Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leini, La Exploradora

What a whirlwind! I have had the amazing opportunity to explore so many parts of my beautiful home of the past almost eleven months. Just call me Leini la exploradora!! Not only did I get to trek these marvelous lands, but I also got to share my mission here and this country with some very important people in my life. 

Capítulo Uno: The Adventures of Leini and Boots

Boots is always right alongside of Dora on every crazy adventure she goes on. He’s always there to hold Dora’s hand and does flips through all the hoops she throws at him. As stated on Nick Jr’s website: “No one can make Dora laugh the way Boots can. He's the best friend you always wanted.”  I have been very blessed with my very own Boots, who doesn’t have nearly as creative of a name: Gannon. Late March, my Boots came to Bolivia! After being climbed on by so many other little monkeys, receiving massages, and getting little fingers shoved up his nose here at the Hogar, Gannon and I took off to Sucre, the beautiful capital of Bolivia. Gannon and I spent some very relaxing days chitchatting over coffee, walking the streets, touring the churches, and having midday tea. We made drank liquid chocolate, had green beer on St. Patty’s Day, ate apparently the best steak in Bolivia, went to a fabulous dinner and a show, spent an afternoon on a roof of a church, tried a Pisco Sour, saw a bunch of people in zebra suits, ATVed up the mountains on a super gross day, celebrated Mother Earth in Tarabuco, and danced the night away in a discoteca. I played my first game of chess too! We had a bit of a run-in with Swiper the Fox…Despite our chants of “Swiper, no swiping! Swiper no swiping!” the darned fox (disguised as an ATM machine) swiped my debit card for a night. but still, a great adventure with a great companion.
ALPACAS in Tarabuco
The girls lovin' on Gannon
Just two kids, living it up in Sucre!

Capítulo Dos: Can’t forget about Map and Backpack!
I’m going to be nice and corny and keep going with the Dora theme. Map is always ready to give Dora direction and help her get to where she is going throughout her adventure. He’s a funny, bouncing little thing and he doesn’t speak any Spanish, but who knows, maybe some library CDs could get him learned up on some words (That’s an inside joke, sorry). Then there’s backpack, who according to the Nick Jr website is a “real go-getter with a can-do spirit.” She’s always filled and ready to give Dora anything she may need to complete her journey—from chapstick and face lotion to peanut butter and cookies. She throws some Spanish in there every now and again too. My dad is my map, and Sharon the backpack. They came to join my journey in April!

Sharon, Dad, and I on the salt flats
Here at the Hogar, they had the chance to meet their goddaughter Lizeth, who they are sponsoring, which was too cool. They also had their first ride on a Montero moto (Dad’s feet nearly dragging on the ground), tried their first salteña, tried to dance the merengue, did some English tutoring, and assisted me with my laundry. We then took a 3-day trek through the salt flats in Uyuni seeing some capital B Beautiful landscapes and natural wonders. We even got stuck in the salt the first night leaving us on the flats to see an awesome sunset over the mountains. After roughing it for three days—and I mean roughing it—we made our way back to La Paz, where we did some shopping, attended the cholita (indigenous Bolivian woman dressed in their traditional garb)
My dad with the wrestling Cholitas!
fights—which was so outrageous, went to a traditional music show, and saw the ruins of Tiwanaku and learned all about Pachamama.

While Dad and Sharon were here, they were taking care of ME. Throughout this year, I have been the caregiver and the parental figure to these Bolivian girls—showing them affection, taking them to buy new shoes, helping them with their homework. I hadn’t realized how I missed having someone care for me and how important that can be. I have such an independent streak too that sometimes I just don’t let anyone take care of me. After experiencing this care and love for the first time in a while, I realized how blessed I am to have people to care for me and how much I really need that.

