Bolivia, Week Four

Maya Lapp

Meet crew NPH. The only real one I want you to know is Elina, princess girl who somehow found herself in the middle of Nowhere, Bolivia. (I mean that literally. She bought a princess cup to keep while she’s working at NPH, and woe onto whoever dares to use it. And if you want to be any more nowhere, you’ll have to take a flight to the moon.) I can’t imagine living with Elina for any long period of time, but she does give us a few laughs, my mom in particular. Quick example of my mom’s new entertainment: Elina was going to have to take a trip to a mental institution for some reason, and my mom told her to make sure the doctors don’t confuse her for a patient. Real nice, right? They have fun together, as I’m sure you could imagine. Or at least, my mom has fun with Elina. I don’t think the love is reciprocated.

As for the rest of Team NPH Volunteer… Griffin, buff gym-type (And I mean that literally. He goes to the gym 45 minutes away at least five times a week.) from the US and the only guy. I pity him. Elise and Feli, nurse and behavioral therapist, respectively. Cornelia, the wonderful Austrian who came with us on the first section of our vacation.

We were kept hopping this past week. First up was learning how to make empanadas form the tias from Divino (the baby house). There are all kinds of empanadas, but the ones we made were filled with mostly potatoes, and a bit of chicken, veggies and spices. I mentioned last week that they were supposed to come in the morning, right? Well, they never showed up, so we went down later to ask what was up, and apparently they didn’t come because it was raining. More accurately, it was drizzling on and off all morning, and they didn’t feel like making the quarter-mile trek. I’m not sure how they survive the rainy season, if they don’t leave the house in a drizzle. Anyway, we set up a new time, and started to work.

And empanadas require some work! I think I can claim a new title as expert potato peeler. (Not to mention chicken-shredder, carrot-cutter, and pea-depodder.)  However, I think my most honorable expertise would be the empanada-pincher. One of the tias taught us how to pinch the dough of the empanadas together so they both looked nice, and stayed together, and I’m proud do say I was the top pincher of the family! (I can’t claim superiority in many things, so I’ve got to take what I can.) Of course, since I was busy filling and pinching empanadas, Zena went with the tias to give some of the empanadas to the Divinos, and mom claimed the job of rolling out dough and frying the finished works. I was left to pinch Every. Single. Empanada. Hours and hours of pinching. Filling and pinching, filling and pinching. Me and my mom in the kitchen (Zena didn’t come back for hours, surely trying to avoid the work, and my dad wasn’t seen all day) pinching and frying empanadas from seven o’clock to nine. The rest of our family didn’t bother returning until all fifty or so were done. Delicious? Sure, but I have great respect for the cooks who make empanadas for all of NPH. I can’t imagine how much work that takes.

The next day was Feli’s birthday, so my mom offered to make falafel. Falafel is a simple enough dish, as long as you have a food-processer to blend together all of the ingredients and, sure enough, we had lugged down the ten-pound instrument just for this purpose. Mom plugs it in, stuffs in all of the ingredients, pushes the “on” button, and BAM! Mass explosion of smoke. (We later learn the cause was a different voltage of the outlets here.) So, for the second night in a row, we set out for hours of work in the kitchen. I get the job of pounding the chickpeas, Zena offers to grate the fava beans by hand, one-by-one, on the cheese grater, my mom starts chopping all the ingredients into as fine a mixture as is possible, and my dad sets about baking pita bread.

They turn out even better than the empanadas, but hours of work for a ten-minute meal is hardly endearing. We all decide to quick cooking for a few days.

The day after the falafel fiasco, we did a project with the youngest girls and boys houses- Dicipulos and Estrellas. With Dicipulos we made these helicopter-ish things out of wood. Half of them pounded away with a hammer, the other half with rocks, and we tried to make sure each of the kids had at least one uncrushed finger upon completion of the aircrafts. Mixed success. I think they had fun.

With Estrellas we made magic wands with stars (estrellas) on the ends. They got to decorate them with stickers and ribbon and sparkly wire. They had fun, too, but they even wilder than the Dicipulos had been, which kind of surprised me. Luckily, they didn’t start poking each other in the eyes until we left.

