Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Coffee Shops

A few days before I left for El Alto, I sat in the original Dutch Brothers Coffee House with my journal and Bible, striking up a conversation with an amazing missionary woman who gave me advice for my journey ahead.

Now, I'm back at Dutch Brothers, this time with my laptop, Bolivia purse, cell phone, and white chocolate/macadamia nut Dutch Freeze. An older gentleman sits across from me with his over-sized laptop and a magazine used as a mouse pad. The tables were full so invited him to sit at mine.

He asked me if I was "in school or something", to which I ever-so nonchalantly responded that I graduated a year ago from college and just got back from Bolivia. He asked me a few questions about my experience and as I shared briefly about my thoughts on excess and poverty, I quickly understood he wasn't really that interested. I stopped talking and he began sharing with me. Using a few colorful words, he shared some strong opinions about people in 3rd world countries and their lack of "drive." He said that as long as you're content with what you have then it doesn't really matter, but people could have more if they just had more drive. I kept my mouth shut and smiled to myself, feeing sad that this man doesn't know that it's not about drive or wealth or material things. It's not about keeping or having or saving.

He sits across from me sipping his iced coffee and making small talk - but he interrupts me with "huh? what?" and I have to repeat myself and speak louder. In Bolivia, quietness is a virtue... the noise of this coffee shop would be overwhelming.

And so my processing begins.

Goodbye Stories

A few days before my departure, Felix slipped a farewell card in my door. I pushed the door open to go to bed and the card fell on the floor. I picked it up, noting the recycled Christmas card which had a new, hand-written message glued over the type-written one which made the back of the card a bit bubbly.

I read his words silently and let the tears flow as I sat on my bed.

Felix wrote that I was a "persona muy linda" in every sense of the word "linda" - basically a very lovely person. He called me his sister and said that he loved me. He asked repeatedly that I not forget him or Bolivia and hoped that I'd come back soon because he's going to miss me. He told me to share with my family in Oregon that they have a very sensational brother in Bolivia.

He asked me the next afternoon if I had found his card. I thanked him for it and told him it made me cry because of his kind words. He asked me if I thought the words came from his heart, to which I replied "absolutely!"

"Did you hear that, mom?" Felix exclaimed. "The words came from my heart!"
Shirley knocked on my door the last night. I invited her in and she handed me a handmade card and asked me not to read it until after she left. She called me an angel that God had sent to her family.
Saying goodbye to the Bolivian workers at La Casa de Esperanza was especially special - and difficult. Each woman shared about our presence over the last 4 months and how difficult it would be not to have us around anymore. Eli and Alicia both commented on my "corazon muy grande" - my big heart. Eli had seen me sob after my first visit to the brothels. Alicia commented on how happy her 2 year old son, Oscar, was whenever I'd come over to visit.

I got to present the photo album to Eli, filled with a couple hundred pictures from the last 3 years at La Casa. I personalized the album cover and drew a picture on the inside page. She was pleased with my contribution, and I loved watching the women flip through the pages as I ate lunch in their presence for the last time.

Eli and the other workers laid hands on us and prayed over our journey home, focusing on our ability to share our experiences with our friends, churches, and family back home.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Last visit to the brothels

The night seemed surprisingly quiet. Hundreds of men roamed the streets, scoured dark, narrow hallways with their eyes, and constantly entered and exited through the red doors. I felt like a ghost by the way they ignored me - they definitely had one thing on their mind.

The quietness came from inside the brothels. We didn't get a chance to talk to many of our friends because so many of their doors were shut and the traffic through the hallways was thick. It's always difficult to invite girls to La Casa when they don't know who we are. Humberto gave a brief introduction and told the girls what was on the menu for lunch the next day: Cerviche, raw fish (scales, too) soaked in lime. Many promised they'd come for lunch. I didn't expect to see them, though, because they often promise to show up and we never see them.

In one of the brothels, I noticed a fairly intense conversation happening. A man was questioning a woman about her keys and asked her why she was leaving. She was definitely a worker and he may have been the pimp, monitoring her coming and going. My guess was she wanted out...

