Andes Panorama 

 A panorama of the Andes taken on the altiplano while driving between La Paz and Lake Titicaca. (Double-click the above Thumbnail)




July 13, 2009


In two days I will be freezing my butt in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In two days I will rue my Missouri summers generous 3 extra hours of evening sun, when darkness creeps across the Cochabamba mountains at 6:30 in the evening. After subjecting my body to sleeping on an uneven 2 mattress with no innersprings, I will wake up to instant coffee with instant powdered creamer. I wont understand 90% of what people say all around me.


In two days I am returning to Bolivia for the 5th time. But today I am driving around town doing last minute errands, and trying ever so hard to capture those small joys Ill be soon foregoing: fresh-brewed coffee from my own coffee pot, electric heat and air conditioning at the touch of a finger, a computer and internet right here in my own home, my daughters and my grandsons brilliant smiles.


It has been 8 years since we first went to Cochabamba, Bolivia with the Amizade organization, and committed ourselves to changing the lives of Bolivian children. There hasn't been a day this last year that I haven't thought about this commitment, our friends and so many of the Bolivian young people in need. But I am doubting myself. My heart has remained committed, but my head has faltered over these last months, as the day we leave looms nearer and nearer. Or, is it my head that has remained committed and my heart that has faltered? I cant sort this out, but something is missing here, and some vital part of me be it my head or my heart is bursting with a chorus of don't go, don't go.


Enya is playing on my car radio. In her song Pilgrim she sings:


Pilgrim how you journey on the road you chose,
To find out why the winds die, and where their stories go.
All days come from one day; that much you must know;
You cannot change what’s over, but only where you go.

One way leads to diamonds, one way leads to gold,
Another leads you only to everything you told.
In your heart you wonder which of these is true;
The road that leads to nowhere, the road that leads to you.

Will you find the answers in all you say and do?
Will you find the answers in you?
Each heart is a Pilgrim; each one wants to know
The reasons why the winds die, and where their stories go.

Pilgrim in your journey, you may travel far,
But Pilgrim it’s a long way to find out who you are.


These words have always spoken to both my head and my heart. I cannot change whets over, but I can change the future. I can take the road to diamonds or gold; or I can take the road to everything I have told. The answers are in me. In two days I will be in Cochabamba, Bolivia.


July 17, 2009


We arrived in Cochabamba yesterday a 30-hour trip with minimal sleep, but only a one-hour time change, so our bodies adjust quickly.

I know this place and these people: Jean Carla (director of Amizade) and her family husband Jose Luis, son Andres (11) and daughter Flor (3). And Lucy, Jean Carla's mother in whose house we will be staying for the 4th time. We are welcomed so warmly, so joyously.


I remember the city and this neighborhood, although some houses and stores and sidewalks have aged or disappeared. It is a dusty, crumbling, worn-out city, yet there are patches of vividness, bustle and vibrancy. Homes are painted with far braver colors than U.S. kindergartens; deep raspberry bougainvillea and early-blooming luscious purple jacarandas are everywhere; some parks have been refurbished with sparkling fountains and brightly colored and tile patterned walkways; flags and buses and peoples shawls are everywhere, in vivid yellows, oranges, blues and greens.


But I also remember this country's sadnesses sustained unemployment rates in the 20 25% range that pummel ones hopes for any kind of financial stability. Six babies a day abandoned in Cochabamba alone - innocent day or week-old infants are left in garbage dumps, rivers or filthy streets because their families cannot feed them. Bolivia's political instability is depressing there have been 195 presidents in its 184 years of independence, a continuous succession of power-hungry, looting villains who have robbed the people of faith in all forms of government. It is hard to plan a future when your today is crumbling all around you.

My Spanish is so rusty. I cant remember the words, and I mix up my masculine and feminine adjectives. I should have spent time brushing up on Spanish before I came. What was I thinking? Oh, I know…


I am here in Bolivia, but I am not. I can still conjure up my grandsons brilliant smile, the cozy feeling of curling up in my warm yellow living room to read a good book, the freedom to climb in my car and go anywhere I want. Pilgrim how you journey on the road you chose…


July 30, 2009


We've been with our group of volunteers for almost 2 weeks now. Were a diverse group in age, personality and background. We don't gel, but we are very accepting and appreciative of each others talents and individuality. Were good together, we have lots of fun, and we are all hard workers.


blahblahOur friend Joyce, whom we've know from a long-ago work trip to Kenya, and from a 2003 volunteer group to Bolivia, has returned with her 16-year-old granddaughter Jessica. Brad, 30-ish, is also returning for a second time here. Karl and Alyssa are both in their early 20s and are college students. It is Karl's first trip abroad.


