Thursday, December 28, 2006

Estoy en Chile... I am in Chile

Well, it´s been awhile since Thanksgiving and I have some very exciting news, I am officially all moved in and loving the Chilean life. That´s right folks, I am in Santiago, living in Peñalolén, which is a neighborhood of the city. After an interesting begginning here in Chile, life has been pretty fantastic. So, this is a quick update letting everyone know that I am here, safe and really enjoying myself. Things can only get better from here.

One more quick note: I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and will have a Happy New Year! Don´t do anything I wouldn´t do!

One last note: You can call Chile for much cheaper than Bolivia, buy a phone card (Latin America ones work) and give me a ring! Dial directly to the house in Santiago, though we answer in Spanish, we do speak English, just ask for Natalie. The number as you dial from the states is: 011-56-2-278-5051

I think that about sums it up, hope to talk to everyone soon. Loves!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Turkey Day

November 23rd, Thanksgiving, national holiday, a day to gorge ourselves on turkey, a day to watch the Macy´s Parade in the morning and football in the afternoon, a day to spend with family. This November 23rd was quite different. It is the first holiday that I have spent away from my family, the first holiday that I did not follow tradition and the first holiday where I think I truly learned the meaning of giving thanks.

I woke up on turkey day not to the parade but to rush to take a shower and head to class. This past week most of the North American students at school have worked on preparing a presentation about the true meaning of Thanksgiving; the origins (both good and bad), decorations and most importantly a feast for all to share. Turkey was carefully prepared, mashed potatoes and gravy, green-been casserole, corn on the cob, sweet potato casserole and stuffing were all set out. We shared our holiday with our Bolivian teachers who had never eaten stuffing or green-been casserole and kept asking for the recipes. Overall I enjoyed the experience of presenting something new to a culture that has been sharing itself so willingly with me. We cleaned up the mess from the feast and Thanksgiving at the Institute was over. Yet the day had only just begun.

Next was a stop in the post office, which unlike in the states was open, as was everything else, since Thanksgiving is not exactly a Bolivian holiday. It was an interesting experience to walk around to all of the shops here, knowing that they would all be closed back home. A few of us stopped for a bottle of wine on the Prado, the main drag of Cochabamba, complete with wonderful cafes and eateries. We sat and enjoyed the over-priced bottle of wine and talked about our presentation, which we agreed went really well. We soon realized it was time for dance class, so we quickly headed back to school to prepare for the end of the year talent show. Two hours later and many frustrations danced out, it was onto the next activity, a conference for missioners in Latin American countries. To be honest I only went because of the promise of free pizza after, but what I learned and the people I met were well worth the time spent. I was surprised by the variety of Latin-Americans working in mission all throughout Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. I typically assume it is North Americans who travel to work in other countries, not people from Latin-America to work here as well. I even met a Chilean, who true to form, showed more pride in her `tierra` or land than anyone I have ever encountered. She made me excited to be headed to Chile with people who love their country and who take pride in where they come from. Finally, after a long day, I headed back to my host family and my Bolivian house.

At home I sat and reflected on the day that I had just had. It was so busy I hardly felt that I was missing out on being at home, while at the same time really wishing that I was eating my mom’s perfectly cooked turkey and stuffing. But, while I was wishing that I was gorging myself on her turkey, I realized more than ever before how much I have to be thankful for. I am so incredibly grateful for everything I have: the family who loves me more than anything, the friends who support me in my crazy adventure to South America, my community members here who let me cry when I was sad, the food I have to eat, the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet, the comfortable house which I call home, my college education, my faith, my life, my experience in Bolivia and soon my experience in Chile, everything. I lack nothing. So, on this Thanksgiving I learned such a valuable lesson that, although it was different and difficult, I would never trade to be back at home because when I do go back home, I will never again take for granted waking up to Katie Couric commenting on the wonderful marching band in the Macy´s parade and I will never again take for granted a home cooked meal and never will I forget this Bolivian Thanksgiving, for this is the true meaning of a holiday, coming together, sharing and just being.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We call it Volley, they call it Walley

Imagine yourself in a racquetball court. There is a net strung across the court, separating the small court into even smaller halves. Teams are divided into three to four persons, you’re handed what looks like a beach volleyball and the walleyball game begins.