Capítulo Tres:
Shortly after returning for my excursion with my parents, I was off with a group from North Carolina that was installing a Living Waters for the World pure water system. I was brought along to help translate, but I gotta say--I was given so much more than I gave them! Oops! The group split into two: one installing a system in a hospital in San Juan de Yapacani  (a nearby Japanese colony); the other installing a system in Villa Amboro, a tiny village that you need to trek through the forest and cross a river to get to. I was assigned the hospital group and assisted in the education of the nurses.
I met so many great people being apart of this project:
The system Joe and the guys
installed! I can totally explain
how it works--English or Spanish!
--The NC group members themselves… Hillrie, Lee, Joe, and Ann—the four that I spent a good majority of the week with—took me right in. We shared so many laughs over so many delicious meals. I feel like I knew them for much longer than just a week—which tells a lot about the kind of people they were. And the rest of the group busting their butts in Villa Amboro: Skip, MaryAnn, Eva, and Marty. I was so blessed to have the chance to be a small part of their mission.
--The nurses that we were teaching the materials too. Faces and smiles I will never forget. We had a lot of fun learning about clean water.
--The workmen who worked alongside Joe to install the system: Edgar, Jorge, Tani, and the electrician. They had big hearts, and just got a kick out of the little white girl hanging around and making jokes with them.
--The group had also brought wheelchairs for a few of the hospital’s patients. I helped construct chairs for children with CP whose mothers had been carrying them around for 12 years. 12 YEARS. There was a woman from the community with three young children who was in a car accident and was unable to walk who could finally maneuver herself with the wheelchair the group provided her.  Her daughter—who has clearly grown up fast to become her mom’s right hand woman—had done her hair and gotten her all done up to come to our ceremony, and she looked beautiful.

Going with this group made much more of an impact that I imagined it would going into it. My role at the Hogar is very Hogar-intensive: I open up the on-site library and work on the computer to communicate with our Madrina sponsors via email—-all within the Hogar walls. Rarely do I leave for extended periods of time, making the majority of my interactions silly and playful with the girls. In some way, I kind of lost the idea of who I was outside of the Hogar. Scary stuff, I know. Going with the group, I had to opportunity to be outside of everything Hogar and just be Lainie. It was rejuvenating and comforting, and I credit it all to my new friends from North Carolina. So blessed to know them! What a wonderful, wonderful part of my mission.

Totally zen on retreat :)
Capítulo Cuatro:
I took a little bit of my break from my adventures, enjoying my time back home. Then the Bolivian SLMs and I took Samaipata by storm in July for our second retreat of the year! Samaipata is a small town in the department of Santa Cruz that is surrounded by natural wonders and crisp fresh air aka the perfect place to get some R&R and hang out with my SLM friends. We visited the ruins at El Fuerte, found an aviation “park,” and got pelted with the waters of the waterfalls--Awesome. What a great place to reflect on our year here surrounded by God’s handy work. I had forgotten how much I love nature and how uplifting it can be. As always, sharing meals and conversations with my fellow SLMs did not disappoint either.

Capítulo Cinco:

During the girls' school break, we all trekked to the Lomas de Arena, the unexplainable sand dunes located just outside of Santa Cruz. It was such a fantastic day of sun, sports, swimming, and lots and lots of SAND. There were too many unsuccessful jumping pictures, girls being carried into the water against their will, and an hour walk to and from--which I shared with Yordania riding piggyback after the long hot day in the sun, playing a game where one of us would make an animal noise and the other would name the animal. Too much fun. These little girls, I tell ya...They get me every time.
All of us at the Dunes!!
Capítulo Seis:
Me, Fabiola, and Gladis in the
back of the truck!
My last and possibly final expedition around Bolivia (eek!) was with the Madre to visit her home in Concepcíón. How did I get there? Six hours in the back of a pickup truck, of course! During this adventure, we visited the Jesuit Missions in San Xavier and Concepción; visited the Madre’s family’s home; went to her family’s house in the campo (out in the countryside), where we watched cows get branded, rode a horse, picked oranges from the trees, and hung out surrounded by banana trees; took a dip in el lago; and attended one of the coolest Sunday mass services I have been to. I’m not kidding--it gave me chills and made my heart swell. The mass was held in a tiny chapel with a stained glass window behind the altar where the morning sun came in. Four boys from the community played different instruments, with whom everyone sang along heartily. The children of the community were involved reading the scripture and made up the majority of the congregation. Everyone held hands during the Our Father singing a song before and after, and during the sign of peace, the peace just kept on giving! The priest came out into the congregation to shake the community’s hands, and everyone had smiles on their faces. It was such a beautiful community, and the Holy Spirit was among us.  God gives so much to those who have so little. SO COOL.
Judith :)
Capítulo Siete:
And here I am again, back at my humble home :) And so happy to be back! I’m convinced distance makes the heart grow fonder. Every time I was off on my adventures, I found myself thinking about the girls and being so excited to get back to them. The Hogar has really become my home, and each person here an integral part of my life here. My heart is so huge right now, and the Lord keeps assisting me to continually open it again and again to each hand that reaches out, each yell of my name, each cold shoulder, and each time I hear my favorite nickname: “mala”.  Being an exploradora is so exhilarating, but through it I discovered that I am such a little homebody. This is where I am supposed to be, right here in the thick of it--being woken up at 5 in the morning with music blasting through my window, constantly being asked when I am opening the library (seriously, I open it at the same time every day…), being on-call for literally anything that someone may need me to do. I’m not a novelty anymore… I’m just Leini and I’m here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

