Monday, October 14, 2013

Cochabamba, Bolivia

The day after leaving from the beach following Becky’s wedding ceremony, I headed to Cochabamba, Bolivia. I went to spend time with the orphans cared for by the Amistad Mission. I’ve been to Cochabamba to work with Amistad three times before over the last 14 years and I now am trying to go at least once a year. 

Some of the mountains surrounding Cochabamba
Because of many other things going on this fall, it was a fairly short trip. I went by myself this time, but never felt lonely. How could I? I was often with people I’ve come to know and love over the past few years.

Cochabamba is at an altitude of 8,000 or more feet, but is ringed by even higher mountains. The weather is nice most of the year. The city is sometimes called the City of Eternal Spring and is generally arid with pleasant temperatures. There was some rain while I was there but the temperature was in the 70s or low 80s most days, though it got cool in the evenings.  

Typical breakfast at La Morada
I spent much of my time at La Morada, a facility for visitors like myself that Amistad runs. It is the place where I slept, did lots of reading, took warm showers, drank safe water, and ate many of my meals. Doña Celia made sure there was always plenty to eat. Between those meals and the restaurants I went to, I managed to gain weight (as I usually do in Bolivia) in a third-world country.

My trip was made even better by my wonderful translator/tour guide, Sarah. She was there to translate when I needed her, but let me stumble through things when I thought I could. More importantly, she put up with me and was fun to be around. 

Bárbara helps show off the mariposas
I spent my time mostly just being with kids and the people that care for them.Part of each day I was at La Villa which is a group of buildings that serve as homes where the children are raised in family groups, each led by a mamá.  

Life at La Villa goes at a much slower pace than I’m used to. I was able to wander around and visit with different children, most of whom I had met on previous trips. Sarah was usually with me to help me communicate with the children. I had plenty of time to hang out in the library and help some of them with their homework. I also had time to work on some crafts with Bárbara and her house. At her request, I brought down some supplies for making a butterfly mobile. (Thanks to Gina for getting the supplies for me!) While I don’t claim to be as artistic as she is, we worked together and created a couple mobiles like the one in the picture above.

Bill, the gardener, in action
One of the ironies of the week was that I spent some time gardening, which I normally hate. Mamá Jhenny has her own little garden and she had me digging rows for her to plant onions. I had a great time, though I may have cut the vine of her favorite pumpkin. She smiled at me and did not seem to mind. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Enjoying dinner with some of the college students
I also had the opportunity to have dinner with some college students at a nice restaurant, Paprika. They had grown up as children in La Villa, but were now in college studying areas as diverse law, accounting, sociology, and civil engineering. They told me about their studies and their challenges. One of the girls remembered Becky from when she first visited in 1998. We ate a good meal, laughed a lot, and generally had a great time together.

Working hard to finish the ice cream
I spent Saturday afternoon with the children and mamá of Casa Amanecer. We took them to Globos where they had lots to eat including way too much ice cream. Some of the little ones made more of a dent in the generous portions of food than I thought was possible. 

After eating ourselves silly we went bowling. Even the little boys had a blast rolling the ball down the lane. Hitting any of the pins was a bonus. I bowled terribly and lost to Dunia and Marinely. There seemed to be bowling balls, kids, pins, and kids everywhere. It was chaos. It was wonderful.

Dunia and Marinely say their victorious goodbyes
I also had the privilege of spending a decent amount of time with the Bolivian director of Amistad, Lila. She even took me to her church on Sunday where we sang choruses in Spanish. I felt myself crying at one point. It was so touching to be with a fellow group of Christians half a world away. 

I managed to get much of the gist of the sermon in Spanish. It was about the importance of the family. Though some of the specific examples were very Bolivian, most of it would have been equally applicable in my church in the US.

Goodbyes with Bárbara and Casa San Francisco
I’ve tried to understand why I love going to Amistad so much. I’m not sure what it is, but there is something special about the people, both the children in the orphanage and the people who work with them. I’ve been told that my pictures from Bolivia seem to show me with a real smile rather than the often awkward one I have in most photos. Bolivia is the place where I feel the most free to smile, laugh, and cry. I can’t wait to go back.

Beware, however, I will be trying to convince you to come with me the next time I go!  

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