Preparing for Easter in Bolivia

Easter is a great celebration for all Christians across the world. The Bolivian culture takes the preparation of Easter very seriously. Some would say it starts with Carnival, One week prior to Ash Wednesday, where people do as much craziness, partying, dancing, drinking, and I guess some would call it getting away with all you can before you are committed to giving it all up for Ash Wednesday (Lenten Season). Some would say it altogether starts with Ash Wednesday, which is where I choose to commit to the preparation of Easter. Here, is where I saw the change of attitude, where the tradition was for the spirit of Christ, so everyone here could start to get ready for Easter, the old heart preparing to rejoice in the new heart of Jesus Christ, preparing to be reborn. It is a beautiful, and serene time during this preparation, one in which we all here in Bolivia scramble to seek for the Holy Spirit to move us. I myself found I was looking harder for the Holy Spirit, for anything that named Jesus Christ as my Lord, and Savior. So this is how we prepared for Easter here in Bolivia.
In Bolivia Easter preparation started on Ash Wednesday. It was really nice to see that the first thing that happens is during the day, where the children at school will go to Mass. They are the first of many who will come to have the sign of the Cross, in ash put on their foreheads. They will listen to the explanation, the purpose, the importance of preparing for this very important event that will take place, known as Easter. I am not sure that 3 to 6 year olds really understand, or listened all that much, but as every year the children grow in this yearly tradition, God willing, they will come to an understanding of what, and the why’s of the beginning of the Lenten season. Later in the evening Mass will start again, this time adults with their families will come, they too will all listen, and receive the sign of the Cross, in ash put on their foreheads. They will walk away quietly, reflecting on the Mass, and the importance of Sacrifice, and consider what they can give up, in order to have a fraction of what it took God to Sacrifice his one and only Son. What can each of us do? I too considered what would be worthy of a sacrifice, to show love, obedience, and preparation of my heart.
Every Friday at 6:30pm all year round is a time for The Rosary in the church, where I attend here in Bolivia. This is when many come together to do the praying of the Rosary. The Rosary I have found in many religions outside the Catholic Church is terribly misunderstood, so to start I would like to give a little clarity. For one it is NOT a type of worshipping to the Virgin Mary, nor has she become an idol. She is merely an advocate, a prayer warrior, another person who can pray with us for those things we wish to request before God/Jesus Christ. John 2:1-8 tells us in the bible that, On the third day a wedding took place at Cana. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “ My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “ Fill the jars with water”, so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” This story for me shows me that when we have Mary the mother of Jesus as our prayer warrior, he does as his mother request, even when his hour has not come. So for this reason I and many Catholic’s have come to her, asking Jesus to hear our request, and if it is His will perhaps the request will be granted. Praying the Rosary is also a wonderful way to mediate on the bible, because each section requires us to reflect about what Mary and Jesus were doing, what they went through at that moment in time, so long ago. I have always enjoyed doing the Rosary; I like also saying it in Spanish.
Once the Rosary has been said, we all come together for Mass. We receive the Eucharist; this is followed with walking outside, where a vehicle with huge speakers pulls out as the rest of us walk. We walk throughout the neighborhood. As we go we are all singing, saying the Lord’s Prayer, and the Hail Mary. We come to different homes that are set up with candles, pictures of Jesus, and flowers. Then the Stations of the Cross are announced, there are 14 Stations, 14 different homes where we kneel, and listen to each part, as Jesus suffered, we reminisce what it must have been like for Jesus, and how we have all failed him, failed God, failed ourselves. We leave to go home to reflect what we have heard on this Friday. This we will do every Friday from the following of Ash Wednesday until Good Friday prior to Easter.
