First, thank you for all you support and prayers throughout our year plus in Bolivia. A few of you know the fate that has fallen upon us so quickly, our evacuation out of Bolivia. Peace Corps suspended our program after a series of violence, takeover of govt buildings by an opposition group, massacre of a confirmed 30 campasinos and an unconfirmed 100 more, expulsion of the US ambassador to Bolivia, and multiple death threats to Peace Corps volunteers and staff members in Bolivia. We were consolidated in Cochabamba for three days starting Sept 12. Mike and I plus 2 other volunteers were picked up early morning of the 12 by a peace corps staff member in a land rover without saying goodbye to anyone in our community. At this point, for security reasons, we had to get out as soon as possible to cross the multiple road blockades on our 12 hour ride to the city. On Sunday the 14, we found out about our evacuation to Lima and half of our 120+ group of volunteers flew out that day. Mike and I were in the second group that flew out Monday. We were held up in the airport for 8 hours due to clearance reasons, the Bolivian govt thought we were trying to steal the military plane we were flying out on. Finally, we were loaded up on a C-130 US/Bolivia airforce plane with our 1 bag of luggage and took the 3.5 hour trip to Lima. As of now, we are working on Closing our Service and returning to the U.S.. There are many tempting offers to work around the world with Peace Corps, but we have chosen to return.So that's the short story. We are hoping to be back this Sunday in MT for Hanna's wedding on the 27th of Sept. Many of you we will see there and for the rest, hopefully we will see you soon.Again, thanks for your prayers and support over the last year. We are very sad to leave, among many other emotions that go along with a traumatic/dramatic life change. But on to the next adventure, Hanna's wedding:)
We met Pat and Lindsey in Peru to visit Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Cusco in August. We stayed for 4 days and had a wonderful time. After our vacation in Peru we all flew to Bolivia to show Pat and Lindsey alittle bit of our life down there.
Pat and Lindseys arrival in Cusco
The Crew in Cusco
Lindsey and Pat on our Sacred Valley Tour
A photo op at Pisaq
Taking a much needed rest on the steps at Ollayatatambo
In June, we had our first visiter, our friend Travis. We were a little worried before he came down because Bolivia always treats you to a little of the unexpected. But after 8 days, we sent Trav on his way without any major problems and we had a great time. Here are a few pics from the trip.
Amboro National Park Our Tour Group "Brothers" "Mariposa" A nice resting stop on our hike Can you find the Incan Face? On Top of El Fuerte in Semaipata "El Fuerte" Incan ruins in Semaipata Puma Tracks The Packages
It was quite the trip to and from Tarija. (Which included a 12-hr trip to Santa Cruz, three flat tires, one broken bus and over 30 hours of travel in bus, taxi, planes. This is a picture of the bus ¨Air Wolf¨ we took Entre Rios, Tarija and of course we got another flat.
Happy Hour in Wine Country
The rose garden in Entre Rios
The typical Chapaco dress, these little kids were darling! Teaching in San Lorenzo Tarija, one of the prettiest cities in Bolivia
Along for the ride..... The people of Vallegrande walk along the town streets to follow the stations of the cross during Easter.
“Paradise doesn’t come for free,” ………… -Dr. “Death” Maricio Peralta ……..that’s for damn sure!