Sergio, a 20something Bolivian, is Jean Carla's assistant and also our coordinator, translator and guide. With good humor and endless patience, he translates for us, solves our various problems, and makes sure we are where we are supposed to be at all the right times.

double click thumbnailOur accommodations during the work week are at the Casa de Retiros, a motel-like retreat complex within a walled compound. The Casa de Retiros is simple, clean and basic. Our rooms have cement walls and tiled floors. The beds are narrow, with worn and sagging 2 mattresses no springs and no box springs; just slats. But there is electricity (one 25-watt light bulb in the ceiling), and hot water in the shower, although not in the sink.


Marvin and I have a bonus feature in our room a window that looks directly out to the 17,000 foot, snow-capped mountains to the north. It is a breath-taking view to inspire us at any hour of the day. In the mornings I rise from my bed to pull the curtains and can barely keep from gasping at their splendor.


Orphans 3 Orphans 2 Orphans 1 Orphans 4Our work project is the Hogar de Ninos, an orphanage near rural Vinto just outside of Cochabamba. There are 28 orphans, mostly ages 3-8. They are rambunctious, animated and angelic-looking, although a bit ragged in their clothing and haircuts. Marvin takes their pictures, and I am both awe-struck and haunted by their beautiful faces. Who would choose to abandon these precious children? Why would anyone condemn them to a 2-acre walled enclosure with 2 nuns and a helper to care for 28 kids?


My heart just breaks for Ana, the shy 7-year-old I fell in love with in 2003 who is still here at the age of 13, and is now a big-sister/babysitter for Anathe littler ones. What is her future? How and when will she ever find a life outside these walls? Ana has been more outgoing with me this year. At 13 she may have acquired a little more poise and maturity with adults. She greets me with the traditional Bolivian hug and kiss on both sides of the cheeks each day. And we say goodbye the same way each evening, as Ana says to me ciao tia. The orphans always call us tio and tia (uncle and aunt). It is their way of conferring a closer relationship than with just an ordinary adult.


We are really into our work this first week. The dormitories, study/play area, dining room and kitchen earlier Amizade projects in which we participated - are already built. Our job is to finish up the living-sleeping area for the nuns and the older children. By Bolivian law the orphans 12 and older cannot sleep with the younger children. (Actually, the Bolivian government does nothing to provide for orphans 12 and older. And orphanages that are unable to find ways to continue to support older children must turn them out on the streets.)


sidewalkOur construction work is under the gentle and creative guidance of our Bolivian mason, Felix. (Felix is also our compadre, as we are godparents to his younger son, Milton.) Three large rooms and a hallway on the first floor of our building are in various stages of construction. There is a wide variety of jobs, and I do most of them during the two weeks of work: stuccoing the brick walls, patching cracks, painting window frames and walls, preparing and pouring the sidewalk in front of the building, tiling the stairs.


The monster of all jobs is stuccoing the underneath of the stairway. It rises over my head at a 45-degree angle to the second floor a 4-foot wide, 15-foot long expanse of rough cement we must cover with new cement, then smooth with a finer cement layer, and finally paint. I get paired with Timoteo, Felix's 17-year-old helper, and am assigned to put on the first coat of cement. Apparently Bolivians have never heard of gravity!! I am skeptical of this whole process in the very beginning, and perhaps that is my downfall, but I try to flick the first blob of cement onto the underside of the stairway with as much confidence as I can muster. Most of it plops off immediately and falls onto my shirt. The next try yields new plops of cement onto my hair and glasses. I excuse myself to retrieve a hat, and then try again. I don't get any more cement in my hair, but my green shirt and my hat are looking grayer, and getting kind of heavy.


Meanwhile, Timoteo is expertly slapping cement up his side of the stairway, and IT IS STICKING! I'm ticked off how come he can not only do it, but make it look so easy? I keep at it a little longer, but eventually am so covered in the cement that was supposed to be on the underside of the stairs, and so frustrated in my failure, that I renounce this job and retreat to patching cracks and preparing the sidewalk.


In the afternoon, when we return from lunch, I am perversely delighted that a 2-foot-wide chunk of cement applied to the underside of the stairway by Timoteo has plopped to the floor.


Our work days are mostly the same breakfast at the Casa de Retiros at 7:30, to the work site by 8:30. Work until noon, lunch at the Casa de Retiros around 12:45 and a bit of rest. Then back to the work site at 2:30 and work until 5:00. We can see our daily progress, and it is satisfying a rough brick wall now smoothly covered with stucco; a gaping hole in the wall now filled in with a window frame; stubbly dirt floor now covered with tile


Inkarakay ruins view from ruins rainforest bridgeDuring the weekend, we travel back into Cochabamba, stay at the Hostal Jardin, and wear ourselves out with activities. The younger volunteers go clubbing until the wee hours. On Friday we do some sight-seeing and shopping at La Cancha the 25-square block outdoor bazaar that is the heart of all Cochabambino shopping a gigantic farmers market on steroids. On Saturday we make an all-day hike on the Inca trail to the Inkarakay ruins, at the breathless altitude of 9000 10,000 feet. On Sunday we take a trufi (large van) the other direction outside of Cochabamba to the rainforest, where, appropriately, it rains. It is rainy and gray all the way from the rainforest back to Cochabamba. From the trufi window we watch the clouds creep across the towering mountains and settle themselves comfortably into the valleys. It is a rare and glorious sight during the middle of Cochabamba's dry season.


