We ended our time in Bolivia tonight with a party with the ambulantes, the market vendors with whom several of our students have been working closely to prepare a website and documentary film. There were a lot of speeches, including several by the students themselves, followed by food and dancing, and lots of hugs and teary eyes. Most of the students head for the airport tomorrow; some are traveling overland to Santa Cruz, while others are taking a bus tonight to La Paz, for a visit to Lake Titicaca before returning home.
This marks my final blog entry of the season. It has been a singular pleasure for me to lead this program, and to work with these students on their various projects. I look forward to doing it again next summer.
Our program is in its final days, which in Bolivia means despedidas. The despedida, or goodbye party, is an institution here, and as an anthropologist who has come and gone many times, I have participated in many of them. For our students, these despedidas are wonderful, heart-wrenching experiences. People here are so grateful for the contributions our students have made to their lives and communities, and our students have established so many close personal relationships in the short time that we have been here, that saying goodbye is very difficult. There have been a lot of tears ("Bring on the waterworks," as Alana puts it), hugs, and, this being Bolivia, food and speeches. Personally, I find it very touching and rewarding to see how deeply attached our students have become to people here, and to see how much they have learned and accomplished during our time in Cochabamba. The students' tears, to me, are not a bad thing at all, but rather an indication of the success of our program, and the depth of their feeling and the intensity of their experience. I doubt any of them will ever forget their time here, and expect that many of them will return and continue to work with the Bolivian people and communities they have come to know.
The computer lab is up and running in the barrio where our students are doing service. Twice a week a group of students attends the lab, giving instruction to children and adults in the basics of computer use. Just learning the difference between right-click and left-click has been a challenge, but the people are making good progress, with some of the kids showing signs of being true computer prodigies. The computers, donated by Rutgers University's Office of Undergraduate Education, will remain in the community after we have gone - our students are preparing a plan for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the computer lab, so that residents of the community can continue to enjoy the machines, and future generations of Rutgers students can continue to participate in this form of service-learning.
I am feeling much better, having suffered with shingles for almost two weeks now. I look much less horrible (except for the hideous beard I have been forced to grow, being unable to shave due to the sores on my face), and the pain level is low enough that I have returned to work full force.
There remains very little time in our program here, a fact of which our students are keenly aware. They all have formed deep attachments to the people and the communities in which they are volunteering and doing research, and for many their impending departure is a source of much sadness and deep reflection.