23 Sep

I’ve noticed a few people have started following this blog! So you know, I’ve largely stopped using it. Instead, my YAV year will be posted at:

Thanks for taking the time to follow me and hopefully you can take the extra moment to switch over!


Lima, chance meetings, sandboarding and other adventures

21 May

So… Lima is a cool town. I went walking and found the painters’ plaza while trying to ask about paragliding. It was too foggy (a trait of Lima) for that, so I walked around the plaza.

I spoke with a man named Melchior Mendez who spends his day tracking seismic activity and his nights painting. The paintings were beautiful and he was very friendly and just interested in talking some and less the sale.

There was also a great open exhibit in the park on children and how society and parents constrain them. Some showed kids wanting to play and their parents telling them not to get dirty. Others showed parents keeping kids from outdoors and telling them how lucky they were to have the safe environment. Last, others showed children demanding more toys. It was moving and often very funny. They reminded me of Calvin & Hobbes.

There was also a “get active” fair going on in which everyone was playing games in the blocked off streets. Also, there was a free zumba class that over 200 people were participating in. It was a hilarious spot and I really enjoyed watching, though I didn’t participate, I was feeling a bit tired.

I did end up meeting some cool students from Soka University in Southern California. They invited me to spend time with them, they too were traveling post-study abroad. Except they had been in either Ecuador or Mexico. After spending lunch with them, they invited me to go sandboarding in Huacachina in southern Peru. It is an oasis in the desert that is the south of Peru along the coast. I agreed to go taking a single backpack and leaving the rest of my stuff in my Lima hostel.

We caught a 7:30 pm bus, got in at 11:30 pm and crashed in our hotel. The next morning I walked around the little tourist-based town and marveled the giant sand dunes towering over the hostel.

By 10:00 we were out and traveling the sand dunes on a dune buggy. That was amazing, but bumpy. I now understand why all the vehicles on Tatooine were either hovercrafts or tanks. Far less bumpy rides.

We took several photos, I am stealing those from my new friends as my camera is broken and then got to the first sandboarding hill. We went down on our stomachs first and then had the opportunity to board the rest. I tried and at first was successful, but could not slow down. On what I thought was the last hill I went all out after flipping several times and the velcro securing me in slipped and I popped my knee on the sand. It hurt at first, but I assumed all was fine. I had to limp a bit, but just belly boarded the rest. It was an extremely fun trip and something I never thought I’d do.

When I got back to the hotel I discovered that no one had any ice, which was concerning and my knee was getting worse. Once the bus ride happened I was going for five hours seated and the knee swelled up a lot. So now, almost 21 hours after the initial injury, I am quite bothered by it. I’m icing it now, but you know, still sucks. It should be fine by Cuzco, but we’ll have to see about Pachacamac, the tour I planned today.

Still amazing experience and just really defined what I wanted to do for this backpacking, amazing things with random people I met. I also met a nice French girl who took pictures for me and I explained that I will be friending people on Facebook to see photos of my adventures. She loved the idea and agreed to friend me. It was a shame that the rest of our travel plans did not line up.

Tomorrow my mom and dad get in, so I’m very excited to see them after nearly 4 months. It has been quite long. Hopefully they don’t fret too much over the knee…


18 May

So I’ve been missing in action awhile, sorry about that. Didn’t have internet in the house, so I just stopped posting. My bad. I can sum up pretty well what happened though:

I kept up with Quechua classes with Institute of Andean Culture and Language and studied the use of borrows from Spanish in the language. It was a tough study and I wasn’t able to speak to as many speakers as I wanted, but I still got to talk to 12 or so. I was also limited to Cochabamba a very “mixed” area for Quechua and Spanish. There are historic and sociolinguistic reasons for that. Cochabamba was long the commercial center at the heart of Bolivia while Potosí was the mining center. Trade requires conversation, which occurred in the more powerful language… Spanish. Mining requires exploitation of labor and little conversation in a common language. Other reasons played in, but that was the most convincing I found. Determining the use of borrows was challenging, but relatively successful. The process went so:

I showed them the drawing below by Emma Matthies. It is full of various representations of different words, verbs, nouns and adjectives about which I was curious. I sought to know if they used the Spanish or Quechua. Sometimes it was obvious like with an image of a “cow,” since they were concepts interested with the arrival of the Spanish. “cow” translates to “vaca” in Spanish and “waka” in Quechua. Others were clear replacements of things that existed like sewing (seeds) and harvesting and I was curious about the use of Spanish there. In that case it depended with speakers, the more often they used the language or younger they learned it, the less they used borrows. It was really a fascinating look at how language can change with contact with another language.