On Monday morning at the Casa de Retiros I pull back the curtains to our room and am awed at the most beautiful display of snow-capped mountains, as far as my eyes can see in either direction. The rain in the valleys the day before was transformed into snow at higher altitudes, but hidden from us by yesterdays clouds. Raul (our trufi driver) says the mountains are "bien vestidos en sus ponchos blancos" (well-dressed in their white ponchos). He says it has been 8-10 years since this last happened.  What a splendid visual treat!!


Snowy Mountains in Vinto



JoyceThe job variety at the Hogar is the same for the second week, and we see progress every day. We patch endless wall cracks, until there is a spidery maze of white paste everywhere. The wall paint is a soft aqua, but diluted with so much water that it is a thin watery broth. It takes 3 coats to paint the stuccoed walls, and even then it is see-through and lacking in places. But the rooms are beginning to look livable. There is a deceivingly large amount of work still to be done, but we've made a big difference. Hopefully the volunteer group in September will be able to completely finish this building.


silo silos silosOne afternoon we leave work early to visit an Inca dig site in the city of Quillacollo, and then to see the ruins of some qollqas (Incan maize silos) on a hill nearby. This was the site of 2400 corn storage silos once; their stone bases still remain, and 23 replicas have been built on the original Incan stone foundations. We have a terrific view of the surrounding countryside. It is a time of quiet contemplation on all those whose lives that came before us.


On the last day we bring in hamburgers and French fries and sodas to share with the orphans. Their eyes are bright and eager with this wonderful treat. They are used to Bolivian sodas (brand name Simba), so most of the kids ask for Coca Cola. But a few of the braver ones ask for the white Coca Cola (Sprite).


kids dancingAfter the hamburger lunch we go to the study/play room where the kids entertain us with traditional Bolivian dances. After 3-4 dances, they ask us to join them, and they squeal in delight at our mis-steps and clumsiness. When the dancing is over, Brad gives them a new neon-yellow soccer ball, 2 lighter-weight plastic balls for the younger kids, and 2 jump ropes. There is pandemonium as bodies are tumbling immediately out into the yard, scrambling to play with one or more of the toys. The joy, the laughter, the delight. Who would choose to abandon these kids?

All too soon it is time to leave. I have privately told Ana we will return in September. But I am still crying as the trufi pulls away, while the kids are singing, then shouting ciao tio, ciao tia.


August 16, 2009


The other volunteers left the first of August. For the last 2 weeks Marvin and Felix and Timoteo and I have been building a dispensa (pantry) at CEOLI (a center for the handicapped). We have also weathered Bolivian Independence Day (August 6) followed closely by the festival of the Virgin de Urkupina. Big goings on.

This dispensa is no paltry closet. It is an entire large room. We have four weeks to build a second floor onto a 14 X 14 room, and a bridge to the second floor entrance made entirely of brick and concrete. The first week we tear off the first floor roof, chip out all the brick and concrete of the first floor structure that needs to be replaced, between trips to haul bricks, cement, sand, wire and all the other materials we need


But we have several impediments to our work. First, two truckloads of sand/gravel/dirt are deposited in CEOLI's driveway a driveway with walls on 3 sides. The pile also covers the sliding door entrance to CEOLI, so that no one can enter or leave the bus that transports the handicapped kids. Even worse, the pile of sand blocks the only gate to the neighbors driveway where her two cars are parked and she is furious! Perhaps it is a good thing I still don't know all my Spanish vocabulary words. So, the first day of our project is devoted to shoveling the sand/gravel/dirt, moving it from the driveway to a more convenient location.


We are aided in this effort by our buddy Marco, a student at CEOLI. Marco, who has Downs syndrome, helped us build a brick wall at CEOLI in 2003. Back then, his main functions were to add extra water to the concrete mix so that it was too soupy to use, climb the scaffolding and teeter on the edge until we rescued him, and borrow our tools when we weren't looking. But his work skills have improved considerably, and this time he shovels steadily, with the grunts and bubbly sounds that are his only form of speech.

