Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Me voy. Que lastima, pero adios...

Things have been so hectic lately. I wanted to wait until I knew what was really going on to inform you all. I’m going to start from way back, though, with right before my mom’s vacation.
Mom’s vacation in August was delayed by a consolidation we had in Santa Cruz because of the national vote for whether or not to keep Evo in office. I didn’t like being out of my site for so long, but everything turned out fine and I got to go back just in time to pick mom up from La Paz.

Mom’s vacation (10 days) was great. We started out in La Paz and took a bus (mom’s first flota!) to Oruro city. Then we spent a couple days in Oruro, checking out markets and some yummy food. Then it was home, sweet home to Machacamarca. The highlights there were visits with all of my friends and the annual bullfight.
me and mom in mach
kerry posing for the camera
mom enjoying a nutritious, delicious gourd full of chicha
After Mach, we left for Cochabamba, where mom met Joy and we ate more yummy food. Also we visited my host family from training, who had some very cute new dogs.

Then, all three of us moved on to Copacabana, to see Lake Titicaca. It is SO beautiful!
joy eating trout
mom and the lake
joy found cheetos!!!
fish heads, mmmmmMom wanted a little rest one day, so Joy and I went to Isla del Sol to see some ruins.
totora boat, made out of reeds. so cool!
the "1000 stairs". i counted. there are 200. i love bolivia.
llama love
Then back to La Paz where we stayed in a really swanky hotel. The trip was so luxurious I almost forgot I was in Peace Corps! Thanks again for the visit, mom, it was really fun!

However, when mom left, my very bad luck began. I don’t normally believe in luck, but a black cloud formed over me the second we said goodbye. I got to the bus station and started having back problems. There was no one to put my bag under the bus, so I put it in the overhead bin and took some pills for my back pain. Long story short, the pills made me pass out and when I woke up in Oruro, my entire hiking pack with most of my clothes and some other personal belongings, was gone. I can’t say it enough; I really don’t like being robbed. It’s so dehumanizing. This was Aug 25th.

Somewhere between Aug and Sept I heard rumors that PC was thinking about not sending future volunteers to the Altiplano to serve. When I started in Oruro in November, we had something like 15 volunteers. By August it was down to 5 in Oruro and 2 in Potosi, I think. My project (micro enterprise development) had just been cancelled in July. I was a little upset, I admit, because the Altiplano has the most poverty in Bolivia and I grew so attached to the region that I took it personally that we might not be able to continue to try to help the people of the Altiplano in the future.
However…my time in site was really good socially and work wise. Things were progressing well. My women’s group started a new set of classes. We had another K’OA/ walleyball tournament for work in La Paz. I was invited to participate in a nueve días ceremony for an unfortunate young man who had passed away while I was on vacation. Nueve días is a ceremony that takes place nine days after you bury someone because it is believed that after nine days of being buried, the body’s eyes burst and the soul goes to heaven. So you have a ceremony to bless the soul on its journey to heaven. I met a nice guy at the ceremony and got to know him a little better at another mass/celebration the next week. We ended up being pretty good friends for a couple of weeks. It was nice to have someone my age to talk to and hang out with…play bball and go hiking.
The 3rd after hiking, I got some kind of stomach bug, but waited until the 5th to go into the city to do something about it. When I went into the city, I found out that another Oruro volunteer was being relocated to another site because he was “too fair skinned” to serve in the Altiplano. Admittedly I was upset since he had already served over a year in Oruro, was doing good work, and was attached to his community. And, he was white the whole time! Did they not notice for that whole year? Aaaaanyway…we said goodbye to our friend and I got antibiotics from the doctor, so my stomach ailments cleared up.

I was invited to go swimming a few days later at a nearby pool/hot springs on Sept 8 when… I had an accident and got burned in a big gas fire in my house the morning of September 9th. I had wanted to make a cake for my friend’s birthday, but the regular oven was off-limits and my host family wasn’t home so I used the industrial oven. Bolivian ovens don’t have pilot lights, so you have to turn on the gas tank and then light the oven with a match. I think there was a gas leak because as soon as I lit the match (I didn’t even come near where you light the oven) there was a big explosion. It was pretty upsetting when it happened, but it’s all good now. I lost some hair and my eyebrows and lashes and stuff. The doctor said it was only 2nd degree burns though, so no big deal. Oh and now I’ve got acne from the ointment I had to use for the burns, but I have great medical coverage here and the dermatologist says it will clear up soon. The great thing was that I realized what awesome friends I had, as they took me to the clinic (to get my entire face covered by burn cream and gauze- what a weirdo!) and then when I was stuck in the house for days came by frequently, applying traditional remedies to my burns (don’t worry, I also followed the doctor’s regimen), calming me down, keeping me company, and assuring me that I didn’t look like a complete freak, even though I really did. One of my friends even walked around with me at night (since I couldn’t go out during the day) and watched Olympic swimming inside with me. It makes me a little emotional, thinking back on it now, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to grow close to those great people. The physical damage will fade, but I will always remember those friendships.