What is walleyball you ask? Well, it is the Bolivian version of volleyball, played in a racquetball court. The most tricky part of the rules to walley is that you USE the side walls, but NOT the back walls. Now, it sounds easy, but when you are used to serving the ball in an outdoor court, your forget your own strength and smack the ball right into the otherside´s back wall, earning a point for that team. Which points out yet another change in rules, you earn points for your team simply by not being able to return the ball back to the other side, whereas in outdoor volleyball when you fail to return the ball, the other team gets to serve for points. Tricky does not even begin to describe the point system, especially when some people try and cheat you out of points, which does happen from time to time.

Some of the best moments here in Bolivia with my Bolivian family have been spent in las canchas (the courts) playing walley with both my host family and the HCA group. The level of competition each time we play rises as does our ability. Every time we get to the court, all rules are left at the small door and we just let loose and have a blast. We fall down, we laugh, we get balls to the face, yet we always manage to come out from the game excited about the next court reservation. Plus, I have never seen grown men (my Bolivian dad and brother) be so competitive, where they play the whole court and steal your opportunities to spike the ball, granted my host dad is by far the worst ball-hog. I think I went through a whole game without once touching the ball or if I did touch the ball, it was a mistake on his part.

It’s a funny sport this walleyball, yet I have really come to love it. It’s great for me to play, since the net is slightly shorter than regulation nets and I can pretend to be Gabrielle Reese and spike the crap out of the ball. Plus, it’s a wonderful chance to bond with not only my Bolivian family, but with the HCA group as well. So, if I had to pick between walley and volley, I might actually go for the Bolivian version, after all, where else can I pretend to be the queen of the court?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Me Jane, you Tarzan...

The Chaparé, the Bolivian´s version of the jungle, what an adventure. A couple of weekends ago, weekend a group of students organized a trip to the jungle, complete with monkeys, rope swings and giant spiders, it truly was a blast!

The trip started out at 4am, with 8 people pilled into a mini-van of sorts and we were off. The roller-coaster ride had the three priests travelling with us praying for our lives and those prayers must have been answered because we made it in one piece. In fact, there was a brief period in time when we stopped so that our driver could splash some water on his face. Perhaps next time we take a trip we should start the adventure at a more appropriate time of day, say 7am.

We arrived in Valle Tunari around 8am, ate a quick breakfast, dropped our bags off at an interesting hostel (more to come on the hostel later) and headed to Parque Machia, a elementary school field trip haven, complete with wild monkeys, pumas and lots and lots of parrots. Now I had heard about this park from my Bolivian host family and all I gathered from them was protect your camera from the monkeys who love to steal shiny objects. You know, they weren´t kidding. At the entrance to the park, we happily locked up our valuable possesions and went to find the monkeys. Within minutes, the monkeys were literally crawling and jumping all over us. Katie had a sucker with her and as like a flash of lightening, a monkey jumped on her shoulder, grabbed the sucker, hopped down and was happily eating the sucker, after the wrapper had been taken off of course. It was nuts I tell you! Where else do you get to hold monkeys who steal? We then started a climb up to a wonderful vista of the confluence of two rivers with the jungle in the background, it was absolutely stunning. Lots of walking in mud followed and then it was off to our next activity.

Parque Carassco: We were told while we were eating lunch that this park was even better than the first park, to which I at first was a bit pessimestic, but David our guide was right. Parque Carassco was like walking through The Jungle Book. When you start the afternoon off with a giant spider in the bathroom, you know that the rest of the day will be full of adventures, which it was. First, we crossed the raging river in a steal cage suspended above the water on cables, and headed off into the jungle with our guides explaing every tree, plant and flower on the way to the bat caves. There are several different species of bats that live in the park, but thankfully the ones we visited were the fruit eating variety. I have never before climbed willingly into a cave full of bats, but when in Bolivia do as the guides tell you and climb away. We were standing in the cave as the flashlights illuminated the bats all nestled into groups sleeping the day away upside down, granted a few were flying around which I must say, was creepy. After the bat caves, we kept hearing this strange noise, like a wild tiger growling, only to find out it was these blind birds, Guarachos, that hiss to keep away predators. We completed the circle around the park and crossed the river once again, squished 9 people into a cab (including the driver) and headed back to town to our hostel.