Another interruption to our work is CEOLI's celebration of Bolivia's Independence Day. For this occasion the various classes each represented one of Bolivia's nine departamentos (states). They have created booths with geographic and historical information as well as pictures, their parents have cooked dishes native to each region, and the students are dressed in the various regional costumes. Marvin and I are drafted to be judges, so we visit each booth, listen to the facts and history of each departamento, survey the costumes, and sample the foods. We sample rice bread, quinoa, molasses crisps, humitas (corn meal and cheese wrapped in corn husks, and drank a sweet pink corn liquid. Then the children perform dances native to their departamentos. Even the wheel-chair bound kids are festively costumed, and their friends or teachers push them around to the music.


mixing mud siesta pouring floorDuring the second week of work at CEOLI we make more progress. We lay 8 tiers of bricks raising the walls of the first floor, so that the bridge to the second floor becomes horizontal. We bend and twist rebar to reinforce the cement columns in each corner. We hoist and lay purchased, preformed cement beams to support the first floor's ceiling / second floor's floor. Finally, we pour the columns and second floor. On this day, my job is to shovel 2 pails of rocks, 2 pails of sand and one pail of cement mix for every wheelbarrow load of cement mix we make. I also have to keep the water buckets filled. Marvin runs the cement mixer, and we make at least 30 wheelbarrow loads of mix. My job is back-breaking work, but the floor looks great, and it is heartening to see our progress unfold.


This is not an OSHA-approved venture, however. Ladders are cast-off pieces of wood, held together with rusty nails, and anchored in place with a thin wire at the top, or not at all. No hard hats or safety glasses are required. Those walking underneath us (through the only entry into the kitchen) can be pelted at any time by falling debris and pieces of concrete. And when we walk on our newly poured floor, there is no wall or barrier to keep us from falling onto the patio 12 feet below.

waterfall IsabelOn Sunday after the first week, we travel to visit Felix and his family for a wonderful reunion and a thoroughly relaxing day. We take them our presents, and they, of course, are delighted: a sun catcher and an apron (sewn by me) for Isabel, a T-shirt and Battleship game for Rodrigo, a T-shirt and calculator for Felix, and 2 T-shirts, a Yahtze game and a model car kit for our godson Milton. After the gift-opening, we pack up our things and take 2 bus rides to the side of a mountain. Then we continue walking through fields and farms, jumping rocks from one side of a tumbling stream to another, climbing and climbing until we finally reach a narrow, 50 waterfall. We find a shady spot for lunch, spread out our sandwich makings, and have a picnic. After lunch, Felix and Milton brave the waterfall. The expressions on their faces and eyes confirm the water is icy indeed.


Marvin writes: We have written in earlier journals that Bolivians wear T-shirts without knowing what the text might say. They are purchased because the color goes well or the picture is cool, but rare 3 amigosly does anyone bother to translate the English. You would only need to see "I had a great time at Jaime's Bar Mitzvah" to know that color or price trumped logo.


So when contemplating our options for gifts I thought Spanish language T-shirts would be innovative. So with a little help from a family friend we had three T-shirts made. You can see the results below. In English Felix's T-shirt says I am the co-parent of Marvin, Milton's says I am the godson of Marvin and mine says I am the co-parent of Felix and the godfather of Milton. These shirts were a huge success and were worn whenever we got together socially.


Early in the second week, we have a meeting with Jean Carla, Sergio and four other long-term volunteers who are working at Millenium (the orphanage for babies here in Cochabamba). Millenium has lost its major source of funding, and we are anxious to find some way to keep Millenium afloat financially. Jean Carla tells us that without additional funding, they may have to close within months. Already the babies are down to one diaper during the day and one at night. If the diaper becomes soiled, the child must continue to wear it until the regular changing time. There just isn't enough money to buy more diapers. They cant pay anyone to clean the orphanage, or wash the children's clothes, either.


Our group discusses various ideas. We all agree to certain actions we will take giving talks to church or school groups to raise money, putting more information on websites or Facebook sites, talking to friends or organizations we are involved with. We want desperately to save this institution, but we need close to $2000 per month. It seems extremely unlikely we can get this kind of money month after month, but we have to try.


August 30, 2009


LaPaz night viewWe have taken a break from our work at CEOLI and have been traveling in Western Bolivia around the La Paz area for ten days. We are taking two more days to rest and relax before flying back to Cochabamba tomorrow. Here at the hotel in La Paz we have a direct view of Illimani, the imposing 21,000+ foot high mountain that watches over the city. La Paz is fascinating the airport is at 13,500 feet, and the trip into town tumbles and winds down 2500 feet, on steep narrow streets with houses and stores perched precariously on hillsides sloping at angles of 45-60 degrees. At night, from the restaurant on the hotels 12th floor, it is surreal to be surrounded by lights from the city not just on the ground, but rising up vertically to thousands of feet above us. This city is dominated by the mountainous Andes, its Inca ancestry and its high altitude.


