Thursday, December 27, 2007

Feliz Navidad!

So, I decided to spend Christmas in my site rather than in the city, which you probably already knew. On the 23rd I made about four dozen sugar cookies as a gift for the family because they had mentioned that they would like to do something that was a Christmas tradition in the states. I found some good tips for baking at this altitude; adding more liquid, using more shortening, cooking at a lower temperature, and using less baking powder. They turned out surprisingly well and were my first Altiplano baking success. My host brother, Javier, and I decorated the living room with some things the previous volunteer left behind.
Christmas Eve started out the same as any other day- with laundry and cooking. My host dad (Braulio), Javier, and I went to the city to get a few final things for the celebration. When we returned, there were a bunch of aunts, uncles, and cousins at the house.
Cousin roger shows off the decorations

There was also a sheep. When I asked the kids why there was a sheep there, I was informed that the sheep was for the Christmas meal the following day. They wanted some pictures of the sheep while it was still alive.

The weather was calm and the sky was beautiful. It’s summer here, but that doesn’t mean much in the altiplano. It’s hot when it’s sunny and chilly when it’s not. I hear it gets a lot colder in the winter. Yikes.
Pretty Christmas sky. They say the moon is always full and bright for Christmas.

The women chatted and got ready to cook as the kids and I took up a more American tradition; playing board games. They have a Star Wars-Monopoly type game and we tried to play that, but it turned out to be too complicated for the little ones and the babies kept knocking over the board.

This seems to be a lesson I learn year after year: Monopoly is not a good game to play at family gatherings. ;) So we stuck to a card game the kids really liked where they hand out cards and the winner is whoever has the highest number or the highest sum. We also played BINGO which was pretty fun. Both days we took lots and lots of photos and videos, giving everyone who wanted a chance to try out my camera, despite the worries of the adults.

At midnight, the women made Buñuelo (fried dough) and Api (a sweet grain drink, I think made from corn). I really like both- they’re delicious.
Cooking buñuelo

I made eggnog and brought out the sugar cookies. I didn’t know the word for “nutmeg” (and my dictionary is on-loan to someone) so the eggnog didn’t quite taste like eggnog, but it was good.
Mmm, sugar cookies!

After all the sugar and hot drinks, we were pretty tired, so we called it a night. The next morning, I slept in despite hearing all the kids’ excitement early in the morning. When I woke up, there was a card and little coin purse for me from the family. Another one of the aunts showed up for Christmas Day with her three children. They gave me some fried pastries and miniature pears as a Christmas gift, plus a plush white cat for Kauri. I had coffee and we all had this Christmas bread which is kinda like fruitcake, but it's actually good.

Then it was time to slaughter the sheep and prepare it for cooking. Javier really wanted me to watch, but I refrained. I did, however, see much of the cleaning of the sheep, etc. It was pregnant, surprise! (I have many videos with the sheep in the background if you are interested.) I was amazed at how they really use every part of the sheep. I explained that, as far as I know, adult sheep are only used for wool, and my family couldn’t believe it. “What do they do with the meat when the sheep is too old?” they asked. I still don’t know. I tried to explain that in the States, most of us are really distanced from our meat products, so many people don’t really know where their meat comes from, what parts of the animal it is, how animals are killed, etc. Well, anyway, the women spent practically all day preparing this sheep and we had sheep and rice for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas dish is turkey, but turkey costs 33 B’s a kilo and an entire sheep costs 200 B’s. I saw my host grandmother cleaning the sheep’s head, so I thought they were going to serve the traditional Oruro dish (I forget the name) of boiled sheep’s head, but they didn’t. It was just a pot of various meat cuts and ribs.
The family sharing Christmas dinner

The kids all put on the clothes that the previous volunteer sent them for Christmas, and took a picture.
Braulio and most of the kids

Then we watched the movie I got them for Christmas, “The Santa Clause 3.” I also gave them some Christmas music (that didn’t work!) and some candy, which they were totally nuts about. We played soccer (not a good idea) on the patio, and then switched to volleyball (good idea). After dark, everyone said goodbye and promised to return again soon. Overall, it was a good Christmas and surprisingly similar to how my family celebrates in the states. Until next time!


