Sunday, August 7, 2011

Goodbye yet again

Another season in Bolivia comes to an end, with a despedida in Loma Pampa as we said goodbye to our cherished friends. It has been an amazing year. We have accomplished so much, with a great group of smart, energetic and enthusiastic students. Will we be back again next year? That is not a question I can answer as of yet. But it has been a great four years.

More pictures can be found on my Facebook page. Vayan con Dios!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Despedida in San Ysidro

It is the final week of the program, and as is the case every year, we are all busy with the ritualized goodbye celebrations known as despedidas. In each of the communities where we have been working, the people express their thanks for our presence and contributions by making speeches, exchanging hugs and handshakes, and most of all, by inviting us to consume large amounts of food.

Yesterday we celebrated the conclusion of the baking project in the barrio of San Ysidro. Over the last six weeks, our students have worked alongside the women of that community as they learned to bake cakes, pastries, empanadas and salteƱas, all of which they shared with us at the despedida. The women positively glowed with pride as they showed off their products, insisting that each of us eat at least one of each of the items on display. I have high hopes that this project will continue after our departure, especially once the kitchen that we have helped to finance is completed and the women have a dedicated space in which to do their baking.

For much of the summer, it must be said, our students were unsure of their contributions to this community. Though they organized sports and English classes for children and worked together with the women as they learned to bake, the students often felt as though they weren't actually "doing" anything. But at the despedida last night, all of us were blown away by the extent of the women's achievement and their deep gratitude for what we had provided them. Women praised our students, and the kids with whom they have been working gave them enormous hugs and begged them not to leave. The students, I think, realized for the first time the nature of their contribution - that just being present in this community, getting to know people and providing the resources through which these women could improve their lives and the lives of their families, they had accomplished a great deal.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

16 de julio

I just found some pictures on my other camera from the 16 de julio celebration from three weeks ago. "16 de julio" means July 16th, which is the anniversary of the founding of the city of La Paz. "16 de julio" is also the name of one of the barrios where our students are working, a barrio that was settled by migrants from the city of La Paz, and so they celebrate their hometown anniversary with a big parade on July 16. Our group attended, and somehow got drafted to parade alongside the costumed dancers, performing the morenada (a traditional dance that is, fortunately, quite easy to learn). For two hours we danced through the streets of the barrio, adding a foreign accent to a decidedly local celebration.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


My mom has been complaining that the blog this year is both boring and infrequently updated. To try and address these critiques, I have included an exclamation point in the title of today's posting.

This weekend we celebrated the 12th (I think) anniversary of Loma Pampa with our barrio friends. The highlights of the event this year were the performances by our students, who sang and danced and put on a show unlike anything ever seen in the barrio. Against the backdrop of the mural painted by last year's group, Aman sang an original version of "Gringa Bonita," the best line of which went "we can't help it if we're gringos," which brought big laughs from the crowd (who apparently thought we could help it). This was followed by a big dance performance that featured such classic tunes as "YMCA," "Thriller," and, unexpectedly, "Cotton-Eyed Joe." After the big number, some of the students led a group of children in a dance activity, and then Joyelle and Carmen, a friend from Cochabamba, performed an improvisational modern dance number. The whole thing was quite spectacular.

Another exciting moment came in the big dance competition that followed these performances. Several pairs of students participated, along with a few barrio residents, performing traditional and not-so-traditional Bolivian dances. Though the pair of Hayden and Blondeen made it to the final round, the prize was won by our own Pamela and Guery, who then turned their prizes over to the people in the crowd, who eagerly accepted the bags of pasta, bars of soap, and bottles of cooking oil that they distributed.

The efforts of our students, both today and over the past month, have not gone unrecognized by the residents of Loma Pampa. As part of the anniversary event, the barrio leaders called each student by name to approach the microphone, and presented them with certificates of appreciation for their work.