Monday, June 29, 2009

Touring the Pueblos

This weekend, I joined other students for a day-long tour of four surrounding pueblos of Cochabamba: Tarata, Cliza, Punata, and Arani. Pueblos are essentially small towns with a large church in the center and small shops that cover all of the basic needs of the inhabitants of the surrounding area. Each pueblo is about an hour from Cochabamba city, and easily accessible by car, or in our case, barely accessible by bus. The campesinos--the typically indigenous farmers, ranchers, and handicrafters--live on the land surrounding a central pueblo. More than 90% of the inhabitants of Pueblos around Cochabamaba are indigenous.

I was immediately struck by the beauty, and at times simplicity, of the pueblos. Each has simple but aesthetically pleasing Spanish-style concrete and brick architecture. At the center of each pueblo is a plaza principal, a main plaza usually with a fountain or a statue, flowers, and benches. At one edge of the plaza´s square rests a massive church, usually mission-style. The contrast between the simple businesses and homes in the pueblo and the imposing and elaborate church is striking.

Each of the four pueblos we visted are renowned for different things: Arani for its bread, Cliza for its Sunday market, Tarata for its church housing the head of an ex-president, and Punata for its elaborate Franciscan mission. Below are a few photos from the trip:

Friday, June 26, 2009

All Around Cochabamba

Last weekend, I joined students from the Institute for a tour of Cochabamba. We visited all of the major plazas, cathedrals, the Cristo de la Concordia (the largest Christ statue in the world), and ended the tour with a lovely lunch at a resort-like place 20 minutes out of the city. Pictures from the trip, including one from inside the arms of the Christ statue, follow:

Update on San Juan

Tuesday was the much anticipated feast of San Juan and despite a fever, I rested up enough to enjoy the festivities with Father John from the Institute, and Rolando and Ely. Rolando is the brother of my host mother, and is also the host of Father John. Ely is his wife.

The two had a marvelous party with about 12 of their friends. There was traditional Bolivian dancing, an open fire for cooking sausages, lots of food, drink, and good company. They served a traditional Bolivian celebration drink called te con te, ¨tea with tea¨, the second tea really being some kind of flavorful alcohol, possibly a spiced rum, though I´m no expert in these matters. The sausages and hotdogs were interestingly prepared. They were cooked over the open-flame grill, and then people covered them in salsa, shredded potato chips, and the traditional toppings of ketchup, mayo, and mustard. One of Rolando´s friends played Spanish Guitar beautifully, and sang many Spanish love songs as the night drew on. It was really a great time, and totally worth laboring through my fever.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Feast of San Juan

Cochabambinos love to party, and according to locals, they have a knack for finding just about any excuse for a fiesta. Saint´s Days are no exception.

Today is the feast of San Juan, and to mark the occasion, Cochabambinos will have large parties with dancing, and bonfires, and hot drinks. Bonfires were recently outlawed in the city. With each family having their own fire in front of their house--and some igniting tires--the air quality became so poor that people couldn´t breath for days. Now, people shoot off fireworks instead.

I will be going to the house of the brother of my host mother to celebrate. He´s the only Catholic in the family, and he and his wife take me to church with them on Sundays. A priest from the Institute lives there as well, and they are all very nice people. I´ll update this post with details when I have them!

Nuevo Año Aymara--welcome to 5517

The Andean New Year, or Nuevo Año Aymara, took place on Sunday, June 21. I didn´t actually make it out to see the festivities (participants have to hike up a mountain in Cochabamba at 5am, and no one wanted to accompany me at that time), but I did attend a lecture on it.

The Aymarans & Quechuans mark the new year on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The main location for celebration--the indigenous version of our Times Square--is Tiwanaku, Bolivia, the site of the oldest known ruins in Bolivia (1,500 B.C., before the Incan Empire).

