Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Molly Comes to Bolivia!

Yup, you read that title correctly! And most of you probably already knew this. Due to my talking incessantly about it. For months. And the multitude of photos I posted on facebook from her visit. And  the fact that it was honestly the number one thing on my mind since about the beginning of June, when she booked her ticket. So SUE me. It's not every day you have a SISTER hop on a couple of planes, and travel roughly 4,000 miles in just under 12 hours to give you a tired jet-legged hug coupled with handing you her HUGE backpack to carry (which may or may not have been 90% filled with stuff you'd asked her to bring for you from the states...).

This post won't go into the gritty details of exactly what we did (you can look on facebook for that), but more of what the experience meant to me and how it's given me new insights now that she's left me here in Bolivia. All alone. Not that I'm bitter about it at all... ;)

But first, I will give the rough sketch of Molly's time here: We started off in La Paz for her first weekend helping to celebrate Mary's birthday (please see my earlier post about the Francisican Lay Missioners to remind yourself who Mary is) with the Franciscan Lay Missioner crew. Then just Molly and I headed to Copacabana, Bolivia and Lake Titicaca for the next 3 days to hang out with our good friends the llamas and eat some delicious fresh fish and drink a whoooollle lotta coca tea! Next it was off to Cochabamba for five days where Molly was able to get a snapshot of what my life is like down here as well as meet important people in my life, including of course the kids I work with, some of my co-workers, people in my ex-pat community, and various other friends. One of the most special parts of the trip was that Molly was able to be here for my birthday, which I of course LOVED and appreciated beyond belief. I think due to it's huge success, it definitely should become an annual tradition--yes trip funders (ie mom and dad...)??

And now for my thoughts/reflections:

She Just "Got It" On So.Many.Levels
First and foremost, I cannot get over how incredibly wonderful it was that Molly is fluent in Spanish and had previously lived in Bolivia (roughly 11 years ago as a Rotary International exchange student for 9 months), AND had lived in a couple other Latin American countries in and since college. None of these things made much of a big difference during the first half of her trip while we were in La Paz and Copacabana (since I was also a tourist there), but I could not have appreciated it more for her time spent in my "hometown" of Cochabamba.

Overall, these factors very much helped "normalize" for me what I'm doing down here, since neither the language nor the culture, nor what I'm doing, were completely unknown entities to Molly. This meant, that although there were things that were different and new to Molly on the trip, they were almost at the same level of newness and different-ness that she would have had visiting any other city in the US for the first time. She was able to strike up conversations and ask questions to Bolivians with almost the same ease that she's able to in English with people from the US. And there were many things that she just "got" without the need for me to explain them to her, both due to her mastery of the language, her previous exposure to the Bolivian culture and her previous cross-cultural experiences. To say these aspects of her trip were wonderful, would be a huge understatement. For me, it was invaluable to have someone visit who not only understands and knows me so well, but then on top of that is able to understand and get to know my experience living here in Bolivia so easily and quickly.

I especially appreciated this since I had just spent the 3 months prior to her visit helping host 5 different groups from the US, where I heard time and time again comments like, "I just don't know how you do this," and "I could never do what you're doing," and other comments that often had the effect of placing me and my work high up on a pedestal, where I could *finally* take my rightful place as lordess of the universe...but sorry, I digress... ;) And although I know all of these people had the very best of intentions, their comments at times had the effect of "abnormalizing" (is that even a term??) my experience here in Bolivia--something that for me can become wearing over time. Good thing I had a visit from Molly "a breath of fresh air" (maybe too fresh sometimes...) Reichelderfer to follow those trips!

Let's Think About That For a Second...
Another gift that Molly's visit gave me was the opportunity to work on my flexibility in both action and thought. I don't think it's that big of stretch for you all to imagine (*cough*) that I can sometimes get "stuck" in deep grooves of routine (ie just do things because that's the way I've always done them...). However, I found that when I've got someone else along for the ride, I tend to actually *think* a bit about my actions and my reasons behind them before just going on auto-pilot. During her visit, I was able to many times take a step back, keep the bigger picture in mind (ie spending quality time with Molly), and either re-think or completely change whatever plans we had in store for us.

I found the same to be true about certain thoughts, which at times included prejudices, that I just took to be "normal" and "common knowledge," which in fact turned out to really just be my own opinions. Sometimes it would just take saying a thought out loud (without Molly even responding) for me to realize that although it sounded super rational in my head, it was in fact not super rational in actuality. And maybe it was even unkind and/or uncalled for. Now, I think it's important to remember, that especially the realizations in this second paragraph were only able to come into being since I felt/feel so completely comfortable around Molly, to the point of non-censored thoughts coming out of my mouth at random (you're welcome). But, although sometimes this means I said things I'm not especially proud of, it also means, I was/am able to see, and with any luck deal with, some of the negative/prejudice/stereotyped thoughts that are going on in my head that I typically either censor or try to ignore--the biggest being my frustrations and anger towards the machismo culture that is so prevalent here in Bolivia. So sorry for the word vomit Molly (or am I??), but thanks for the insights!

And Finally: Let's Meet the REAL Caitlin!
Now, lesbihonest, I don't typically "lack" in the personality department, but as a "people pleaser" by nature, I do have the uncanny ability to change my personality at times to meet the "needs" of the people around me. This is especially true when I'm in a different culture, speaking a language that is not my native tongue, hanging out with people who I've only know for a short period of time (as far as life goes)... Hmmmmmm, some of those things sound kind of familiar... That is unless there's someone there who truly knows me and knows when I'm putting on a show. Which is where Molly comes in. You know, since she's my sister and has known me my entire life (except for the first 2 years...). Now, I haven't actually asked her about any of this, but I know that when I'm around her, I feel--and maybe act??--more like my true self (whatever that actually means). I know that on a very basic level that means I am less anxious, more flexible and relaxed, I more often do what I want regardless of what the group wants to do, oh and of course I'm more likely to be less rigid with my diet (ie will someone PLEASE just pass me the stinkin' donuts already!)... AND let's not forget that it also means I shamelessly listen to the Backstreet Boys non-stop (and maybe even watch their 2013 documentary with said sister), call my parents every.single.night to check in, buy things for MYSELF (ie spend MONEY on MYSELF), and say whatever I want whenever I want to (please refer to previous paragraph...). So overall, not only was Molly's trip fun, affirming of my decision to be here, easy, and thought provoking, it was also a true gift that helped me reconnect to who I am in the, at times, starkly different environment that I am now living.

So there. I think it goes without saying that this blog post was endorsed by the Organization to Promote Healthy Sister Connections and/or Slight Obsessions. I highly recommend to all who have sisters (or brothers) and are living somewhere in this world (and maybe not with your sister(s) or brother(s)), that you have them come visit you--you just never know what magical things might come out of such a visit :)