We travel to Tiahuanaco, a pre-Inca religious settlement with the ruins of giant pyramids, temples and statues from 200 to 1100 A.D. Standing among the ruins in the cold, windy desert, miles from apparently anything, it is intriguing to imagine this highly developed, skilled empire of hundreds of thousands living and worshipping right where we stand. That Tiahuanacan art is highly developed can be found in literature, but by actually being there we could observe first hand their skills at piping fresh water and sewage throughout their city in stone pipes. There was even a system used to fasten stones together with bronze dog bones . 

  gateway  gateway detail   statue   temple walls   water pipes   

          Gateway to the sun and detail                          Statue              Temple wall                  Water "pipes"

area view key detail   sunken plaza   wall detail

   Holding stones together with bronze keys      Sunken plaza with detail from walll



Leaving Tiahuanaco, we drive through the altiplano to the charming village of Copacabana, nestled on the shores of a bay formed by a peninsula jutting into Lake Titicaca. We wander around the bustling village, admiring the Copacabana Cerro Calvario Calvariohuge Moorish-style white cathedral that dominates the city. And we hike, amid desperate gasps for air here at almost 13,000 feet, to the top of Cerro Calvario, where the deeply religious and hopeful natives bring their wishes to be blessed and granted by God, the Virgin Mary, the Pachamama, and whichever other deity has power over them. Here at Cerro Calvario we can delight in views of the tiled roofs and cobbled streets of Copacabana, bask in the warm, brilliant sunshine, wonder at the (fiberglass?) motorized replica of their famous reed boats and marvel at vast views of shimmering deep blue Lake Titicaca.


Next we embark on a small wooden boat out on the lake, an hour and a half journey to Isla de la Luna, where there are Inca ruins of living quarters for young women who were training to become Incan nobles wives. The physical beauty of this spot is breath-taking, with an unobstructed sweep of cobalt blue water, bordered by faint snow-capped mountains on the distant shores.

Inca ruin inca ruin Incan vistaWe climb back on the boat to slice through the frigid Lake Titicaca waters to Isla del Sol, where we have lunch at a ramshackle shed on the beach. Amidst a minor feast of vegetable omelets and fresh trout from the lake, we revel in our gorgeous views of the lazy bay, the dusty adobe one-room houses of the town behind us, and the sun practically melting through our clothes. After a suitable digestion period, we take an hour-long hike to Inca ruins on the north end of the island.


By late afternoon we have motored to the middle of Isla del Sol and disembarked. There is a mile or so to our accommodations near the top of this mountainous island with a climb of about 700 feet. We load our duffel bags and backpacks on burros, which are then led by local Aymaran women, and we huff and puff our own way up to the albergue. By the time we arrive, it is almost dark, and the cold moves in quickly on this bare island at 13,000 feet high. Our cottage is darling, and is solar-heated during the day, but this is of small comfort during the freezing nighttime.


view of ruin fields Titicaca In the sun-filled morning, however, when I pull back the curtains I am stunned. In the far distance are the still-hazy snow-covered mountains of the Cordillera Real. Then the shimmering Lake ruin Titicaca spreads as far as our eyes can see. The terraced hills of Isla del Sol rise up from the lake. And just under our window are patches of flowers in varied reds, pinks and yellows. There is a heavenly quiet here, broken only by the wind and an occasional baa of a sheep or bray of a burro. This is a place of supreme beauty, quiet enough to still your soul, bountiful enough to fill it again.


We have the morning to ourselves, and spend it sitting outside our cottage, reveling in our view and soaking up the sun. In the afternoon we hike to the Inca ruins on the south end of the island. It is an easier hike, along a gently sloping, rocky trail, and we have a constant view of the terraced fields and the sparkling lake. Later, we plop ourselves down on the outdoor terrace of a small restaurant, and treat ourselves to a cooling drink.


hot springs fumeroleWhen we leave our paradise of Isla del Sol, we have one more jaunt to the tiny village of Tomarapi, an Aymaran community in the high altiplano, at 14,000 feet. It is a 4-hour trip from La Paz, through vast deserts with brown, dusty, scrubs of low bushes, occasional one-room adobe huts of exactly the same shade as the land, and a smattering of llamas and alpacas roaming for food. In many ways this region reminds us of the desert regions of New Mexico and Arizona. Two hours into the trip we spy Sajama, Bolivia's highest mountain at 21,463 feet. All alone on the altiplano, dominating the surrounding plains, this ancient volcano rises into the sky with a snowy mantle at its peak.


vicuna flamingosA dirt road finally leads us into Sajama National Park and to the settlement of Tomarapi. We hike to a shallow lake which is shared by vicunas and pink flamingos. We hike to another area of mini-geysers steaming, bubbling pools of water against the base of another mountain. And we visit a hot spring where we are invited to bathe. But the sun is setting now, and I am shivering from a wind that is insistently grabbing at our winter coats, as the altiplano begins its harsh descent into the freezing void of night. Soaking in this natural hot tub would be wonderfully therapeutic, but its benefits would be lost the second we stepped out. It is an easy decision to refuse the invitation to bathe.