This quote was relayed to us by our wonderfully colorful and morbid Medical Officer during the countless medical sessions we were forced to endure during training. I didn’t know how true these words would turn out to be. Let me just start by saying I truly love Bolivia and have enjoyed almost every minute of our time here (I’m being honest by saying “almost” because, believe me, there have been days). Now that that’s out of the way, I can pass on a story about my first experience with bug bites, namely flea bites. One day after language class, I was just itchy. I lifted my pant leg to discover red, swollen, “picaduras” or bites as we call them. I asked Mike if he had anything like it, he didn’t. I wasn’t sure what to think, especially after the many talks of Malaria and Dengue Fever passed on by mosquitoes, so the next day I had the doctor look at them. She just laughed at me. Her response was, “sorry, there’s nothing we can do, you just must be sweeter than your husband¨. Valid medical advice. In the states, you take for granted little things like, let’s say, flea medicine for dogs. I guess I should back up and tell you that stray dogs are part of daily life and a guarantee in every city, pueblo and village you go to in Bolivia. With this comes the uncontrolled fleas, which decided that the tall gringa was tasty and sent out an APB to the rest of the fleas in Bolivia. At this point in time, I think a majority of these pesky insects here have gotten a sample! Now, luckily I have friends with the same flea problem, you could call us a “flea support group”. We have come up with wearing “OFF” as our daily lotion and going thru pounds of antihistamine cream as a coping mechanism. I do have to say thought that I am lucky. We are in an area of the country that doesn’t have mosquito’s most of the year, which eliminates that risk for Malaria and Dengue Fever . Also alleviating us from taking the Malaria meds that bring with them hallucinogenic dreams and the sweats as well as a headache for your liver. I hear from our fellow comrades that these drugs are “interesting." In general, the insects here are somewhat fascinating. I saw a bee that was the size of my fist- no joke! And the moths here look like a new species of birds. I won’t even mention the cochroaches. This leads me to say that the vegitation, including the flowers here are beautiful and exotic, nothing like the flowers we see in the states, breeding the need for the different insects. You will see callalilies growing wild and jasmine is everywhere. I think the smell of jasmine will forever remind me of Bolivia. The idea Dr. Death gave us that paradise has its costs is true. Everything has it’s balance, in Bolivia is just happens to be terrible disease carried by irritating “bichus” or bugs and fleas but beautiful flowers that give “paradise” it’s atmosphere. All in all, the itches I have are worth every minute of living the life we have been blessed with here. It makes you realize life isn’t always comfortable and most of the people in the world don’t have the luxuries we are accustomed to and at times expect. I consider the bites my reminder of this. Who knew flea bites would make me so thankful and introspective-hmmmm….. God works in mysterious ways, even thru fleas.
Los Paquettes (The Packages)- Check out Mike's Peace Beard Out on the town for New Year's Eve in Samaipata
Our Monkey friend in Samaipata
Britsnee’s (as the Bolivian’s pronounce it) Book Corner So I figure with all the time I have on my hands as a volunteer, and all the books that are read (seriously, a few of us are holding some records for fastest reading times) I figured I would impart my opinion about the last few books I’ve read on anyone who stumbles onto our blog.
Wicked:The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire A Overall wonderful. The beginning is dark and slightly disturbing but after page 70, it becomes a page turner. An interesting good vs. evil battle with parallels to a familiar “savior” story we all know. Highly recommended, and of course, read the book before the play. The book is always better (even though the play is one of my favorites)
Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger A+ Incredible. A science-fiction type without the futuristic techy stuff. The creativity to the storyline is to be applauded and the love story weaved throughout is a touching and real. It left me crying as I read the last 20 pages. Rumored to be making its way to the big screen.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand A+ A classic that anyone who works in corporate america can understand. Efficiency and productivity is the name of the game, but with a philosophical twist. The story and writing are incomparable. An interesting book to read while doing “philanthropist” work, something she has a negative opinion on. Overall, you can understand her ideas and possibly even agree with what she believes while reading an incredibly well written story.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris A+ Hilariously real and honest. To some it may be dark, but I found it to be laugh out loud funny. The style of writing complements the tone of the stories. A quick read that leaves you chuckling and recalling similar moments in your own life.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld B Good. This book I found myself relating to and at the same time hating the protagonist. A girl growing up a little awkward and self conscious in a boarding school setting. While reading it I had flashbacks of how terrible junior high was and how growing up is just painful at times. An interesting read that leaves you thankful you’re not 15 anymore.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver A Wonderfully written with the writer’s knowledge of nature interwoven. Three stories that circle around each other throughout the book. It has theme of finding oneself in an unknown, unplanned and uncomfortable experience and the beauty of how things work out if you let them. A good book to read as a Peace Corp Volunteer.
