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.