Sunday, August 5, 2012

Goodbye, Bolivia.

Disclosure: I wrote this the day I returned to America and took five weeks to post it. So when I refer to last week, it actually means a month and a half ago. My bad. 

Well, I have touched back down in the states. My time in Bolivia is over. When I said my goodbyes at BiblioWorks I actually started to cry– I guess that goes to show how much I enjoyed my time in Bolivia working for BiblioWorks. 

Maritza and Matt– they work so hard to make BiblioWorks function
The office had a little going away party for me, so sweet!
The cake had a candle and everything.
The past two months were the fastest of my life. As I write this I literally cannot believe that it is over. I can clearly remember when I left for Bolivia, and to be honest I wasn't 100% ready to leave home after just getting back from the Philippines. I remember when I left America I thought, okay two months isn't that long, it will fly by. And that it did! Maybe it was a mistake leaving the U.S for Bolivia so shortly after my arrival from Southeast Asia. I mean, it was good that I left so quickly because it meant I avoided, well postponed, my culture shock. Since I was only home for a mere three weeks I felt like I was on vacation and therefore didn't face many of the problems, depression, and dissatisfaction that many people who study or live in a developing country feel upon returning to the U.S. But, on the flip side, I think my first two weeks I wasn't fully committed to Bolivia. My mind was on the Philippines, the fun events happening at Bowdoin, and how much I had cherished the time I spent back home visiting my friends and family. I thought it would be an easy transition– Southeast Asia to South America, but it wasn't. I think all the factors i listed above made my initial experience in Bolivia very different than what I had expected. Don't interpret this the wrong way and think I didn't enjoy Bolivia– the moment I arrived I knew that I was in an incredible country and I liked what I was doing, but it took time for me to realize that I love Bolivia. Overtime I became more and more passionate about the country and my role at BiblioWorks. When people asked me if I liked Bolivia I always said yes, but now I say, no I don't like it– I love it!

By far the biggest contributor to my increased enthusiasm was my work at Pampa Aceituno. The first month was frustrating with the number of strikes, holidays, and also I lacked the courage to go to Pampa Aceituno by myself. Lize only goes on Tuesday and Thursdays, so I only felt comfortable going on Tuesday and Thursdays. It's funny, I have absolutely no problem traveling or living by myself– I can be completely independent but when it came to working at Pampa Aceituno I was hesitant. Why? Because from the get-go I had been there with Lize, I had never had to venture on my own. I became accustomed to this, and going by myself seemed like it wouldn't be normal, I would be changing the system and pushing my comfort zone. I was nervous to be there by myself, what if I couldn't communicate my thoughts or understand. Lize doesn't speak English but if I didn't understand something I could later turn to her and ask her to explain it more slowly. I finally had that push I needed from Matt to go to Pampa Aceituno by myself. And of course, once I was on my way, there was absolutely no problem. If only I had gone into the library by myself the second week I was here, I would have realize that really it was all in my head. Additionally, after the first month there were fewer strikes and holidays as well.

The past three weeks in Sucre I have been so busy! Last week I completed two grants for BiblioWorks. One was for a library in a completely new community and the other a proposal for a BiblioBus with a focus on health and wellness. On top of that I've been preparing for all my activities in Pampa Aceituno, visiting the library every other day, and upping my hours in Spanish class. I felt as though there weren't enough hours in the day! All of the sudden I was down to days left in Sucre and all I could think about was how in my first two weeks in Bolivia I didn't capitalize on all my opportunities and my situation. I would love to have 2 more weeks in Sucre!! Why can't I take those first two weeks and move them to the end? :)
One of my last days in Pampa Aceituno
My time in BiblioWorks, Pampa Aceituno, and Sucre has been unforgettable and has really got me thinking what I want to do once I graduate– The Peace Corps is now heavily on my mind, finding a permanent position at an organization like BiblioWorks, going to grad school for policy work so I can be more educated in how to make a difference, or maybe just teaching English as a second language. 

Bolivia is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented by neighboring countries. Because its poverty and developing state, larger and more developed nations like Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and even Peru refer to Bolivia as poor, dangerous and an unfriendly place to visit. I've met only kind people, have found myself in no dangerous situations, and yes, it is an impveorshed country but that in no way makes it a bad place. Bolivia is absolutely beautiful in every meaning of the word. I am so grateful to Bowdoin and the McKeen Center for giving me this opportunity to volunteer in such an inspiring organization with an important mission, and of course in an incredibly country. Entonces, hasta luego Bolivia. Voy a volver. 

