Wednesday, March 29, 2006

This is Maria.

Maria teaches English.

Maria is teaching her students about the present simple tense and the present progressive tense.

Right now, she is teaching them about families.

Can you see the words they are learning?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sometimes, after dinner but before we return to correcting quizzes or tabulating grades, we like to dance. It's a way to let off steam, celebrate what needs celebrating, and perplex any and all visitors to our humble casa de los voluntarios.

And sometimes Danielle flips her hair in front of her face and puts her sunglasses on. It's a way to, um, well . . . as you can see, it's bizarre and hilarious and seriously adds to the sentido de la fiesta.

Last night -- as I two-hole punched and Maria made oatmeal cookies -- we got to experience both at the same time. Luckily it lasted long enough for me to take this picture. Because how else could you experience "Dance Party Bolivia"? (It's a likely spin off from "Real World - Bolivia." Check your local listings.)

For those of you who are sticklers for such details, I believe the song was either "Dancing in the Streets" or "Super Freak." And yes, there is now a two-hole punch dance move as well as a making cookies move to add to the ever-popular hanging laundry and machete the lawn moves.

And some other times, before breakfast Hugh busts out the guitar that Nathan the Australian left. He plays all our favorite Indigo Girls' songs -- even the ones with tough chords -- and Maria and I sing along. (Hannah is sitting here now and wants you to know she mostly sleeps through it all, but makes up for it later with songs from Grease and whatever she can find on cassette.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sister Damon is heading to the States in two weeks and, among her Herculean heap of tasks there, she'll be visiting an elementary school to talk about kids in Bolivia. It's been fun fulfilling her photo assignments: the work, pets, play, school, and family life of children here. This sight -- nestled in between two of the tiendas (that are also people's homes) --made me run home for my camera, telephoto lens and all.

And on the way there I was treated to a rare glimpse of Carmen Pampa's only gato. (¡En serio!)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

So you're probably curious what's in this pan.

Well, if there weren't so much solar activity (solar flares and the like) messing up our satellite internet connection, I'd probably have time to explain. But seeing as how it took this long just to get this photo posted -- and seeing as how I should have gone to bed an hour or two ago to help my body shake this rumbly tummy -- I'll let your curiosity be for now.

Here's a photographic hint, though.

Que tenga un buen dia, queridos amigos!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

From everything we know so far, everyone we know is OK.

Just got an e-mail from Wayne, husband of Diana, who was with their sons last night in La Paz. They were near enough to hear one of the bomb blasts reported this morning by BBC. Everyone's OK but shaken, as you might imagine.

Here's the BBC report and the AP photo

Two killed in Bolivia explosions
Two people have been killed in an explosion in a hotel in Bolivia's main city, La Paz. The blast, close to government headquarters, occurred late on Tuesday. Hours later, another hotel in the city was rocked by an explosion. Several buildings were damaged and at least five people are known to have been injured in the two explosions.

Officials said two foreigners had been detained over the blasts, believed to have been caused by explosives. Attorney General Jorge Gutierrez said a Uruguayan woman and an American man had been arrested at a hotel in El Alto, 12km (seven miles) outside La Paz.

The first explosion rocked the Linares hotel on Wednesday at 2150 local time (0150 GMT). Local media say the fatal victims were a young couple. The man was killed instantly, and the woman died later in hospital. The blast destroyed two floors of the hotel and the windows of surrounding buildings.

The second explosion reportedly occurred at 0145 local time (0545 GMT) at the Riosinho hotel and also caused extensive damage to properties in the area. Police suspect plastic explosives may have been used.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/03/22 13:27:24 GMT


Sunday, March 19, 2006

This is the valley I hiked through today: 3 hours. On foot. Each way.

Hugh and agronomy student Edwin were going as emissaries of the University -- requested during a meeting with our founder and president Sister Damon -- and I was asked to tag along as photographer. We started after 6am but actually arrived early because Dr Moises (our friend and fellow English teacher -- though he's also an MD, psychology professor and bilingual science fiction author) picked us up on his way to a community for a free clinic. His small 4x4 was already full with the nursing students who help him out, but we managed to wedge ourselves in for a few kilometers. (I was actually hovering more than sitting -- which I found out is significantly more taxing than being wedged, but that's a physics lesson for a different time.)

When we arrived -- sweaty and not entirely expected this particular day -- in the small village of San Agustín, we were introduced to the leaders of both the community and the school. The school was the reason for our visit: it's falling apart and the village is looking to the University for help finding the money to improve or, even better, replace it. So I was asked to photograph the holes in the ceiling, the windows without screens or glass, the stairs to the now-missing second story that had fallen in on themselves, the more-or-less uninhabitable teacher house, and the bathroom facilities that could definitely stand being replaced. My instincts are usually to show the beauty in every place I go, so it was handy that our hosts were clear about pointing out what was ugly and needed to be documented. That's what would persuade the funders, they knew. And so would the faces and names of the people in the village, we told them. Ver es creer, Hugh said: seeing is believing.