My own clean, unselfish love

Coming on mission, my goal was to love. Love these girls who do not feel a parents’ love. Take them in and love them for all that they are and all that they are not. Love them until it hurts (Waddup, Mama T?). Well I discovered that love is not always what you read about in the storybooks.

It would be great if all love was flowers and butterflies, but it really wouldn’t be worth having if it was just the same all the time. Coming here I thought it would be so easy to love these girls. They really need the love, right? Piece of cake. More like piece of an enormous jigsaw puzzle (...sorry, bad analogy).

Martha and I sharing such a tender moment
evident by the look on my face
I had my best lesson in love when it came to giving it without receiving it back. In the storybooks love is always mutual and so appreciated. I found out the hard way it is very, very difficult to love another person when they do not appreciate you or reciprocate the love. Luckily I had the wisdom of a previous SLM (Heyooo Jenna) to lean on. She reminded me that the soft, fuzzy love is not the reason we came on mission. We came on mission to be like Christ. Throughout his life, Jesus loved those who sinned against him, who spit in his face, and who led him to death on a cross. He LOVED them, crazy man that he is. This is the love that we are called to, not the stuff that makes us feel good inside at the end of the day (although that is certainly nice every now and again :) ). This has been and will continue to be my struggle throughout my mission—I mean, I scored a soft teddy bear on my confrontation analysis… of course this is going to be tough for me.

I’ve been reading some reflections by Thomas Merton recently (Still a big fan, Mr. Norman?). While reading, he had a quote that really struck me that inspired this post: “Clean, unselfish love does not live on what it gets but on what it gives. It increases by pouring itself out for others, grows by self-sacrifice, and becomes mighty by throwing itself away.”  This clean, unselfish love is what I need to strive for here in Bolivia with these girls and with everyone around me. And also reading this, I can’t help but think, “Jesus is such a master.” Talk about clean love, man.
Maria Greiser and I


Kind of switching directions, I have had another personal struggle with love while being here on mission.

Love and I have a funny relationship. For some reason, I have grown with this notion that it is my sole responsibility to give love—that my relationships with other people depend on the love that I give to them.  Basically I put all the responsibility of the success of the relationship on my own shoulders… which, let me tell you, is really not a great place to be. If relationships fail, it is my fault. If I mess up in a relationship, it’s over because another person could not possibly be able to see beyond that mistake.  They say the best gift is to give, which is so true, but there’s a problem when you cannot accept the gift of love from another person.

I am not sure when it started, but this roadblock in my relationships has made it very hard for me to feel and even accept the love of another person. It is like I don’t see the capacity for other people to love me. I have never thought before that it is my responsibility to accept the love of another person.

Me and Emily
While I do believe I was called here on mission to give my love, as time goes on, I have found more and more that one of the biggest reasons God called on mission was to learn to accept that another person loves me fully and completely for who I am. Day after day I am greeted with a great “LEINI”, showered in hugs and kisses, and receive smiles and laughter filled with such joy. How could someone not find love here in this place?