The studied was limited by the use of a picture and an artificial request for a description. Instead of just talking naturally, I had to request they speak Quechua to me and many sought to speak a “better” Quechua than the one they normally spoke. They would use words that they rarely used instead of showing me their more natural dialect. Still, I gathered information on similar borrows that were clearly inevitable if they could not seem to find a Quechua word for them. A better speaker should really come back to explore borrowings in natural speech. They would likely find more than I did.


You might notice the title, I also used the information I gathered to write a children’s book. The book describes each small scene told from the point of view of the sun. I asked for suggestions from people to add some life to it as well. Many speakers sought to point out that contamination is bad, so I wrote that the trucks created smoke that was difficult to see through. Likewise, I reflected a cultural value of elders’ knowledge as greater than science at times and had her spinning wool. The best part is the Quechua literally translates to “Winter is coming.” which I wrote in honor of Game Of Thrones. I should add the book is written in Spanish, Quechua and English. If I can raise around $600 I can publish it with Kids Books Bolivia, an organization founded by Heidi Baer-Postigo, one of the directors of my program. If you feel like helping out, feel free to contact me. I am not one for shamelessly plugging, but I really think this book can do a lot of good.

Also, writing it was difficult. I don’t mean the creativity, that was of course hard, but harder was the spelling system I used. You see, there are many dialects of Quechua with much phonetic variation. For example, there are at least six different suffixes to represent the progressive tense “-ing.” They are all fairly similar, but do not fit a single spelling:


And those are just in Bolivia. As you can see spelling “correctly” has little meaning. You have to choose a system and stick to it. There are two popular ones: the normalized and the phonetic. The normalized looks to use history as its base and also the Quechua of Peru, considered the “purist.” Meanwhile, the phonetic looks to match as closely as possible, the modern-day Quechua, while it ignores history.

But either way you are creating a norm. That’s something I felt I didn’t have a right to do as a foreign student of the language. Quechua’s history has been greatly intertwined with the history of colonization in the country. So… I decided to go with examples of children’s writing in Añaskitu from the organization Center for Andean Communication and Development (CENDA). It is a supplement to a bilingual newspaper put out by the group. Using this, I based my writing off of how the children wrote so that instead of telling them I was just matching them. At times I made my own choice for simplicity (above I chose “sa”) or because there was no consistency.

The book turned out well and I was very happy that I used my place as a foreign student  to communicate the ideas of the speakers of Quechua who I spoke with. A challenge in Bolivia is the number of foreigners who come write books and just leave, I sought to at least communicate rather than just write and I think in many ways I was successful.

Once the program finished, I spent some time in Cochabamba. Blockades stopped me from traveling Bolivia unfortunately. Yet now I am in Lima, Peru for a bit before Cuzco with my parents. Let me tell you… it is beautiful. I am greatly saddened that my camera broken and I am unable to show you alongside my descriptions. Likewise, I am realizing traveling alone is faster, but it is really nice to have someone to share the sights and discoveries with. That’s where you the reader come in, so please enjoy what I have to say about everything and comment. Talking as I see and discover new things, helps me process them. While I’ll get that for real in Cuzco, I’ll miss it everywhere else and I’d love your input on my travels. As well as suggestions for what I should see!

Got a little lazy about updating my B.

15 Apr

So… gonna summarize quickly a lot of stuff. Two weeks worth.

Um… so as for Holy Week. Still hilarious to look like some representations of Jesus. But more importantly, the plazas. Especially Holy Friday. Should have brought my camera just to photograph and video the scenes before me.

I went to the plaza to eat with my German friend Lukas and found a march of people from church to carrying a giant bed meant for I assume Jesus. A marching band was also playing “The Sound of Silence” again. My theory is that it is actually a religious song here, but I am not really sure. Still awesome to hear some Simon & Garfunkel.

Then I went to Santa Cruz and had a great time seeing the Miami of Bolivia. Seriously, Miami. It even had lots of sand (dunes) and too much sun. Plus, the people were way more superficial than the rest of Bolivia in that they judged by looks in a much more obvious way. As such, not my city. But it was very warm and the scenery was beautiful.

