts the women use here. The colors are bright and happy and full of character. This same beautiful fabric is used as table cloths, pillow cases, for shoes, on journals, and so much more. It adds a small ray of sunshine no matter where it shows up!

How Sunday is actually a rest day to be spent with friends and family.
Most shops are closed down on Sundays. And most people are at home or at the home of a relatives house spending time with the people they love. Sundays are one of my favorite days because really the expectation is not to "do" anything per say except maybe organize weekly after-church brunches with some of the members in your potentially uh-mazing ex-pat community and just relax and get ready for the busy week to come.

The food.
You all knew it was coming! I LOVE me some Bolivia food. Not only do I find most bolivian dishes delicious, but most of them just naturally happen to be gluten-free. Extra bonus for this girl! Some of my favorite dishes include silpancho, papa a la huancaina, arroz con queso, sopa de mani, pan de arroz, cabiƱitas, and fried yucca, to name a few. Here's a link to a website that shows some pictures of "typical" Bolivian foods:  Below is photo of papa a la huancaina, which is basically potatoes covered in the most delicious peanut sauce EVER complete with hard boiled egg(s) and olives.
The sun and the mountains and the climate. 
I don't want to brag too much (and really I shouldn't because recently it's been freakin' freezing at night and in the mornings), but the temperature here is typically around 70s-80s all year round. Not too shabby. With beautiful sunlight EVERY DAY! And did I mention that Cochabamba is surrounded by mountains? Because it is. And they're beautiful as well. So really, there's a whole lot to be thankful for in this place that I live :)

So there you have it. This is proof to the world and myself that there are many things I love about this country that I am currently calling home. And although it is obviously not without it's shortcomings (or at least what I see as shortcomings from my perspective), there is a whole lot of good and joy to be found in its people and culture--something I hope I can once again learn to recognize on a daily basis and fully appreciate.