One of my biggest difficulties in love was to accept the easiest love of all: the love of God. I always thought that I had to do good things in order to earn the love of God. But I have slowly discovered that Uh uhhh, I am doing good things because God loves me—C.S. Lewis helped me to this one.  HIS LOVES COMES FIRST. He loves ME. He longs for ME and for MY love. He is constantly seeking for ME… Of course he loves you too—That I never have had a problem accepting. God is working through the people in our lives to show his love for us. God has brought me here—thousands of miles away from the comforts of the people who, in my eyes, have to love me—to show me that he loves me too, gosh darnit, and he’s showering me in his love each and every day.

God loves better than anyone else! What better way to discover his love than during this Easter season? Jesus laid out alllllll the cards displaying his love for his people….and for me. This man had me in mind when he accepted death on the cross. Unbelievable, right?

So I’m on a journey to discover God’s clean, unselfish love for me. And to share that with other people. I am also working on realizing that his best way of showing his love for me is through his people, who just might have this clean, unselfish love for me as well. I apologize to anyone who has been caught in the crossfire of my internal battle. I really love you all.

Finishing this on the night of my 22nd birthday, I have felt nothing but love all day long. Thank you to everyone who has made me feel special in every teeny-tiny way.

Sending my GREAT BIG LOVE from my humble hogar home,

Saturday, March 23, 2013

LONG time, no see!!

If you couldn’t tell, I’ve been suffering from a bit of a writer’s block

When I last left y’all off, I was playing in rice. Between now and then, wow, so much has happened.

Here’s a rough timeline:

The school year here is flopped with the one in the States—the girls are on their long summer break during Christmas and go back to school in February. The girls are given many chores throughout summer vacation in order to keep busy. It is definitely a wild experience because 100 girls are alllwayyss around.
Making cookies was one of the tasks the girls were given to do throughout summer break.
Mixing the batter with your hands?! Of course I wanted to help!

We performed the Jingle Bell rock dance
at one event...in front of everyone....
per request of the Madre
Typically in the summer, the hogar has the opportunity to travel to some fun places nearby. Unfortunately, we did not have as many opportunities this year due to lack of funds. But we went to a couple celebrations, a couple events were brought to the hogar with clowns and fun for the girls, and we had some fun days at the pool too!

Having some fun at the pool!
The whirlwind of Christmas was thrown in the mix—with the responsibility of raising money and buying presents for 135 girls. Piece of cake, right? I’m talking trips to the feria (a grid-like endless abyss of an outdoor market where you can get lost in a different part of the market each time and forget what sunlight looks like), late nights preparing and wrapping gifts, of course a fever intertwined with all that stressful goodness, making bundles of batches of monkey bread, playing with sparklers, dressing up like an elf, and dancing and singing for Jesus! Someone tell me that doesn’t sound like a crazy ride. I’ll be honest, most of it is a blur.
Me with just part of the presents!
Christmas Eve night: Rocking it out with Madre Fatima!
Yummmm. Monkey Bread on Christmas morning
Papa Noel getting a big hug from one of the girls
The group on the roof 
of the Institute on New Years Eve
We then celebrated the most spectacular New Years Eve I have ever experienced. Just imagine being on a roof, surrounded by great people, and literally surrounded by fireworks—one of the most breathtaking sites and a Bolivian memory I don’t think I will ever seize to forget. AND dancing at the discoteca until four in the morning with friends? I’m a lucky girl. 

The beginning of the year brought with it a group of new girls for us to love here at the hogar with even more personality to bring joy to our lives. 

Oh hey, Jesus.
It also brought a great opportunity for a get away with all of the SLMs in Bolivia. Traveling to the much cooler Cochabamba, we had a great relaxing weekend retreat reconnecting with friends, sharing our experiences, and helping one another through struggles we may have been having. I couldn’t help but be reinvigorated by the amazing views, amazing food, and amazing conversation. What an awesome program I am a part of!
Great times cooking, eating, and cleaning