Back at our tiny ecolodge, we eat dinner while wearing our down jackets, rubbing our hands to keep them warm enough to hold our forks. In our freezing room (a tiny, sickly space heater is turned on from 7:00 pm until 10:30 pm only), we pile under layers of jackets and thick wool blankets without removing our clothes. We cant seem to breathe enough oxygen to ever fall asleep and it is too cold to get out of bed or even to hold a book outside of th cryptse covers, so we spend an eternal sleepless night waiting for dawn. But when daylight finally comes, the sun warms up the world, and the difficult night is almost forgotten.


On our way back to La Paz we chase more llamas and alpacas off our road, stop to see a small church built by the Spaniards in the early 1600s, and eat a picnic lunch by a broad lazy river that runs from Lake Titicaca to Lake Popo.Two more days of rest and relaxation in La Paz and our trip is over. It is time to return to work in Cochabamba.


September 13, 2009


Our flight from La Paz goes smoothly. We sit on the left side of the plane and have astounding views of Mt. Illimani and dozens of other snow-laden mountains in the Cordillera Real. It is heartening to touch down in sunny, warm Cochabamba and breathe in the thicker air at 8400 feet. When we arrive at Lucy's house there is a party going on. Her son Marcelo is visiting from Spain and has brought 2 friends Maria and Angel. Jean Carla and her family are also there. Maria is cooking paella Valenciana for a crowd in a huge open wok-like pan that covers all 4 burners. We are invited to join them, and we do pleased and honored to be included in this joyous and festive family gathering.


The next morning we drag ourselves out of bed to return to work at CEOLI. Our bodies are tired from the many sleepless nights on our trip gasping for air. But it is our attitudes that, for some reason, really need to be revived. We are clearly not ready to re-immerse ourselves into the concrete and brick world, and Cochabamba, it appears, is not ready for us. This morning there is a paro civico. The trufi drivers from Quillacollo are blocking vehicles on all the bridges in and out of Cochabamba because they are protesting a local government effort to install more trufi routes. More trufis would decrease their fare intake and clog the already crowded streets. So, to get to work we catch a taxi to the nearest bridge to CEOLI, get out and walk over the bridge, and then walk the rest of the way.We arrive later than usual, but Felix is clearly delighted to see us. We start in where we left off, laying one brick at a time, slowly finishing each row. work siteFor the four walls of the dispensa, the ceiling/floor, the walkway and the walkway walls, we calculate well use a final total of about 13,750 lbs of cement, and 1200 bricks. Today we are only at 10,000 lbs of cement and 1000 bricks, so we must keep going.


That night Marvin gets sick. He doesn't go to work the next day and tells me I have to work twice as hard to make up for his absence. I throw myself into the work that day a regular brick-laying machine. And I work an extra hour. At days end I have laid 10 rows of bricks. I am thrilled, and so tired and sore I consider spending the night there so I wont have to move between now and tomorrow morning.


work siteThe following day Marvin is much better. He stays home in the morning to rest, but comes to work in the afternoon. I work just as hard as the previous day, but it doesn't go as well the cement is too hard, or too runny, or has a big rock in it. The brick is crooked, or chipped, or wont sit up straight. I drop the concrete on the floor. The spaces between the bricks are too small to wedge the concrete between them. It doesn't matter the bricks do not want to be laid today, so in spite of my best efforts, I get only 6 rows done. We breathe huge sighs of relief on Friday afternoon. We have made it through the week and have Martie's B-day two days to recuperate.


Saturday we spend a fun day with Felix and his family. They celebrate my birthday with a cake, and each member of the family does the traditional birthday salutations while rubbing gobs of confetti in my hair. Marvin spends some time helping Milton assemble the model sports car, and I help Rodrigo with some of his English lessons. He is having trouble with the past progressive particip calfle don't we all?

There is a baby bull at the Cabrera's house just born early that morning. We get to watch the wobbly youngster learn to suckle from his mothers teats.


Sunday is the Dia de Peatones (Pedestrian Day), when no cars, buses, taxis or motorcycles are allowed on Cochabamba streets. The streets are teeming with people on bicycles and skates. Tiny children are energetically pumping their tricycles, and young teenagers are sashaying and giggling in small clumps of self-consciousness. Even parents are walking with their kids, carrying bottles of soda, or pulling them on their skates or bikes. It is a warm and sunny day, ripe with all the hope of early spring, so especially the teens are parading their new shorts and summer wear. The day is abuzz with fun and outdoor activities.

On Monday we get to extend our break from work. I injured my thumb on the hike from Inkarakay in late July and it has still not healed. So Jean Carla takes us to her brother-in-laws medical practice at the pediatric orthopedic section of a hospital. He asks a few questions about where does it hurt?, and writes an order for X-rays. To obtain the X-rays, we walk across the street where there are a number of small offices advertising X-rays, echography, sonograms and other similar types of services. We pick one that is close, but after waiting 10 minutes without any service, we walk off to another office. On our second try we hand the X-ray orders to a person standing in the courtyard, and I am almost immediately ushered into a drab, cement-walled room with excruciatingly old X-ray equipment. The technician has to fiddle with, kick and coax the machine to turn on. But once he gets it going, he seems to know what he is doing, and we get 3 different views of my thumb.