But we didn't just see a run-down school, of course. Our timing was good -- today was Día del Padre, Bolivia's Father's Day.

So after a big lunch and some k'isa (an Aymara drink made from dried peaches, sugar and water we probably shouldn't have drank without a shot of iodine or bleach) -- oh, and after a game of volei where our gringo height didn't lead to any victories -- we sat down for an acto civico that featured kids in formation singing songs, reciting poems, and generally pledging love and appreciation for the Dads.

Afterward, we were offered and couldn't successfully decline a second full lunch. Our requests for solamente un pocito went equally unheeded. So, despite what can politely be called 'a rumbly tummy' I tucked into a plate full of rice, corn, chuños, and chicken. (I will not even try to explain chuños here, except to say that they are inexplicably popular potatoes that have been treated in ways God could never have intended.) All the Dads and all the teachers were honored with this meal (which is why we couldn't skip out) but Edwin, Hugh and I were the only ones offered bowls. And spoons.

We got a ride part way down the gentle mountain side, then hiked through coca fields and villages (running into one of my students home for a weekend). We had to ascend again (up to la puerta del viento) through coca fields that each cleverly eclipsed the following one -- luckily I resisted the temptation to ask Edwin each time if we were almost there. Then came the familiar descent past the trail for the toma del agua, through one of the cooperatives and the upper campus, then snaking home with shortcuts past the coffee plant and through the lower campus.

It was good to be home, great to stretch with my feet up on the wall, and even better to take a shower and sit down to a table full of good folks and a bowl full of homemade soup.

(Look for more photos later this week on my photo blog.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

I have lived in Carmen Pampa for just shy of seven weeks. So when I made my first salad tonight, it was a momentous occasion, worthy of documenting. I've had two or so salads before -- always trying to find a non-insulting way to get the information that I need from my host or waitron to calculate the risk of eating non-peel-able food -- but this was a Capital-S Salad.

It was after 10pm, and I had guided the visiting husband and sons of my comrade Diana on a hike up and down the mountainside, hauled an obscene amount of compost to the heap, helped the crew caring for Diana in the middle of a terribly-timed bout of stomach shenanigans, scrambled to correct all my papers so my students could use them this weekend to study for next week's big exam, fetched a prescription for Diana after putting my WFR-trained medical intuition (and slowly improving Spanish) to use, narrowly avoided being responsible for cutting a chicken's head off, endured the 5th day in a week with no running water, helped unload a truckful of roofing materials for the coffee plant's new offices, hiked back up to teach my class, then came down to help teach two combined classes for colleagues. Not my busiest day by a long shot but salad-deserving all the same.

So Kevin (the visiting son who took care of the chicken's head and innards) and I decided to refresh the lettuce I had soaked in heavily-diluted bleach water the day before. It's from the garden the agronomy students maintain on the upper campus. And it seemed to verily cry out for a smidgen of the highly-prized Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing (not in the least fat-free, thankyouverymuch) that Danielle's visiting Mom had brought down earlier in the week. So that merited fresh tomatoes, we decided. Then, after some discussion about protein (I was jonesing for some roasted almonds), Kevin busted out some of the ham the students produce. (Unspeakably fresh -- slaughtered every Monday from the pens I walk by several times a day.) Reinspired then, I got Hugh's permission and Hannah's advice to toast some of the pound of Brazil nuts that sold for US$1.25 total.

By the end of all the preparation, I was able to contain my salivating just long enough to snap this ISO1600 night-kitchen shot. I hope you find it a fraction as satisfying in this two-dimensional digital form and I did in real life.

(Special note to my vegetarian and vegan friends: Um, sorry. I live with carnivores and the meat is really really good. And organic and local and sustainable and it helps students learn, for crying out loud. But mostly it tastes amazing. Like mi amiga Christa McDermott, I believe I'm now a pork-etarian.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Yesterday Doctora Teri Coty, a visiting professor from University of Wisconsin-River Falls offered a lecture to a packed room of pedagogy students. In addition to teaching about Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences, she offered them a chance to use all 8 of them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

This morning Hugh was out of town, so I was responsible for opening the chapel on the upper campus so students could pray the Laudes with me. I woke up at 5:30 and, since there was no van, walked the 20-some minutes up from our house in the dark. Once there, it took me almost a dozen matches to light the candle and incense. It was actually a broken one that finally worked. I was so mesmerized (and tired) that I nearly burned myself.