Getting back to the hogar, we went as a whole to the terrific annual celebration of the hogars throughout Santa Cruz at Hogar Don Bosco. It was a great day filled with singing, swimming, dancing, and games for the girls and was the perfect ending of summer.
Norah and I hanging out at Don Bosco!
The beginning of school was met with great chaos, as the madre did not have ample funds to cover the cost of all of the shoes, notebooks, uniforms, and textbooks for the girls. We volunteers took buying shoes off of the Madre’s hands, and the task still is not complete!! It is a tiring task, following the girls around until they find their perfect shoe, but it is very rewarding all the same. I’m the “mom” who is feeling for their toe, telling them to walk around a bit to see how it feels, recommending black rather than white because it will show less dirt. I nearly died when “shows less dirt” came out of my mouth—that’s what MY MOM would say… Terrifying. But here in Montero, showing less dirt is definitely something to think about…

Right after getting foamed
Talking about chaos, it was then time for CARNAVAL: a crazy three-day celebration of braided hair, parades, costumes, dancing, screaming, foam, water, and paint. Tania and I joined two workers from the hogar at a Friday night parade and then actually became a part of the parade—surprise, surprise! Saturday we went to a parade and then came back to a crazy water fight at the hogar, which like any good water fight started with water balloons and ended with buckets of water. Monday night we had our celebration at the hogar, and yours truly was the queen of the personnel…reluctantly. Woooo Los Hawaianos. It was a great night of foam, food, and dancing—three of my favorite things.

After Carnaval, it was pretty much back to the daily grind of opening up the library and helping the girls with their homework. I have also been busy with the madrina account, finding madrinas for the new girls as well as 30 girls who have not heard from their madrinas in a couple years… so that’s been a lot. If you’re interested in being a madrina, definitely let me know!! We’ve got so many girls needing some extra TLC that only a madrina can provide!

Soooooo this post has pretty much been strictly business… I felt overwhelmed thinking of all that has happened and all that I have learned while it’s been happening and shied away from writing. That’ll teach me not to put off writing! Hopefully I will get a better post up soon.


Friday, November 30, 2012

My Arroz Zen

The work station... Piles and piles
There is rice everywhere here. Every Bolivian staple dish has rice. We hardly go a day without eating it. Since I’ve been here, too, there have been bags of rice for the girls to sort through to pick out the woody part—every day there is a schedule of what girls need to finish their bags.  Such an every day thing here, I never could have imagined rice being an instrument into a deeper understanding of why I am here.

A couple of days this week, I have sat down to help the girls pick through the rice. Talk about a tedious task…. But after sitting through it, concentrating on the menial task in front of me, I think I finally understand those mini Zen gardens that people have in their offices or homes—it totally opened my mind up to a deeper insight for the first time since being in Bolivia.

My first realization was the most obvious and had to do with the physicality of picking through the rice. Rice is small, as is the woody part that needs to be removed. To pick through and separate the pieces requires fine motor skills and the fine touch of your fingertips. It was this intricate use of my fingertips that I was reminded of the blessing of being alive. All dramatics aside, I am blessed to be here on earth. As many of you know, in my junior year of high school I ran through a glass door severing my right wrist close to the main artery. After two surgeries, to repair and transfer tendons, and unbelievable nerve pain, I regained my motion, but lost normal fine touch feeling in three and a half of my fingers. On a daily basis, I rarely recall my injury. Muscle memory has taken over, and my brain has adjusted in order to make up for my lack of total feeling in my fingers. But when a task is placed in front of you requiring the use of your fingertips—like picking rice—the fact that you don’t have the greatest feeling in your fingers becomes apparent.

My arm the night of my accident
Sorry if anyone gets queasy!
My ring finger has now become my pointer finger. Any task that requires the use of my pointer finger, my ring finger takes over if possible: scrolling on my computer, picking things up, pressing buttons, using scissors, and picking rice. It’s actually pretty weird, and one of my younger girls even asked me why I scrolled on the computer with it rather than my other finger. It had never fazed me before she asked. Now I’m kind of self-conscious…

My accident has changed the way I live, on small levels (using a goofy finger for things) and on grand levels (reminding me that life is a fragile thing). Not having full feeling in three and a half of my fingers is a reminder to me what I am capable of getting through and that life can never be taken for granted.

