Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I´m in love...

...No, not with a Bolivian man - most are short and toothless, anyway.

I´m in love with the special people at Missionaries of Charity. As I approached the gated community of disabled people and the sisters there, I read the sign that said ´´Madre Teresa´´ and could hardly believe I was getting the chance to do some of Mother Teresa´s work here in Bolivia.

I entered the gate and was immediately welcomed by a man with obvious physical deformities and an inviting grin. Cara introduced us to some of her friends there... ´´she likes to cuddle´´ ´´she likes to talk´´ ´´she can´t speak´´ ´´she knows everyone´s name´´...... Beautiful gardens and beautiful people in the midst of a dusty, dirt road, where the poorest in El Alto live.

For four hours, I swept, mopped, chopped a zillion hot dogs, tomatos, served lunch, washed dishes... but I was struck not by the service I was doing for these people, but by the love they so readily offered me. Last night, I was feeling a bit anxious about my time at Missionaries of Charity, and I prayed that I would see Jesus in the eyes of the disabled, and that I would have Jesus´eyes in which to love and care for the disabled. I believe my prayers were answered.

All morning I was hugged and kissed.... my new friend (the mute and toothless one) kept wrapping her arms around my waist and motioning that I was tall. (I get that a lot here.) Another women kept calling me SeÑorita and wanted to play catch with a soccer ball.

I´ll be volunteering here 2 days a week - helping wherever needed, loving people, BEING loved... I am humbled here. I am loved here. I am broken here.

On another note: I took some antibiotics for my wacky digestive system and am feeling much better. Plus, the food has gotten a lot more ´normal'.

Also: One of the women from La Casa de Esperanza, who we thought had returned to the streets, didn´t...she is still ´sober´ from prostituting, and we are all rejoicing.

This picture is of my bro and youngest sis during ''Carnival'' - before I got water dumped on me.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dino the dog

Dino the dog
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
This is all part of my house... it´s more of an open-air courtyard with various doors leading to different, separate rooms.

Dressed up at La Casa

We dressed up in costumes to serve food to the women who came to visit the center. This is the Word Made Flesh staff (minus the one guy, Wes, who is taking the picture). I was an 80´s chica.

My backyard

Our backyard
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
I took this picture standing in the doorway of my room.

My bed

My bed
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.
The worst mattress ever combined with the most dense pillow. My room is my sanctuary... I can escape here, to wrtie, read, and think in English!

The water fight

The water fight
Originally uploaded by Elizabeth in Bolivia.

¨Don´t eat while you can¨

This has been the slogan of my Servant Team... don´t eat while you can! The portions are huge, and aside from the funky food, I think the altitude has something to do with my lack of an appetite. Today I had a huge bowl of chicken head soup for lunch, then half a plate of rice, a quarter plate of french fries, and a large chicken leg. I am dreading leaving the internet cafe, because that means it´s time for dinner... ugh!
My family knows I like chocolate, and each day they´ve surprised me with a little bit of chocolate candy. I have yet to try any of it because I´m just not hungry, and if you know how much I love chocolate, you know something is wrong with this picture.

Yesterday, I visited La Paz for the first time. I am still overwhelmed by what I saw compared to El Alto. We ate lunch at a Tex Mex restaurant and observed the differences... the skin shade was lighter, the fashions more prominant, no trash in the streets, more fancy cars, skyscrapers, toilet paper in the bathrooms. We were approaced by a young boy who was begging for money. Cara asked him what he wanted money for, and said for bread, so she bought him some. It was the first time I´d been approached by someone asking for money. I wonder if it´s because there are less foreigners in El Alto? I learned that I am a part of the only missionary organization in El Alto... many people are so-called to El Alto, but live in La Paz to adjust. El Alto is just too poor, undesireable, and too uncomfortable for many.

The view of La Paz from El Alto

The market in El Alto. Many people, many colors, many smells.

In case you happened to need a refrigerator off the side of the street... only in El Alto

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

You´re never too old for a water fight (and more stories about ¨feet¨food

It´s been carnival weekend here, which means lots of water, and white foamy stuff (like shaving cream) which takes unsuspecting passerbyers by surprise. I have a bruise from being hit by a water balloon by a group of students on their way home from school. I was just walking by on the sidewalk. People dropped giant waterballoons out their 3rd story windows as people walked by down below... amusing and annoying.

