Thursday, June 5, 2008

Homestays in Cochabamba

The homestays seem to be going well. The students have all reported being comfortable in their new homes, with some describing how quickly they have been adopted into their new “families.” Aida reported that her new “mother” insists that she call her “mamá,” and so hasn’t even been able to learn the woman’s actual name. Several students are clustered in the same neighborhoods, with some living within a few houses or blocks from each other. These students describe how their new “parents,” who are friends of one another, have been calling each other up, comparing notes on their new “children,” asking “What should I serve for breakfast?” and so on. The families are also working with the students to orient them to the local transportation system, helping to figure out bus routes, taxis, and the like. All of this is very positive and encouraging.

We took a bus tour of downtown Cochabamba in the morning. It was one of those red, two-decker buses with an open top, and we all roasted in the sun as they drove us around town pointing out the sights. Traffic was heavy and the sun strong, and some students dozed off, but at least they were able to get oriented to the city.

So far our experiences have been concentrated in the wealthier, more middle-class or upscale parts of Bolivia. This includes our time in Santa Cruz. Nicole observed to me that she enjoyed staying in the fancy Santa Cruz hotel, because it gave her a glimpse of the luxury and comfort that is available in this country (as in every country) for those with the resources to afford it. This was an excellent observation, something I had not considered when I first determined that we should spend a couple of nights in Santa Cruz before traveling on to Cochabamba. Now in Cocha, students are living with middle-class families and seeing the developed urban center, giving them a baseline for comparison when they begin to visit the poor barrios where we will be working. Indeed, even in the homestays, students are realizing the differences between the “middle class” in the US and in Bolivia. Some students expressed surprise at the bathrooms, for example – Katie described how her bathroom was a single room with a showerhead in the ceiling, and when she showers it soaks the whole room. Amy mentioned that the shower she took that morning was the coldest of her life, with the water intermittently stopping and starting. None of these students complained of these conditions, by the way, but observed them in good ethnographic form. Hopefully this openness to the unexpected and difficult will last for the length of the program.

Organization has been, for me, extremely complex. I am trying to juggle six different Spanish schedules, five service projects, an academic course, and 13 homestays. With my colleagues, we are coordinating trips to the Chapare, Sucre, and Potosí. Trying to get this all to work in concert is challenging, as events overlap and conflict. I hope that as we move forward this will settle into some kind of rhythym, but for now I am, shall we say, logistically challenged.

1 comment:

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