Friday, August 14, 2009

Good Bye Santa Cruz

I´ve said my goodbyes and now I´m packing my suitcase and getting on the plane. By tomorrow morning I´ll be in Chicago.

There isn´t much left to say except, check out me and Grandpa Hugo on the dance floor last night! The tango king himself. He has moves that can rival Eric Matzke´s.

Hermana Nelida

Hermana Nelida, one of the women who had worked at Alalay for 10 years as a live in mother, died of a heart attack yesterday morning. She had 5 children of her own yet she gave so much love and care to the kids of Alalay. As part of her job she would spend three days living at the orphanage and then three days living at her own home. Those who knew her best were devastated yesterday when they found out.

The first time I met Hermana Nelida was in a park when she came to rescue me from one of the kids. Hermana Reisa and I had brought the kids to the park to play for the morning. As lunch time rolled around we told the kids that it was time to stop playing and go home. Everyone reluctantly agreed, except little Jon. A few minutes before one of the girls had thrown sand at John and so he shut down and went into one of his temper tantrums. He refused to come with us so I told Reisa to take the rest of the kids home and I would cajole John out from under the play equipment.

Forty-five minutes later I was hungry, a little crabby, and still sitting with Jon. I had tried everything I could think of. Sweet Kari, mean Kari, amiga Kari, pretending to walk away and leave him alone, luring him out with candy, trying to chase him down. Nothing worked.

Finally, Hermana Nelida came walking into the park looking for us. When she saw Jon under the play equipment she simply said a few comforting words and Jon was back to his old giggly happy self again. She took his hand and we walked back home again. The whole way she kept telling John how worried she was about him and how when we got back to the house she would reprimand the other girls. In my stunned state all I could do was mouth a silent thanks to her.

The kids loved her and she was a great teacher and mom. Today I will head back to Alalay for the morning to spend few more hours with the girls. I didn´t think it was right that they lose two hermanas on the same day.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Today is my last day working at Alalay and ASOCRUZ and tonight is my going away dinner at home.

My mind had been brewing non-stop this week and now it seems to be calm and quiet. I had been so ready for this day and now I´m not feeling much of anything. Almost a sickening amount of nothing.

I can´t seem to grab onto anything substantial to write. Hopefully, I´ll have more perspective tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day Dreaming

There seems to be a few specific images that pop into my mind throughout the day to keep me warm and happy. I´m not sure why my mind repeatedly recalls these three images, but several times a day my mind is pulled to these faraway, often long ago memories.

Running down a worn dirt path that cuts through a field for night swimming in the River Sesupe. Staring at the bright night sky littered with stars while still trying to dodge cow patties in my swimsuit and flip flops. The warm summer night air in my hair and the outlines of old friends and new friends and family emerging in the darkness ahead.

Standing in the pews of a dark church lit by nothing but the lights on a Christmas tree and hundreds of candles. Joining in as Silent Night is sung in one unified voice that consumes my body and makes me weak. And then, after the music ends and everyone shuffles out into the cold to make the slow quiet trip home, watching the dark silent snow fall and cover the city in clean white sheets.

Driving through central Wisconsin on cold fall day watching the bright gold and red and orange leaves climb up the sides of the steep hills in the distance. The harvested and dormant fields stretching for miles on each side of the straight, unwavering, deserted road. Inhaling the first signs of winter with each breath of chilly air.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My story is this:

I´ve spent nine weeks living at a small white house with green fencing on calle Tte. Roca Peirano.

I´ve been welcomed into a family as a granddaughter, daughter, and sister.

I´ve celebrated 4 birthdays, 1 fiesta, and an independence day.

I´ve lost 2 watches, 1 glasses case, and a SIGG water bottle. I´ve stolen one Paceña beer glass.

I´ve slept next to cockroaches and lizards and I´ve eaten cow tongue, intestine, udder, and blood.

I´ve gained the bravery to dart across busy 12 lane highways.

I´ve spent weekends wandering through the complicated maze of markets and along narrow paths in towering cemeteries.

I´ve wandered the streets of Cochabamba alone and scared.

I´ve sat at the edge of a crowd watching miles of dancers stream by moving to the sounds of beating drums.

I´ve become connected to the happiness and difficult stories of 20 girls and 1 boy.

I´ve watched kids who have experienced terrible things learn how to be kids again.

I´ve spent afternoons in silence teaching with nothing but my hands.

I´ve spent two months communicating in three languages, often confusing one for another.

I´ve seen men without legs sit in the middle of busy streets begging for money. And I´ve seen children hollow from a life outside dancing for tourist money.

I´ve heard the stories of families unable to visit loved ones in the United States and I´ve listened as friends have plead for me to help them find jobs.

I´ve put up with catcalls and harassment and at times I´ve worried about my safety. I´ve been forced indoors and into taxis after the sun sets for fear of taking micros or walking alone.

I´ve seen strong mothers and strong women live difficult lives. I´ve seen women three times my age hauling heavy loads of fruit strapped in blankets on their backs. And I´ve seen calm mothers breastfeed their infants while being tossed about on micros.

I´ve amassed hours thinking about smells and feelings and places that I miss and are so far away.

I´m ready to come home.

Friday, August 7, 2009


August 6th was Bolivia´s Independence Day. Cruceños never pass up an opportunity to march and dance in costume. So naturally, at ASOCRUZ, they put me in a dress and made me dance with my students in front of a bunch of parents. Thank god Kattia was able to attend to take photos otherwise this would have been one for the memories.