Yesterday, my family prepared for the carnival. We blew up lots of balloons and tied them outside our door with multi-colored ribbon. Then, we threw candy and flower petals on the roof. (I still do not understand why, but it made a cool noise.) Silvia invited me outside to play catch with water balloons.... which quickly turned into a HUGE water fight - we were dumping buckets of water on each other and popping water balloons left and right. Water fights, laughter, and yelling don´t require the same language. :)

More on the topic of wacky food: thankfully, no more chuÑos for me. lots of chicken and potatoes, though. Today we served food at La Casa de Esperanza. I met some friends of the center - women who prostitute. I´d NEVER guess it... they are ordinary women, wearing ordinary clothes. Some brought their boyfriends, some brought their children. It was amazing to serve them food. Earlier, I helped prepare food in the kitchen. I was standing right next to the cooks who were washing a sink-ful of chicken feet. I continued chopping my beets, and looked over at the sink, but the chicken feet were gone. I figured they would show up somewhere, and I was concerned. I stood behind the buffet table and served soup. I asked Krystal, who was next to me, if she knew what happened to the feet. She didn´t know. I was dishing up the soup, and was focusing on not spilling. I felt something non-soupy.... you guessed it. A CHICKEN FOOT!!! I served chicken feet to people. And they didn´t cringe. They like them. I wanted to try the soup, but not after that... maybe another day, another time.

I don´t have a weekly schedule yet, but it looks like I´ll be spending two days at Missionaries of Charity, one day serving at La Casa de Esperanza, one day being Cara´s Advocacy Assistant (creating a dvd about La Casa to raise money to purchase the building) and one day off. Sundays I will attend church with mi madre, Patricia... Mondays are book studies, and Wednesday nights are Bible studies.

I am SO thankful for: my slippers, my ipod (it helps to tune out the dogs barking and the crazy music in the street), my flashlight (to read and journal before bed), 4 blankets on my bed, lotion (my poor face is suffering from the air and elevation), and my Bible (Jesus cares for the oppressed, and he cares for me.... ¨to the ends of the earth¨He will be my God!.

Each night thus far, my bro and sisters accompany me while I brush my teeth. They make the teeth brushing motion and that is when I know ït´s time.¨ They also like to watch me take out my contacts (and put them in) and are amazed at my öjos verdes¨my green eyes.

Cotton Candy is the same in Bolivia as it is in the USA.
I am very tall here... even the other white girls ¨gringas¨are fairly short...
Dino, the dog, eats water balloons.
I finally had a HOT shower this morning.... I was SO encouraged!!! That makes 2 showers so far. One freezing, one hot.

Tonight is Bible study, and hopefully a good dinner, and a great night´s rest. I´ve been waking up on my own at 7:30am because of the crazy dogs and crazy drivers outside and I have a hard time falling asleep because of the crazy dogs and drivers.

Please pray for:
the food (although I think it´s getting a little better)
loneliness (I am definitely missing home)

I can´t believe my food stories all involve feet so far.

Monday, February 19, 2007

they taste like feet

i made it!! after 28 hours of traveling, i am in el alto, bolivia. it snowed the night before we arrived, so the view of the mountains was spectacular.
there are 7 of us in my host family... i have quickly become friends with sylvia (13) and shiley (15). (and dino, the dog)

im still adjusting to the altitude, though i never got sick. just a slight case of light headedness on my first day. i am out of breath after going up and down stairs, but praise god, i have not puked or passed out. i had a dream before i left home that i adjusted just fine... thank you, lord, for such peace of mind!

this is a very cold, beautiful, hard place...
some quick observations:
the toilet paper is a brilliant shade of pink, and cant be flushed down the toilet.
my toilet flushes by pouring water down it, not by pushing a porcelain lever
there are so many dogs here... just roaming the streets. at one time, there used to be more dogs than people here!
chuÑos are freeze-dried potatoes... that are black. they taste like feet and the bolivians love them. me, not so much! the food is not good, but the service is...
its so cold at night... i sleep with 4 blankets on my bed. there is absolutely no heat anywhere, except from the sun.

there are good, fun moments, and hard, frustrating ones. its difficult to imagine being here for 4 months...

thats all for now... time for a bible study with my team mates.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Sisters, Sisters...there were never such devoted sisters"

My last weekend at home, and Chrislyn came down to see me! She left me with a stack of cards: one for when I get on the plane, one for my birthday, and several to fill in the gaps along the way. Looks like I get to practice some self-restraint!