The hostel: Well, that was a trip in itself. First off, we could have picked something slightly nicer, but since we were only staying for one night, no one argued and I think we were too tired to care. It was right off the main road, which meant it was a noisy night for the guys who slept in the room facing the street. I think Patrick, Katie and I were too tired because despite the noise we all slept soundly through the night. All I can say is, thank goodness we only stayed for one night. So, half of the group woke up refreshed and ready for the next day, while the other half was sleep deprieved. So, some of us were ready for the next adventure and other were not.

Next up a botanical garden, which just happened to be closed. I was ready to turn around and move onto the next item on our agenda, but no, instead we broke into the park and enjoyed the orchids, crocodiles and turtles all for free. Again, when in Bolivia... the garden was really interesting despite the fact that it wasn´t quite orchid season and the flowers were lacking. The crocodiles were enough to keep us occupied since the fence between us and the ancient reptiles was literally 3 feet tall. We escaped the botanical garden without any penalty and headed off to yet another jungle adventure.

La Jungla: another field trip oasis, yet this park came with dangerous rope swings suspended from trees that I swear moved when you were swinging. In fact, Katie was saved by the safety harness on the 18 meter swing. I think my heart skipped a beat when I saw that she wasn´t on the small piece of wood they considered a seat, but hanging in between the seat. La Jungla was tons of fun simply for the fact that you could pretend to be Tarzan and scream and yell as you went swinging through the trees. After La Jungla is was time to head back to Cochabamba and thus back into reality, leaving behind Tarzan, Jane and all of our monkey friends.

Overall, the short trip to the Chaparé was simply an amazing weekend. I´ve said this to many people before, but not many places in the world are as diverse as Bolivia. Where else do you get the Andes mountains and the beginning of the Amazon basin in one country? So, was it worth the sleeping in the sub-par hostel and risking our lives on the drive up there? You bet. Would I do it again despite the giant spider in the bathroom and the stealing monkeys? In a heartbeat.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Jesuit Missions and Samaipata--vacation week

After five weeks of class, we all had the chance to visit the mission towns of Bolivia, in the lowlands of Eastern Bolivia (read, hot and semi-humid). It´s been a few weeks since the vacation, but I figured it´s about time to fill ya´ll in on what we did.

First: "It [the mission towns] name comes from the indigenous region of Bolivia where the Spanish Jesuits developed a large part of Evangelism during the Colonial Period, in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in 1992, was included in the list of the Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad (Patrimony of Humanity) by UNESCO. The major attractions of this region are its churches, architectural jewels guarded by different villages which still possess interesting cultural manifestations from the period of the Missions. The Missions represented the Christian voice in the middle of this savage world. This region remained hidden for nearly two centuries until the release of the movie "La Mission", which awoke interest in the region and made it internationally known (" The Jesuits were expelled from these regions and much later the Fransicians came and claimed these mission towns, which are now run by this order. That´s just for a small piece of background information, it is by no means all of what these towns are about, but it´s a start.