All this relates -- somehow -- to my finally getting my application for Weston Jesuit School of Theology in tonight. It feels very right. James Alison might call it 'pacific.' It was even 26 hours before deadline.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Just in case some of you kind folks haven't met my all-photos, all-the-time blog "Casi Bastante" . . . here's a preview. I tend to post longer photo-essays there . . . although this time around it's just photos I like -- without stories.

Of course, if you really want the story, let me know. I'll be happy to oblige.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Earlier this week, I accepted the invitation to hike up beyond the upper campus to see work being done on the village water system. Just 15 minutes from my classroom is pure cloud forest: waterfalls, slick clay, branches soggy with moss and air so humid you couldn't tell if you were sweating or swimming. And there was this dog too. Lit by a patch of sun that snuck past the clouds and greedy leaves, the dog supervised the work with an almost regal bearing. He stared unabashedly into my lens and only turned away when I studied him too long without the aid of my camera.

The work being done was serious. Seven men were repairing the toma del agua after heavy rains damaged both the intake and some of the low-tech, high-efficacy filtering that's done up there. I didn't understand it all -- they spoke a happy mix of Español and Aymara -- but I saw them making stairsteps in the stream by heaving into place some of the rocks that had been part of the problem in the first place. After a few good minutes of photography, I offered to help. Taking one look at my skinny legs (I would have roasted alive in the long pants most of them were wearing) and arms, one guy told me I could "help by looking."

We laughed.

Then I moved 3 rocks.

Big ones.

OK, medium-big ones.

My friend Jess says "to help by looking" might just be my vocation as a photographer. I say it's a lot easier than 8 hours in the hot jungle redirecting water with rocks, pick axes and machetes.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Coffee. I've always loved the smell of it -- but now I love the sight of it too. These beans might be ready for roasting as early as next month -- or, um, as late as September. Shows how much I know. But I'm learning and I've posted more photos from the Coffee Plant on my photo blog. ¡Disfrutenlos!

Monday, March 06, 2006

It's one thing to have to turn around on the 3.5 hour trip to La Paz and switch from the "World's Most Dangerous Road" to the "World's Most Expensive Road." It's quite another to do so because of a landslide. Likewise, it's one thing to get to a book store just as it's closing, it's another to do so after making a special trip that started at 5:30am -- and to be turned away even though you're trying to buy 75 books.

My comrades and I are stuck in La Paz because of all of the above -- but we're making the best of it. I even found the long-nosed lighter I've been searching for to eliminate the need to buy dozens of matches each week. And I cried at a showing of the movie North Country Tierra Fria. Oh, and we bought tofu at a Chinese restaurant that later endeared me to a lady selling local art. It's been a surreal couple of days -- and it's not over yet.

PS: This is the excellent Spanish-English dictionary we're buying for our students. I can't wait to see their faces when they each hold their own copy. (Currently, they wait in line to use one of the library copies.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

On hikes and when I'm feeling flojo, I leave my beloved Canon XT at home and bust out with the trusty ol' Konica point-and-shoot that served me so well in Antarctica. Yesterday Hannah and Danielle and I hiked up through the village of Chovacolla to La Puerta del Viento -- a winsome breezy little notch in the mountain that merited both its name and our appreciation in the summer mid-hike heat.

Hugh and Hannah made this same hike a week or two ago, after a big rain had washed out the road with a derrumba just before the end of their trek. They had to high-tail it back to take an alternate route through the jungly forest -- an additional couple of hours we were hoping to avoid this time.

The road had in fact been repaired after the landslide, but only just. Hannah got half way across before the mud was so deep and sticky she had to make the rest of her way more or less on her knees. Danielle tried a different route but ended up knee deep, nearly sacrificing a Teva to make it out alive.

I don't think they've yet forgiven me for using a third option that allowed me to emerge spotless.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

We celebrated the last day of Carnaval yesterday, complete with a half dozen local traditions -- led by the nuns and Don Doñato, the grandfatherly facilities director students fondly call Profe.

(Short for profesor because he was a high school teacher for years and years.)

As an apparently obvious pyromaniac, I got to light a firecracker to get the attention of the spirits.

Little sugar candies were thrown on top of the house as a blessing and to make a satisfying noise on the tin roof.

We sprinkled sugar cane alcohol in the doorways to give back to the earth and to make sure only good things made their way in.

But we decided to respectfully forgo the traditions of tossing more mixtura everywhere and -- everybody's favorite -- placing dried-up llama fetuses in the four corners of the house.

We did, however, wrap the things we value most in colorful paper ribbons.