That night Tom came with me to the bus station (dirt parking lot outside of some stores) and I took off traveling across Bolivia in a super tall bus with seats that lay out. The next morning I got to the terminal in Cochabamba which was hustling and bustling with people and wandered around until I found Monica (current SLM at my hogar). She brought two girls from the Hogar with her and I was so excited to finally get there and to meet the girls. As we loaded all of my bags and ourselves into the truffi I knew I was so close to where I would call home for the next year. I saw Cochabamba centro for the first time as we drove through the city, then started driving on bumpy dirt roads, and finally by farms and only a few small stores until we arrived outside of Hogar Maria Auxiliadora, a large structure with a big metal door. Monica took me to my room and I took a nap since I hadn't had a full night of sleep in 4 nights. Waking around noon Monica came to get me to go to the Aspirantado (where the sister's live) for lunch and to meet the sisters. They were so welcoming just like everyone I had met in Bolivia so far and so very joyful and fun. Although it was hard to talk to them too a smile, laugh, and simple hola says and is still saying a thousand things, since my Spanish even after a week is still minimal.
Me and Monica with some Bolivian food
Three times during my first week we hopped on either the micro (big red bus) or truffi and went into the city. The first two times were to work on my new VISA which I need to be able to stay a year, to get some keys made for me, and to explore. There are people everywhere in the city, lots of tall buildings, some stores and restaurants, a few well groomed and decorated parks, and some very beautiful churches. Monica did all of my translating for me and was my wonderful tour guide. The third time we were in the city was on our way back from visiting the hogar that Monica was at her first year in Bolivia. We went to see the girls and also to bring two girls from our hogar to visit their sister. We walked around one of the parks, went into a Catholic church called Iglesia Del Hospicio where a wedding was just ending, finally got to go into the Santa Teresa Catedral, and ate some Popsicles which was a treat for the girls. It is always an adventure being there, experiencing the culture, and trying to run after truffis that drive by.
Me and two of the girls from my Hogar in front of the church here in Itocta.
Being at the Hogar is such a joy, really busy, and one learning experience after another. From the first day the girls were really friendly and welcoming. They love to help out and a few have sat with me and tried to teach me some Spanish. In the beginning a connected most with the youngest girls (ages 6-11) because I could make a fish or monkey face, say the words in Spanish, and they laugh. When they cry I can joke about eating their hands or speak obviously in terrible Spanish and they perk right up. In the afternoon when they get back from school they run and give me hugs. At night they want good night hugs, kisses on the cheek, and often me to sing to them. On the second day one of the girls told Monica, "tomorrow I'm going to introduce myself to Michelle" and now she is one of the girls that spends the most time with me. She is super cute, has glasses, takes her time to get things done, is really sensitive, but super sweet and loving. During the day I help the girls with getting dressed, homework, reading, and making sure they wash their clothes and do their chores. Even though I am still pretty bad at Spanish I now know the simple commands I need to instruct them, know the alphabet well enough to help them when they read to me (which they love to do), and help them with homework depending on how complicated it is. The little ones are so full of affection, love, giggles, and constantly yearning to be reminded how much they are worth. It is fun having them help me with Spanish and with many of the realities of life in Bolivia that I am not used to and don't understand. Some of the older girls have reached out to me and want to spend time joking around, talking, dancing, and being with me. Each day though I learn a few new names and new things about each of the girls knowing that they are all so complex, have experienced a lot, and beautifully and wonderfully made.
We have all had a lot of fun together so far playing, dancing, singing, being silly. One of the girls asked Monica how to say clown in English and every time she saw me would say, “You are clown” and another one has decided to call me Michael because my name is hard to say in Spanish and there is a boy in her class whose name is Michael but spells it Michelle. There have already been two big celebrations since I got here. The first was Padre Pepe’s birthday. Padre is the Salesian priest from Italy that says mass for all of the three communities of sisters around Itocta, the pastor of a parish in the city, and really close to the girls (many think of him as their father). For the party each group of girls (little, middle school, and highschool) came up with a dance as a present to Padre. They practiced hard all week and Padre loved the dances. I danced to Waka Waka with the little kids (haha), the middle school girls did two Korean dances (they love Korean pop and dancing), and the highschool girls did a dance that Monica and another girl choreographed. We ate good food, put on a show, and celebrated Padre. The other celebration was the next morning. The Salesian school (and only school) in Itocta called Laura Vicuna (Salesian saint) is trying to raise money to finish building or adding onto the school so they put on a march and food festival. All of the children had to march in their uniforms by class to the school. There were also a couple bands marching and playing in the march. After the march classes had prepared food from different areas of Bolivia and it only cost 5 Bolivianos (less than a dollar) for a plate. All of the girls were marching and at the festival and I tried a plate which had fries, rib meat, rice, onions, and tomatoes. It was quite tasty and fun trying something new and different, which is the best way to describe the food here. Bolivians sure love to celebrate and will use any reason to have the most fun possible. They enjoy it so much that tonight is the first night I have not heard music from a party playing late into the night. The work here takes up my time from the moment I wake up to the time they girls go to bed but it is work of prayer in action. I don't have a lot of time for myself or to be alone without one girl or another shouting my name but it is such meaningful work. I am blessed to be working with God's fragile little children and know that I am exactly where I need to and have been waiting to be for so long.
Saint John Bosco...Pray for Us
Maria Auxiliadora de los Christianos...Pray for Us