The dunes there are amazing. It was once all vegetation but after overuse through growing of sugar cane, completely lost all nutrient value and the good topsoil washed away. Now it is a beautiful, but sad sight. The area is wildlife preserve that is quickly regrowing and will one day return to its naturally healthy state. Much has regrown already.

We also saw Plan 3000, another sad area where refugees from a flood in the 1980s moved. They still have not been given right to the land that the government moved them to, nor do they have clean water or proper sewage. It has much to do with slow and corrupt political functions. Those are terrible in the US, but seeing the way they’ve stunted improvement of quality of life in this area is sadder. No one was at fault for the flood, but many are at fault for not responding correctly.

Then we went to Samaipata. There is the Fuerte of Samaipata there, an archaeological site of Incan ruins. Incans went really far east, which I have only just learned. A fairly interesting place to see.

The next day involved going to see giant ferns which grow in Bolivia on a hike that turned out to be way more than the promised two hours and more than a relaxed walk. I was told to bring comfy shoes, that did not mean converse. That meant hiking boots. It was a little misleading, but all in all a beautiful hike. The general wish was that we warned.

Also, Samaipata is this odd nuclear haven for Europeans. Some Swiss scientists in the 80s determined it an excellent hiding place in case of nuclear fallout. So… a bunch went. Now the place is half Bolivians and half Europeans and all peaceful. It’s managed to stay small and welcome a lot of people. The Europeans were obviously highly privileged to live there, but they have not tried to change the town, but respect it. I really admired that.

Then we came back to Cochabamba and started in on the time of ISP prep. We presented our mini-ISPs. My group’s on graffiti went very well. Especially after the chance to watch and participate in graffiti-ing.

As for my personal ISP, I’m studying word and grammatical structures borrowed between Quechua and Spanish. There’s a lot and I’m curious to see how bilingual speakers use them. Are they acknowledged borrowings, do they use the words that existed before, has the cultural knowledge of past words been lost, all that. I am going to survey speakers and interview linguistic experts in the field. Hopefully, I get some good stuff.

Plus, I am going to write a children’s book based on my knowledge of Quechua. I’m hoping it turns out alright. I’m still deciding how I want to write it:

A children’s dictionary of different words?

A Quechua legend?

Or a story about the process of language shift?

Whatever it is, I’m going to be very intentional about my translation into Quechua to make sure it is not an afterthought so I don’t seem colonize-y, but to really try and make it a good translation. Hope I can. I’ll be continuing with classes too, which will be great.

Also, I sadly had to switch families. I say sad, but I do like my new family. The problem was the construction was going to step up at my old house soon and that would interfere with me staying there. They were sorry to see me go, but logistically I couldn’t stay. Luckily, I’m still in Cochabamba and can see them whenever. It was sad goodbye.

As for the new family, they are great. It’s a mom and her daughter. Plus, her brother who comes by a lot. Plus, she runs an embroidery factory. Keith and Keira if you are reading this, I’m serious. Just like Marjorie’s. Same tools and everything. Anywho, they are very kind, but it is a change in standard of living.

I no longer have wi-fi. The bathroom doesn’t have a separate shower, but is just a shower built that sprays on the whole bathroom. Also, my mattress is lower quality. But, half the  family speaks Quechua, so I can practice and give them my survey. As well as meet their friends and family that speak Quechua. So advantages and disadvantages. Pochy (homestay coordinator) did a great job of hooking me up with a family that fit the needs of my project.

The one bad part about no wi-fi though is I have to do a lot of coordinating with people for meetings. Without wi-fi that is far more difficult. Plus, I had gotten used to it here. Sort of feel like if I hadn’t had it from the beginning I’d have been fine. It’s almost like getting the change within Bolivia is harder than getting it coming in, if that makes sense.

I’m considering buying a modem to have the option to purchase internet time daily. It’ll depend on the price of a modem, but it might be helpful. Especially near the end when I’m writing up my study.

Or I will not buy it and just move to a hostel for the last week since having it will be really helpful when I’m writing up my ISP. It’ll depend what is more “price effective.” Ruby said modems are like $30, plus a rate of 7 bolivianos an hour. I’m going to go downtown tomorrow and find out.

The other option is buying a jump drive and internet cafeing everything. That’s technically cheaper, but doesn’t let me work in the peace and quiet of my home.

It’s a small setback and definitely a problem related to privilege, but one that I think would bother anyone during the initial transition. Still loving my new family. They are friendly and I’m really enjoying having Quechua, Spanish and occasionally English in one household.

