Posted by: HelenRortvedt | 10 October 2008

Bolivian Homecoming

Rushed.  Unfinished.  Unsettled.

That is how I generally feel these days.

But at the same time: excited, energized, curious.

Tomorrow is my one month anniversary of leaving my site (unknowingly for the last time as a Peace Corps Volunteer).  Tuesday is the one month anniversary of our evacuation to Peru.

It’s really hard to believe that:

a) a whole month has gone by already, and

b) it’s only been a month since all this went down…

Rather than comment on the relativity of time for the umpteenth time in the 3 year history of this blog, I will simply refer to the E.B. White quote that can be found on the “About Me” page of my blog. (And below)

“I arise each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world.”

I feel, at this moment, uniquely balanced between these two desires.  I fall asleep each night hoping that the light of the new day will bring more dialogue, more tolerance, more understanding to the people governing Bolivia.  Each night, I think of the beautiful, loving children of La Palma who have given me far more than I was able to give to them and I hope that they will be able to grow up in a Bolivia free of racism, free of radicalism, free of discrimination…

Simultaneously, I feel compelled to absorb as much of these present moments as is humanly possible.  After traveling through Southern Peru on our way home, my face literally hurt from smiling when I reached La Paz. I realized that, after crossing the border back into Bolivia, I had a wide grin splattered across my face for the entire 2 hour drive from the border to La Paz.  I had never been to this part of Bolivia before, but somehow, I knew I was home.  Hearing Quechua on the radio, seeing 6,000 meter Huayna Potosi, and of course, seeing the old red, yellow and green flying proudly from car antennas and rooftops was a most welcome homecoming.

Having spent the past week or so in the Peruvian highlands, the 12,000 feet at which La Paz is found didn’t bother me too much.  This city is so vibrant and frenetic.  I absolutely loved it and cannot wait to return to explore it more thoroughly.  Also, for anyone who has ever spent extended periods of time drinking nothing but watery pilseners, let it be known that La Paz has its very own microbrewery that produces STOUT beer. I can think of no better way to ring in my 27th year on Planet Earth than by sharing this delicious chocolaty beverage with dear friends who are also caught in this unexpected period of mourning and celebration.

After La Paz, we hightailed it back to Sucre.  My first stop Sunday morning was to grab salteñas (the best in Bolivia) from The Patio. Home never tasted so good.  It was really wonderful to be reunited with friends I was worried (at one point) I might never see again.

I spent my actual birthday in La Palma, saying hello and goodbye, and packing.  I gave away most of my stuff and have put my counterpart in charge of selling my bed and a few other items of some value.  I ensured everyone there that I would be back in November to spend more time with them and say a proper farewell, but that I had to run back to Sucre that evening to make sure I got my bags to Peace Corps to be shipped home to the States.  I can say with the utmost certainty that it was the strangest, but likely most memorable birthday I have ever had.

I am writing now from Salta, Argentina. I arrived here a few hours ago and am awaiting the arrival of my dear friend (and former B-47) Diana.  I spent the last few days in Tarija (Bolivian wine country), but opted out of the winery tours there in anticipation of Mendoza, Argentina. 🙂

I am truly happy right now. Being in Sucre and La Palma this week reinforced in me the rightness of my decision to close my service and start fresh once I have my head and heart back in place. I still have my moments of uncertainly, but it wouldn’t be life without those. I sent my re-enrollment papers (along with my absentee ballot!) by DHL back to America, and should hopefully be starting the process of getting another assignment for the new year pretty soon.

I plan to travel in northern Argentina for about 3 weeks and then head back to Oblivia. Sending my love to all from the land of wine and fire…

And, of course, love to my adopted patria, Bolivia. Que se encuentre la paz verdadera que merece…



  1. Greetings from Milwaukee Helen, where having just savored my first dark, local microbrew, I could definitely relate to your description of your chocolaty stout in La Paz. Que te vayas bien! Dad

  2. Hey Helen – Glad you are savoring life with a stout; I have been enjoying mine with pumpkin ales. I’m happy you have a chance now to get back to Bolivia and hopefully have a little time to process everything. I miss you tons and can’t wait to see you next so I can make you a pizza (because I have gotten so unbelievable at making them and I know you would love it). Love ya, Kim

  3. Helen,
    So glad to hear that you’re happy. Life is wet and green in the Pacific Northwest. Wishing you the best.

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