On Friday prior to Palm Sunday was a wonderful event, at the schools all throughout Bolivia; children will reenact Jesus and his disciples coming to Jerusalem. Children will have palms and wave them, as the small actor who plays Jesus walks through the school. We will go to the small chapel in the convent, where the children will hear the story of Jesus and this magnificent event that took place so many 100’s of years ago. On Sunday there you will see beautiful palms woven with flowers to buy for this special day, and we will hear the story again. This is all to lead up to the week that will change the world forever, what we now know as Easter.
On the Wednesday, before Mundey Thursday, the children walked to the convent chapel, and listened to Madre explain the story of Good Friday. When she finished we all went to the Concha, where they had it set up for the 14 different Stations of the Cross. They had children dressed up as soldiers, the mother of Christ, Vanessa, disciples, and one child represented Christ. The children were so taken by the story, and so sad. The children were really very good. At the end they had the child who was Christ wrapped in a lace cloth and he lay down in the Kinder Chapel. Each class came and walked around him some actually kneeled in respect for what they had witnessed. I found it very moving. The children were so sad at what happened. They may have not had the full understanding prior, but there is no doubt that they know the story now. I took many pictures of this incredibly moving event.
At Mass for Mundey Thursday the Priest washed the feet of a few young men. It was a good service, but I would not call it anything that stood out in comparison to everything that has been building towards Easter. Most everything else seems so intense, so this was more relaxed, and a fun service.
Good Friday would prove to be a long evening. First there is Mass that started at 6pm with the story of the crucifixion, followed by a play, in the church. It was wonderfully done by the youth group. Costumes, special props added to the effect. Everyone was captivated, even children ran to the front so not to miss the story. When the play was over we had communion. When Mass ended we all went outside to walk the 14 Stations of the Cross which we have been doing every Friday since the following of Ash Wednesday we walk the neighborhood. This time though they had a flatbed truck where the youth group would again do the skit as part of the Stations of the Cross. They had a huge flood lamp so we could all see. It was like a moving stage. It was really beautifully orchestrated. We sang along the way, prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and the Hail Mary. It all ended sometime close to 11pm. Children were sleeping as their parents carried them. It was the largest showing thus far. I thought all the Friday services were large, but this one was literally HUGE! Old and young followed the procession of this lovely event.
Passover Saturday was very quiet and serene. We had a candle lite vigil. Some of our volunteers as well as Hermana Anita (another Northern American, now Nun) sang some beautiful songs. I only wish I had recorded the music. It was truly breathtaking. Having candles lite, with the songs always gives such an awesomeness to this Easter experience. I was so taken by it all. People came to be blessed, and all prayed with such emotion. I felt privileged to be there.
Easter Sunday starts at 5am here. The youth group spent the night in the convent just to be ready, at the crack of light, which really there was no light at that time. Any way they all gather in trucks, climb into the many trucks available, all have huge speakers attached to the roof of the vehicles, then they drive around town singing praises to God, and all should get up and celebrate this gift. It is heard everywhere, at which time many do get up and set off fire crackers. So if the songs of praise do not wake you be assured the firecrackers will. LOL at 6am is Mass, where we all gathered to hear of the resurrection. The mood has changed from sorrow and remorse to Hallelujahs, singing, laughing, and joy. We then gathered at the convent for breakfast that the youth group made for all. Next was the Hogar where Easter egg hunts were done, gift bags, provided by Maggie and I, thanks to the many donations, from all who sent packages, stickers, color crayons, color books, rubber bracelets, and many other items to many to remember. I would like to acknowledge Adam & Lucy Rudkins, The Hennig Family, and all those who sent stickers; they provided Easter basket fillers, since they had none at all.
Ash Wednesday marks the day to prepare our hearts, reflect on our lack of perfection, and come to understand the great sacrifice God made for us to be saved. God loved us so much he did not want to lose any of us to Satan; he wants us all to be with him in Paradise. Hope you all had an Easter that was filled with love, and praise. God Bless you all.