It's okay to laugh at this picture. It's from right after the burns, when I went to the clinic. In fact, the photo cracks me up now which is why I am posting it.
Oh, yes, and then I got this giant splinter in my foot:

While I was sick and burned, I took several photos of Kauri documenting his fascinating lifestyle. I couldn't capture the full magic of the little monster on film, however. Joy was convinced he could be a model cat one day (saw it in Vogue) but alas I will never see Kauri again and his fate is in the hands of my friends. Ojalá que le vaya bien. I know he's just a cat, but "just a cat" can really help you through some tough times and I grew very attached to him, since we'd been together since his birth! Here is a short tribute to Kauri Mimijalalelacola (last name given by my host sister from Cochabamba):

kauri loves skittles OMG...SHOES!
kauri was not keen on me packing

So, as you read in my last post, we were evacuated from Bolivia. It was kind of crazy; we got a call the night of the 12th saying that we were on consolidation again and that we had to go to our regional cities the next morning. Since we had just come back from a consolidation that turned out to be nothing, I didn’t take it too seriously, but was nervous. I packed somewhat, wrote a few very quick goodbye notes in case, and left Kauri with a friend. I told a couple of people what was going on, but promised that I would be back. The mood was somber but, appropriately, we stuck with the Bolivian “This isn’t goodbye, just see you later. I’ll be back.” I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have the heart to say goodbye to my friends, to my women’s group. I think I needed to believe that I was coming back, despite the sinking feeling in my stomach. I’m very bad at good-byes and the more emotional I feel about leaving someone or something, the more quickly I try to leave and the less I try to say. I feel a great deal of guilt about this because I allowed my anxiety to let me pull away from the community very quickly. What I wouldn’t give for one more day just to tell people how much I loved them. Anyway…

So we went to Cochabamba and didn’t hear much over the weekend except that things weren’t good. But we get that a lot in Bolivia, so I wasn’t stressing too much about it. Then they told us that Sunday morning we would be moving to a new hotel so we packed our things and loaded them on buses. Then we had a meeting and they said we were leaving immediately to get on a plane to Peru. Some volunteers came from the other side of the country and didn’t even know we were leaving the country until they were already on the plane to Cochabamba. We evacuated over the course of two days, on two military C130 planes.
At this point, we were all very sad to be leaving Bolivia, but hopeful that we might return. From there on out, the chronology of everything is very hard for me to distinguish. A day or so later, we heard that the PC Bolivia program was being closed. I heard there was to be more news on aid given to Bolivia, but I still haven’t been able to find anything about this. We have been stationed outside of Lima for over a week now, trying to figure out what’s going on. About ¾ of the volunteers decided to end their service and ¼ decided to transfer to a new country.

At first I really wanted to go to Honduras, but it seems like the program might not be the best fit for me. I’ve been assigned to Ecuador and I am really excited because it sounds like the APCD found something that fits well with my experience and interests. It will be tough being so close to Bolivia, but I am determined to throw myself into my work and community every bit as much as I did in Machaca.

Thus, I close the Bolivia chapter of my life with nothing but love, fond memories, and many lessons learned and hope to have the courage to open the next chapter on the same note. Though I carry on, I will never leave the Altiplano in my heart, as it will forever be a part of me. Viva Bolivia! Viva Oruro! Viva Machacamarca! Jallalla!



Kristyn said...

wow Sarah, you went through some really tough experiences. i guess it all makes you stronger, but that all reallyyyy sucks. just reading about how you had to leave so quickly almost made me cry, i can`t imagine.
but hey, Ecuador! that`s awesome. you`ll have the chance to touch a whole new group of people and know a new country. my good friend from college, michelle, who is from ecuador is living there now, in quito. maybe you could meet up. i`d love to go visit you there, we`ll see.

Laura said...

Sarah....beautiful Sarah....I am a little slow in keeping up with your PC experience since October in the states, but after reading (after hearing you tell it to me first person) again I started to cry in my heart. Empathy is a wonderful thing. You are learning so much and thank you for sharing. Lots of love,
Cousin Laura