Now to make the ISP go well…


Been A Bit

29 Mar

So the foot is almost better. No running, but hey, who needs that? I’m just sitting here watching Spanish Wall-E and writing a post, I see no reason to run… Well except when I’m beating a light crossing the street or trying to catch up with friends, you know that stuff. I’ll see how I am for a long walks probably in the near future for our trip to Santa Cruz, so we’ll see how I’m doing after that. Hoping it gets better by May cause I’m hoping to be able to climb Machu Picchu.

Otherwise, I can give a quick update about what I’ve been up to. I went to my host sister’s school finally and it was amazing. It is a school sponsored by the Catholic organization Alegria y Fe and the government making it a public school. The school is called Juan 23 and is based on the same bible chapter, though I’m unfamiliar with the specifics in that passage. A great part was the philosophy of horizontal relationships between students and teachers. All the students knew Paola (my sister) by her first name and she knew many of their names. Plus, the campus was beautiful and full of different buildings, basketball courts, soccer fields and a lot of open space. The Father of the school emphasized free time most of all outside of classes and the students were extremely bright for their age I found. Also, though it is Catholic by funding and origin, it had no religious requirements of students (other than a convocation once every six weeks, which isn’t exactly leaving students be). Still students seemed happy and the school was surprisingly great.

Last Sunday I got out to Tiquipaya (a town nearby) for a conference on climate change with youth here. It was a great opportunity that I just had to take, though I didn’t really have the time cause of all the work I have. Still, I loved the conference. I was surprised that many students were a little confused about climate change by adding littering to the problem. It’s another problem, but it is technically incorrect and that cause problems when trying to create positive change. It makes sense, the problem they most have to deal with is litter and trash in the streets.

Plus, the conference itself was more idealistic. Everyone left with the idea that they should stop littering and using gas, and it would all be better. Since the average age was 15, that wasn’t awful since really it just helps to have them interested and excited about fighting climate change. Hopefully they stay involved in the future and learn more. I encouraged them to study the issue of it really interested them, hopefully a few take an interest and heed that advice.

Plus, I met some gap-year students in a program called Dragons. Dragons is a fantastic program that really allows students to learn about Bolivian culture in a “you get what you put in” environment. They live in more rural areas and get to study weaving, or charango, or guitar, or other parts of Bolivian culture and it is really cool. Something I wished I had done, cause I’ve always wished I did a gap-year first. Good to meet another group.

Other things I’ve done is get involved with graffiti. I met the owner of a graffiti bar and he left me and the other two in my group come by to watch him graffiti inside his bar and even help with the stenciling. He was redoing the entire bar for this Saturday, his five-year anniversary. That was just the coolest, if not slightly messiest academic project I have ever had. Still the guy was really cool and showed us a bunch of cool graffiti things.

I also interviewed an instructor of Dragons about graffiti as she did an Independent Study on it when she was an SIT student. She was super cool and had interviewed Pablo (the owner of the bar) when he was starting. It was great to hear about him taking off she said.

Anyways, the graffiti project went really well. It was just a survey, but we learned a lot and if I wasn’t already studying language I’d make that my full Independent Study. However, Meredith, another girl in the group, is studying it and will be using all our contacts for her study. It’s really great to see that be put to good use cause it was awesome to put together. The only shame was most of our contacts were made to late (we met with another graffiti group and had chances to meet at least one or two others), but that was all Monday before the Thursday it was due.

I’m really happy I got involved with this project. As an Econ major I rarely get to study art and graffiti is a fascinating project. It is all about the confrontation between artist, public and the authorities. Challenging assumptions about society and calling attention to the failings of authority and culture in general. Plus, Bolivian graffiti is beautiful and full of highlights of the cultural and some of the most beautiful artwork I have ever seen.

I still don’t know how I feel about tagging and what it does for society, but it really is beautiful. Some of the tags are just fascinating to track and even others great to photograph. Overall, I loved that study and now I really know some of the city’s graffiti, can track it and know who made it. It’s great to be a little more involved in the culture in that way.

Other thing! Holy Thursday is awesome here. That night Bolivian Catholics (and other Christians probably) go to 12 churches (the stations of the cross bit) and also they close all the streets by the plazas in the city center and a fair emerges. People are selling all kinds of food, there are merry-go-rounds and fair games. The night is a lot of fun.

