Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 9 February 2008

sumaj p’unchay

Life continues here in the Cochabamba valley.  Storm clouds have loomed ominously all afternoon, but no rain has yet fallen.  Perhaps that is a good thing, in this especially rainy of rainy seasons.  Many parts of the country have been ravaged by flooding and mudslides, as the recent rains have been unrelenting and unforgiving.  The past few days have been sunny, however, and the dirt roads that connect most neighborhoods and villages to one another and to Cochabamba are drying out.  The storm clouds do make for radiant sunsets, however.             Imagine walking home around 6:30pm from a full day of language classes (field trip to Coch included), and technical training (wherein, among other things, mini watersheds were constructed and measures were taken to protect them from the drenching rains of a watering can).  Look down at your feet. You will see your own dusty feet, and the cobblestones beneath them.  Look straight ahead to the East, and you’ll see at the end of a long road, the hill that plays host to the statue of Cristo Rey—a symbol of the city of Cochabamba, inspired by and built after its counterpart in Rio de Janeiro, and purposefully constructed to be just a little bigger than said counterpart.  Look behind you to the West, and you’ll see the steeple of the Catholic Church in Coña Coña, the neighboring barrio.  Look to the North and you’ll stop dead in your tracks and allow yourself to be consumed by the 5,000m (16,000+ ft) peaks presiding quietly over the valley floor—awash with golden light from the setting sun…               I am extraordinarily lucky to not have to imagine the above scene, but rather, I am grateful to have lived it.  And I am now grateful to have the opportunity to share it with all of you.  I had a really great day today.  I know that not all days will be magical.  But this one was. Especially those precious calm moments before the last light of day disappeared beyond the mountains.  Those moments were truly magical.               I have already had many ups and downs, and have perhaps been too daring with my eating and drinking choices.  I’ve already had a visit from several bacteria, but, with the help of ciprofloxacin (yes, that is what they treat anthrax with…), I have shown them the door.  But I have to say, after 48 miserable hours, I was so happy to have the energy today to participate in my classes and appreciate my surroundings.             The community I am living in has more of a suburban feel, than a rural one, as it is relatively close to the city center (15 minutes in a trufi, or, shared taxi).  I was envisioning a more rural community and a house with cows, chickens and guinea pigs (to eat, not to keep as pets), so I was a little surprised when I arrived at my home on a paved road, so close to the city.  But my host family is fabulous.  They are very calm, and love to talk, while also respect my need for privacy and time to study/read/work.  The community is growing on me, and I am learning my way around both the city of Coch and the surrounding villages, where all the rest of the PCTs are living.             It’s now Saturday morning, and I’ve just come from my first official Quechua lesson. It’s a very different language, but I’m already getting the basics. I can conjugate verbs in the present tense, and can recognize plurals and some nouns. I have a lot of work to do on the pronunciation, but I am really enjoying the challenge. Spanish classes are a totally different kind of challenge for me. They don’t fry my brain like they used to. And in a weird, masochistic kind of way, I was craving that…so, bring on the Quechua with all its explosive and aspirated consonants!             Today is the final event of Carnaval here in Cochabamba…even though Ash Wednesday was four days ago…El Corso de Corsos. A huge all day parade with traditional dancing and costumes. A bunch of us aspirantes (PCTs en español) are meeting up for lunch and will then attend the festivities. We are armed with rain jackets…not for the rain, but rather, the globos!             Que les vaya bien…



  1. Congratulations, Helen! This morning is the first I have read your blog, and we are excited for you and your successes so far (including beating back the bacteria). Just talked to JJ and sent along an amazing photographer’s website from Jakarta. {} We look forward to seeing your photos one of these days. Sure enjoyed seeing you and your family last month. Be blessed. JKW

  2. Great post sis – wonderful images and great people around. I’m proud of you, and a little jealous.
    Much Love,

  3. My question is, what does “sumaj p’unchay” mean??? You’re going to have to give us all a lesson in Quechua…or is it Russian/Moldovan/Lao/some Spanish phrase I have forgotten??

  4. What wonderful images you create! And hooray for tackling Quechua — you have a special gift for learning languages. Hope you are feeling okay now (and maybe being a bit less daring on the eating and drinking front?)…Tell your Coch family that your Arlington mom is happy to know you are in their good care.
    Love, Mom

  5. This is no doubt a surprise for you to be getting this, but I worked with your father for years and was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Cochabamba 1964-66. We were discussing your new adventure over lunch yesterday, and I asked for your address so I could send my greetings and wish you well. I loved Cochabamba, and hope you are enjoying your time there, too. Do you think you might be staying there after your initial training? I went all over the country, though, and found every place fascinating and the people wonderful, so no matter what your final location, I am sure you will have a great experience. I still correspond with one of my friends in Coch, and I am sure he and his wife would be there for you if you ever needed them–Jaime and Ruth Hurtado. He is an artist, so you may see some of his paintings around (mostly watercolors of various Bolivian scenes, but he also did some pen and ink drawings during the time I was there). He also has note cards and Christmas cards that he has had printed and sells. I used to hear regularly from the family I ate my meals with while I was there, too, but haven’t heard for a while now, so don’t know if they are ok or not. He is Jose Covarrubias (but goes by Pepe) and his wife is Nicky. If you would ever have a chance to call them to send my greetings and see if they have a new email address, I would appreciate it. I know how hard that can be with all that you are doing, though, so certainly understand if you don’t have an opportunity to do this. Anyway, it is exciting to have you in Bolivia. I hope to be watching this website for stories…and know I will be hearing about your adventures from your father, too, from time to time.

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