Evolution of Man, Salar de Uyuni

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¡Hola comunidad Carpe Diem! It´s Megan (SAM Fall 2011) blogging from Cochabamba, Bolivia, my home for the past casi dos meses y me voy a quedar para dos meses mas 🙂 I am volunteering through Sustainable Bolivia (http://www.sustainablebolivia.org/) with Centro de Apoyo Integral Carcelario y Comunitario (CAICC). According to SB´s website (http://www.sustainablebolivia.org/CAICC.html)…

CAICC serves children and adolescents whose parents are either incarcerated, or were abandoned because their parents have migrated to other countries in search of economic opportunities… The primary goal of CAICC is to offer the children a space in which they can grow. It hopes to be a spark of hope for these children and to help them develop their self-esteem and discover their potential. CAICC offers recreational activities, a balanced diet, and sees that children attend school.

So yes, many of the kids live in prison. Bolivian law states children can live in prison until they are age 6 but the laws are not enforced here and parents want to raise their own children, even if it´s in prison.

To add to the above, CAICC also serves children from at-risk families (may involve single parents, domestic violence, young mothers). Currently, there are about 97 children and adolescents in total from both the prisons and community. I specifically work at CISS, which I believe stands for Centro Infantil San Sebastian, and which serves 52 children ages 1 to 6. There are three classrooms, one for babies (1-2), one for 2 and 3 year olds and one for pre-kinder (4, 5 and 6) where I work mostly, assisting the profesora. My schedule…

  • 7:20am – Take the micro ¨S¨to Sumunpaya (about a 30 to 45 minute bus ride, depending on if we stop for gas, which we usually do)
  • 8:00am – Arrive at CISS to hugs and calls of ¨¡TIA!¨
  • 9:00am – All the children have arrived by now from the prisons and community. Breakfast time! Usually bread and tea or arroz con leche if we´re lucky.
  •  9:45am – ¡A curso! Everybody disperses to their respective classrooms.
  • 9:45-11:30am – Babies are playing, 3 year olds are doing puzzles, pre-kinder is copying lines in their cuadernos. On Mondays we go to the volleyball courts to play in the sand. Some days we go to the park.
  • 11:30am – Wash hands for lunch
  • 11:40am-1:00pm – Lunch! Usually soup and a segundo (today we had rice, fried eggs, plantains and beets)
  • 1:00-3:30pm – Refresco and frutas. Little kids are napping and changing their clothes. Pre-kinder might watch a movie or go to the park or do more lines…
  • 4:00pm – Everybody boards the bus to go back to the prisons and/or parets pick up the kids

Tuesday is my day to recoger and retornar con los niños a las carceles. I have to meet Doña Ruth at la Carcel San Sebastian at 7:30am (about a 25 minute walk from my house) where we begin picking up the kids. I ride the bus, go into the prison entryways and request ¨los niños del CAICC¨and parents pass children through the windows of the bus. It´s a good time! This is my longest day and it doesn´t end until 5:30pm when we get back to San Sebastian.

I am enjoying my placement, though it is difficult working with children, of course, and in another language. I work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 8am – 1:30pm and Tuesdays 7:30am – 5:30pm. I love the kids and since I have been there almost eight weeks now, they trust me a lot more and I am a familiar face. Starting next week, I will be planning projects for one or two days a week to do with the pre-kinder kids.

I live in a volunteer house with six other volunteers from Australia, Brasil, England, the States, Canada and France. I cook for myself (what??) or get street food. There is a delicious hamburger stand four blocks from here and I am definitely a frequent buyer of the cheese empanadas on the corner of Oquendo and Heroinas for 2Bs each. I shop at the market full of delicious fruits, veggies, meats, makeup products, cleaning supplies and other things near my house. I still can´t dance so have to resort to fist-pumping in da club. I have a running list of Things That are Normal in Bolivia but Definitely Not Normal in the US. Things include: liquids come in bags (milk, soda to go), people laugh when you tell them you´re sick and insist you greet them with a kiss anyway, taxis and buses have almost no visibility out their dashboard windows, bloqueos are where it´s at (except not, really.).

Anyways, bullet points are easier to read. In my almost two months in Bolivia I have…

  • lost/had my passport stolen
  • almost gotten my new passport (it should be ready this week)
  • become a regular at Bolivian Migración and the US Consulate here
  • become very good at arguing in Spanish (por ejemplo: ridiculous gringo prices) and speaking Spanish en general
  • been sick with a cold at least 75% of the time
  • missed a week of work due to a super duper bad cough/cold
  • missed a week of work due to a bloqueo (massive protest involving roadblocks and lots of inconvenience. Nobody likes them except the protesters)
  • been above 5000 meters
  • experienced four or more bloqueos that have impeded my travels to work or elsewhere
  • become a regular at the fresh-squeezed orange juice stand by my house so much that the cholita selling them asked me yesterday why I wasn´t stopping to buy some…
  • seen too many llamas for a lifetime (but I do love them)
  • traveled to Villa Tunari (where Andy volunteered!), Santa Cruz, Samaipata, Tupiza and Salar de Uyuni
  • marched in a parade playing a drum and wearing a vest to advertise Earth Hour (THAT was awesome!)
  • learned a lot about myself and my country from living with non-Americans
  • made children smile
  • laughed till I cried
  • climbed the Cristo here in Cocha
  • felt very appreciative of the Universe
  • y mas!

Here are photos from my super awesome time so far!

Well that´s all for now. Bolivia is awesome! I´ll be here in Cocha for another two months (till approximately June 24), then my very loose tentative plan is to travel around Bolivia for two-ish weeks, make my way down to Argentina, hit up Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls and maybe pop over to Uruguay. Add Chile in there before Argetina, too, I´m not sure. I really have no clue. I´m excited to explore and see beautiful things, though not excited to go somewhere more expensive than Bolivia (a.k.a. the entire rest of the world…). So many options! I´ll probably be home in August or September.

I hope all is well with everybody, especially SAM! How´s the jungle?? I miss my SAM Fall 2011 group so much and I hope you all recognize I was reppin my Cow Megan hat hard at the Salar.

¿Nos vemos pronto?


(sprague.megan@yahoo.com — email me if you want to visit or are passing through! Or if you have any questions about anything. SB and Cocha are awesome for volunteering and life in general!!)