Plus, we found a bar that broke the one rule about no selling alcohol on Holy Thursday. We wouldn’t have bothered, but a Dragon was coming down and looking to get a drink cause it wasn’t allowed for her program in Tiquipaya. So we obliged and had a great time just having a few drinks after walking around and participating in Bolivian church culture. It is way more involved than in the US, a fact that I am conflicted on. It’s great that people are invigorated for something they believe in, that is authentic. And yet, there was a comedic man critiquing society from his conservative Christian point of view. He said some pretty awful things about women’s rights, gays’ rights and many others’ rights and in general was not someone I agreed with. For example, “Anyone who doesn’t clap is a faggot or a dyke” is a direct quote. The worst part is the people loved it.

Of course looking like Jesus he had to point me out and that just made me uncomfortable because I had no desire to engage with him. So I pretended my Spanish was worse than it really is. That usually works well here. On that note, no more hilarious night to look like Jesus than last night. Kids and adults alike couldn’t stop the staring haha. Cracked me up.

Anywho, that’s Holy Thursday here for ya. Really a different experience for me. Oh! And a man was playing “Sound of Silence” on accordion. It was amazing. I may post a video later if I feel like working through the technology.

Grammatical Apology

20 Mar

Hey, so it has been pointed out there are a lot of grammar muck ups. My bad. Plus, a lot of homonym mix-ups. That is the one that leaves me most ashamed.

I figured it was inevitable since I write without editing or rereading really. Figured an audience of my parents wouldn’t mind, but as it turns out, many more are reading. So to those others who aren’t obliged to love and be proud of me, my bad. I’ll try and step it up a bit, if anything just so I feel less hypocritical. I know I have to fight the impulse to immediately judge those who misuse “there.” Grammar Nazism isn’t a good trait, but it’s something I should own up to in my own writing.

To those reading and enjoying, please continue. The substance outweighs the mistakes in my opinion and I’m hoping yours as well.

12 Days

19 Mar

Shoot… been awhile since I last updated. Totally my bad, got caught up in being in La Paz and then it just felt so daunting to summarize everything that had happened.

So… let’s see, I went to La Paz with the group and got to see the business capital of Bolivia. It’s a dirty, unorganized city, but really very fun and full of interesting restaurants. Plus, I found it easy to get where I needed to go and like everywhere in Bolivia, Bolivians know directions to everywhere.

When we arrived we went right to Tiawanaku, the ruins of the capital of the Andean empire that predates Incans. That was amazing to behold. They were architectural geniuses and incorporated their 13-month calendar throughout the area. Plus, they used the surrounding geography to create perfect straight lines using a complex system of white dots on mountains that I didn’t get at all, but somehow created incredible architecture.


Then, we went to La Paz for the night and stayed in a beautiful hotel. I have to add that I found La Paz challenging to walk with my foot, but thanks to Lupe and Ismael I was given a cane to walk around with. Canes are awesome. I mean I just felt like a boss using it, though I really relied on it a bunch. I feel a little bad because it was inevitably banged up by the trip.

For instance the first night involved a long walk around the city to find a restaurant (which was closed, doh!) and that really took it out of me, but I have to see my foot has greatly improved with the aid of a cane and more rest than I usually would take on trips like this one. (Usually a midday hour or two in bed.) That I hated and am definitely going to do all I can to prevent injuries whenever I travel again.

The next day we met with a Minister of the Foreign Affairs department Fernando Huanacani. He explained the Vivir Bien policy that Bolivia has applied with the new state. The idea is not always getting all you can, but getting what you need, having respect for others and the earth. Really, it sounds great, but it is something we as humans constantly fail to do. If it works here though, I’ll be really happy. My worry is he wanted to spread it to us in the states. Don’t know if that’ll fly.

Then we went and saw the artwork in the studio of Robert Mamani Mamani. He does amazing artwork reflecting his appreciation of nature, mother nature and his spirituality. The paintings were amazing. He is considered one of the most famous in Bolivia today. Here is a wall of his work:


We also visited El Alto and saw a few cool locations. First was a trip to the Public University of El Alto, which student protests created. Seriously, they protested not having a school and one was created. We met students and did a mini-exchange. Sadly, we don’t live with them, but it was a great chance to meet some other students our age as we spend class with each other.

