Monday, February 27, 2006

Monkeys! One of my students, Romy (nicknamed Caspi -- pronounced with a glottal stop between the C and A) showed me where they were today, just steps from the upper campus. Hugh says they're called Capuchins because they look like the Capuchin monks, but Caspi called them Martin Monkeys. They were backlit and hidden way up in the leaves, but I managed a few shots -- now you can see why, when Spanish-speakers see something cute, they say "¡Que mono!" ("How monkey-esque!")

Sunday, February 26, 2006

In English, we say "You can't judge a book by its cover."

For example, these aren't leaves in these photos -- I've had to remind myself that they're moths almost every time I've come across them. And the chickens in the school's yard aren't ours -- they belong to a family up the hill (quite far, I'd say, as the chicken flies) -- but the horse that sometimes meanders into the classroom doorways does, in fact, belong somehow to the school.

Oh, and the innocent faces of kids celebrating Carnaval can actually be quite demonic -- at least when they have a globo de agua behind their back and can't wait to unleash their prized water balloon on unsuspecting passers-by. And the sweet little powerhouse of a water-warmer (an electric device that gives us delightfully warm showers) can turn sadistic without warning: as evidence, I offer my by-turns-scalding-and-freezing shower yesterday.

But the Spanish version of the same proverb is "Caras vemos, corazones no sabemos." And that has rung very true this week: "Faces we see, hearts we don't know."

The student I'll call F is as animated as he is talented -- playing a handful of different instruments during Mass and offering salutations to me in English, Spanish and German. But get past the first round or two of polite greetings -- get to the one where you can really ask someone how they are, and you find out that he hasn't eaten in three days.

There is a solution here -- and it's a good one. I think it's been in place since the start of the university 13 academic years ago. It's the student-run meal cooperatives, where students pool their money to buy food they hire local women to prepare. The students organize the whole thing (with the able help of Maria, one of us volunteer folks) -- from buying the food in the next village over, to posting charts about whose turn it is to clean up, to making the heart-wrenching decisions about who can fill the few available spots. (There's also what to do with debtors, and, on a lighter note, how much to charge us volunteers who want to pay to share a meal with the students as a happy ongoing donation.)

The cooperative effort is significantly underwritten by the university, thanks to the generosity of donors to the Carmen Pampa Fund in Minnesota. But because demand is so high and resources are so low, the students directing the cooperatives have to make and then enforce what can feel like arbitrary rules: only one sibling per family can join, for example, and then only students who live on campus. Meaning that students who arrive late (because the buses or boats didn't run on schedule, or because the family member they depended on for transport or fare wasn't so dependable) not only don't get a spot in the dorms, they don't get food. That's the situation with F.

The situation with E is different -- she got in, but that meant her little brother didn't. So she pleaded with the mesa directiva to give her spot to him instead. Which at first seems like what any of us would do for our little siblings, especially if we had been responsible for them for the better part of our lives. But I'll admit I would give it hypothetical second-thoughts if it meant I didn't have food -- for an entire semester worth of classes and homework and even work in the fields.

So F got a big chunk of leftover pork, roasted potatoes, and plantains. And he was smiling big. But 'faces we see, hearts we don't know' -- even as carefully as he'll no doubt mete that food out over the next days, he'll be hungry again. Maybe even before Mass in another hour.

And E got a gig washing clothes in our house -- I paid her twice the going rate and fed her lunch to boot. She'll come back every week, and I hope eventually she'll be well-enough-fed that I won't be able to see the difference in her energy level half way through our shared meal. It may sound melodramatic, but it was like she was coming back to life a little bit more with every bite.

So I ask myself -- how many times do I have to learn this same lesson? How many times do we as a planet have to be exposed to the same hard-to-hear stories? We produce 10% more food worldwide than it would take to feed everybody adequately. 25% of the prepared food in the US gets thrown out uneaten. We know how to end hunger -- this is well-established and was taught to me during my stint as a Mickey Leland Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center back in 96-97. All that's missing is the political will.