The Amazon Jungle

Okay, so now that I have been back in the US for five weeks... it is time for me to wrap up my blog! My last weekend excursion was by far my best: I went to the Amazon Jungle! Ever since elementary school when we did a unit on the rainforest, I have always wanted to go to the Amazon, the jungle of all jungles. This is hard to believe but over half of Bolivia is Amazon basin, which is just simply amazing. I will never be able to get over the fact this this country is so diverse in its climate, geography, and terrain. Simply incredible.
Our airplane sat 18 people. Smallest and sketchiest
airplane I have ever been on!
This was the airport. There was no building.

The jungle tour I went on was called the Pampas tour, and it was based out of a boat. Basically we just floated down a river for three days. Awesome!! I was in a group with eight other people, all from different countries and then of course our tour guide, Jimmy. He was an interesting character. According to him, he grew up in the jungle, the youngest of 17 kids. His father, who is now 99, is the chief of a native tribe, which is located a 14 day walk from Rurrenabaque. His father thought Jimmy was different from his other children so he told him to go into Rurrenabaque (the bustling *read as there are three streets* town of the region) to do bigger and better things.

Getting to the junge was not very easy. It's not called the rainforest for nothing. Even though it is the dry season it rained all day Friday. The road was a mud pit. Although a dirt road, it is a main road and more than once we had to get out of the jeep and watch in awe and terror as double decker buses, huge trucks filled with cargo, and our jeeps tried to maneuver through the chewed up road. I can't believe the large, tall vehicles did't topple over. We arrived at the river and hopped aboard our boat, It was still raining and I think it is fair to say that although excited about being on a boat in the Amazon I was pretty miserable and cold after 2 hours. The river was really high meaning that the usual plethora of animals had dwindled down to a few stragglers. We saw a group of chattering monkeys and lots of birds attempting to dry out their wings. And we saw pink river dolphins. Yup, PINK dolphins. After two hours we got to our accommodations, a cluster of buildings all connected by a series of bridges suspending over the river. Of couse our beds were equipped with mosquito nets– a necessity even with my 98% deet (eek) that I finally "got" to use.

After dinner we went alligator searching. We got back into our tipsy turny boat in search of 1 plus feet long alligators. Crazy, I think so. How we found them: we shone our flashlights out into the bushes and until we saw the reflection of their eyes. Then, Jimmy would putter around, one of the alligators charged at us which I found extremely terrifying.
This guy hung out by our campsite all the time. Don't
fall in the water- otherwise Pepe will get you!

The next morning we went searching for anacondas. And believe it or not: we found one! When I say we, I mean Jimmy found one. The poison isn't lethal, Jimmy told us that if the anaconda bit us it would just really, really hurt, but we wouldn't die. His exact words. So I held the beast. All six feet of it. Now that I am writing this, I can't believe I did that.

Later that day we went fishing for dinner. The
The one that bit me.
fish: piranhas. I didn't catch any, but Jimmy decided that I was going to help gut the fish. The first fish I picked up was still alive and bit me. Typical. So I went to the Amazon and got bit by a piranhas. I think that is pretty cool. Later that night we played volleyball and watched the sun set before going back to camp and cooking our fish.
time for some volleyball!

Catch of the day. Jimmy caught 12 of the 16.

you can't see the dolphins, but they are there!
Our final day was what I had been looking forward to, and really the main reason why I went to the jungle: to swim with the pink river dolphins. I was the first one to take the leap of faith out of our boat into the very muddy river water. The same water where we have been fishing for piranhas, and spotting alligators. Yup, crazy. But the dolphins came and swam around us. Some people were able to hold onto their fins and get pulled around. It was amazing.

Later that day it was back to Rurrenabaque. The next day I flew back to La Paz, got a hotel, and spent about two hours trying to consolidate all my stuff into my backpack. It didn't work.

And now for more photos:
poor birdy trying to dry his wings out

a very big bird!

