Helping hands

Trip Start Feb 12, 2010
Trip End May 05, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  , Cochabamba,
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

The South America team continues to be doing great in Bolivia! 

I (Brad) continue to stay in regular communication with leaders Andrew and Jess. All is well!

The team has just completed two back to back home stays. First in Cochabamba, while taking Spanish language classes, and second in the village of Malcorancho, while helping to build a local school. All has gone very well, and Jess will talk more about these experiences below.

We have had a minor schedule change due to a local transportation strike. This forced the team to depart Cochabamba today (Tuesday), instead of tomorrow (Wednesday). They are now in the town of Oruro. Tomorrow (Wedneseday) they will continue traveling by train, as planned, to the southwest corner of the country. This Thursday through Sunday they will head out on a jeep safari, across spectacular salt plains and high mountain deserts, visiting volcanoes and flamingo lakes scattered about one of South America’s most rugged landscapes. – Please note that they will be away from any direct means of communication during this the jeep safari.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at any time if there are any questions or concerns.

Best wishes, Brad

And now, here is Jessī update.................................

Today, Sunday the 28th of February, marks little more than two weeks here in South America. For the last 6 days we have been living and working in a small town outside of Cochabamba, Bolivia called Mallcorancho. Many people in this town are campesinos, a word similar to "farmer". The group is split into pairs and living with families in Mallcorancho. Our motivation here is twofold: One, work on the construction of a school; Two, assimilate ourselves into the lives of the local people here. Neither one is easy!

Before we made our way to Mallcorancho, we were living with families in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Cochabamba is a wealthy town about 8 hours Southwest of La Paz. Our days there were full of Spanish classes, cultural discussions, and Carnaval outings! Everyday we would meet with Toni, our teacher, and her daughter Alejandra. Alejandra is a well-known artist here in South America and she worked with us on cultural applications of the Spanish we were learning from Toni. The politics of Bolivia are quite interesting right now, and we have spent a lot of time discussing President Evo Morales, his recent re-election, and his legislature. We got very lucky with our seats at the Carnaval parade and wound up situated exactly opposite him! For many of us, it is as close to a president as we will ever be. The contrast too was stark, with President Morales jumping into the parade and dancing, snapping pictures with the local people, and best of all joining in on the customary Carnaval water-balloon fight. However, the parade was amazing in its own right, even if the President had not been there. With all the costumes and the music, cultures from every different corner of the country coming to show off their local dances and colors – I think we all wished for a moment that we were bona fide Bolivianos and could call this ritual our own. It made for a perfect last day in Cochabamba.

The time spent in Cochabamba has helped to facilitate everyday life in the much smaller town of Mallcorancho – but with almost no English spoken in this village, the time has come to really put our newly acquired Spanish knowledge to use! The sum of our time has been spent contributing to an ongoing Youth International project at a local high school, where we are helping to build new classrooms and facilities for the many students in attendance. We wake up early and eat breakfast with our families before meeting and walking up to our work site at 8:00 a.m. We pack our lunches and eat at the work site around 12 o’clock every day. We return to work at 1:30 and end about 3:30 p.m. when we walk back to our families and pass the time studying, reading, or trying to converse until dinner. We run on the farming schedule here, so many of the families are in bed around 9 or 10 o’clock. We are usually so wiped out from our work that we are so happy to fall into our beds and sleep soundly until the next morning,

We have taken a couple breaks from the workday, taking one half day to go visit the Collca Ruins and the Virgin of Urkupina, and taking a half day to visit the Eco Resort called El Poncho on Saturday. The collcas are an impressive display of recreated grain silos left behind from the Inca empire, the remnants of which still stand today and overlook the lush valley of Cochabamba. The Virgin of Urkupina is a small idol statue on a hillside which many Bolivian pilgrims come to visit each year in hopes of new blessings. We paid a brief visit, and then had a local medicine woman lead us through a blessing ceremony in which we offered up requests for the new year. It was a fascinating cultural and spiritual experience for all.  The Eco-Resort was a wonderful break, alluring us with delicious food, great music, a pool, a bonfire, hammocks, and an herbal bath. We could easily have passed more than just half a day there, but we are so thankful for the relaxation time. Today we are back in Cochabamba, as no one works on Sundays in Mallcorancho. We are getting in our last bit of internet and phone time before we head out to the very remote high desert and Salt Plains of Uyuni. We have one more work day in Mallcorancho where we can finish up the projects we’ve been working on, and say goodbye to the school, the workers that have been helping us, and the community that has come to support us. We will be sad to leave Mallcorancho as it has taught us a lot about what small town life is like in Bolivia. Some of us have even commented that there is a new understanding of what is really at the core of true happiness. We are sure that these tiny wellsprings of revelation will keep popping up for us out there on the road, keeping us content and wishing for more.   
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