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A school here in Bolivia

I was privileged to visit another school here in Montero, Santa Cruz Bolivia. It was so sad. I only wish I had brought my camera.  The chalkboard was basically a wall that had been painted green. The chairs were so old that I was seriously afraid to sit on them (no exaggeration). The room was small, and dirty, and no windows. It broke my heart knowing this is the norm here in the schools. Apparently I work in one of the finest schools here in Montero. Most of the other schools look similar to the one I visited today. I sort of thought that was the case, considering most families live in homes the square footage of a one car garage. Many families live in tents behind the Mercado (flea market style stores). School here is a privilege, and is not mandatory. Many families cannot afford to send their children to school, because it is not free. Bolivians live in a life that the United States has not seen since the early 1930’s (The Great Depression). It is very backwards and yet very simple. Neighbors know each other, and help each other. There is something to be said about being poor, you learn to depend on one another to survive, yet at the same time, it is so very hard to watch, and sad. Keep us in your prayer this Easter Season, and be grateful for all that God has done for each, and everyone of you in the United States.

Paz from Bolivia,

Vivian

I’m half way here & half way there

I’m Half Way Here & Half Way There

Well I have been here in Bolivia exactly 26 weeks, and I have exactly 26 weeks left to complete my commitment here. Many people have asked me” has it flown by?” I have to say no, it by no means flew by. My first four months were by far my most difficult, and trying. It was hard to adjust to living in community with things that were so different from where you came from. I got here with a certain amount of expectations. That can always be a mistake when going into a place that is so very, different from anything you have experienced.  Sometimes we think all people are going to like us, because we came for a good cause, but not everyone sees us the way we see ourselves. I think it can be hard letting go, and saying good bye to people you love, and a place you have called home for so long, this for some can put immense stress on everyone, and this is very well what happened. The couple in which I replaced had so much love, time devoted to this place it became hard for them to hand it over to the next volunteers. It was sad for all of us, and it caused so much pain, suffering, and frustration.  Towards the end though relationships slowly improved, and saying our farewells was left in peace and amicable respect.

When I thought things could not get any worse, I got sick, landing me in the hospital in November. It happened on a horribly hot humid day, when I was working in the Guaderia from 9am-12. I would then work at the Kinder from 2pm-5 sometimes 6pm, and catch a computer graphic class from 7pm-9pm. I was so miserably hot that particular day that without even watching, I jumped into the shower. Washing first my hair with my eyes closed.  I realized something was wrong. It just felt wrong, grimy, and my eyes were burning intensely. The water was brown, dirt brown. I jumped out and where poo corner (a place where people defecate, & urinate, where it gets its name from) is that the water line had broken. I had showered in, YES you know it. I had no way to get cleaned up since we had no clean water, so I slept in that filth. I ended up getting the worst case of Amoebas 3 weeks later. That is how long it takes for amoebas to incubate in a person’s body.   I ended up in the hospital with an IV filled with antibiotics for 3 days. The Madres were so horribly worried that they had someone stay with me 24hours around the clock for all three days, I kept telling them I didn’t need anyone there, I was too sick to care if someone was there or not, but they insisted. I think they really thought I was going to die.  I lost a tremendous amount of weight.  They wanted to keep me longer, but when you see cockroaches in your shower, and the water in the sink in your room starts running brown, you have to wonder is this really a better place, so I checked myself out. Hermana Inez had to give me injections back at my place of residence, Hermana Inez used to be a nurse, who knew? I know for most of you this would have been your ticket home, but not me. I never ever considered going home, but many of my family members felt it was time. I also thought this is exactly what these poor people have to live with. I did feel horrible, and life just did not seem like it was going to get better, but it did. After four months the stress of things just seemed to go away.  I got better with some medication, some of it needed to be sent here from the United States.  I have a feeling I may still have those horrible parasites, but I seem to be able to function for the most part. I just do not gain weight, and continue to lose a little more. I refuse to buy new clothes I will see a doctor when I get back to the States.  Despite all this life got better, and better every day

Christmas was fun & incredibly busy. Although all of us as volunteers missed home terribly we seem to cling to each other for moral/emotional comfort. One of the Hogar volunteers got sick so we all jumped in to cover for her, while she recuperated. We also had a volunteer from years ago come and visit, her name is Jenna. She gave us all what we needed in lifting our spirits, with her encouraging words, and her wisdom handed down from her time here. She was a blessing that we all needed. It is always wonderful when you have a fellow volunteer who does their best to make you feel what you are doing is wonderful, and Godly. She definitely did that for all of us. The thing is that sometimes the girls in the Hogar can give the impression that you did not work hard enough, you did not give them enough, or you just feel horribly unappreciated. This was very true after Christmas, but due to Jenna, who had also had the same experience when she was here, was very aware of the pain that we were suffering. She reminded all of us that we are here for God, keep him as our focus. Her words helped all of us. The girls at the Hogar were much better after New Year. My personal feeling about this is that all the girls in the Hogar, really just want a family of their own, nothing else will suffice, really nothing. So they are always in many ways disappointed.

