Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 15 July 2008

Yachaywasipi llank’ani

“I work in the school.”

This phrase, painstakingly pronounced in the Quechua above, has opened a lot of doors for me recently.

It inevitably leads to a short (key word) conversation in “Quechuañol”, the Andean equivalent of Spanglish. A basic rule of thumb when learning or speaking Quechua is remember that if what you are speaking of was invented after 1492, then there is no Quechua word for it. They just use the Spanish with a Quechua accent (turn O’s to U’s and call it a day). My favorite exception to this rule is the Quechua invention for the word “radio”. They call it “Wayra simi”. Wayra means wind. Simi means mouth or voice. The voice of the wind. Now, if that doesn’t show you how exceedingly different the Quechua cosmo-vision is from our Western perspectives, I don’t know what will. This is a very different world.

During the winter break from school, I had the opportunity to travel to Presto, another municipality in the Chuquisaca department to study Quechua with another volunteer from my group and one of the fabulous Language Facilitators from Cochabamba. I learned a lot in a short, intense period, and have been trying out my new skills in La Palma. People seem to get a kick out of my attempts and I am getting more and more confident in my basic conversational skills.

Life continues on here in its unpredictable fashion. I am feeling more settled in La Palma, and have made some steps in the direction towards progress. Which, for any readers familiar with either Bolivia, or Peace Corps in general, is actually saying something.

If you were to ask me what I do on a day to day basis, I would be embarrassed (in the States) to actually tell you. It is not at all uncommon to spend 5 hours sitting by the river reading, or an entire morning cleaning my room. But it is the small successes, every now and again, that make me feel like my time here can and will be valuable. I am hoping to start a worm composting program with the local farmers and am coordinating with representatives from the Municipal Environment program to get some waste management programs going in the region. Right now, waste management consists of trash burning, and the classic, “just throw it in the river, it will wash away and be gone” strategy.

I am on my way to Cochabamba tonight for a bunch of meetings. Our in-service training for my training group has been pushed back a couple of weeks due to the ever-changing political situation here in Bolivia. Never a dull moment…

I am sorry I haven’t posted in so long. I will try (but not promise) to be better about keeping in touch in the future.


Carla, Daniela and Claudia (all daughters of different profes at the school) pose in front if the T-rex outside of the Dinosaur Park just outside of Sucre. There are Dinosaur tracks scattered all over central Bolivia, the largest concentration here in Chuquisaca, and specifically at the Fancesa Cement factory just outside of town.

In early June, I traveled with the profes to Tarvita, a town about 9 hours Southeast of Sucre. We were invited to spend “Dia del Profesor” with the teachers there in Tarvita. Here are all the men before they played a friendly round of futbol. La Palma got creamed by all the young teachers of Tarvita, but we had a great time cheering them on anyway! La Palma in red, Tarvita in blue.

Tarvita teachers dance the Cueca with La Palma teachers. La Cueca is a very traditional Bolivian dance, present at any celebration, large or small.

In the plaza in Tarvita with Rocio and Judith, both new teachers in La Palma, and dear friends of mine.

The town of Presto from a distance. Chuquisaca is so beautiful. And it is now “home”.

View of La Palma from my bedroom window.



  1. Hey Helen!

    Found your blog through Facebook and am so glad to see you’re doing well 🙂 What an adventure! Can’t wait to read more about what you’re up to as your time there passes. I’m still in Arlington right now, but heading off to teach English in Prague this fall! I’m excited 🙂


  2. Helen, I decided just today to read your site and catch up with your doings. Luckily this was the day you entered a new blog. Just quickly want to let you know how much I enjoy reading all you write. The pictures are marvelous, too. We all returned recently from a wonderful wedding of Cheryl’s middle son Brian in Lake Tahoe, and then we had an extended trip along the California coastline and in Sonoma area. Long overdue vacation for all and fabulous time, wine and memories. Now we’re back to work in NY, Sonoma and DC. Will look for more writing soon. MPB

  3. Hi Helen: Greetings from Walker, Minnesota along the North Country Trail, where I was chased by a zillion flies and mosquitoes for three days. The extraordinary vocabulary of a loon family raising its chick on Gut Lake (I had it all to myself for 24 hours) made it all worth it! Perhaps a photo of a dinosaur model is appropriate for the size and pace of the task of creating environmental awareness and mitigation in your village. Love, Dad

  4. Hi Helen,

    Is there electricity or running water in your home or in La Palma?

    Just curious about the details….


  5. love the bedroom window view. also intrigued by the dino facts. i hope to look up more info on that area in terms of the local flora/fauna/history. still doing lots of reading that refers back to Quechua or Bolivia in some form or another. Its fitting that you end up in one of the energy centers of the world:)


  6. “The voice of the wind.” That is amazing. What do they call iPods?

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