PS. I almost forgot! Sad news...I'm not going to be able to dance tinku afterall. I've been coming in for practices but no one was there! There's still all of January for practice, but I'm going to be in Cochabamba for two weeks for in-service training. And Carneval is the first week of February (very early) this year. So sad!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Almost Christmas!

My goodness, how time flies. First of all, I would like to send a huge thank you to my family for the recent phone calls and my most exciting first package! I love you guys and I really appreciate the support. And, thanks for this great picture of grampa, dad!

I suppose it's been about seven weeks, now, that I've been in my site. The first three months in site, we are supposed to work on getting to know the community, analyzing the situation, and identifying work possibilities.

I had been “helping out” with a computer class. My town’s mayor’s office had ten computers (complete with desks and everything) donated by a european NGO. I’m not sure exactly when this was, but a lot has happened since then, including various changes in the mayor’s office employees. By the time I got there, less than half of the computers were fully-functioning and a class was set to begin with ten students. Some of the computers allegedly had their sound cards stolen (by whom or why, I can’t even imagine). The room in which the computers were kept is extremely humid, which is so weird because the climate is so dry here. So, the humidity had caused (by word of a technician) oxidation of some machines that were no longer in the room when I got there. Some of the computers were taken out of the lab and were being used in the mayor’s office. Of the computers left in the lab, none of the monitor ports worked, so only the computers with secondary monitor ports (I don’t understand why they had them; I’ve never seen that before) were able to be used. It seemed like such a shame to me because these were new, good quality computers and I believe if they had training on the care and use of the computers before they got there, perhaps the situation would have been different. But if there’s one thing abundant in Bolivia, it’s creativity! So, we got the class off the ground and things were going quite well. The students all seemed very enthusiastic and hardworking. One night we had some problems because the room flooded and the power went out in the building, but we got through that too. Anyway, so like I said, I was just helping out. The young man who is teaching the classes is a University student with a good basic knowledge of computers. I was essentially useless, but the idea was that I was in the class in the case that any more advanced matters might arise. After sitting in on the class three days a week, Kerby (my site mate, a natural resources volunteer) mentioned that he was teaching english classes and that he wouldn’t be available for many of the upcoming classes so, if I were available, I could fill in for him. The only problem was it just happened to be at the same time on the same days as the computer class. As much as I’d love to teach a computer class, I’d much prefer to actually be teaching rather than observing. So now I'm teaching english, alternating days with Kerby. The man who facilitates the english classes, a doctor named Boris, convinced me to start teaching classes every night so that the students can get through a textbook they have and can go into the city and get tested to become certified. Or something like that. I’m not 100% sure; he talks very fast, this Boris. He's a good person to work with though, it seems. He's knowledgeable and actively wants to give back to the community.

Other than that, I had been pretty frustrated with trying to find work because Idon’t know anyone. Step one in being a PC Volunteer is to get to know people! But you need someone to introduce you to people, particularly here. I had some problems with my counterpart. Not everyone is always excited to work with us (obviously), so it's important to find the people who are. My host dad is now filling in as my counterpart and I feel like things are improving. I'm meeting more people and I'm getting out in the community to see how things work. From time to time, I hope to get to help out other PCVs with their projects. I helped Kerby a bit to build a concrete battery disposal box and other people have been talking to me about forestization, drilling wells, greenhouses, and a world map project to name a few.

So, everyone tells you that it’s going to be a shock getting into your site, but it’s hard to imagine from the comforts of training. But there was definitely a shock, and a bigger one than I expected. I wouldn’t call it culture shock. I think I mostly got over that in training, you learn to appreciate some things, learn to accept others, and learn to switch your mind off at the things that you’re likely not going to adjust to in two years. And, luckily, the majority of things fall within the first two of those. My site’s really cool and I’m really happy to be here. I think the shock was like post-training shock. I got so used to watching powerpoints and having language class that, although I still knew I was in Peace Corps, the reality of service became somewhat distant. And then one day you’re in your site and it’s like “Oh, wow, what on earth do I now?” I know it’s a matter of taking it one day at a time, but then each day comes and you wake up and it’s still just “what now?” It’s really overwhelming at first because you’re not sure what all of your goals are and they certainly don’t just pertain to work. It’s weird that having so little to do in your life can be so overwhelming. As I’m coming out of this shock, I’ve started things like keeping a “to-do” list. With each day, I feel a little less lost, which is good. I think the most valuable part of training was telling us that most volunteers feel this way when starting out; that it’s a part of the process.