New Year brought many wonderful and somewhat stressful things.  Having no school gave me the opportunity to do a great deal of travelling, spending less than $250.00. My first place to visit was Samaipata. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It was rich in color, with its red dirt, cascading waterfalls, high mountains, lush green vegetation, and beautiful flowers everywhere.  I got to share this day with the youth group here in Montero, it is always fun being with the young people here. Next I went to Sucre, with some fellow Salesian volunteers from Okinawa. The city offered beautiful Spanish style homes painted white. We spent a wonderful time with a volunteer who was living with a host family, while she was taking classes to improve her Spanish skills.  The host family was wonderful to us while we also stayed in their home. The city was surrounded with beautiful mountains everywhere. It was clean, and charming. From there we travelled to La Paz. This city offered a great deal of shopping, great prices for many artisans, artsy local shopping. The Yungas (Amazon/Andes Mountains) was another spectacular place. We stayed with Hermana Sornora’s mother.  Sornora is a nun from Okinawa; her mother is a cholita (indigenous) woman. They were wonderful, and talk about getting immersed in culture, this was a fabulous way to have it all. We loved the scenery, food, company, village; everything had so much to offer us in the way of love, community, and humbleness. We all learned to appreciate the people of Bolivia more, and how they live. Our next place was Lake Titicaca, although we did not get to really enjoy the lake like we had hoped, it was still amazing to see the Inca sites there. We then travelled to Uyuni, where we were stunned by the Salt Lake there. It was an incredible site; you could not help, but be in awe of it all. Even when I see the pictures it just amazes me. Getting back via flota (luxury bus, without the luxuries) was the stressor, and a challenge. The roads had blockades, due to some protest, so we took a train to Oruro, which granted us the opportunity to see flamingoes in their natural habitat; it was like living a National Geographic scene, so beautiful. The roads continued to be blocked from Oruro to Cochabamba, so we had to pay extra for a trufie (a small minivan) to drive us another route, and trust in God that we would get back safely. We did, but we left Oruro feeling uneasy, not knowing what lay ahead of us. The very last of this travelling adventure was going to Cochabamba. It was a lovely city with a huge statue of Christ. You can see it for miles in all directions. There is also a small lake there. Cochabamba was nice for all the mountains. It was great to have our retreat there. We all had a wonderful time being together, knowing that we may not see one another again. We all took the time to learn to appreciate each other, and respect for all our individual gifts. Having the experience of travelling and communing with other volunteers was one of many of my very best times while being here in Bolivia.

School started in February, which was good and frustrating. The most difficult now is that I still have not mastered the Spanish language. It has been an issue, because there is a lack of communication amongst the faculty, myself, and the culture as a whole. I think because of the language issue I have missed lunch parties, and meetings. I am not sure if I was left out, forgotten, overlooked, or whatever. It did create a little insecurity that I did not have before. Things do however seem better, and I have everything ready to teach. I have my programs up, and ready to go for the children. I have created a felt hands on Calendar, for students to learn their numbers, months, seasons, and weather. I had a lot of fun making it, and Madre Clara seems to love it. She even played with it. I also gave her some ideas on other items that could be made so the children can play games that teach math, letters, etc. She was very impressed. One is using plastic liter bottle caps and a board, where we number the caps 1-100. The children have to place them in numerical order in a hole that has been drilled out for the caps to fit. We used this in the USA, kids love it. The other idea was to play BINGO with numbers or letters. This again is great for children to recognize both letters and numbers. The kids find learning fun, and redundancy helps them remember. I try to bring what I know to help teach here. Hopefully we can make these items that are really inexpensive for the children.