They just rang the bell again for Mass. My belly isn't empty, so I won't have trouble following the readings and the re-enactment of Jesus' teaching how he's undoing all the violence in the world.

I pray that I'll understand. And that we'll make the change -- Gandhi would say we must be the change. Soon.

PS: Because you good folks reading this have asked, the Carmen Pampa Fund has several different ways to sponsor students here at the UAC -- from covering their food (only $30 a month, I think -- but let me check on that) to paying their tuition. It's remarkable how much can be accomplished with just a small amount of money. The administration and the Fund both work hard to make it so -- and the students do their fair share too. You can read more about it on their website. And thanks for asking!

Monday, February 20, 2006

We have a stunning new church here -- the result of a generous donation from a Minnesota family. Tomorrow morning we'll celebrate the inaugural Mass of the academic year. Classes are suspended for 2 hours and with the lovely phrase asistencia obligatoria on posters around campus, everybody knows that attendance is mandatory. I've posted just over a dozen photos on my photo blog of today's preparations. Here are two: first, some of the local weavings used to cover the altar during Mass.

And the maestro who carved both the crucifix and the statue of St Francis (as well as the little puppy who keeps San Francisco company) made the 7 hour round trip journey down from La Paz to install them both. In this second photo, he's applying one last bit of stain to Jesus' face.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

This is the rainy season. And on occasion it rains hard. Seriously hard, washing-out-the-road-hard. But then Don Donato and his amazing crew of scholarship students go out and lay stones to turn muddy trails into proper paths again. They were also part of the team that refashioned a footbridge over a runaway stream out of old concrete culverts and the walls of an unused hen house. And I don't know what it took, but our tap water is flowing again -- though in a slightly more opaque form.

That's what this is: drinking water. But you can see why Diana, after seeing Danielle pour a glass of it, said "Ooh, I think I'll have a glass of Fresca too." For the record, it's been treated and even chlorinated. We boil the water too, just in case. And it tastes great.

(A word to future visitors: no te preocupes -- within the week, our water will be crystal clear again. And if it's not, I'll buy you the schmancy bottled water. It's been ozonated and everything, whatever that means.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Only a double-check of the calendar can convince me that it's been one day since the first day of classes, not the week that it feels like. And even a triple-check of the clock doesn't convince my body that 10pm is a reasonable time to still be awake. But I wanted to share my delight that my first day of class went so well: amiable students who laugh at my jokes (which is no small thing, considering my limited vocabulary) and a 'proyector data show' to share a little Keynote magic on my PowerBook -- two slides of which are shown here.

Best of all, we worked out the schedule so I'll not only get an extra hour each week with them, but the 5 total hours will be spread across 4 days. Actually, 'best of all' is really that they laughed at my jokes. I was prepared had they not -- a friend helped me with this translation in the imperative mood: ¡por favor, ríe! (Please, laugh!)

NB: "Lic." is short for licensado, the title I get because I have a bachelor's degree. And Zacarías is the cool accented Latin version of my first name. Feel free to use it liberally, amigos.

A test -- our satellite web connection has been dicey today . . .

Sunday, February 12, 2006

In time, I hope to post some of the photos on my other blog ( from today's baptism (Hugh is up to 15 Godchildren, I think!) and the rutucha (a ritual first hair cutting) as well. For now, here's one of the little girl's abuela carrying the wawa over to our house for the dinner and hair cut.

This is Max Angel. He's 4. And we baptized him last night. His parents are both students at the UAC and Hugh is his Padrino. (Last night Hugh said he's Godfather to 14 people here so far.) All of us volunteers were invited to evening Mass, and the Baptism following that, and the party in San Pablo following that. The party was dual-purpose because little Max Angel's uncle Willy had just returned from his year of obligatory military service. Which meant that even more of the family and even more of the village was in attendance -- it was pretty much everybody, I'm told.

