Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 22 April 2008

Volunteer, at last.

            It is wonderfully appropriate that today, my first day being in La Palma as an official Environmental Ed volunteer, is Earth Day.  Granted, I only spent about 20 minutes in La Palma today, and won’t return for real until tomorrow, but I was there, nonetheless. 


            Flash back to the last time I posted: I had just returned from site visit and still had 2 weeks of training left to go.  Busy doesn’t even begin to describe the last three weeks. Tomorrow, my life slows down. And I cannot wait.


            The last two weeks in Coch were filled to the max and sleep was often written off as an unnecessary commodity.  I was able to focus solely on Quehcua during language classes, we said thank you and farewell to our host families at a Saturday luncheon, complete with us attempting to dance the Bolivian “Cueca”.  Much time was spent contemplating how we managed to acquire so much stuff in three months. I arrived here with two backpacks and a suitcase. I left Coch with two extra boxes bursting at the seams with materials Peace Corps has given us throughout training. Luckily, PC shipped everything to our regional cities for us.


            Swear in was last Friday afternoon, and was short and sweet.  My group elected me to give the Swear In speech on behalf of B47, and I am please to report that I did not wipe out on my way to or from the podium!  It was videotaped, so perhaps one day in the future I will mail a copy home on CD and Victor can upload it to my blog with all his wireless internet glory.  The speech is in Spanish, however, so please feel free to not bother!


            Friday night was hilarious as we were all dressed up (“Funky Fabulous”) to the nines, ready to paint the town. PC paid for a nice dinner and then we bar hopped around Coch.  It was great to spend time together as a group one last time.  We won’t be all together again until our In-Service Training (IST) in July.  Standing in front of my fellow B47s during the ceremony, I was overcome by how much I truly felt for my compañeros.  At one point in the speech I was reflecting on how, when we first met during staging in DC, it was hard to imagine really knowing all these people; whereas now, I look out and see my 30 best friends in Bolivia.  It’s amazing what an intense experience Peace Corps training is.  You just don’t really feel it until you’ve experienced it in all of it’s frustrating, complicated, inspiring, hilarious glory.


            The goodbyes began Saturday evening and were not easy, but at the same time, everyone is so excited to begin the next phase, that it made it OK to part.  It’s so much easier to do this, knowing that there are 30 others in the exact same spot, all over the country, and would be willing to lend an ear at the drop of a hat if need be.  I am extremely lucky to have the support I have here.  To those of you reading this who have been there for me throughout this crazy Oblivian journey so far, you know who you are: Thank you.


            I now find myself in Sucre, after having spent all day yesterday shopping for beds, stoves, gas tanks, blankets and other miscellaneous items you would normally load onto a moving truck.  I was lucky to have the help and guidance of my amigo, Mateo, an RPCV who has been in Bolivia for 3 years already to help me navigate the Mercado Campesino and drive a hard bargain.


            I hired a taxi to drive me down to La Palma this afternoon with all of my big stuff.  There are no long distance buses (think: big) that go to La Palma because it is so close.  The only public transportation option are Trufis (minivans, basically) and there is no way a double bed, a bookshelf, a stove, one big suitcase and two backpacks would fit on the roofrack of those suckers along with all the giant bangs of food and goods purchased in Sucre, being transported by all of the other passengers.  So, private taxi was my best option.  We made great time down to the valley and were able to drop off all my stuff in my new room within 20 minutes.  I decided, in the interest of the cab driver, not to make my presence in town known.  I feared that the kids would swarm and the folks I’ve met so far would invite us all in for tecito before we could make an exit. 


            I will return for real tomorrow afternoon, and I am truly looking forward to getting settled in La Palma.  I was not in that state of mind last weekend in Coch.  Was so wrapped up in our B47 community.  But, being here in Sucre, and especially in La Palma this afternoon, I am ready. Scared, nervous, and curious, of course. But ready, nonetheless.


Coch at night.

Prom shot. Diana and me after Swear In.

D and me loving life…like we do… 

B47 EE with our Tech Trainers.

B47 VOLUNTEERS!!! All 31 of us that stepped off the plane three months ago made it. Congratulations, kiddos. Love you all.

Whitney, Me, Megan an Diana ready to go out on Swear In night in Coch.

80´s music has found it’s final resting place: Bolivian bars.

3am and still going strong…although I lost the blue hair a few hours prior…



  1. I get to be the first to congratulate the new PCV — bravo, Helen! Of course we knew you would thrive in Peace Corps but it’s wonderful to hear the specifics of how you’re doing so. Neat that you got to speak for your group of 31 terrific and successful trainees as you made the transition to volunteers. I’m proud of you and grateful to be able to share you experiences and thoughts in your blog. And being mom, now I want to see some pics of your new home!
    Love, Mom

  2. Happy Earth Day Helen! Good Luck! In five days we’ll be gardening in Humboldt Park. Four years later and our project is still going strong.

  3. Cheers to you my friend. You are very much missed by the Big D. Keep your eyes out for a package heading your way…. much love

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