Saturday, January 8, 2011

In Bolivia!

Greetings from Cochabamba, Bolivia! Hope everyone´s holidays were relaxing and spent with good company...

I´m just now wrapping up my first week in Bolivia, and things have been going really well. As of my last post, I was just finishing up my time in Brazil. Saying goodbye to everyone wasn´t very fun, but I thankfully had lots of distractions to keep me busy in the following weeks.

Visiting my host family in Panama was great, it was surreal going back to a place that I had spent such an emotional ten months four years ago. Thankfully, everyone there is doing well and it soon felt as if I had never left to begin with. My American family showed up five days after I did, and we spent a great two weeks traveling around Panama and Costa Rica. They had visited me when I was 17 as well, so it was cool returning to some of the same places we had already been to as well as exploring some new ones. It unfortunately never stopped raining while we were there, which got a little tiresome after 10 days of not ever feeling dry and having all of your clothes smell horrible. Saying goodbye to my two families was also sad, but again, I was soon preoccupied with getting myself to another country.

I spent New Year´s on my flight to Bolivia, getting in at four in the morning in Santa Cruz, in the eastern chunk of the country. I spent a couple of days hanging out there before getting on a bus to Cochabamba. I had heard that the trip was going to take twelve hours, so I bought a ticket for 7 pm. The ride was very hot, they didn´t turn on the AC, and ended up taking only nine hours. I ended up checking myself into a hotel at four in the morning for a couple of hours before meeting up with an employee of Sustainable Bolivia, the organization I´m volunteering at. This NGO matches up volunteers with Bolivian partner organizations in the city depending on experience and Spanish level; it´s been fun meeting the other interns, who are an interesting and very international group of people. There will be around 27 of us by the end of the month, either living in volunteer-only housing or with host families.

My situation is really cool here; I´m living with a host family that is within walking distance of the volunteer housing. My family is super nice. I have a mom and a dad, tree adult siblings, a brother in law and a two-month old nephew. There are many individuals in my house. My mom has already said she´ll help me find a Bolivian wife, which was a very sweet offer. I spend my mornings at a think tank that researches Bolivian and Latin American issues, and I´m working on a project that looks at the country´s legal system. As of 2009, Bolivia ratified a constitution that implemented two different, though supposedly equal, structures. One of these is the historically dominate, western model, while the other is the "community justice" model that comes from indigenous tradition. I´m researching the implications, practical and theoretical, on indigenous self-determination. It´s been a little overwhelming.

I went out for first time last night, which started out wonderfully. With a group of volunteers and Sustainable Bolivia staff, I traveled to a venue that holds a ceremony the first Friday of every month thanking Mother Earth for being awesome. There was some deal with throwing offerings into a fire, a little chanting, and lots of those Peter Pan flutes they use in the Andes. Also present was the traditional drink "chicha," made from fermented corn, which tastes like sour apple cider with an aftertaste reminiscent of vomit. They served this to us in big clay jars, with a single half-gourd used for drinking. A person, before drinking, makes eye contact with another in the group, who will then be served next by the current holder of the gourd. I have decided that it´s a community-building tradition despite it´s resemblance to a drinking game. The cultural novelty of it all, however, soon wore off. They warn travelers about the water here, it´s can be a little tough on gentle American tummies, and most of SB´s volunteers end up getting sick at some point during their stay. Until six pm today, my whole day has consisted in trying to sleep and worshipping the toilet instead of Mother Earth. I haven´t had a headache and am running a fever, so I´m not hung over, I just got a bad stomach bug that thankfully seems to be going away. Hopefully this is the only time that needs to happen.

Here are pictures from the balcony of my new house.

From Bolivia Blog

From Bolivia Blog

Hope all is well.



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