Jimmy searching for anacondas.
beautiful birds!
mud, mud, mud

Oh yeah, this happened. Here I am wrestling
the anaconda.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

El Jardin

Since I arrived in Sucre my plan was to start a school/library garden in Pampa Aceituno. I see a garden as a way for students to learn how to raise vegetables, study plant biology, understand the importance of a healthy diet, and as a plus, all the vegetables they grow will directly benefit the school. The mothers who cook for the entire student body will use the vegetables from the school garden. Consequently, a garden would not only strengthen the academics, but the school environment as well.

It is only fitting that my last week was when we finally got the garden underway, but that's Bolivia– things don't normally go according to plan or on schedule. I didn't actually get to plant seeds, but I did purchase them (onions, parsley, spinach, celery, and two more that I am drawing a blank on) for the school and I helped prepare the garden plot. The seeds should be in the ground this coming week. The fifth and sixth graders were the students responsible for the initial progress of the garden, instead of their physical education class, they prepared the soil. There were lots of rocks, trash, and other icky stuff in the area that we were converting into the garden. So although the students' physical education class was replaced with gardening– it was still a workout. The girls collected soil in huge grain sacks and lugged them up the hill to the school while the boys dug with shovels and picks. I hope that once a week during physical education class each grade will actual be working in the garden so gardening is almost a class. In addition to the students work, the garden has turned into a bit of a community project– families have been bringing bags of sheep manure and other nutrient rich compost to augment the soil before we put the seeds in the ground.
The boys working up a sweat getting the soil ready for the seeds.
Even though I don't get to see the actual fruits of our labor (pun intended) I am glad that I helped start such a sustainable project in Pampa Aceituno. I hope the garden flourishes and the students, teachers, and parents continue to tend to it for years to come. When I said my goodbyes at Pampa Aceituno the principal and physical education (gardening?) teacher promised to send me photos of the garden.
Director Jorge– the principal!

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Sucre happens to be home to dinosaur footprints. On Saturday I went and checked them out. Here is the wall with over 5,000 tracks.
Pretty amazing to think dinosaurs walked right there. Even though there are so many footprints there have been no complete skeletons found in Bolivia. Paleontologists believe it is because the dinosaurs only walked across Bolivia in order to get to Argentina, they never stuck around. Purely, migration. Sucre is super proud of their dino tracks– they have lots of large plastic dinosaurs scattered across the city. Some of them double as telephone booths.

Me gusta leer porque....

Last Friday morning (yeah I am really far behind with my blogging) I returned to the library by myself for the first time. I didn't need to be at the school until 9:30 so I didn't arrive at the usual 7:45ish to catch the early morning truck that usually drives up towards Pampa Aceituno. Well, when I did arrive at the bottom of the access road, there were no cars or trucks. So I walked up. Although it was a long and dusty hike, it seemed fitting, I should have to walk up the hill to school to make my Bolivian experience complete. While walking up all I could think about was someone saying, "When I was your age we had to walk an hour uphill to school everyday." Great, now I can tell that to my grandkids, minus the everyday. 

The activity I did on Friday was for the sixth and seventh graders. Since the Pampa Aceituno library is so new, the walls are really bare– one of my goals was to make the library more aesthetically pleasing. So, I bought poster board, crepe paper, cut out big letters, and printed out images of open books for students to write on. Their job was simple enough: they had to complete the sentence, "Me gusta leer porque..." (I like to read because) When students had answered the question, I had them poise with a book while I snapped their photo, which I then printed out to pair with their response. Taking a photo of them wasn't really necessary, but it was my incentive for them to complete their project. You have to realize, most of these students have never had a photo of themselves, and having their picture taken is a rare opportunity. The poster is now hanging on the wall of the library– the kids were so excited to see their photos on display, and I was so excited to read some of their answers as to why they like to read. Here are a few of my favorite responses:

The finished product and the kids checking
it out!
A mi me gusta leer porque me enseña a hacer muchas cosas de buena. Me gusta leer porque hay cuentos para aprender que cosas hay de risa que cosas de mala. Y también por que me gusta saber de los paîs de mi Bolivia.
(I like to read because it teaches me good things. I like to read because there are stories to learn, funny things, and there are bad things. And also, I like to read because I like to learn more of my country, Bolivia.)

El libro es mi mejor amigo del mundo.
(The book is my best friend in the world.)

Porque aprendo muchas cosas y me gusta leer el libro ciencias naturales porque hay muchos animales.
(Because I learn many things and I like to read natural science books because there are lots of animals.)