The trip started bright and early as we took a quick flight into Santa Cruz, the semi-tropical and hip city of Bolivia. We hopped on an air-conditioned bus, which was slightly larger than a 15 passenger van, and headed for our first stop in San Javier, where we were welcomed with an amazing Baroque concert put on by the children of the town. I cannot even begin to describe the quality of this concert. When I think of children putting on a concert, I tend to think of a cute, amateur production, but there was nothing amateur about these kids in San Javier, it was like we were at the symphony. Not to mention the spectacular church we were in, which has been renovated and is beautiful. I forgot to mention the restaurant that we ate lunch at, had 2 toucans, which were quite a sight to see. I kept thinking to myself, where are the fruitloops when you need them? Next stop: Concepción-the city with the sweet hotel pool, it truly was like a lagoon and a giant reprieve from the cramped bus ride. This hotel also had an orchid garden, which was full of indegiindigenouses to Bolivia, incredibly beautiful. We didn´t see much in Concepción this time around as we quickly headed for San Ignacio. There, we once again saw the church with it´s beautiful wood carvings, but also celebrated mass there, to be greeted afterwards by a peace gathering. Everyone was waving white flags and repeating the prayer of Saint Francis of Asis. After the tour in San Ignacio, we headed for a loop around three other mission towns: San Miguel, San Rafael and Santa Ana. At each place it was like we were in another world. These towns are all incredibly small, but each has a distinct character. For example; the church in Santa Ana was so simple in comparassion to the other towns, it seemed more down to earth and humble. We also toured a wood carving factory if you will, where the local children go and learn how to restore the churches and also make jewlery boxes, crosses, and angels. These kids have amazing talent and I ended up buying myself a jewlery box. After that tour of the small pueblos, it was back to Concepción, again the pool (yes!). This was probably my favorite church becuase of the extensive work in remoldeling it. There has been much time and effort put into making this church a work of art. It was there that the stations of the cross have been repainted, making the crucifixion relevant to the lives of Bolivians. These painting depicted Bolivians crucifying Jesus, yet it also depicted how they are using slash and burn agriculture (which is destryoing the forests) in relation to the crucifiction. Simply fastinating. After our worldwind tour, we made a quick stop at Las Piedras (the rock formations) and headed back to Santa Cruz for the night.

A few of us decided to extend our stay in Santa Cruz and ended up heading to Samaipata, a semi-tropical region of Bolivia, full of archeological sights and things to see and do. We stayed there two wonderful nights in the cutest hostel and were able to see Las Cuevas, the waterfalls, which was a really fun hike to the top as we looked down into the pool of water. We also went to the national park, La Fuerte, which is a world heritage sight. "The archaeological site of Samaipata consists of two parts: the hill with its many carvings, believed to have been the ceremonial centre of the old town (14th–16th centuries), and the area to the south of the hill, which formed the administrative and residential district. The huge sculptured rock, dominating the town below, is a unique testimony to pre-Hispanic traditions and beliefs, and has no parallel anywhere in the Americas (" We walked all around the giant carved rock, saw where they had their houses and where they offered sacrifices to the gods, truly an interesting experience. It was then back to Santa Cruz and back to Cochabamaba to start classes once again, but it was truly a wonderful week exploring the diverse country of Bolivia. It´s crazy to think Bolivia is home to the Andes mountains and also a jungle, pre-incan ruins (el Fuerte) and much more that I have yet to see. I better get a move on it, there´s not much time left here in Bolivia!

So, that was my vacation week from classes. It was weird to get back to my house and have my host family tell me how much they missed me, yet at the same time, I was ready to get back to the normal routine of going to school and improving my spanish skills. Overall, the more of Bolivia that I have gotten to know, the more I realize how fortunate I am to be here studying. Everyday I realize that I am so lucky to be here and so lucky to have a family who supports me not matter what. Basically I am a lucky girl, forunate in every way.

More to come, hopefully soon! :-) chao! Natalie

Monday, September 25, 2006

The 'easy' walk to poverty...

Saturday a group from the language institute had organized hikes to various locations around Bolivia. One group was headed to the peak of the mountain Tunari and one group was headed to a small pueblo situated at the top of a smaller peak in the Andes. Knowing my limited physical capabilities, I chose the easier version and decided to head to the pueblo. The description of the walk said 'facil' which translated means easy, so naturally I went for that hike. The description also said the hike would take around 5 hours there and back, which in all honesty is not that much and it seemed like a worthwhile experience.

