Sunday, January 6, 2008

5 months in Bolivia

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
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
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 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
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
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
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.