My time with the rice also really got me thinking about my girls and the life that they each lead. You know, going through the rice really is not fun. It is a strain on your neck and your eyes, and it is just plain boring! But the girls need to do it, and although I don’t always agree with it, it even comes before sleep or homework. As a volunteer rather than one of the girls, I am able to come and go from the rice room as I please. I can choose to go in to pick rice; I can choose the amount of time I spend in there. The girls are not able to do so. I began to see the parallels between the rice room and the hogar, and even Bolivia itself. I chose to come and live in the hogar for a year, and I have the ability to leave at any time if I ever feel the need to. If I feel uncomfortable, if I miss my family, if I feel overwhelmed—I can walk right out the door. I could even hop on a plane if I felt that strongly about leaving to go back to the comforts of the United States…to the family I know, to the weather I am used to, to the comfortable life I am used to living. These girls do not have that option. This is their life. The food they eat is the food they know. Sharing a home with 119 other people is they home they know. The structured cleaning and tasks that come up (like the rice) is the structure they know. I am only here for a year of my life, and then I get to go back to the luxurious things that I know: owning a car, going to a restaurant to eat, having a boyfriend that I don’t have to hide from the madre ;). But really, I have the opportunity to leave all of the difficulty I have experienced here behind and go on with my life. This is their life, and I am only here for a year of it.

This thinking led me to the insight that, yeah, I am here. I am living among these girls. I just finished reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Great book. But there was one excerpt that gave me a wow moment while reading because it went right along with the discovery I had while picking rice:
“You are as likely to see sea life from a ship as you are to see wildlife in a forest from a car on a highway…If you want to see wildlife, it is on foot, and quietly that you must explore a forest. It is the same with the sea. You must stroll through the Pacific at a walking pace, so to speak, to see the wealth and abundance it holds.”

If I am going to find the true wealth and abundance of Bolivia and Hogar Sagrado Corazón, I cannot just be an outsider looking in. I’ve gotta be here! And I’ve got to do it quietly—that’ll be a struggle :). I need to be here during their meals eating what they are eating; I need to be here when they are sitting around talking; I need to be here to share mass with them; I need to be here with them picking through rice. I can learn so much more! I want to show them that I want to be here and learn about their lives. Some of these things I may not particularly like or may be different than what I am used to, but this year is not about me. It is easy to avoid eating the food the cook prepares and go out and buy something. It’s easy to avoid the rice room and find something else to do. It’s easy to shut myself up with my computer instead of talking with the girls. This year is going to be a constant challenge for me to push myself beyond what is easy.

All of this thinking of being present made me think of Jesus. Throughout his life, Jesus was among people who lead different lives from him, who were different from him. He was constantly traveling, and He opened himself up to people from all different walks of life. He was present—eating among the tax collectors and talking with the Samaritan woman. These people were different from him. He was just there and loved them. That is all we are all called to do: Open up our lives to people who are different from us and just love them. I have tough days here where I feel out of place, when I am uncomfortable, or when I am lonely. But I know that these are the challenges God is giving me, and they are the times when he is most calling me to be like His son. And God always brings me back up, giving me opportunities to feel a part of the community again—He gives me special moments with my girls. Really, that’s the best gift I could ever receive.

Sooooooo if ever there is a time in your life where you feel you need a little self-discovery, grab yourself some rice. It works wonders. 

Love from Montero,

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

There's a first time for everything!

As of October 27th, I have been in Bolivia for over a month. What better way to commemorate this milestone than to go back and think about all of the things that I have never done, some things I never imagined I would do, that have only added to my time here in Montero?  Yes, some may be a bit of a stretch, as I am trying to make this post informative into the life I am living here as well, but I hope they are nonetheless entertaining.

Tania with her LOAD of laundry
1. Starting things off with something I mentioned in a previous post: Washing my clothes by hand. So I think we all are hoping (especially my parents) that I have done more than one load of laundry since I’ve been here. Lord knows my track record with doing laundry in the past has not been the best, but I learned that I need to manage it much better here in Bolivia. Tania, my site partner, taught me the importance of staying on top of my laundry because the day she taught me to do mine, she had severely fallen behind. It was quite an adventure to get all of her clothes washed and then lugged over to hang up. It was hilarious. One thing I miss the most from home regarding laundry is FABRIC SOFTENER—more specifically the delicious smell it brings to my clothing. As much scrubbing as I do and maybe even a bit too much detergent in hopes of a fresher smell, my clothes never smell as good as they do at home.

