Where to begin?
A lot has happened since I last posted, and I am not entirely sure where to begin. I guess I will start chronologically.
December was a month of adventure and extended goodbyes. This year, the government pushed to have as many children as possible reunite with family over the Christmas holidays. It meant that only a handful of our girls remained at the Hogar. Starting on December 8th, family members trickled in to collect the girls. It was hard knowing that it would be the last time I would see many of the girls, but it was nice to slowly get used to the idea of life without them.
On December 15th, the volunteers left the Hogar to experience other parts of Bolivia before I left for the States. The timing was perfect since most of the girls were gone or would be leaving shortly after our departure. We spent 3 days in the department of Potosí exploring the salt flats of Uyuni and the desert in the Altiplano. It felt like we were on another planet! We saw geysers and flamingos, mountains and llamas. When our time there was up, we went to Santa Cruz and were able to explore the transitional rainforest. We didn't see as many animals as I would have liked due to the rain, but we sure got a story to tell from the experience! Let's just say all the water wreaked some havoc on the road to get out.
*Video compilation credit to Olivia
Christmas was a quiet one since the sisters took the remaining girls on a trip to Santa Cruz before we got back from our trip. The volunteers went to Christmas Eve mass at the cathedral and then exchanged gifts. I got some nice Bolivian swag to bring home.
Starting late on Christmas day, some of the girls started coming back to the Hogar. On the 26th, we had 4 girls and 4 volunteers, plus a guest. Grace's sister visited for Christmas! We decided to take the girls out for dinner since one had just turned 18. They had a blast eating at a Chinese restaurant and exploring the city at night. A few days later, the sisters returned with more of the girls.
Then it was time to prepare to leave. I made sure I had all of my souvenirs packed and cleaned my room. I had a late flight to start my journey, so on the day of my departure, I went for a Covid test first thing. When we got back, the sisters and the girls planned a small thank you. They made cards and bought a cake. They gave me gifts that the girls made themselves and a photo album with everyone's name and photo. Then it was time to pack my last items and go. It was just the volunteers who went to the airport, but not for lack of effort on the girls' part. I can't remember the amount of times a girl threatened to stow away in my suitcase!
I officially arrived in the United States on December 30th. The flights went as smoothly as I could have hoped. I only had a slight delay on my last flight to Omaha. I was even upgraded to business class on my overnight flight from Bolivia to Miami, something I didn't expect but really helped with getting more sleep overnight. Let me tell you, I was a little emotional when I saw my parents in the Omaha airport.
Since then, I have mostly visited with family and friends. I spent one week on vacation with my younger siblings and was able to visit many of my friends. I have pursued a job opportunity as well, but I am still not quite sure what the future holds for me. All I know is that I am grateful for everything I was able to experience in 2021.