Then we went to El Trono, a theater that gets kids off the street in El Alto and teaches them theater, break dancing, allows them to go on a local radio station, etc. It’s fantastic. It was a beautiful building made of all recycled materials and many other start ups have emerged around Latin America. Plus, many children get to travel abroad to perform for international audiences. That was super amazing and something I’d really want to do. If it wasn’t for the whole… needing a real job thing. In fact, I realized here that I could have taken a totally other path in my life involving arts and reaching out to the community more so.

There was a volunteer from California that I realized I could really be/have been if I had not done the whole Econ major thing. I am also thinking recently on whether or not I would have liked that life more. Who knows, could just be cause I am here in the moment. But much of this class is tearing into the perfect theories of economics when put in practice. For example, the World Bank has so many concrete problems that we’ll get to later.

The group will be building a cool new village in Chapare (the coca region) that is essentially imagined and created by the kids. It is supposed to be a perfect village. They are putting things like composting toilets in and other sustainable items. It’s planned, but a fascinating idea. They have a wordpress blog to called “Pueblo De Los Creadores.” I may re-blog it at some point. It’s the type of place I’d go if I needed to just get the hell out of dodge for a bit to restart things.

Then the next day we did a bunch. We met the director of the movie Chiquiago, Antonio Eguino. It’s four vignettes of indigenous people in La Paz (the movie name, is the Aymara name for the city). It’s a beautiful film from 1978 that just truly captures the experience of Paceños from all socioeconomic backgrounds, focusing on the hardships of being indigenous. It’s a powerful film and I highly recommend watching it. The quality is not amazing, but that hardly changes the impact.

Then we met with World Bank officials in the French Alliance building. There we learned about the World Bank plans and people really went to town making this rep explain his points of view on development. I realized a few problems with the World Bank. They ignore politics. Completely. A democracy is any place without a coup. Also, development is monetary and formal sector based. There are many reasons for that, but it isn’t the end all. The rep did say that people don’t need to use the World Bank to develop. However, a government may not represent the views of the people just cause it didn’t have coups. In that sense, the World Bank has a failing. I don’t know, I was disturbed and don’t know if I could see myself doing that after this program. It’s funny, this rep is the only person whose name I missed as well… reflecting my slight disappointment.

I will add I thought people were a little unnecessarily vicious and unrealistic about what he’d say. Challenging his definition of development was a waste of time. He’s not going to change his mind publicly and hounding him on that point just wasted time I felt. It was more interesting to understand why the World Bank has not changed it’s definition or it ignores the political make-up beyond existence of coups. (Granted that probably isn’t official policy, but still it was a surprise.)

After that we went to Mujeres Creando. This is a group that promotes feminism and equality for women, as well as provides important services to them. They also graffiti their messages around the city (as I’m studying graffiti that was a great find). While they are a bit extreme and preachy, they do a lot of amazing work for women. Providing one of the few safe places for women in domestic violence situations and one of the few groups that just knows how to handle those issues correctly. While they are not likely to gain support with their extreme views, they are providing great services because they just do what they want. It’s a tradeoff.

A great quote by the speaker Julieta Paredes was:

“Some people ask if you are machista or feminist. That’s like asking if you are a robber or philosopher. That’s ridiculous.”

She had a point too and it addresses people’s confusion about the too. One is being a bad person who considers women lesser. The other is a philosophy, a way of viewing the world in which women are equal. The results of that equality may trouble people, but the two ideas are not even related.

The next day we went to Tocoli for the village stay. And holy crap what a beautiful place. We were right on Lake Titicaca. Like right there. And we got rowed out to look around and it was beautiful. Plus, the town was only 21 families and really tight-knit. Before you read “isolated” into my description, there was plenty of connection with the outside world. While this village was an old Aymara settlement that many of these families have lived in for a long time, they have radios, electricity, migrant workers and just in general contact with the outside world. They’re people. There are differences of course, but they are people.

Also, it was the first language barrier I encountered. Aymara was the only language of many of the women and that caused issues with communication. I have to admit though it was interesting to pick up what I could. Though it did trouble my Quechua.

Though I have to add I didn’t have an amazing time with my family. My host brother/dad (his mother was my mom, so it was a relationship I can only describe as such) spoke Spanish, but we didn’t really connect. The first night I was feeling a little off and not outgoing and that seemed to keep us from connecting from there on out. He also was only in town for the week on vacation from construction work in La Paz.