We left our house at 6am and took a trufi (public transportation) to Quillacollo and then onto Vinto, both small towns outside of Cochabamba. In Vinto there is a small 'national' park so to speak and from there we started walking. It was around 7:30am. Our group all agreed to take the easy route and so we headed off. Pretty soon we all realized that we had passed the easy route and had taken the more direct and therefore more difficult path. Soon, we were hiking up the dry river bed, over the small river and over the large rocks. After an hour of the rock hike, a girl from the hiking group, Carrie and I decided that we had taken the wrong route, which much to our dismay, we had. Luckily our guide was able to find a shortcut back to the proper trail and off we went, after a bit of a scramble up a steep cliff. I want to say it was around 10:30am, three hours after our start, which according to our guides was the time we should have arrived. The trail that leads to the pueblo was a steep, rocky and actually quite difficult trail. At every switchback I had to stop and catch my breath, at every corner I needed a rest and yet I kept going. Never in my life have I attempted to do something so hard, when what I thought I was doing was supposed to be easy. Finally around 12ish, our group needed a lunch break. We sat on a group of rocks that overlooked the cities of Quillacollo and Cochabamba and laughed about the difficulty of the trip. Little did we know we still had almost an hour to go, yet the guides kept saying, not much further. From the lunch spot you could see the pueblo, well perhaps it's better to say, you could see the trees and a small house in the pueblo, but nothing more. I was exhausted. I keep saying that I couldn't go any further, that I was fine to stay right where I was, sitting on the rocks, exhausted. Yet, I kept going for some odd reason, slowly, but I kept going. Finally at 1:20ish, I made it to the top, in last place, but I made it.

K'aspicancha is a pueblo with around 25 families that survive on the top of the hill with next to nothing. The purpose for this hike was to deliver notebooks and pencils to the 16 school children that are learning the basics for survival. The only way up and down is the hike that we took, each way almost 5km. As we reached the top, the weather was starting to turn and after quick introductions our group headed back down the mountain, never to forget the experience that we all shared, the true meaning of poverty. Will I ever again travel to this remote village? Most likely not, but the lessons that I learned from that hike to the village will remain with me forever.

Poverty is the children (and most indeginous people in the mountains) wearing nothing more than sandals on their feet. Snow, rain, hail, sleet, any type of weather hot or cold, sandals are their only choice. Poverty is walking down a 5km trail around 2-3 times a month just to buy simple supplies in the village. Poverty is only going to school until age 11 because that is the time in which you learn to read and write and for the people there, that is sufficient. Poverty is growing only enough to survive. Poverty is living hours away from civilization. K'aspicancha is poverty for me and finding this definition was a powerful, exhausting, difficult, laborious and well worth the effort experience.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It´s about time

Well, a lot has happened since the last update to my blog, the phone and address updates don´t count, so I figured it´s about time to finally give ya´ll an idea of exactly what I am doing, pictures and all.

First, let me start with the Maryknoll language school here in Cochabamba. Most of the classes here are taught one-on-one, which at time can be intimidating, but for the most part has been an enjoyable experience. You are forced to learn a lot not having the liberty of other people in class to answer for you. For my information about the language school, to see some pictures and whatknot, click on this link.

Life here is also extremely different, but in a positive way. People move slower and you have the time to appreciate life and smell the beautiful flowers. Just to give you an idea, a typical day here for me includes: four hours of classes, lunch with my Bolivian family, perhaps a nap, back to the institute for volleyball, basketball, or something of the sort, some homework time and most nights a little tv. Sounds pretty American, but at the same time it´s extremely different. No car to take myself somewhere, no job to go to, basically not much to worry about, yet at the same time, homework and other small things to think about as well.

Since being in Bolivia, I have taken the time to enjoy some of Cochabamba´s sights, mostly with friends. For instance, last Sunday we hiked (we´ll Michelle and I took the cable car) up to the Cristo de Concordia statue which stands tall on a hill overlooking the city. What a spectacular view! From here you could see the Andes Mountains, the whole city and a small lake on the outskirts of town. It was the place to be on a Sunday, at least from what I could tell.

During our first week of class, our group had our first community night at one of the local restaurants here, which my host mom happens to manage. La Estancia is a charming little restaurant where according to my host mom, many tourists flock to, probably for the wonderful food and even better prices. A dinner for four with wine and the works cost around $20.00. Where in the States would that happen besdies McDonalds?

