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