Today marks my 14th day in Bolivia and my spirits are still high. Currently, I am in the training stage of my service which will last for ten more weeks before we are sent out on assignment. I am living in an extremely rural area like I have never experienced before. I have an outhouse, electricity most of the time, and water some of the time. My room is simple and I am happy to call it home.
The family I live with is called a host family, and we are located on the outskirts of Cochabamba in a little town called Cuatro Esquinas. I have two host sisters aged six, and nine, three dogs, two geese, a parrot, a pig, over twenty guinea pigs, three sheep, a pond of frogs and a chicken. I am living at 8,200 feet so it is exercise just to walk down to the bus stop. There is little infrastructure in the town and even less in my house. In fact, Cuatro Esquinas means “four corners” and is really just a bunch of people that have settled at the juncture of two roads.
I sleep in a mosquito net and have to walk outside past the geese and chickens, past the pig pen and guard dog, and through half a corn field to go use the bathroom, which is just a football sized hole in the ground. The animals have finally accepted me, and have stopped hissing and snapping at me while I pass. Today I learned how to wash my clothes with my hands; it took me over three hours and my hands are red and tender, but I have never felt so self-sufficient in my life.
The days have been long here. I wake up early every morning and walk to another volunteer’s house for Spanish class which goes from 8:30 to about12:30. I come back home for lunch and leave again for another volunteer’s house for microenterprise development training which goes from 2-6pm. Then I go back home, eat and do homework. I am losing a lot of weight, but I am learning a lot, and glad for the information I am receiving as I think it will prove to be useful soon. Saturdays I only have Spanish in the morning and Sundays I have free.
Wednesdays are special because all the new volunteers (21 of us) go into the city for medical and cultural training. The medical training can get pretty raw, as we learn about deadly beetles, malaria, and worms that can burrow into our brains. They gave us a pretty basic medical kit and they are teaching us how to use it. They also gave us two books called “Where There are No Doctors,” and “Where There are No Dentists” which teach us how to pull our own teeth and other unpleasant things I never plan to experience. It seems like every disease I have ever heard about is prevalent in Bolivia. I am scheduled to get twelve different vaccinations on top of the ones I already have.
Three volunteers have already been hospitalized for a couple of days with amoebas, and the doctors expect that at least three more of us will be in the next week. My health has been great though. However, my host mom thinks that meat makes people fat, which she is, so we never have it. Mostly potatoes, rice, and noodles in a soup or gruel. This is why I am so skinny now. I talk with her a lot about the benefits of protein, and today we had chicken for lunch, so my fingers are crossed.
The other volunteers both have great hearts and are smart. A good proportion of them have strong religious backgrounds and I am learning a lot from them. I am the only one from California, and it seems like a lot of different states are represented. Everyone has a college degree and about a third of us have an advanced degree in business, economics, or law. All 21 of us are business volunteers but we are divided in to three groups, agri-business, community tourism, and micro-enterprise development. I am in the third group, and the twelve of us are further divided into artisan consulting and business education.
The next blog in the Bolivian Blaze Series is, In Search of a Sagely Twinkle.