Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 8 March 2008

Sigue siendo…

             The life of a Peace Corps/Bolivia trainee is at once complex and simple; exhausting and fulfilling…             

             The complexity, naturally, stems from many sources: mastering a language or two, deciphering local customs and norms, finding our way in an unfamiliar place, bouncing like a ping pong ball between two cultures, figuring out “the system” (both of Peace Corps and of Bolivia itself), managing our time, and the precious few free hours we stumble upon throughout the week…            

              The simplicity is harder to describe. Perhaps it’s found in the sense of peace I feel as I walk home in the late afternoons while kids play fútbol in the streets and the sun gently sets below the ridgeline of the mountains. Perhaps it’s found in the fact that, as trainees, our schedules are predetermined and the hard work of carving out a life and a job for ourselves has yet to begin…             

            Exhaustion is inevitable.  Be it caused by trying to hike or play soccer above 8,000 feet, by an acute lack of sleep, by cerebral overload of unpronounceable words that all seem to be spelled with K’s, Q’s, Ch’s, W’s and J’s, the exhaustion (this week in particular) is tangible, and universal.            

            But, at the end of the day, when the complexity, simplicity and exhaustion are all accounted for, I fall asleep looking forward to the next morning.  This is the kind of fulfillment I strive to achieve.  When, day after day, I can lay my head down each night and truly look forward to the sun rising the next morning—that is how I know I am where I am supposed to be.            

           Of course there are difficult days, and I know the hardest ones are yet to come.  But Bolivia has so far lent me the inspiration, sense of humor, humility and honesty necessary to make it through those tough days. I can only hope it will continue to do so as I transition from training into my real life as a volunteer.            

            It’s hard for me to believe that we are nearly halfway through training already.  We are leaving next week for our “tech week”, which will be a 10-day journey to the Chaco region of the Santa Cruz department.  We will be visiting a few volunteers who are serving in the Chaco and working along the way.  When we get back, we get our site assignments and then we are off soon after that for another week to visit our new homes.  The second half of training will likely fly by even faster than the first half already has.            

           In hopes of getting an assignment in a Quechua-speaking region, I am diving headfirst into my Quechua studies, and there are some days when I actually feel like I can get a handle on this language.  There are others, still, when I feel like it would be easier to train a three-legged grizzly bear to juggle… Luckily, today was one of the former days.            

           I’ve been really busy the last couple of weeks, so I apologize for not posting for a while, and for generally being out of touch.  If you are so inclined to buy a phone card, or to set up a skype account, I would love to hear from you in person.  I’m generally reachable on my cell phone in the evenings and on weekends.  I’m not sure what my coverage will be like on tech week, but give ‘er a go, if you would like.  Check the “contact” section for calling info. And remember that I am an hour ahead of East Coast time (until Daylight Savings time at least)…            

              Love to you all from the Qhochapampa – that’s Quechua for Cochabamba, and it means “Plain of lagoons”, roughly…            

              Wajkutikama. Until next time…


Kids make me laugh (and smile and cry and frustrated and fufilled and happy and challenged…)

dscn1920.jpg Only in Bolivia…



  1. HELEN!!!
    I haven’t gotten a chance to read through all these blog posts yet but I after just a little skimming I can tell you’re doing great. It’s so exciting to see pictures of you teaching about compost and having blue hair and wearing Chacos and being great and okay, I’m just excited for pictures of you and stories from you because I miss you and I’m so glad to see you’re doing so well!! whew, long sentence, but necessary to convey my emotion. but, you understand the sentiment. so great to see you so happy, keep doing your thing and as soon as midterms are over (so soon!) I will write you a longer email.
    lots of love!!!

  2. Helen,
    I just got caught up on your blog. I feel content, inspired, and slightly melancholy all at once. I miss you and your wonderful energy and view of life. It is so clear that- as you say- you are exactly where you are supposed to be. How exciting to be learning a totally new, crazy constonant, tongue twisting language- and to be teacching kids about the enviroment and composting and all the awesome knowledge you have to share. Bolivia sounds fascinating and far removed from the ridiculous drama of everyday American life. I can’t wait until I get to visit you and see all these places in person.
    Love you- and keep the entries and pictures comin!

  3. Helen:
    En principio quiero agradecerte por brindarme tu amistad, eres una muchacha que esta llena de energía, vitalidad y fuerza para conseguir lo que se propone; pero siempre buscando el bienestar de las personas y dando todo de sï.

    Al leer tus comentarios, no me queda más que felicitarte y desearte el más grande de los éxitos en tu vida futura. Estoy seguro que mi tierra boliviana te encantará aún más y más a medida que la vayas conociendo, porque la riqueza que encierra no solo se encuentra en sus minerales, sino también en sus atractivos turístico, en sus hermosos paisajes en su música, en la melodia sonora de sus instrumentos musicales autóctonos; pero la mayor riqueza que tiene se encuentra en el corazón de sus habitantes.
    Una vez más; mil felicidades.

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