2. Speaking of smelling good: I now buy my fruit and vegetables from an outdoor market. The fruit stand smells divine. Right outside of the Hogar doors is a market that stretches the length of the whole street. The picture does not do it justice. It is nuts: shoes stacked to the ceiling, bundles upon bundles of bananas of all colors and ripeness, chicken feet hanging by ropes, huge bags of every different kind of pasta, stands packed with cheap electronics. This lovely place is where I buy my fruit and veggies! Now I know there are plenty of famer’s markets in the states, but I just have never been to any of them let alone purchase anything. They have great deals here: 7 apples for 10 Bolivianos (7 Bs=$1-ish) . Wouldn’t see that kind of price in the states! I frequent the fruit stand for apples and kiwi.  Yum.

The view of the market right outside the Hogar doors...Only a piece of it!

Las Palmas--one of our favorites
3. Now to make everyone even hungrier: I have had my first salteña and empanada here in Bolivia! A salteña is a super savory breakfast pastry that is filled with chicken or beef, veggies, and other deliciousness. They are super juicy and melt in your mouth. The only downside… they aren’t sold after 11Then it’s time for empanadas! Empanadas are very similar to salteñas, but they can come in more varieties: cheese, onion, chicken, beef. These are an afternoon treat, but are not sold after dinner. All the volunteers here are convinced that a 24 hour salteña/empanada shop would make it big…even if it was solely supported by the volunteers here...We love us some pastries. These delicious snacks go perfectly with a jugo con leche—juice with milk—which tastes just like a milkshake. My favorite is strawberry. Now I’m hungry.
Ann-Marie, Me, Tania, and Monica at Las Palmas

Viv on the back of a moto

4. It is totally doable to walk to the salteña and empanada shops, but why do that when you can ride on the back of a moto!? The primary mode of transportation here in Montero is by moto. There are men in vests that are constantly driving the streets picking up and dropping people off. The common way for women to ride is sidesaddle. I have ridden sidesaddle once, which was a crazy uneasy feeling the whole way home. Typically we ride two on the back of the moto because it is safer and much more fun. Riding on the back of a moto has been one of the unexpected joys of my days here in Montero. Every time I hop on the back of one of those babies, feeling the wind in my hair and the thrill of not having control, I send up a little prayer of thanks to God. Every moto ride leaves me smiling. It’s the little things.

Viv, Monica, and Ann-Marie
in the back of a trufi
5. This talk about transportation is a great segue to talk about trufis. A trufi is a mini van that travels between the main cities in Bolivia like Montero, Santa Cruz, Okinawa, and Yapacani. An individual pays 9 Bs for their spot in the van, and hops in when the van come into the Trufi station. What is so unique about is that you could be in the van with six other passengers that you do not even know. I have traveled almost an hour in a mini van with six other people that I had never met and a driver that I had never met… Never thought I would say that. I have fallen asleep in more than half of the trufi rides I have ridden in J We are starting to talk to our drivers more and making friends with them. You never know when you are going to need a friendly driver!!

6.  Making friends. I like making friends. I now have my first friends from the UK! Ann-Marie and Monica are two volunteers here from the same kind of program as the SLMs, just from the UK. Ann-Marie was here at the hogar last year for three months. She got here the day after me and was here for a month. Monica was here about a month before me and is leaving in December.  They work a lot with the babies (Santa Maria) here at the hogar. 
Me, Monica, Ann-Marie
They have been great to have around—for one their Spanish is much better than mine and Tania’s so they can help translate things the girls say. And their British lingo is so goofy, just like American lingo is to them. Do you know what a bin liner is? I do. But really, the four of us have gotten really close working so closely together. We have had very fun, very interesting times together. We support each other’s salteña and empanada addiction, through sickness and health, and even check each other for lice.