In a few minutes I am out of the X-ray room, I've paid the grand sum of 55 bolivianos (just under $8), and my X-rays are drip-drying, clothesline-style, out in the patio. I've not filled out one piece of paper they haven't even written down my name. There is no name or date on my X-rays.


When the X-rays are almost dry, we carry them back to the doctors office, where he informs me that yes, I've fractured the bone just before the last joint. It should have been splinted so it would have healed already, but now it will take another 6 weeks or so to heal. I'm pleased that we don't have to splint it now, since it would be quite inconvenient to lay bricks with a splint. Ill just be more careful about not using my thumb. I'm also pleased that I'm not working this morning


The rest of the week at CEOLI couldn't drag by more slowly. Row by painful row we lay the bricks up to a height of 11 feet on all 4 walls. On the last 2 days we build the wooden form for the bond beams and pour the concrete. It is a really messy job to mix the concrete on the floor, pass it up the ladder in buckets and pour it into the form. By days end we look like we have had a concrete fight. But we are done! Finished! Terminator ! Felix will have to return to do the roof, some of the trim work, and install the windows. But Marvin and I have completed our contract!


laying brick  finished 1 finished 2







Three views of the finished storage room.  The room below was converted to a staff dining room



September 17, 2009


We've taken the last 4 days off to prepare for returning to the U.S. get all the boxes of CEOLI cards ready to be transported, have a meeting on the future plans and projects of Amizade, buy gifts to take back with us, and just to have a little free time. Marvin decides to buy a new pair of glasses at Sergio's fathers optical store, so we go to an optometrist to get his prescription. The exam costs 40 bolivianos (just under $6). The glasses are a fourth of the cost they would be in the U.S.


October 3, 2009


Our second group of volunteers arrived on Saturday 2 weeks ago. This group consists of Valeria and Laurie, two long-time friends from the Minneapolis area; Jim a friend of ours from New York state, whom we've known from previous stucco stairwell volunteer trips to Nicaragua and Cochabamba; Ryan a young man from Colorado; and Brad who was with us in July and has returned for the second time this summer. It is an energetic and fun group of people, and we all really enjoy the experience and each other. bathroom


We are returning to the orphanage (Hogar de Ninos, to finish the dormitory for the older children and the nuns. On our first day of work, 6 college students who are staying in Cochabamba for an Amizade learning semester join us. It is hectic getting started, with so many people and figuring out which jobs to do. But we finally settle into various jobs and get to work. There is stuccoing in the downstairs bathroom, painting in the downstairs rooms, tiling along the stairs, and preparing to pour a sidewalk along the side of the building. Laurie and I work together to lay the baseboard tile on the stairs she does most of the cutting of the tiles, and I do the laying.


    hogarThe next few days the students are not with us. We continue the tiling and painting. We also lay the bricks on the stairs, and then stucco them over. We dig a trench for the sewer pipe from the new toilets in the upstairs bathroom, but then the architect arrives and tells us to put the trench elsewhere. A whole new septic field will be supplied later. So we fill it back up. Several volunteers chip holes in the concrete walls in the upstairs bathroom so Marvin and Felix can install the pipes for the plumbing. Later in the week, after the pipes are installed, Brad and I stucco the walls to conceal the pipes.


Felix told me that Ana (my favorite orphan) had her 14th birthday in early August, just after the last group of volunteers left the Hogar. I wish I had known, so I could have gotten her something for her birthday. I have been thinking about this for weeks. I want to give her something meaningful, but it is difficult to give her anything personal. Clothes, toys and even school supplies are shared among the orphans. And Felix tells me that some of the older boys are stealing the more valuable things. What can I give her that she can keep for herself? I finally settle on my silver necklace. It is a cheap silver chain, but I wear it all the time. This is something I obviously value, and if she wears it constantly, it wont be stolen. On the first day back to work at the Hogar, I give it to her and she seems pleased. Every day we are there, she wears it.


Jacaranda viewFor the weekend our group goes into Cochabamba for some sight-seeing. Friday morning we visit CEOLI and Dr. Cinthia gives us the complete tour of the complex the medical office, speech and physical therapy areas, classrooms, activities of daily living, and the vocational workshops where the young adults make crafts. Of course we see the dispensa that Marvin and I worked on too, and we imagine the other volunteers are impressed with our handiwork. Then it is on to the statue of the Cristo that blesses the city from a nearby hill. And after lunch, we shop for handcrafts at the La Cancha open air market.