We walked outside to find a huge group of men surrounding 3 other men - a couple of police officers and another guy. We quickly crossed the street to stay out of their way. I still don't know what had happened, and I know God protected us that evening.

One women asked us where the hot chocolate was, since we made our street visits without it that night. I apologized that we didn't have it and assured her we'd bring it next time. She grabbed my arm and giggled.

I'm home, now, where I can look out the windows and see LIFE - awesome greenery, raspberry vines, grass, and PEACE. I'm sad for my friends who still do not see life out their windows. I miss smiling at them.

Friday, June 8, 2007

I´m feeling tension-filled.
Home means:
family, friends, a cell phone, good food, a hair-dryer, a change of wardrobe, and coffee shops. Leaving means:
goodbyes, adios to this special simplicity, chao to my lack of distractions

Only 3 women showed up at La Casa today. One of them came with several devastating stories... She has a visible, painful outbreak of Herpes. She begged to receive some medication for free, even though it only costs 50 centavos, which is equivalent to 4 pennies - but she doesn´t have pennies to spare. Her young daughters are also always filthy, soaked in urine - we offer them lunch and showers at the center. I´m wondering if they don´t have running water in their home? Her sister just had a baby a few days ago and the baby has a bruised nasal passage, which has left the doctor in bewilderment and is sending her to a specialist. The baby´s mother is very sick and can hardly walk. I kissed her cheek as I said goodbye and couldn´t help but notice the pain in her eyes - physically and emotionally.

When I was at a table by myself, Humberto told me today that he is going to miss my presence here...

It´s painful to think about what I´m leaving behind, knowing that my friends here don´t have the immediate option of financial security, life off the streets, medical treatment....espresso drinks, cable television, cell phones. Their life is in El Alto, never to be elsewhere, and I get to go home... to comfort, relaxation, security.

My final days are filled with activity. We attended a soccer game in La Paz´s huge stadium. Last night we rested and watched a movie. Tonight we´re attending a worship service with several other missionaries in the area. Saturday and Sunday I´ll be in Copacabana with part of my B-family on our final outing. Monday night we´re having a dinner with all our families as a way to show our gratitude. Tuesday night I´ll visit the brothels one last time. Wednesday night is Cara´s birthday, and a sleepover at her house since we have to leave at 5am Thursday morning...

Please pray for me as I struggle to integrate dreams of home with my goodbyes here. Also, for my trip to the streets next Tuesday... (see my previous blog for suggestions on what to pray for). And finally, no flight delays on my trip home; I´m supposed to arrive HOME at 2am on June 15th, which gives me 5 hours with my brother before he moves to Boston, and delays might mean I won´t get to see him.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Mother Teresa and Shadow Puppets

I developed several pictures to share with the women at Missionaries of Charity. It was a joy to see them point each other out in the photos, as well as recognize their own faces. I wonder if some of them have ever seen pictures of themselves? We shared so much laughter today. I stood in the background and took more photos, thankful for the gift of digital photography. I´ll miss my friends there...

  • The woman who stuffs garbage up her sleeves and down her shirt, always carrying a plastic bag full of trash with her - she also only measures up to my bellybutton and gives the most gentle kisses on my hand
  • Silvina, who thinks she is 11 years old and always wants to play catch with her yellow soccer ball - she knows everyone´s name at M of C except for the Gringas
  • Estela who loves to wrap her arms around my waist and dance (I have a videoclip of this on my camera)
  • The Nuns who faithfully and patiently care for the residents - who have committed their life to this kind of service
  • Teresa, who loves to give high fives
A few women were teary as we said our goodbyes... one of the faithful sisters said ¨I´ll see you in heaven!¨

Last week, we were blessed by the Nuns and the Priest in a small, private chapel. They asked us to arrive early for a special Thanksgiving Mass... they prayed over us and presented us with handwritten thank you cards, tea, and a special Mother Teresa charm. I don´t deserve this acknowledgement... I was only there for 4 months, and these Sisters have committed their LIFE to this... I´m so humbled... and full of even more admiration for Mama T and more love for my Savior.