Sept. 14 is Cochabamba day, which meant no classes and parades and festivals all around town. Katie, Patrick and I had the opportunity to watch Katie´s host sister twirl her baton in the parade, which was a sight in iself. The costumes and way in which each school presented itself was amazing, as was the complete lack of order. Kids ran into the parade to line up with thier school and as we watched from the beginning, each school started walking when they felt it was their time. Needless to say it wasn´t the Rose Bowl parade, but perhaps the lack of order was better. After the beginning of the parade we met up with people from the institute for a dinner on the Prado, and by chance we had a wonderful view of the parade. To top off Cochabamba day, our group headed to the stadium for a free concert, which consisted of traditional and folkloric music of Bolivia, with some traditional dances thrown in there for good measure. The stadium was packed with tons of people both trying to get in and out. We finally were seated and looking around the crowded soccer stadium with people dancing and singing along was a sight to be had. We finally headed home around 2am, with the concert still in full swing. What a wonderful evening, an event not to be missed!

La Cancha: Ever wonder what a Bolivian walmart might look like? Well, look no further because it has been found. La Cancha is the place everyone goes to find cheap things and I mean all things. You can buy anything there from a cow´s tongue to a DVD player to according to Ryan Greenberg (a current volunteer), a dried llama fetus. Patrick and I had explored a small portion of La Cancha, opting only to find the notebooks and outlet converters we needed and then one Saturday Michelle and I walked down there to be astounded by the number of people and things to see. We even took the wrong micro (bus) and ended up in the outskirts of town before finally realizing that we needed another micro. This past Tuesday Michelle and I again ventured to La Cancha, this time with her host mom in tow. She knows all of the places and on a Tuesday, the market wasn´t nearly as crowded. We were able to shop around and be relaxed, which ended up being just what the doctor ordered, a girl´s shopping day! I´m sure there are more trips to La Cancha to come, but for now, once a week is sufficient enough, it´s a trip in itself.

Bolivian Volleyball: My host family here is big into playing walleyball, which is volleyball played in a racketball court where you can use the side walls when you hit the ball. The whole HCA group went with my host family and we all had a blast relearning the art of volleyball. I´m sure there are more walleyball games to come!

Let´s see: Not much else to tell except that things are going well, although at times it´s not easy, but then again I didn´t expect for a complete life change to be easy. Keep praying for our group and pray that things continue to go well here in Bolivia, untill then, adios for now.

****A special note: Congrats to Katy and Chris on their recent engagement!! Yahoo!! Five years and counting!! ****

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ring, ring....

Well, the face of living simply has changed with the knowledge that I can have a cell phone here for super cheap...knowing that it´s not going over and above the call of living simply because it doesn´t cost me anything to receive calls and it was cheap to set it up, so knowing this information, I now have a Bolivian cell phone number which people can reach me at any time...

Calling cards to Latin America are super cheap (around $5.00) at Walgreens, CVS, Stop and Go, etc. so, I would suggest buying one of those and then using a landline to give me ring when you get a chance...

You have to dial 011 then 591 then 722 71541 (that´s my number)*Note, I had it wrong awhile ago, but this is the correct one for sure! sorry! *

I´m on East coast time until day light savings begins in which case I´ll be another hour ahead I think, but unless you call super late, it really doesn´t matter and I wouldn´t suggest calling super early either, I´m typically in class....

I know an update to this blog should be coming soon, be patient, I´m working on something spectacular...just know that things are going well, the first two weeks of school actually flew by and we´re about to start the second two weeks, which after that is a break and a little vacation to the missions of the Jesuits...I´m excited...

That´s all for now, I look forward to hearing from you!!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How to send mail...

Many have asked for a mailing address and finally I have an answer.

