On Wednesday I visited PAI Tarpuy, the organization where I’ll be working. They’re a small group that runs a youth center to provide tutoring, sports and a safe environment to help kids build confidence and social skills, and improve school performance. Primarily, the organization focuses on street kids. They are located in the town of Quillacolla about 15km west of Cocha.
To get there we took a trufi – trufis are vans which operate like buses with set routes except you can flag them down and get on or off anywhere along the route. Bolivia makes me feel tall which is cool but sometimes uncomfortable such as when I have to crouch and bend my head to stand up in the trufi. Luckily I got a seat before my neck caught a cramp. In any case, I spent only about 20 min at the youth center where kids from 3 to 13 were doing HW or playing games.
The next day was the festival of Corpus Christi which meant most businesses and organizations had the day off. So a couple of the other volunteers and I decided to brave the legendary “La Cancha”. It is the largest outdoor market in South America. One of the first warnings we got during orientation was “don’t bring valuables to La Cancha” followed by “you don’t want to be in La Cancha after dark”. We picked a good day for our first visit though because half the stalls were closed and the crowd was much smaller than usual. Don’t get me wrong, by typical American standards it was fairly busy but by La Cancha standards it was a ghost town. The stalls extend for several blocks in every direction and are packed very tightly together while the aisles have barely enough room for people to pass each other. I at least was able to buy a wallet and some tomatoes.
After getting a small taste of La Cancha, we went to the main plaza to see some of the festival artwork.
Lining an entire street were many huge arrangements of flowers, colored dirt and salt portraying various religious symbols. It was beautiful and intricate; unfortunately, my pictures didn’t come out.
Nervous and excited for my first day of work (only a half day at that), I caught the trufi 10 minutes early and it ran faster than expected so I ended up getting there about 20 minutes early. It was closed and no one was there because typically in Bolivia everything (besides restaurants and markets) closes between 12 and 2 for lunch break. I had heard about this tradition but didn’t think about it when deciding when to show up for work.
Eventually one of the staff showed up and the kids began trickling in to do their homework. With my limited Spanish, I tried to help but it was challenging. One question was what are the three parts of the ear. I can’t even answer that in English never mind translating to Spanish! I found my niche though in helping with math by using numbers and pictures to explain things. By the end of the day, 4 hours of testing the limits of my foreign language skills had left me brain dead. It was a fun, challenging, inspiring and thoroughly exhausting first day of work.