• Ann

Welcome to Bolivia! ¡Bienvenidos a Bolivia!

Note: This was written on Thursday, January 7, 2021, after my first full day at the Hogar Maria Auxiliadora.

Hello friends! Well, I made it safely to Bolivia, so I was probably way more stressed during my journey than I should have been. It’s not easy flying to a new country on your own when you have hardly done any national flights, not to mention international ones! Thankfully, most transitions between flights were very easy, including the layover in Miami, which seems like it is a maze to navigate. The only time I had actual cause to worry was when we arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. We left Miami about an hour late, so we arrived about an hour late. Unfortunately, that meant I had about 30 minutes to get through customs and to my connecting flight to Cochabamba. I was convinced that I would miss it. I had finally accepted that I would have to find a help desk and organize a new flight when I asked a worker (in very broken Spanish) about my flight and she said they would wait. What!? It calmed me down a little but I also wasn’t sure I believed it. In America, that would never happen. Thank heaven for mission time! I had been told that most cultures we would be going to don’t stick to schedules like we are used to. If that means I didn’t miss my flight, I will take it!

To say I was overwhelmed when I finally stepped foot in Cochabamba is an understatement. I think I used up my mental and emotional capacity dealing with the stress of navigating the Santa Cruz (almost) crisis, not to mention I hadn’t been getting much sleep. I was greeted by my site partner, Mary, and two of the sisters, Hermana Letti and Hermana Filomena. We got in taxi and drove the approximately 30 minutes to the Hogar in near silence, mostly because I was too exhausted to try to communicate. On my drive, I was given a salteña (a pastry filled with a type of gravy, meat, eggs, potatoes, and herbs and spices, which to my knowledge, is like an empanada, but Bolivian). I saw many stray dogs and learned that navigating traffic entailed honking at the corners to indicate that you were coming through. The Hogar is far enough on the outskirts of the city so that there are many farm animals and fields of corn stuck in between the buildings. In that way, it almost feels like I am still in Iowa.

At the Hogar, my luggage and I were quickly disinfected, and the girls sang a song to welcome me and gave me beautiful flowers from their gardens. There are so many roses here! I was shown to my room, which is more spacious than any other room I have ever occupied, and then I unpacked and took a quick nap before lunch.

That pretty much sums up my travel experience, so now I want to share a little about what I have experience at the Hogar. Here are 12 things I have learned in the last day and a half:

1. Don’t throw toilet paper in the toilet. It goes in the trash. (A rule that I promptly forgot the first time I used the bathroom. Whoops!)

2. Only drink water from the specific water jugs.

3. Breakfast and lunch are eaten with the sisters. Dinner with the girls. Lunch is the largest meal of the day.

4. Chicken, eggs, potatoes, rice, bread, and corn are staples in the cooking here.

5. They have many delicious teas and hot drinks here. We had one tonight that reminded me of a chai latte, but it had what looked almost like popcorn in the bottom. I really enjoyed it!

6. Many of the girls want to learn English, and they have been told that I was an English teacher in the states. Help! I don’t know anything about teaching the basics of our language. I taught students to analyze literature and write essays, not read and understand words. But I am sure I will figure something out as I go.

7. The girls wash their clothes every morning, and the little ones (las pequeñas) like it when you help.

8. It rains almost every day (at least at this time of year). Luckily, they tend to be passing showers.

9. Las pequeñas LOVE to put your hair in braids (trenzas), and they are very good at it.

10. I feel like I can understand about half of what is said, but most of the time, I don’t know how to respond.

11. Apparently, I am brave for playing fútbol (soccer) for about 15 minutes today. Cochabamba is at an altitude of 8,392 feet, so I have been warned about altitude sickness. I felt a little off-kilter the day I arrived, but I am not sure if that was because of exhaustion or altitude. I am going to attribute my fairly easy transition (knock on wood) to my swimmer lungs (which if I am truthful, probably don’t exist anymore).

12. Don't count on warm showers.

Well, I am going to sign off here because I need to get to bed. I am hoping to upload pictures soon, but I am having issues with the internet connection, so it might take a little while. I will either edit this post and add them in or put them on the gallery page of my website. For now, ciao.

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