7. Which leads me to my absolutely favorite first, not: Checking myself for lice. As a child, I luckily avoided lice. Here at the hogar though lice is rampant—previous volunteers saying it is not a matter of if, but when. The girls are checked for lice and are cleaned of what they have, but they never use any treatment. With so many girls around hanging on you, yeah, you’re going to get lice... So guess what?

8. I have lice for the first time. Ew! Gross! Yuck! As nasty as I imagined it would be, I am not that grossed out now that I do have it. More than anything, it is just a hassle because you have to wash all of your things… I have accepted the fact that I am going to get it many times, and it is a way of life here at the hogar. Just got to treat it and move on. I kind of see it as my initiation to the hogar… Woooo hoooo

9. There are lots of other bugs here at the hogar too. Ants searching for sugar in the kitchen, mosquitoes wanting to suck your blooood, gross flying ants that come out when it rains. But my least favorite of all of them is the cricket. I have had my first fight to the death with a cricket here in Montero. One week, my sleep was severely interrupted by the constant chirping of a cricket. The first couple of nights I thought the chirping was coming from outside my window—so there wasn’t anything I could do about it. After a few nights of restless sleep because of the darned chirping, I decided to do something about it. I closed my window, but the sound did not deafen. Then I realized the blasted thing was in my room…The really terrible thing about crickets and their chirping is that whenever there is commotion or movement, they stop chirping. So there I was in my room in the dark, like a maniac, searching blindly for this cricket ruining my beauty rest (Let’s be honest, I need all I can get). I pulled out my supersonic hearing to find the booger. Turns out the cricket was just chilling in a hole in my wall—I saw his pesky antennas sticking out. I took a pencil, had the urge to scream “Prepare to die,” and stuck it to him. Pure satisfaction coursed through my bones. I then clogged the hole with a bundle of toilet paper to prevent more intruders. Best night of sleep yet. I know we are taught to love God’s creation no matter how small, but there has got to be some kind of asterisk regarding annoy things that interfere with your sleep. I am extremely happy to report that my sleep has not been interrupted by the chirping of a cricket since.  

10. Now for a poor transition…
Speaking to interruptions: For the first time, my relaxing shower was interrupted by a little electricity traveling through my body… In the showers at the hogar, we have to turn the water on first, then flip the switch to get “heat”—some days it works, some days it doesn’t. Nevertheless, it is always worth a shot. The strength of the shower is inversely related to the heat of the water (on a good day). I turned the shower on a mild stream, and the water got to a nice warm temperature. After a bit, I decided I wanted more power, less heat. I went to reach to twist the dial and got a little surprise! Never had I been shocked in the shower before! After having a good laugh at myself, I flipped the switch off and adjusted the water how I initially wanted it. Let me tell you, this little lesson has made me very cautious in the shower. No more shocks for this girl!

11. I am learning all sorts of new things 
about electronics here! From electric showers to computers, I certainly have my work cut out for me. We have five computers here in the biblioteca, and I am in charge of helping the girls with the problems they have on them. My solution for almost everything? Hitting the power button. I am a magician. Computers need printers too, right? Right. And printers need ink. And with 120 girls printing, you go through a lot of ink. For the first time, I have replaced the ink in the cartridge with a syringe! I still don’t think I have the technique down—it comes out of the bottom a lot…—but I think I am getting the hang of it! I may even do the same for my cartridges in the States. So much cheaper!

12. Electronics are incredible. For the first time, from Bolivia, I am able to send and receive text messages, receive and make phone calls, and have a voice mail from my computer! My number is 513-461-0401! Give me a ring! Send me a text! I only need Internet, and I can communicate back!

13. Internet is another story. Never before have I never had consistent Internet. Sure, we had a bit of trouble with a dropped connection every now and again in the apartment, Brittney, but I have never not had Internet for days on end. It is a strange adjustment. I am definitely learning to live a more simple life.

I am sure that I have many first here at my new home in Montero, but these are the ones that stick out most to me and that I find the most comical! Life certainly is different here, but I am learning to adjust—both physically and mentally. I am making things my own, finding my joy in the small things, and finding refuge in the swarm of hugs, kisses, and smiles I receive throughout each and every day. I am so lucky.