Cuando mas lees, mas aprendes y enseñar a nuestros hermanos.
(When you read more, you learn more, and we teach more to our siblings.)
The best part was, when the students finished the activity they
started picking up books and free reading. It was so nice to see
the library being used!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Last week I finally completed my "Juan y los frijoles magicos" activity, what, three weeks after I started it! Blockades and holidays– blah I have had enough of you! This activity was with the second, third, and fourth graders– there are about thirty-five of them total. A refresher since I first introduced this project weeks ago: I printed off Jack and the Magic Beanstalk (in Spanish obviously) and every student received a page to illustrate. As an incentive to make the end result high quality I told the students the best illustration will win a prize– a notebook, stickers, and pencils. I wanted to make the prize something that they can use in school. The students edition of Juan y los frijoles magicos looks great– I had it bound and covered so it is in an actual book form and now a proud piece of the Pampa Aceituno library.

Besides the strikes and myriad holidays, another challenge with my work in Pampa Aceituno is working around the teacher's schedule; in order to get kids into the library we have to take them from their classroom. It is a tricky situation but hopefully in future months, years or some indefinite amount of time,  library will be an actual class where the students would learn research techniques, work on research projects, produce book reports, and simply learn to love to read. Having library as a class would be the ideal situation as it would make it so much easier for BiblioWorks to accomplish
The students on their quest for nutrient rich soil
what they set out to do– improve literacy rates so children can take advantage of more life opportunities. On Tuesday morning I was able to borrow the third and fourth graders for an hour to read their edition of Juan y los frijoles magicos and plant some of their own magic beans for a fun interactive project. The first job was filling the containers (recycled water bottles) with soil. The kids all ran down the hill in search for some decent dirt, which believe it or not is easier said than done. The whole region of Chuquisaca, especially Pampa Aceituno, is very dry and arid, so our containers have lots of twigs and other debris in them, but it is still dirt, regardless of the dirt the beans are magic so they'll grow in anything... right?

When the students returned to the library with dirty hands and dirt streaked faces, I sat them in a circle so we could read the story together aloud. Sitting cross legged in an open space is common in classrooms back home, but the students were confused when I instructed them to make a circle–  I honestly think it was the first time they had been organized in this communal and open way– maybe sharing or working together isn't a common teaching method in Bolivia. The students passed around the book, each one reading aloud the page they illustrated. Some students read clearly, confidently, and were spot on with pronunciation, while others stumbled over many words. They all could read, which is an accomplishment in itself, but they have a long way to go until they become proficient and self-assured readers– but luckily for them the library is the perfect place to gain these skills.

After the story, each student planted their own magic beans. This is my introductory piece into gardening, the plan from the getgo has been to have the younger students work with container gardening and the older students in a real garden (which great news: is finally underway!!). The containers are sitting in the library and classroom now, and students have been instructed to water them everyday. Lets hope these beans actually sprout. Wouldn't that be terrible, if my magic beans didn't grow. Yikes– everyone send positive vibes towards the seeds in Pampa Aceituno.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cloud Forest

My second day in Samaipata I went on a trek with a French couple and a German. We went into Amboro National Park to the Cloud Forest. Of course, the day that we went was only the second or third clear day of the year so the Cloud Forest wasn't too cloudy. Although we didn't get to see all the beautiful mist that usually surrounds the trees we did get an amazing panoramic view. A fair trade.

The Cloud Forest is home to the helechos gigantes– the giant ferns. These are prehistoric flora that grow only one centimeter per year. Their slow growth rate is due to their age– they were around before the dinosaurs so didn't have to grow quickly because no animals were eating them. When the dinosaurs did show up some plants adapted by growing quickly– but the giant ferns adapted by secreting poison. So the dinosaurs didn't dare eat them and in present day neither do any other animals. Some of the ferns are about seven meters tall, which makes them thousands of years old! When they do die and fall over, the head of the fern starts to grow again– so in a sense they never die.  Besides the giant ferns, the flora in the Cloud Forest was quite amazing. I felt like I was on the movie set for Jurassic Park because everything was just so big and green– I have never been in a forest like this before. There are pumas, bears, jaguars, and tree snakes that are up to two meters long in Amboro National Park– but I didn't see any of these animals (un)fortunately.