Last week, I hosted a slumber party in my bedroom with Silvia and Shirley. Silvia asked me if pajamas were required, or if she should just wear her clothes to bed. I said they were an added bonus. She promptly changed into a little, white miniskirt. I wore my long underwear layer underneath a thick, fleece layer. We apparantly have different perceptions of pajamas. We went to the corner market and bought popcorn kernels, then popped it on the stove - I´m not sure they had ever done it before. My flashlight was the perfect excuse for shadow puppets, so we took turn holding the light and telling stories while the other two acted it out. Thankfully, they moved their mattresses in so we didn´t have to all share my tiny bed (which was the original plan).
Last night, my B-mom, Judi, Ana-Luz and Sergio all interrogated me about...... boys. So, I spilled my one, pathetic, high school boy story to them (dating back 6 years ago!) while they teased me. Ana-Luz told me I should visit Bolivia with my husband someday. And, when I mentioned the possibility of adoption in my future, Patricia (B-mom) said ¨Oh! You can adopt a Bolivian baby!¨

Ana-Luz and Judi looked up how to say ¨I´m going to miss you¨ in the Spanish-English dictionary.

It´s going to be hard to leave. This last weekend (despite my weird, creepy disease which is healing, thank God!) in Coroico helped me to think about closure and has given me butterflies about coming home... Woo-Hoo!!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Hand, Foot, and Mouth...

I have a disease. I made it 3 1\2 months, and now I have a disease...I can´t believe it! Since I´m in Coroico there isn´t a clinic closeby. So, I´ve been self-diagnosed by the internet useage of Jodi, the brilliant Med Student on my team.
I think I picked it up from the kids at Missionaries of Charity on Monday, though I was only with them for half an hour to take pictures. My hands and feet are covered with blister-like sores that are painful and seem to be getting worse before better. The worst part is that they are also covering the inside of my mouth, making eating, drinking, and even talking especially difficult and extremely painful. Gross, I know. My poor tongue... There isn´t treatment since it´s a virus, so I just have to wait it out. I´m feeling frustrated and miserable, especially since we´re going to a delicious German restaurant for lunch - which is a delightful break from potatoes and rice - and I´ll have to pick at my food and salivate...

If you could pray for me, that would be much appreciated! :)

Friday, June 1, 2007

World´s Most Dangerous Road

Talk about being hardcore... I survived cow stomach and the World´s Most Dangerous Road! The ride started at 15,400 feet in the high Andean plains and we descended 11,800 feet into the jungle below. It´s a very bumpy, twisty road with potholes, rocks, waterfalls, random dogs, and drug check-points. The views were absolutely breathtaking, although my eyes were so focused on staying upright and on the road that I may have missed some of it. 40 miles of downhill coasting (and a LOT of breaking) left me quite sore... my tushie and palms are quite bruised and tender.
We went with Gravity-Assisted-Moutain-Biking Tours which had hilarious guides and top of the line gear. We ended up at an animal refuge resort full of monkeys wearing diapers. We took some much-needed showers and got our free t-shirts for surviving the ride.

Now, I´m relaxing. Norah Jones (oh, just switched to Backstreet Boys) is playing in the background and I´m sitting at a computer overlooking the beautiful mountains of the North Yungas (Jungles) in Coroico, Bolivia - where I can also see the road I descended. I can see the snow-capped Mt. Illimani, which means El Alto is just on the other side. The trees and just plain GREEN-ness of this place makes me wonder why anyone would choose to live in El Alto over Coroico... We´re on our final debriefing retreat where we´re learning how to say goodbye to the last 4 months of our lives and think about what re-entry to the USA will be like.

I´m excited to be coming home in less than 2 weeks, yet it will all be bittersweet. I have a list of menu ideas (which I´ll soon be emailing home, mom!) and visions of hugging friends and family who I´ve missed so much.

I wonder if I´ll cry the minute I step of the plane. I wonder how I´ll respond to life in the USA (will my layover in Vegas be too much for me to handle?) I wonder how I´ll ever be able to share all my stories. I wonder who will want to listen. I wonder who will notice how I´ve changed. *sigh...* HOME!