You know how I said before the Divinos are adorable? Well, they still are, but some of them are more Diablos (devils) than Divinos (divine ones). Especially Pablo (pseudonym). He is the youngest (and consequently lo mas lindo (cute)) of the Divinos, but he can be TROUBLE. I think the problem is, he’s so cute no one wants to punish him, so he causes as much trouble as he can. Still, I can’t help my weakness for the young ones. One kid sat on my lap and had me read him each of their books (they only have two) to him twice. Unlike most of the kids, he actually sat still and listened the whole time!

That brings me to another point. There is a “library” at NPH, but it’s tiny, and many of the children who enjoy reading have read all of the books in it at least once. Zena set me the task of raising money to augment the library with more books. When I get back I’m going to start collecting, so if you’re interested in donating, feel free to contact me in person when I return, or at any time at [email protected]. I am an avid reader, myself, and I think this is a great opportunity to help others pursue their passion for reading. There are few things I would feel better about raising money for, so be prepared for some campaigning upon my return! No donation is too small.

Okay, sorry about that little advertisement paragraph, but I wanted to get the word out now, so people can start thinking about it. What’s next… Snakes! Of course! I have a few fun stories about the viporas

Our first visit to NPH we were walking back from lunch and heard a blood-curdling scream. We (and everyone else within a half-mile radius) ran over to the woman who was screaming to see what was up. Apparently, rather than what was up, more to the point would be what had come down. The tia had been taking down laundry from the line when a venomous snake fell onto her shoulder and crawled down her side to the ground. Her whole body was shaking for at least ten minutes while some tios searched for the snake and killed it with a stick. I don’t blame her. After that, I was a lot more careful where I put my feet.

A few nights ago Elise, one of the volunteers, was woken up in the middle of the night to help take a girl (I’ll call her Rosita, just because) who had a bad asthma attack to the clinic for an oxygen tank. On their way there, the pair stepped into the light of a small streetlight kind of thing, and up rose a snake, baring its fangs and hissing at them. Elise yelled for Rosita (who was still struggling to breathe) to run, and they took off toward the clinic. When they left the clinic, Elise was (understandably) wary of the night. She asked the girl if she wanted to ride on her back, just in case. Rosita looked up at Elise and said, “Tia, I’m not afraid.” I think they should test her for chronic stupidity, although it might just be a part of Bolivian chromatin, because the next day there was an Easter Egg Hunt in long, snake-infested grass. I suppose I might get used to snake attacks after a while in Bolivia as well, but somehow I doubt it.

On the same thoughtline of crazy Bolivianness… While we were waiting for lunch one day, a girl came up to me and asked me if I was “casada”. I thought I had misunderstood her, so I shook my head in confusion. I glanced to Zena to see if I could get a different translation, but she was busy talking to another pequeno about something-or-other, so I looked back at the girl. Then she clarified with, “Tienes un esposo?” (Do you have a husband?) !?!?!?!?! Yeah, I’m completely serious. No lie. Everyone here also always thinks I’m older than my sister, too, and she’s almost twenty-three! What is Bolivia doing to me?!?!?!

Moving onward… Monday we had to renew our visas, so Sunday evening we got a ride into Santa Cruz. (At first we tried to hitchhike, but hitchhiking with three people isn’t easy, so we ended up getting a ride in with Tio Guzman, the director of NPH.) While we were on the road, we came head to head with a HUGE tracker-like thing. Although, by saying tractor, you get the wrong idea. This thing was the size of a house. And it was coming down the wrong side of the road, straight at us. Tio Guzman just started laughing, swerved over to the left of side of the road and said, “Welcome to Bolivia!”

Back to visas. We are officially illegally in Bolivia. We were supposed to renew our visa Monday, so we went in to the immigration office. Spent an hour in one line, and then we were told it was the wrong one, so we had to go back to another one. Another three hours later we get to the front of a new line, and we’re given more bad news. Without getting into the details, lets just say, getting a visa would require papers we didn’t have, another two days of visa work, and then returning next weekend for another two days of trying to deal with a messed-up system. That’s not to mention leaving our passports in the hands of a system that’s known to lose documents. Not a huge surprise, but now a welcomed one, either. We decided we would just pay the fine when we leave the country and deal with it.  So, yeah, we’re officially illegals.

Which reminds me, getting our visas mean’s we’ve been here a month already! I can’t believe my trip is more than halfway over! Time is flying by, and soon we’ll be flying back to Pittsburgh… Still, better enjoy it while I can! Hasta pronto!