On Saturday we visit a few of the small towns outside Cochabamba Arani, known for its bread-making, and Tarata, known for its historic buildings and museum. We also stop for chicha in the town of Cliza. Chicha is the homemade brew for which the Cochabamba area is famous it is made from corn, but the fermentation process is started by using human saliva. Laurie's sons have dared her to drink this potion. She is determined to have the experience, and the whole group is delightfully surprised to find it is quite potable.


On Sunday we take the 3-hour bus ride to Incallajta, the Inca ruins to the east. It is a hauntingly beautiful ride, as always. Steep mountains rise up from the small farms, their adobe huts dwarfed by the vast landscape. It is the true rural Bolivia, with its poverty and harsh life and physical beauty all combined.


inca ruin incallajta Big market We eat a picnic lunch at the ruins site, then take a tour of the ruins. There is huge temple area 90 by 27 meters, the second largest known Inca building. There are also remains of the barracks of the soldiers, the priests, and women servants and the young maidens. Nestled in the crook of one of the mountains is a thin, high waterfall that was their source of water, and beyond that, the large boulder they used for their astronomical calculations. It is a fascinating site, and we spend a marvelous afternoon experiencing both the geography and history of this area of Bolivia.



Incajacta Hillside 2009


In previous journals I have shown this panorama of the valley that Incallajta was fortified to defend.  Here it is in late September 2009



bathroom drainIn our second week of work, we say ciao to Valeria, who has had to return early to the states (just couldn't take more time off from work). On Monday, Laurie and Marvin and I lay wall tile in the upstairs bathroom. Monday afternoon we are engrossed in work when a group of policemen arrive at the orphanage. Sergio meets briefly with them, then tells us to keep working, and stay out of the policemen's way. Within a half hour, it is time for us to leave, and we warily leave our work, gather our belongings, and head back to the Casa de Retiros.


On Tuesday morning we learn the police have closed the orphanage and removed all the children. The news has made the Cochabamba TV stations and newspapers. No one knows the reason why there are suspicions it has to do with robbery, or gangs, or drug dealing. We go ahead to work on Tuesday, but it is hauntingly quiet and empty without the children. Media camera crews arrive late Tuesday afternoon, but we stay out of their way.

On Wednesday we learn the news sources are claiming at least eight of the orphans have been sexually abused. It is not yet clear who has abused them. There is an ugly sick feeling in my stomach. We don't know that this is true, but even the idea that it might be is so unthinkable that I cant process it. And there is nothing we can do we are in a foreign country whose processes and methods we do not understand. We have no standing or authority here. We cannot contact the orphans, or comfort them in any way. I fear for the orphans who are over 12 years old, because the government does not provide for them, and I believe the police will turn them out on the street when they have finished their investigation. What will happen to Ana and the twins Dalia and Domatilia, Rodrigo and the others who are over 12, if they are turned out on the streets? I talk to both Sergio and Jean Carla, begging them to keep tabs on this investigation, and see if there was some way we can help financially with these older orphans. We return to work at the Hogar that day, but our enthusiasm has evaporated.


tiling   finish stairOn Wednesday and Thursday Laurie and I finished tiling the upstairs bathroom, and then paint the stairwell a creamy yellow. Marvin installs the toilets, sinks group and shower in the bathroom. The others finish various jobs in the downstairs and outside on the sidewalk. Thursday afternoon it is time to say good-bye to the Hogar. In the past, we would share a treat with the children in the dining room. Then, as they had just six weeks before, the children would dance for us and pull us into their circle, laughing and smiling shyly at our awkward steps. Then, as we finally pulled away in the trufi, they would stand outside the orphanage walls, waving and serenading us with Ciao tio, ciao tia. Today, there are no children. There is no celebration, no sharing, no one to hug goodbye. There is only a cluster of empty buildings, some broken toys in the yard, a few leftover clothes and shirts hanging on the clothesline, and the wind-broken silence to share our farewell.


On Friday night, in spite of the recent tragic events, we share a farewell dinner with Felix, Timoteo, Raul and their families as well as the Amizade students. We celebrate our hard work, our new friendships and our wonderful experiences here. Marvin and I, and a few of the other volunteers will leave for the U.S. tomorrow. Laurie and Brad will leave in a day or two.


Marvin and I have done what we came for, but the landscape has changed. We are told the Hogar will eventually be used for some charitable purpose, such as another orphanage, or a rehab home for children with substance abuse problems. So our hard work will still be worth it. But some of these orphans we have known for over 8 years. We need to know what will happen to them, and to have a chance to help if their situation is poorly handled. We must rely on Jean Carla and Amizade to keep tabs on what is happening to these children. And to advise us if there is anything we can do to help. It is with heavy hearts that we board our plane to leave.


As the plane lifts away from Cochabamba, circles over the valley and begins its ascent over the mountains, I vow not to allow the comfort of our lives in the states to lull us into forgetting the on-going tragedies of the children at the Hogar. We must keep vigil from afar and find a way to provide for the older orphans. I want to hug Ana and give her a present on her 16th birthday.