So I have 2 very different experiences of the lifestyle of Bolivian Quakers. One Sunday I came home from Santidad church in El Alto and my mother, Ildafonsa was sititng on the wooden floor in her long satin skirt, apron with long braids peeling a sack of carrots with a knife. The potatoes, onions were spread around her in waves of farm produce, and the bits of carrot skin were flying from her knife. I sat down with the family to warm my hands with tea. Ildafonsa proudly quoted the Bible in Castellano and we chatted about the day. 5 year old Sarita showed me where she cut her finger. The bandaid was transparent and seemed to do the hygienic trick. Ascension, the father picked up a primer with basic language lessons on Aymara, Quechua and Castellano.
This Tuesday the Catholic world feasts and does whoopla for Mardi Gras. I always thought Lent was a big deal because you had to rescind something for 6 weeks, and Easter was a celebration of resurrection and spring. But Bolivians celebrate Carnival, next Tuesday and Monday too. Here, Easter isn't related to spring, since spring starts in September and in March it’s technically summer.
2010 saw our largest class of scholarship graduates ever - 13 students completed their coursework in June, and 6 in November. They are very, very grateful for the funds from the North that made this possible. I thought you would like to see a little more of what these young people have accomplished and are aiming at. Please enjoy these photographs and thumbnail sketches of 4 of them.
Juan José Choque Quispe, Dentistry. Juan was part of a team that put together a health and hygiene education program for impoverished schools.
On Monday Ruben and I went to an interesting lecture by Senor Kahane, who writes about the balance in complex systems of power and love. It stretched my understanding of doing peacemaking in complex political settings. He told stories of working in South Africa in 1991 after Mandela's release from prison. How do you get former bitter enemies to talk? Whereas the Quakers in Burundi/Rwanda (ie. AGLI or HROC) are doing reconciliation work by joining 12 Tutsis and 12 Hutus in the same room, Kahane was doing the same thing with stakeholders in the country's policies. He proposed strategies for when to self-actualize (power) and when to seek unity (love).
How beautiful the people are here. I have many pleasant exchanges with university students, with mothers, with Holiness Christians and now I’ve talked with prisoners inside San Pedro penitentiary. But after 3 weeks here, I only feel like I’ve scratched the surface. The Aymara are an old race, I live in El Alto near the cliff’s edge, I feel there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
I travel from the Cortez’ home in Barrio Satelite from Sunday to Monday down the valley to LaPaz. I live in a burgeoning city of 700,000, it's the Aymara capital of the world, and GoogleMaps labels about 4 streets over about 15 kilometers. Google doesn't work well in Aymara I suppose, nor do Aymaras use many street names to locate themselves.
I arrived in the ceiling of South America by plane on January 20th. ¨Bienvenido Hermana Minga¨" Ruben greeted myself and 2 other Americanos. I instantly doused my sluggish body with a coca tea infusion. WOW. The peaks of the mountains like primordial sentinels peeked through the fog. At 12,000 feet, I felt wobbly and had to pinch myself to see if I finally had arrived at La Paz. The beauty of the city nestled in the biceps of the Andes was amazing. What had brought me here?
Friends call me Minga and this is my debut on this website. BQEF is an exciting adventure in culture, language, learning and spiritual transformation. This sounds too good to be true.
Let me examine the 3 words B-Q- E. So I understand the need for education. Jose Martí says, "Ser culto es el unico modo de ser libre". (Education is the only way to obtain freedom.) I understand the beauty and wonder in working with the people of Bolivia. Bolivia is the richest and poorest of countries. Galleno wrote, “of all the Latin American countries, Bolivia is the one with a furious sense of dignity." What about the Q?
Ronald, 18, speaks Aymara and is in his final year at the “General Enrique Penaranda” public high school. He is one of the brightest students at the Internado in Sorata. Ronald is from a community on the altiplano called Cocoyo, which is four hours by car from Sorata. Buses only run on Saturday and Sunday, so he goes home just one or two times per year. His father works in a cooperative gold mine near Cocoyo, and his mother farms. On school vacations, Ronald works in the mine with his father.
They came from four countries, spoke three languages, and ranged in age from 4 to 76. And they gathered at the Internado in Sorata, Bolivia, to wash rocks! The rock washing was part of a project to repair drainage problems in the patio of the Internado, a residence for rural students attending middle and high school in Sorata.
13 students graduated this June (mid-year: the Bolivian school year runs February - November), and 14 new students began studying with help from BQEF's donors. Below are highlights of 4 of the recent grads (more coming soon).
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~