My half way point has been both fun, joyful, and yet every bit of challenging. I feel God ever present in my life, and look forward to everyday. Working here is everything I dreamed it would be, and I feel grateful to be here. What I have learned so far from this experience is that people of all cultures speak a universal language. We all know this language each and every one of us; it is being able to smile, laugh, showing sadness, or anger, and many more. The thing is when you are doing missionary work, without even knowing or understanding the language, if you smile, if you laugh, people will be drawn to you, it’s like heat drawn to the sun, and People like being around others who shine. So I always try to smile all the time. I also noticed that without trying God would show me opportunities for being kind. I never had to look for it; it would just magically present itself. Like a woman carrying all her merchandise in her wheelbarrow, but couldn’t get it up the lift. I helped her. One time a woman in front of me in the trufie (taxi) was crying, so I handed her some tissue, when I got out she grabbed me and hugged me. Another time there was an old Cholita (indigenous) woman trying to cross a very busy street, she had a cane, yet no one noticed, so I took her by the arm and walked with her. It reminded me of an insurance company commercial in the USA, where people notice these small moments of kindness, and then proceed to be kind. We can all be missionaries in whatever part of the world we happen to be in, showing Christ is just a matter of showing kindness, smiling, laughing, and making the most out of a situation. What I love the very most is walking through town and having children fly out of nowhere to rush and shower me with hugs, or screaming from across the street, Hola Profesora Viviana. Parents laugh and smile, and I drop down to embrace the children. The last half of this Bolivian Adventure opens up so many possibilities; one that remains 1st priority is mastering the Language. I know I can, but in 6 months? Keep praying for me I could sure use it. February brings me to my half way point of my journey thus far. I now have been here 26 weeks, and 26 weeks until I fly back to the States, on August 23 to SFO. My children/grandchildren miss me terribly, as I miss them, and everyone. We are all counting the weeks until I see them again.   I look forward to remaining loyal and finishing my commitment here, but I also see that my journey here is now at its peak, it’s a downward rush.  Love you all for the prayers, the encouraging words, the skype dates, phone dates, facebook comments, chat times, etc. Please keep them coming, it is what keeps me going.

Paz from Bolivia,

Vivian

A cry of despair

It can be a sad thing here in the Hogar. We have so many beautiful children, all here for various reasons, some abandoned, some orphaned, some here for abuse, some because their parents have TB or, another debilitating illness, some here for a better life, but all are here because it is a good place for them to be. It does not however replace home, as a home should be.

 

A few weeks ago, I was upstairs, helping the one girl (Leidy) who happens to be in her late teens. She has also been raised in the Hogar. She was getting the babies down for bed. She is in charge of about 20 plus babies, ranging from 9mos -3years old. Some of the babies even have to sleep two to a crib. Leidy is wonderful with the babies, she has a very touching prayer they say every night. It goes something like this, Thank you God for all of us; continue to please provide for us as you have been. Watch over our parents wherever they may be. The loving prayer’s she provides for the children is all very emotionally moving, and very sincere. I love the prayer, but for me having never been in the nursery before, it was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do. I have raised four beautiful children, and babysat my grandchildren. A mommy gets to know the cries of the children. You have the tantrum cry, the whinny cry, the little booboo cry, the big booboo cry, and then there is the cry of despair/abandonment cry. This is the type of cry I heard when the babies went to bed the night I helped. It is an unmistakable cry. One even an adult may have felt at some sad time in their life. One in which reminded me of when Jesus Christ was crying in the garden. Right before the Roman soldiers took Jesus Christ. I can imagine how he felt alone, so very alone, so abandoned, and in such great despair. This is what I heard in the nursery. When I held these children, it was incredibly heart breaking. I could feel the sense of them wanting/needing a mommy/daddy, wanting their home. They desperately want to be loved, held, kissed, rocked to sleep, sang too. I was filled with such a sense of sadness. There just aren’t enough arms to hold so many babies. There are no rocking chairs to even consider rocking them. I did however sing them hush little babies don’t say a word; grandma’s going to buy you a mockingbird. They were very quiet as I sang the entire song, but when the song was over they cried again. . They are all so very hungry to be held, cuddled, & loved.  I remained very strong while I was with them, but as I walked back that long road home, I cried. I wish God would provide loving parents for all these children. Please pray that we get more volunteers to help with these babies.

