Biblioworks Week 10 - Villa Serrano and Charangos

Trip Start Dec 06, 2010
Trip End Mar 31, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  , Chuquisaca,
Sunday, March 13, 2011

A charango is a Bolivian folk instrument which evolved from the 16th centruy vihuela de mano. It looks like a small guitar, about the size of a ukelele, but has 10 strings. People who lived in the countryside used to make the soundbox out of the shell of a small armadillo called a Kirkincho. Sometimes, but not often, Chris and I have seen these old charangos in music stores, with the Kirkincho's hairs, still on the shell. Modern charangos are made from a variety of hardwoods and some of them have ornate carvings on them.

The puppet play that we performed told the story of a Kinkincho that wanted to sing and through the magic of a shaman, was turned into a charango, finally realizing his dream. Our last library was located in the town of Villa Serrano, that holds a Guiness World Record, for having the world's largest playable charango. We heard that is played twice a year by 10 musicians at a time and needs to be tuned with a giant key. What a fitting end for our puppet play - in the little Bolivian village that is famous for making charangos.

Our Bibliowork's Handbook had this to say about Villa Serrano,

 "Villa Serrano is approximately six hours by bus from Sucre. It is a beautiful town and the largest town where Biblioworks has a library. The library is in a big space that is also being used as a Fine Arts school. The traditional dances and music of Villa Serrano are very colorful and lively and are an important part of the culture out there.

Since the beginning of the municipal library in Villa Serrano, thanks to the initiative of the Peace Corps volunteer Sarah Elgen, the town and municipal authorities have supported the library. The librarian is a teacher and is warm and friendly while helping out the children with homework or finding a good book to read."

Our time in Villa Serrano was short, two days, but very pleasant. The people were very friendly, as well as curious about us, and the weather was warm. The town of about 4000 people was really out in the middle of nowhere and located in a lovely green valley with a fast moving river flowing on one side of it. We had a chance to go for some shorts hikes and enjoyed seeing the kids inner tubing on the river. The streets and the central park were always filled with people. No one seemed to be inside of their homes. Everyone was out and about, no matter what the time of day.

Monday morning was busy, setting up the puppet theatre, rearranging the library for the workshop, putting out materials, installing a light over librarian's desk, adding a backpack/coat hook rack, mounting a reading glasses rack, and hooking up two computers stations and a TV/DVD station. The four of us have become quite efficient at doing these tasks so things were done in no time and we had time to explore the town a bit. 
In the afternoon, we had our last puppet making workshop. Twenty three children and two teachers were registered to come. We don't know how it happened, but about 1/2 hour into the workshop, Pat counted 50 people, of all ages (babies too), and a dog. I guess that we were so busy that we didn't notice people entering the library and just joining in. There was even a sign on the library door that said 'Library closed'. Hmmm. People shared their clay and just made do with materials we brought. At one point in the afternoon, each one of us wondered why it all of a sudden it had become pretty hectic! I guess that the people there have a need for workshops. 

After the workshop, we had a short puppet show practice and then were delighted to hear charango and zampona (panpipes) music being played by children in the Fine arts school. We dropped into a charango class and were amazed by the talent that those young children had. We took a short video of the teacher playing the charango and if you double click on the photo you can hear what it sounds like.

On Tuesday morning, we performed three puppet shows for the junior students of the local school. We added the role of an old grandfather for Matt, our boss, and he did a stellar performance along with Roxana. The kids and their teachers had a real laugh at the funny antics of the elderly couple who wanted to read a story to the audience. 

The kids were very attentive and it was obvious that our story was meaningful to them. Many of the young kids in Villa Serrano are already accomplished as charango players and appreciated Pat and Gail's music during the show. They were curious about the ukeleles and Gail's concertina, as well as the wooden instruments that were used to create cricket and frog noises.  As I mentioned before, our last performance of  'El Canto del Kirkincho' (The Armadillo's Song) in Villa Serrano was a great way to end our volunteer time in Bolivia. 



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Mike Maurice on

Connie and Chris you have no idea how I look fwd to each and every blog entry. I have been away both to Florida w/ grandson, daughter and Heather-Jane for March break and then to Kirkland Lake with my bro to go sledding for a week. +28 to -28 in 48 hours with perfect weather for the full 2 weeks. Today was first chance to get caught up on your exploits. You will be coming back soon and look fwd to hearing more once you get rested and reacclimatized.


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