I love her style. She didn´t crack a smile the whole time.

Marching in with the flags.

Javier, Profesora Kari, Stefani, Profesora Mabel, Marco after our big dance.

P.S. Happy Birthday to both my Bolivian mom and my American mom!


I didn´t come to Bolivia to work with orphans, I came to Bolivia to work with deaf students. But through the unpredictable nature of life, I ended up with a month of swine flu vacation and no deaf students. So in comes Alalay and Nayely (pronounced Nah-yell-e).

Nayely is the youngest at Alalay. She and her brother had been living with their drug addicted mother on the streets only a month ago. There is no way to know her age, or birthday, or even last name. I would guess that she is 3 or 4 years old, but it´s hard to tell because she is so small.

When I started at Alalay I was surprised at how much the kids wanted to be held. But not Nayely. Nayely hid behind the other adults, quickly looking away if we made eye contact and cringing if I touched her hair or brushed her arm.

It took me 2 weeks to finally break through to her. Although, I doubt I can claim victory for it. I think that Nayely, just changed her mind about me.

Now, I can´t get her off of me. We play all morning long. I hold her tiny body up in the air as she giggles and screams. I brush her hair and tickle her arms to which she says in a very mature yet high-pitched voice, ¨Hermana!¨. I help her hand-wash her clothes and encourage her to keep eating at lunch. I love that girl so much.

The cruelty of life breaks my heart. I was given the desire and ability and opportunity to visit her. I was given the power to step into her broken life for a month and then walk right out of it again.

Leaving behind Nayely, Jon, Rebeca, Noemi, Lorena, and sweet Rosalia might be the meanest most self-centered thing I´ve ever done.

Monday, August 3, 2009


My camera is dead.

We had a good run together but I guess this trip was just a little too much for her. She was only three years old but together we climbed Machu Picchu, spent a month on the beaches of Mexico, saw the Spice girls in concert, captured Christmases and birthday and in-between days.

She took the first images of my new short haircut and was there to photograph my blister the size of a grape after I bought new sandals. We witnessed Barack Obama declaring himself the Democratic nominee on my birthday and she was my only companion when I was lonely in Cochabamba. This whole month she has had a well-worn spot at the bottom of my bag as I took the Micro to Alalay each morning.

She weathered the years well. Even after the screen went out after New Years Eve in Mexico she still took pictures for another 7 months before finally puttering out. Her dedication to her family and friends, her contributions to the field of photographing my life, and her commitment to her community will not be forgotten.

Since cameras are one of the few things that are more expensive to buy here than in the U.S. (and I´m outta cash) I guess we´re all going to have to endure the next two weeks without pictures. RIP.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Financial Planning

It´s countdown time.

T-minus two weeks until my flight home. I talked to my mom yesterday who informed me that my bank account is officially out of money. That means that what I´ve got stashed in my underwear drawer is going to have to last me two weeks and a plane flight home.

So here is the breakdown:
After spending $3 USD on the 25 minute call to mom, I´ve got $351.50 Bolivianos (About $53 USD at a 7-1 exchange rate).

Subtracting $25 USD for the airport departure tax, $60 Bs. for the taxi ride to the airport, $60 Bs. for 4 micro rides/day for 2 weeks (to and from work) that leaves me with $76.50 Bs. or $11 USD for 2 weeks.

So here are the rules:
No morning Salteñas ($4 bs. each)
No taxi rides anywhere ($10 bs. each)
No phone calls home ($25 bs. each)
No buying books ($30 bs. each)
No ice cream cones ($7 bs. each)
No lavandería-I´ll have to hand wash my clothes ($30 bs./load)

I´m not sure where I´ll decide to spend my remaining $11 USD, but I´m gonna make it good.

Bad news for all friends and family. I´ve put off buying gifts until now. So don´t expect any Santa Cruz magnets or t-shirts. I´ve thought of a better idea anyway. Way cooler, trust me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Momma Kari

Working with six children all day long gives me a lot of opportunities to think about how to effectively raise kids. After about three weeks of non-stop thinking, I´ve got no clue. I still suck at it.

I made the decision about a week into my volunteer work at Alalay that I can´t get involved in everything. There is always someone yelling about something. Always. It´s too much work to stay on top of it all. So I decided to only focus on the important stuff. The stuff they really shouldn´t be doing.

So I save all my negative attention for: spitting, hitting, standing on the table, inflicting bodily harm, touching the oven, running into the street, damaging other´s possessions, etc. You get the idea.

Everything else I either let resolve itself, wait until another adult comes along, or distract them with something else (usually involving crayons or somethings brightly colored). I know that my methods are probably not that great for the long-term but I´ve got no better ideas at the moment and I can´t wear myself out each day by yelling. That´s not fun for me or the kids.

I find it challenging that I don´t have the power to actually enforce consequences (because I´m just a volunteer and in a few short hours I´ll be gone and they can go about doing whatever they want) and even if I did have the power, I probably wouldn´t be able to clearly communicate them to the kids in my broken Spanish.

The kids don´t have much consistency when it comes to discipline. They have two women who alternate spending nights and days with them as well as Marisol their psychologist and Patricia the head of the orphanage. Not to mention whichever volunteer(s), clergy, or staff might be in the home for the day. I would try talking to Patricia about it, but my Spanish still not quite to that level. (The other day I tried telling her that Nayerly is afraid of me - but I ended up saying ¨I´m not that into Nayerly¨)

So I´m opening it up to all of you. Give me your ideas. What should I try?