 

I am very grateful that all the children here are in a safe haven, if only they could have the comforts of loving, caring parents, or even more volunteers to help Leidy. I think what a difference it could make for a child. I am grateful my children & grandchildren will never have to endure such sadness at such a very young age. I wish no one had to endure that sadness. I will continue to pray for all children. Please never stop praying for all the children here at the Hogar. 

Rain In Bolivia

 

Last night we had a pretty big windy, rainy night, filled with thunder and lightening. It was quite the event. It’s my first real storm while being here. I loved it because it gave us some reprieve from the heat and humidity, which I am finding not to be my friend. Some people embrace heat, and humidity. I wish I was one of them. I am just not into it. I tell the locals  “Me encanta la lluvia, bailo en la lluvia.” This meaning in English, I love the rain, I dance in the rain. They think I’m crazy, especially when I do start dancing in the rain. The kids watch and giggle. The teachers just smile. It is actually fun watching their expression.

Today I went to work in the Guaderia, only to find out, that of my 22 students, none showed up. It’s raining, so they do not tend to bring the children. Even some of the teacher’s do not come when it rains. They seriously see getting wet as a means to falling down ill, and dying. They are in some ways terrified of the rain. What that means to me is I have no class, and no one to teach, so I am writing to share the rain experience here in Bolivia.

Hope you all dance in the rain. I LOVE the rain, I only wish the Bolivians did as much as I do.

The things I am finding I am grateful for while in Bolivia

Last night I was talking to my eldest daughter until the wee hours. We had decided that we were both going to make a pack on only maintaining a positive attitude, speaking of others only if it is positive, looking at jobs, situations in a positive light. I came from a very critical upbringing, so this at times can pose as a challenge. I know with Gods help I can be better by practicing this positive outlook. I will start with my day yesterday.

Maggie my new site partner tries to always start our day with prayer, reading the word, and reading from A Year with C.S. Lewis from His Classic Works. We talk about how it applies to our life, and things we should consider working on. Yesterday was a great day, mainly because we had the opportunity to have the time for prayer, the bible, and our reading of C.S.Lewis. I find doing this is a wonderful way to start my morning.

Later that morning I accompanied Lainie my other site partner to Santa Cruz. As new volunteers we found it necessary when going into town or the city safer and necessary. I love going to the city of Santa Cruz, and yesterday was even nicer. We took a Trufie ( a taxi that seats any where from 6 to 8 people in a very small vehicle). Yesterday we actually had 11 people, 3 of which were children. So with the confined situation I got to hold a 2 year old indigenous little girl. We counted her fingers in Spanish 1-10. We even sang them in Spanish. The other people in the trufie looked back at us and smiled. I held her as though she were my little Ayla (my 2 year old granddaughter). I felt blessed to have a stranger allow me to hold this beautiful child. She fell asleep in my arms. Children look like angels when they are asleep. I cherished the moment.

We did not buy the item Lainie was interested in, but we had a wonderful lunch, and headed back. Lainie got sleepy on the way back. She asked if she could lay her head on my shoulder and catch some winks on the way back. I saw this as another of my God blessing moments. He knows I miss my children, and having Lainie feel so close to me is like having one of my daughters with me. I loved it.

When I got back to Montero, I went directly to work at the Kinder, many of the children, and teachers hugged me, and many showered me with kisses. You can never have enough of those, don’t you think?

After dinner I went to my computer graphic lab, and my teacher (Tom) informed me I was ahead of the homework assignment. I felt encouraged. I usually feel as though I am lost in the class of students who have been in the class since the beginning. I have only started the class. The language barrier puts me at a huge disadvantage, but I have managed to get by, this too I find a wonder positive, Tom & Laura even invited me to watch the mentalist with them last night, not one I have ever watched in the States, but any American T.V. is nice.

Overall I would say it has been a fabo day.

Until next time, look for blessings, they are all around us, in the most unexpected places sometimes.