*** The Bolivia address has been deleted, so as not to confuse anyone when sending mail. Please send all future mail to the Santiago address, since that is where I will be living. :-) thanks! ***

Santiago: Sending packages and other mail here would probably be easier since I will be living in Chile for the next two years. I would be careful sending expensive things as I wouldn´t want them to get lost or stolen, but of course anything sent would be much appreciated. That address is as follows:
Natalie Nathan
Asociados de Santa Cruz, Casilla 238
Correo 11
Santiago, CHILE

*Side bar: Class started yesterday here at the Institute and four hours of one-on-one classes is quite a bit more challenging than the college class filled with lots and lots of other people to fill the space. But, as challenging as it will be, it will also be really good! More to come, but I know the address part was super important, so here it is! *

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Where do I begin? On our last night in Santigao, we went to a place called Los Buenos Muchachos, a fantastic restaurant, complete with live dancing and music. In fact, they bring some people up on stage and have them dance for everyone, which I was fortunate enough to do, shaking my hips for everyone in Chile to see. It was a late night and since we had to get up early the next morning for our flight to Bolivia, a bunch of us didn´t sleep a wink. Which might be the reason that my cold has gotten worse, but it was worth it, we all had way too much fun.

We then took a short flight to La Paz, which by the way is the world´s highest commerical airport. At around 14,000 ft. the four of use could barely breathe. We had a long layover there are were fortunate enough to be able to rest at the Maryknoll house there, where we all promptly crashed, ate some lunch and crashed again. Then onto our flight to Cochabamba, which is still high in altitude, but at least here we can all breathe. Our host families picked us up and life as a Bolivian actually began. We are here in Bolivia to go to language school, because unlike in Chile, Bolivians speak clearly and most importantly slowly. School actually starts on Monday and I´m looking forward to having something to do, even though my Bolivian family is very chill.

Well, that´s all for now, but I can say that Bolivia is a beautiful country, despite it being the poorest country in South America, complete with water and natural gas wars. People here are friendly and they like to sit and chat for hours. Don´t worry, I´m safe and I won´t get kidnapped on a bus.

:-) natalie

Monday, August 28, 2006

Quick update...

Okay, so I have a little time left in the internet cafe in Los Andes, the city closest to Pocuro, which is south of Santiago and I just wanted to once again let everyone know that things are going well.

So much has gone on since we´ve arrived it would take much more than the 15 mintues I have left to explain it all, but I can tell you for sure that Chile is so beautiful. Seeing the Andes mountains is sight in itself and just seeing the different way in which people live is insane, a good insane, but different for sure. We´ve been in Pocurro since Saturday afternoon and being out in the campo (countryside) is a stark contrast to the big city of Santiago. The house here is right next to the chapel and is super cute with a lemon tree out front. Here in the small city we have managed to do quite a bit, just like in the city. We even went to mass in Spanish, the first mass in a foreign country for me. I´ve even been to a birthday party here, very similar to the states and the cake was just as good if not better. And we went to an agriculture school here and I helped the kids learn the countries, very interesting since they were more interested in getting my phone number.

Well, I only have 3 minutes left on the computer, but all I can say is life here sure is different, but it´s wonderful at the same time. A life much slower and peaceful without the worry of going to school and working. I leave on Wednesday for Bolivgia for language school, so I´ll check my mail and such then and get back to you as soon as I can. Peace!

:-) natalie

Thursday, August 24, 2006

We´ve arrived!!

Hello everyone-
We have arrived safely in Santiago, Chile!! We´ve been here a full28 hours and I already I can tell life here in the city is crazy. The house here in Santiago is small but comfy and is right next to a bunch of shops and botellerias (beer shops). We arrived here at 5am on Wednesday and watched the sun rise as the Andes mountains came into view, what a sight. Now I thought I had seen some really high mountains, but nothing compares the the majestic view of the Andes.

Yesterday after a much needed nap, Roy (one of the current associates) took us to his English class at a local public high school. We were able to help him with his lesson plan of teaching the kids about tourism, as they asked us a bunch of questions about boyfriends, music and the like. We then went to a half private, half public school (a Holy Cross School) and helped with Tom and Cailtin´s (again, current associates) English class for elementary school kids. We even played duck-duck-goose with them, it was crazy, yet lots of fun.