She's pretty amazing... some might say "elmazing." And hilarious. And cute, too!
(especially since she'll be wearing my clothes for the next 4 months!)

Thursday, February 8, 2007

one week left @ HOME

hot showers, hair dryers, hugs from mom, heaters, heated seats, heated buildings
familiar faces, family, phone calls, facebook.
washing machine, waffles, "what-not-to-wear", white chocolate/peppermint mochas.ice cream, I-5, ice cubes, iTunes
drinking fountains, driving, Dutch Bros, dryer, dad
The Office, ovens, ocean, Olive Garden
paying bills, privacy, peanut butter, pestering my sister
my church,
my best friends, my comfort,

my bathroom

Celebrate suffering?

I don't understand.
I'm not even in Bolivia yet, and I already don't get it. People are suffering - the poor are hungry, the desperate are trapped in prostitution, the lost are without hope.
But suffering doesn't just begin and end in El Alto.
It is here. It is now. Today, my hairdresser spilled her guts to me about her abusive, alcoholic husband. I listened and stared at her intently, through the curtain of hair in front of my eyes. I know people who are dissatisfied with their job at this very moment. Yesterday, cancer robbed my classmate of her life as a newlywed, and my dear friend of his wife.

Hurt. Disappointment. Death. Pain. Sadness. Discouragement. Frustration. Helplessness.
We can try to escape the reality of suffering, but it's only possible if we choose not to look. (Daphne Eck)

And yet, Jesus "woos us to places we normally wouldn't go, and somehow makes those places beautiful. Love beckons us and ruins us forever. We see; we proclaim that all is not right in the world; we cry out to God; we choose to be a neighbor to those who suffer; we pray and sit with them. Suffering is only redemptive when Love is present." (taken from The Cry: Suffering, by Daphne Eck)

Love's ways are hard, steep, and wounding. "For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor, into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears." (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

There is completeness in our suffering. Laughter is truly genuine - when we smile, we smile with all we've got. Weeping replaces empty words - when we cry, the tears flow freely. Nothing is half-hearted, and it's all accounted for.

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." -Psalm 56:8

Word Made Flesh Lifestyle Celebration #9: Suffering

Saturday, February 3, 2007

What I know about Bolivia:

Some interesting things I've learned about Bolivia so far:

  • 3rd poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the poorest country in South America
  • The city of El Alto, meaning "The Tall" - home to 700,000 people where 80% of them live below the poverty line.
  • Elevation: 13,300 feet
  • Delicacies include cow tongue, cow brain and cow intestine. mmmm!

On a side note, I don't know if they have ice cream in Bolivia, so I'm enjoying a nice, big bowl of "Moose Tracks" -- just in case. :)

Friday, February 2, 2007

Butterflies in my tummy

I am excited after reading an e-mail from Cara, my Servant Team Coordinator:
"You're staying with a wonderful woman named Patricia, a dear teacher who attends a church we have a lot of connections with. She has six kids, the youngest 12, the oldest, umm 25 maybe? You're probably the only ST member with a computer in your house, though no internet. You'll be a block away from my apartment, and right next to some of the only grass in El Alto. There aren't any other gringas living with you, but no one lives more than a couple blocks away."

6 brothers and sisters - how FUN!

Cara also wrote: "We've also been looking a little more at each of your specific talents and strengths, to see how we can utilize you guys best while you're here. We DEFINITELY will be taking advantage of your worship-leading skills while you're here, if that's ok. I was also hoping to take advantage of what you termed "graphics, color and sign design" to help me with Advocacy, a new job title I'm responsible for."

Jesus has filled me with songs, creativity, and compassion.
There is purpose for ME in El Alto.