Additionally, my foot kept me from climbing the mountain. Actually, my foot made others keep me from climbing. I was a little tired on the way up to work with my brother/dad on construction and he told me to stop halfway up at a house of his friend, where Abby was homestaying. That was a fun day, she had six younger siblings I could play with. Plus, they let me help with the sheep which I couldn’t have done otherwise. Oh and her brother wrecked me at marbles. He was so good! Here’s a picture of her sister Viviana climbing me:


My brother wasn’t much of a talker either. He was in Aymara, but I found his Spanish hard to understand and he found mine hard to understand as well (neither of us spoke it as a first language). So we didn’t really bond. Plus, at the end pretty sure he didn’t know my name. Though I didn’t know my mother’s cause she only shared it once and I really had trouble pronouncing it. It was like Wanari or something. I felt weird using her first name though and as she never went further than a hundred feet from the house, I never saw her engage with other families. Seems kind of sad, but it is good that her many children (six) visit as often as they can.

Then I went down the mountain to eat and discovered Rene was staying up top and so I was free for the afternoon. I really had nothing to do. At all. So I went to the beach and hung out. Got a boat ride with my friend Ben’s dad. And watched them pick potatoes cause there weren’t enough tools to go round. Just ended up feeling disappointed sadly.

Making matters worse was the perpetual stomachache. I found myself unable to digest the potatoes. That was made clear once they came out the other end. That left me feeling disgusting and for some reason I was fed so much. So much! I just felt my stomach ready to blow at times and that left it so upset that talking and connecting was even harder. It also kept me from going out in the morning to see the sunrise on the Lake, which I had really looked forward to. I kind of saw it one morning from my house, but it just wasn’t the same I’m sure. I did get many amazing photos, but still always gonna regret that.

I did enjoy one food though. It’s called Pito and has the consistency of sawdust, but it’s a fine cornmeal. You need water or tea to eat it, but once I figured that out (such that it stopped sticking to the roof of my mouth) it was like a delicious cereal. I am going to see if I can find it elsewhere.

One upside were the cute animals. First was the beach puppy Charlie (I named him!). He was some sort of beautiful mixed breed that was super friendly. I usually don’t touch dogs, but he was too weak to bite (so no rabies) and I knew that it was too cold for many dangerous insects. So I played with plenty. Plus, the group loved him.


Also, my family’s cat (they also had hens) had three kittens while I was there. When I left they had 36 hours and could fit in the palm of your hand incredibly. That was amazing. They were so gosh darn cute.


Still, at the end I just was ready to leave. Our community work day was lackluster because of the classic behind schedule Bolivian Standard Time. So we started at 10:00 and were done by 12:30. We were supposed to dig a whole to gather water so they could make adobe bricks. The intention is to build an area where volunteers can stay when they visit. It was built on sacred ground, so it was cool to see them ask permission to build of the Pachamama (mother earth). Still the lack of work sucked. I wanted to help. Though I really blame our time constraints. If we had had another day it might have been possible to do more. I don’t know, just a thought.

Like I said I was ready to leave and enjoyed the ride in the bus. The landscape is beautiful in the Altiplano. Mountainous with long stretches of valleys and plain areas. Plus, it meant I could get non-potato food.

So… in sum… I was bummed about the village stay. I expected much more, but injury, sickness and a less than stellar family held me back from an amazing experience. It’s alright though. I did learn a bunch and am writing a reciprocity project children’s book about beach activities told from Charlie the dog’s point of view.

Oh here is a great shot on the lake.


Update: I may have been a little too negative about Vivir Bien. It’s a fantastic idea and I really want it to work. Though at times they are a bit too critical of economic theory. (Competition works and does find the optimal point. I do believe that. Issues arise when the assumptions don’t match the world, which is always and why competition often appears to suck.) Overall, Vivir Bien is cool. It tries to take into account externalities and that’s somewhere our system fails.

I also would love for it to work in the USA. And I think on an individual level it can. Even on a community level. But on a national level, it just won’t fly til we implement some structural changes. It’s really progressive. Plus, it’s some Bolivian program brought to the US? Many people are way too proud to take some “poor, backwards Latin American country’s system” in the world I see.

However, individuals can start to live this way. I know many who already do. I plan to do so more in the future. But as an official policy, not enough politicians will do this. They’d get kicked out. Maybe in the future it will change. I have a more progressive generation, I think. And I hope it will.

Thanks to my mother for pointing this out that I came off a little negative. I was trying to be realistic and it read as shutting down the plan. Still I have to be honest about my point of view. Please comment if you disagree and convince me otherwise, I’d like to be convinced otherwise.