I shamelessly admit that in my down time, I’ve been doing an awful lot of the thing that Peace Corps warns us about: reading. I finished Atlas Shrugged and am (finally) plowing through Making Globalization Work. It’s really good and it’s particularly nice to read something that really makes me think. Plus, I appreciate the english vocab refresher. I’ve been reading a few articles here and there, too. One in particular, The Wolfowitz Affair and its Consequences, from Stiglitz, was an interesting challenge as to the process of electing the president of the IMF, but moreso of the World Bank. Another intereseting one I’m working on is about how perceived negative trait attributes affect what type of procedures are used for solving disputes.

Occasionally I go into the city to get to know where things are, etc. The bus rides can be pretty amusing. I ended up with some lady’s baby on my lap the other day. One day there was a baby lamb on the bus, too. It just makes me smile nowadays, it’s great. I take Kauri on the bus sometimes, too. I started taking her to the vet, but I also just like to take her out with me because I hear that chaos is good for developing personality in kittens. Plus everyone adores her and a couple times and people want to know if I’m selling her. Hah! The market in Oruro is amazing! It’s smaller than that of Cochabamba, but you can still find everything there. It’s actually a few markets, but they’re all huge. I went to the used clothing market the other day and got a long J. Crew wool winter coat for 40Bs (about $5)! It’s super-nice and I know I’m going to appreciate it come winter. Another day, I went to get food and came home with this enormous bag of fruits and veggies. I was so excited by the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that I went crazy. After I finish my shopping, I like to just walk around in the insanity a bit. You can get everything there- clothes (new and used), linens, appliances, dvds and music, electronics, furniture, food (almost anything you’d want to take home or a variety of street food and drinks), all sorts of indigenous rituals stuff (llama fetus, anyone?), shoes, toys, hardware, dishes…everything!! And when you buy something big like furniture, you just get a taxi to take it to the bus stop for 5 Bs (like 60 cents) and then get them to toss it on top of the bus to your town for the regular bus fare, a few more Bs. The most important lessons I’ve learned from the markets are pay attention to what you’re buying (I’ve gotten bad produce, a metal closet that was missing parts, and a computer program that would only work a few times) and lie when possible about having change. People lie blatently about having change here and it's totally acceptable. Like you see the coins in front of them and they’ll say they don’t have any. But if you hold your ground and insist that you don’t have exact change, they generally manage to produce change somehow. To avoid all that, I’ve also learned to go to the markets later (when they have more change) and to make big purchases first, saving the change for smaller ones.

The most exciting thing I've been doing in the city, though, is practicing the Tinku dance for Carneval. It's like $100 USD to participate and the dance is pretty complicated for someone as uncordinated as I, but it's SO cool. I want to try to upload a video so you can all see. I also started playing soccer once in a while with my host brother and whatever neighborhood kids show up. I’m hopelessly out of shape at this altitude, but I figure the soccer will bring me around sooner or later.

Well, Kauri just got hold of a piece of mint gum I had been chewing. This is probably the most amusing thing I’ve seen all week, so I’m giving up this blog entry for that shameless entertainment. I hope you are all well. I love and miss you all!


Oh, here are some tinku pictures:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jack L. Nelson, age 78, of Portage passed away on Monday, December 10, 2007 after an extended illness. At the time of his death, he and his beloved wife Helen, the love of his life, had been married for 58 years. His five children; numerous grandchildren; great- grandchildren; several brothers and a sister and several nieces and nephews also survive him. Jack, known as "Butch" Nelson in his youth, was born in Grand Rapids, where graduated from South High School and played on the football, basketball and baseball teams. Jack served in the Army as a Second Lieutenant after high school and following his military service; he attended and graduated of Western Michigan. Following graduation, Jack work notably for GMAC, and Ford Motor Credit before managing his own business in Kalamazoo. Internment with full military honors is scheduled for Friday, December 14th at 2 PM at the Fort Custer National Cemetery, 15501 Dickman Road, Augusta, MI. Following the internment, the family will meet with relatives and friends at the Nelson's residence.

Rest in peace, Grampa Jack.

To all of my family, my sincerest condolances. I really wish I could be with you all right now. Love,