We then took the scenic route home on the bus, ate a quick dinner and watched Eraser in Spanish, crappy in English and crappy in Spanish. So far things are going well and I´m really enjoying the Chilean lifestyle. Today, we are again with Roy, but this time we are at St. George´s, another Holy Cross school, but this one is full of dinero. In fact, we´re using the computers here and if I end up working here, I´ll be online all the stinking time!! Class starts in like 20 minutes, so I better wrap this up, but I just wanted to let everyone know that I¨m here safe and things are going well.

Oh, one last note. The flight here wasn´t all that bad. It was long, but I feel like I´ve been on longer flights. And I have yet another stamp in my passport!! Hecks yes!! I miss everyone like crazy, but know that I¨m here safe and I¨ll keep you updated on my whearabouts and how to get ahold of me as soon as I know that information. Until next time...

:-) Natalie

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Prior to departure

Well, orientation is officially over. Now, we're just playing the waiting game until we take off on Tuesday. It's funny because for awhile there time seemed as if it was standing still and now I have no idea where the past three weeks have gone. They've gone to learning about cultural sensitivity, trips to Meijer and Walmart, Silverhawks games, a few bars here and there, more lectures about globilization and countless meals with priests and seminarians. It has been a wonderful experience despite the fact that I was at times bored to tears. I have made such wonderful friends here with not only with my housemates and the domestic associates, but with our director and assistant director as well. While we're down in Chile I hope to keep in touch with all of these wonderful people (so, for those of you reading this, keep in touch!). :-)

People have asked me why I am choosing to give up the next two years of my life to become a volunteer in some country far away and I have this to say: Why not? I also don't look at it thinking that I am giving up something, but gaining a lifetime of experience. This is the period in my life where I have nothing but time to spare. My passion in life is helping, serving, working so that other people's lives may be enriched. That is by no means the whole answer, but it gives a little insight into why I am a Holy Cross Associate.

Well, I have one more weekend in the US and I plan on spending it with an old friend, Stephen. He's on his way to Notre Dame from Detroit and we're headed to Chicago. This should be a good time! Perhsps we can go and see a show or a game.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

And so it beings... (again)

Dear family, friends and other associates: I have waited long enough to write this lovely internet version of a journal, aka a blog, but now is the time to begin this. Well, I had one version going, but Michelle deleted it while trying to show my something, so here it goes again. I admit I have procrastinated on this last link to all of my friends and whatnot because if I did not start a blog, then I would not actually be leaving the country. Well, the flight was just booked today, so I figure I should begin to write my cyber journal.

So, let me begin by giving a brief synopsis of training here at Notre Dame: God country... So far we have sat around listening to speakers, chatting with priests, playing crazy animal games, going to the local bars (that's a whole other story in itself), the Potawanami Zoo, Chicago, Wanda the Honda, South Bend Silverhawks, and most importantly Moreau Seminary. Granted, this list does not do justice to exactly what we've been doing, but it's enough for now. Let's just say that some of it has been informative, while some of it has not been, but hey when you're leaving for two years I guess two weeks of training is fair.

So let me dish a little on what I've learned thus far: 1.) Housemates: Katie, Patrick and Michelle are all awesome people. We all bring a different 'flava' to the house and without each other the Chilean house would be bland. Basically, go Chileans! In fact, we just got back from a dinner/dessert excursion and it's so awesome to hear where everyone is coming from and what we all expect from each other. I already know that I'm going to learn so much from each one of these people. 2.) Culture shock: we're all going to get it, go figure. 3.) Weather: hot and humid do not go together, basically for the first week everyone was pretty sweaty (and mosquitoes love that!). 4.) Reflection: I truly am blessed to be here and for such supportive family and friends. I would not be here without you all and I thank you for everything! Okay, enough being mushy, but it had to be said.

On more important matters we have finally scheduled our airfare and travel details. I leave the country on August 22nd, fly into Cincinnati then onto Miami. From there we go to Bogota and then to Santiago for a week before we travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia for language school. Then it's back to Chile in December to begin our service.
Well kiddos, it's getting late here in God country, so for now until we meet again in cyberland, goodnight!

:-) Natalie