PS…Mike left the book review section to me because all he reads are history books, and let’s be honest not real page turners nor books you can keep your eyes open for. But if anyone is having a bout of insomnia, let me know and I can get some great cures, i.e. Guns, Germs and Steel, the History of Bolivia (in Spanish), or maybe the life of Che Guevara. SNOORRRRRRReeeeee whoops, I just fell asleep listing them off. (By the way, Mike gave me full permission to poke fun at his books. Also, I think maybe he is just smarter than I am which is why I read the novels and he reads the textbooks.)
Mike's Christmas Presents Noche Buena- Did Santa Clause find us in Vallegrande......YES! Bolivian Christmas Tree- hmmmmmm Britt making our Christmas Stockings
Vanity in the Peace Corp…… When I thought about joining the Peace Corp (many years in the making by the way) I always thought about how I would just give everything up and let myself go. Many women have this same notion, I have learned, from my lovely female Peace Corp friends. I had visions of letting my hair grow long and wild, of course without gel and possibly even a comb. Make-up was out of the question. The thought of fingernail polish or nicely groomed feet- yeah right. My pedicure and massage days would be over for two years of my life. Now that I have spent 5 months in Peace Corp Bolivia, I’ve come to find a slightly different truth. Our packing list we received 2 months before shipping out included “hair gel” and toiletries I didn’t dare think to bring down, including my brush and body lotion. At this point though, I remember thinking, ok, hair gel is fine, I don’t want to scare the Bolivians if I end up in a tropical place looking like a cross between Diana Ross and a Norwegian Viking woman, but I’m leaving things I thought frivolous, such as face scrub. The days before leaving, while I was packing away my life for the next two years, I came across my many bottles of OPI nail polish. Looking around to make sure the coast was clear; I snuck in my favorite bright pink and red bottles into my luggage. I did pack my make-up thinking that there might be rare occasions I would want to dress up, specifically swear-in, as recommended again by our packing list. Arriving in Bolivia, I was eager to meet other volunteers, expecting to see under-groomed and slightly dirty idealists my age. I was in shock to see most of the volunteers to be showered, dressed like they might live in Oregon or Colorado and no joke, a few girls with highlights in their hair. Throughout training, my group and I got a taste of what we thought we wanted, limited showers. I’m telling you that not one person in our group liked going without and those who had it the worst (no showers in there host family houses) basically would pee their pants in excitement and steer wrangle anyone who got in there way to the shower at the training center for there once a week cleaning. A point came during training that turned out to be a telling point to how it is being female in the Peace Corp. A group of us women were staring at our feet during a culture class that we really should have been listening too. One of the girls leans over to say she has pretty ugly “campo” feet. I notice at the same time that mine are looking a little ragged. I didn’t know if I should reveal my secret stash of “Mai Tai Mama” and “So you think you’re a waitress¨ that I had stashed in my luggage before leaving. But the thought occurred to me that holding out on my new friends would be going against one of the three Peace Corp goals, to share your culture with people in your host country. Needless to say, I piped up and said I had toe-nail polish. You would have thought I said I have 5 big macs and two pizzas with an apple pie on the side to share with them all. Anyway, that afternoon a group of us ladies had a pedicure party including food, gossip and some laughs. It could have been considered a regular sleep over. Now after being in service a few months and settling into a routine, showers come every other day, make-up is worn a couple times a week, and yes, I still shave my legs. The funniest part about the whole situation is that I plan on getting a pedicure the next time I’m in the city with some fellow female PVC’s and the two things I wanted most to be sent down (thanks Mom and Patte) were face scrub and a heel file. I guess you can say you can take a woman out of her element but she will still be a woman, no matter where she is in the world. What I have come to understand about vanity is that taking care of yourself is an important element and telltale sign to your state of mind. There is nothing to be ashamed of with a little nail polish or wanting to smell clean. At the same time, I believe giving up part of your former life is inclusive of the Peace Corp experience, hergo the spa days. It is the balance between taking care of yourself and accepting the life around you.