To celebrate, we poured a splash of beer on the ground to please Uchumachi, the local incarnation of the male half of God, then drank the rest (except the foam -- which it turns out we also pour on the ground but for practical, not spiritual, reasons.)
We listened to Peruvian music in Aymara at full volume (which mercifully blew the circuits in the amplifier often enough to give us a moment to actually hear and therefore potentially understand the kind and slightly tipsy person sitting next to us). And we loaded the top of everybody's head with mixtura. (They called it pico pico in Guatemala and we English speakers use the Italian word that is more accurately used here for the tiny hard candies thrown on tin roofs during Carnival: confetti.) As you can see here, Max Angel was not always thrilled about the extra mixtura.

And those of us with digital cameras took as many photos as we could to try and satisfy the insatiable desire of kids everywhere: to point out themselves and laugh at their friends on the tiny LCD screens. Here's one such photo, replete with 3 different takes on the evening's activities.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

About 5 hours before this parsley was in my first-ever batch of hummus, it was in the UAC's organic garden. Students plant it, manage it, harvest it, and sell its produce -- even during vacation. (Classes start here next Tuesday, 14 Febrero. Ooh, I just found out today that I'll be teaching English II to 9th semester Pedagogy students. And advanced classes nightly to students and faculty as well. And probably a section or two at the local high school.)

We bought an embarrassment of veggies -- broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, leeks, chili peppers, swiss chard, basil and lettuce -- for 30 Bolivianos. Less than $US4. And good. Fresh and lively and simple and flavorful. Our big kitchen in the volunteer house was swarming with activity as we all indulged in the food fantasies (a favorite topic, naturally) we can realize with this new bounty.

And, since I had the foresight to soak some garbanzo beans the night before, I could take a stab at the aforementioned hummus. (Thank goodness Becky Monnens had augmented her excellent advice for life in Carmen Pampa with a small shopping list, including tahini.) But why did none of you hummus-makers prepare me for the FULL HOUR of mashing I would have to do? Cousins Stephanie and Jared, this means you! And I won't hear any nonsense about a blender.

Anyway, the meal was delicious. Imbued with the kind of goodness that comes from student-grown local organic produce, to say nothing of the happy chatter of pre-semester expectations and plans. To wash down our avocado-tomato-cucumber salad and broccoli-tofu-stirfry with local beer made it all the better.

We know we won't always have time to savor our meals once the semester starts. And we know the beer may accompany whining as often as it accompanies food (just today I had to agitate for 4-times-a-week classes instead of a single weekly 4-hour block, for example). But I hope we also know that food is always more than just fuel. It's the hopes and worries of farmers, the attention and expertise of gardeners, the personal histories and quirky preferences of each cook. And it's the stories that only get told around kitchen tables. It's communion.

And -- just to keep this from getting too philosophical -- it's also the raw material for poor Hannah's diarrhea. (You can be grateful I didn't even consider photographing that.)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Evo Morales, the first indigenous president in Bolivia's history, is widely beloved -- as evidenced both by his landslide victory and his presence in the joke newspapers that seem to get read almost as carefully as the real thing. This particular photo caught my eye and I thought it was even more worth sharing than the others -- which were mostly his face Photoshopped onto various birds, celebrity torsos, or famous landscapes.

(I also loved the Pope's new style and the previously ubiquitous Magic Eye -- this particular Ojo Mágico is of a taxi.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

A 6:00am taxi costing 80 Bolivianos roundtrip does not lead one to expect anything priceless. Especially if said taxi reeks of decade's worth of cigarette smoke and requires a jump start every 20 blocks, give or take.

But this particular taxi was driving to the La Paz airport which, at 13,300 feet, is the highest in the world. We were meeting the last of the long-term volunteers and I wonder if our astonishment at the aching beauty of this country gave us a befuddlement equal to the one she landed with after a night on a multi-lingual international flight.

Enjoy this photo of our sunrise this morning (taken across the back seat of our speeding cab) and know there are more shots from La Paz to come. When the miracle happens of a 67mm circular polarizing filter existing in South America, you can expect many more from Carmen Pampa as well.

La salida del sol, La Paz Bolivia -- seriously taken from a cab disregarding the speed limit