According to legend, the sun´s rays only pass through the Gateway of the Sun one time a year, during sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice. People travel for miles to the site of the ruins in the middle of the night, and wait anxiously with arms raised to the heavens for the coming of the first rays. Dancing, incense burning, and large fires mark the occasion. Llamas are sacrificed for Pachamama, the mother of the earth, and the Aymarans and Quechuans cover their animals in blood or pink pigment in hopes of fertility.

People wait with their arms raised to the heavens as the time draws near to daybreak. The coming of a new year marks the union of the heavens with the earth and all of its inhabitants. For participants, raised arms symbolize openness to the things to come in the new year, and hope for good harvest. The sun´s rays bring hope to Aymarans on what is said to be the coldest day of the year.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pensimientos primeros: gratitud

The title of this blog is ¨First Thoughts: Gratitude.¨

It´s no wonder why in every packet given to students by Maryknoll and in every conversation I had with people who had visited before, the words överwhelming¨ and ¨culture shock¨ came up. These feelings are not necessarily negative, in fact, I have already found great value in the lessons I´ve learned since being here.

It´s amazing what life is like without some of the simple givens we frequently take for granted, first and foremost, safety. When safety is always in jeopardy, one lives very differently. So far, that has been my greatest lesson. I never knew what it was like to always need to be on guard and completely aware of my surroundings, because in the US, some degree of safety is guranteed and if one should encounter a problem, the police are just a phonecall away. Here, even the Bolivianos take great precautions by not leaving their homes at certain times, not wearing much jewelry, and not carrying purses. It certainly requires much consideration and adaptation. Every step of the day is pre-planned: how much money you need to carry, what clothing is appropriate, and what streets are safest for the journey. It´s not a bad thing at all but it was certainly a shock to me when I realized that even the slightest misstep could mean very serious consequences.

It´s also true what people say about how much more grateful you are after staying for a while in a ¨Developing Country.¨I´m not sure if it´s the influence of the Bolivianos that´s making me want to say a prayer of thanks all the time, but I have definitely been thanking God much more since I´ve been here: thanking Him for each meal I am blessed to have, each taxi ride that delivers me safely home, each morning when I wake up in a bed and not on the streets, and each trip to school that occurs safely. I also thank Him for my loved ones back home whom I love even more when I´m so far away.

Well, that is all for now. On the list of things to do this weekend are the following: learn how to clean my clothes with a bucket and washboard, take a tour of Cochabamba on Saturday, participate in the Andean New Year (solstice) festival on Sunday, go to church, and to school. I will start my volunteer work next week. !Hasta luego!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

La primera visito a la Cancha

This morning, after my bitter cold shower and delicious breakfast of papaya, bananas and pineapple, Daniela--Ana Maria LaFuente´s oldest daughter--and I went to La Cancha. La Cancha is supposedly the largest outdoor market in South America. It´s open air with a few buildings, but mostly consists of mini-shops covered by overhangs. Indigeños sell just about everything in La Cancha: clothes, groceries, toys, meals, beauty supplies, shoes, blankets, appliances, everything. They carry huge loads in colorful mantels tied upon their backs, and shout out the prices of their merchandise to passerbys. La Cancha is vibrant, loud, and crowded: the perfect place for ¨loosing¨things from your pocket.

I needed to buy a few items to keep me warm since I didn´t pack appropriately for the brisk evenings and mornings in Cochabamba. I wanted sweatpants and a sweatshirt to sleep in, socks, and sweaters. La Cancha has no shortage of all four items, but nothing comes in a size larger than mediano (medium) and the mediums are from the Juniors section at best. Most of the sweatpants had playboy emblems so it took over an hour to find something semi-suitable for my taste. I bought a nice sweater for less than $10, sweatpants (which will likely be waaaaay too tight for my taste) for less than $10, and three pairs of socks for about $1. All of this would not have been possible without Daniela who navigated through the narrow paths and negotiated for me. As soon as people saw she was with a gringo, the price went up, so I tried to blend in. At 6ft tall and with skin as white as snow, that was no easy feat among the indigeños.

Despite the overwhelminess of La Cancha, I would consider my shopping day very successful: I left with the items I wanted, and even those I came in with--the true test!