Yesterday morning I went shopping with Bell and David for the household’s groceries. My second time going, I was nonetheless surprised at how much fun grocery shopping can be. To begin, I love how local everything is here. For fruit, we go to the produce shop at the top of the hill; for meat, to the butcher’s shop; and for bread, to the wonderful yellow shop across the street. This entire process is done on bikes or, if wearing a skirt or restricted by the altitude and its unfortunate lack of oxygen, by foot. The experience also not only provides me the opportunity to practice my Spanish and learn words such as today’s “repollo” (cabbage), but also lets the kids practice their multiplication, addition, and so on as we track costs and change.
However, though these parts are fun, interesting, and exciting, they are not my favorite part. For, this label is reserved for the shopkeeper in the aforementioned “wonderful yellow shop across the street.” She smiles. Always. Except, perhaps, when she is laughing. The other day when we were in the shop, Bell said something like “I love it when people smile because it makes me smile.” And, while the contagious nature of smiles is something I have been hearing about since… well, who knows when, it’s just different hearing it from a nine year old and realizing the difference this smiling woman honestly has on my attitude each morning.
Hence, the lesson of the day: Smile more.
Having now been in Bolivia for a bit over a week, I suppose it’s about time for my first post. Shortly after arriving, I made a list of to-do-in-Bolivia goals, among them “blog at least every other day.” Well…
But regardless, here I sit in Bolivia. My first week has been absolutely incredible and I am very much looking forward to the next 5.
I am living in the village of Jupapina in the volunteer accommodations of the wonderful Mendoza family, each member about which I could sing praises all day, but more on that later. The community is about 30 minutes by car from the center of La Paz.
I arrived last Saturday after a 26-hour journey at the La Paz airport in El Alto, which, at 4061.5 meters is the highest airport in the world. Needless to say, I was a bit tired, hungry, and winded as the Spanish-speaking migration officer processed me. However, I was soon greeted by Rolando Mendoza with a hug and welcome sign at the other end of the airport and concerns of my head, stomach, and lungs were forgotten as we began the drive through the city and to the family home. Not only was the view breathtaking as we descended the 1000 meters from the city to Jupapina, but I also learned through my somewhat limited English-speaker ears of his wife, two children, dogs, cat, and chickens.
Upon reaching the house, I was met by more hugs and smiles from Emma and the children as well as a breakfast of freshly baked and gathered bread and eggs, respectively. Thus began my day of acclimatization or rather, hibernation.
Despite the vastly different climate, ecology, language, and culture, it did not take long for me to feel right at home due in part to the fact that the following day I went with the family to a friend’s house for a barbeque. As a Hale and thus the daughter of Jeff Hale, competitive barbequer extraordinaire, this meal was far from my first barbeque. What was indeed new was the location – that being on a earthen ranch house on top of an Andean mountain, complete with horses, skylights, and (of course) hammocks.
At the barbeque I was able to spend my first bit of time with the kids, Bell and David, for whom I am going to be a sort of cross between nanny and tutor. It soon became clear that they have just as much to teach and show me as I do them about Spanish, local culture, and certainly creativity, not to mention their wonderful sense of humor. Every day has been an adventure, especially the days we “baked” a cake for a fellow volunteer’s birthday and spent about an hour inventing songs with various percussive and stringed instruments. Pictures and audio to follow, internet bandwidth willing.
Perhaps my favorite part of this past week was the New Year’s celebration on Thursday morning at the Valle de la Luna, an interesting geographical attraction located in the neighboring town of Mallasa. The Aymaran New Year takes place on the Winter solstice, this year the 21st of June. The celebration includes offerings to Pachamama (mother Earth) before the sunrise as well as dancing and music after first light. It has been so refreshing to see how connected these people are with their Earth and environment. I have so much to learn!