In Our Grass Hut at Last

April 19, 2007

Dear Friends and Family,

Some time has past since our last circular was sent.  The days and weeks just seem to fly by so fast.  We are doing fine and are in good health.  

Last weekend the students had a 5 day home leave, so we had a few free days to enjoy.  Every six weeks the students have a home leave, but when they are at the school have classes 6 days a week, so it balances out.  We went to a nearby town, called Riberalta, about 2 hours away by bus.  There isn't anything spectacular there, but its just good to explore our surroundings some more.  Its a big centre for Brazil nut plantations and export.  Its amazing that some of the volunteers here, who have lived here for over 1 year, have never seen any more of Bolivia than between the school and the town of Guayaramerin.

The season here is moving in to the dry season, so we are getting less and less rain.  The temperatures still the same, although we did have a cool day this week...temp stayed around 26 degrees all day!  We even used our blanket for the 2nd time this year!  Apparently during the dry season, they have cold weather fronts come through that are called "Surs".  We're looking forward to them.  The heat can be pretty constant here.  

For the last 6 weeks we have been sharing a house with an American-South African couple, Tara and Ruan, and their dog, Busman (a south African name).  Needless to say, Busman is a well travelled dog, travelling annually between USA and Bolivia, over the Christmas school break.  They have been working here for 1.5 yrs.

So its nice to have pets around, other than furry big spiders.  In total at the school there is 2 dogs, about 5 cats (and numerous additional offers for kittens by people in town - all of which I have managed to resist so far), and just one monkey (a cute little squirrel monkey that can be a little bit naughty).

By the time you receive this email, we will have moved house once again.  This should be our last move until the end of the year...we'll see.  We're starting to feel a bit nomadic.  It will be the 3rd place we'll have called home, since moving to the school in Feb, and guess what...it's a grass hut!  One of the American families that were volunteering here since last Sept, have just left to go home last weekend, and the grass hut was the house where they had been living.  Needless to say, we'd rather still have them at the school than to be moving into "their" house, but it will be nice to have our own little place.  This house comes complete with a Tarantulu (called Mariposa) living in the peak of the roof, 5 cats, and perhaps a monkey...we'll see.  The family that had been living in this grasshut had been looking after the cats and monkey, so we'll see if they stick around for us.

The one down side of living in the grass hut is no running water.  The other places we'd been living in all had running water, shower, & flushing toilet.  Although it feels like a bit of a stepdown using an outside toilet, we know at least one of our friends in Gormandale will think we're moving up in the world! :-)  For showering there are 2 options...an outside shower, or the creek.

As for clothes washing we have a big washing machine that's shared by everyone on campus, as well as our neighbours up & downstream from us...its called "the creek".  It works pretty well most of the time...it's about the one thing on the campus that doesn't break down!:-)  Seriously though, it has a much faster rinse cycle than a bucket of water.

A few people have asked what we're eating for food etc.  We eat some of our meals in the school cafeteria, although this food tends to be fairly oily food.  Bolivians like fried food, and always fry their rice before they boil it, which is pretty unnecessary.  One of the favourite foods that Bolivians love is empanadas...basically they are a piece of pastry filled with cheese and deep fryed...sounds a bit like a heart attack waiting to happen...particularly when you see how often they like to eat these things.  So sometimes we need to take a break and eat something that is more suited to our own tastes.  We can get a reasonable supply of basic veges in the markets, and bananas are plentiful, likewise are papayas & apples and citrus fruits.  We don't have any refridgeration at the school, but its surprising how quickly you can adapt to living without a refrigerator.  I never would have believed it before having to do it myself.

So far at the school we have almost 30 students over 4 years of high school.  These students come mainly from the surrounding area, but there are a few students that come from further away.  We are enjoying getting to know.

In South America, like in North America, there is only 4 years of high school.  In Bolivia, school students only attend school for half a day each day (4.5 hours), 5 days a week.  The education system is such that students almost cannot fail a grade.  Maths students are being taught calculus when they don't even understand how to add and subtract.  As we learn about the education system here, it begins to appear that the system is set up to keep the people ignorant.  

One of the students has been in hospital for about a week now with Typhoid Fever.  We went in to see him in the hospital on Thursday.  Seeing how the hospitals are like here, makes us appreciate, yet again, how good Australia is.  The hospital provides very little service.  We have to supply pretty much everything for him including medicines, IV fluids, toilet paper, soap etc.  The hospital gives him a watery soup 3 times a day for meals, so we even have to provide food for him.  When we visited him he was pretty hungry so a few of us left some food with him that we had on hand.  One particular point of interest in the hospital was the "thumbtacks" that were used on the hospital noticeboard.  The hospital is obviously particularly 'resourceful'...they were using USED IM NEEDLES to attach ALL notices to the noticeboard.  Many of the IM needles still even had blood in them.  You'd think they could have at least washed the needles out first!  

Four weeks ago, we were awoken in the middle of the night to the sound of screams coming from the girls dorms and the thumping of feet running across the ground.  We had no idea what was happening, and I scrambled out from under the mosquito net in a daze, and took a look out the window only to see flames leaping up the wall of the girls dormitory towards the grass roof.  I called to Michael saying "Quick Michael, there's a fire in the girls dorm!".  By the time we got outside there was staff running from all directions, and boys from the boys dorm were running down to the creek to fill buckets with water.  Some of the girls were starting to throw their possessions out the door, others were just frozen with shock and hadn't even gotten up from under the mosquito nets.  Thanks to some quick work from one of the Bolivian workers, the fire was out before it got into the grass roof.  

One girl had been getting ready for bed and had left her candle on another girls suitcase of clothes.  Somehow the candle was knocked over, and the clothes caught on fire, catching the wooden wall alight.  Fortunately the girl who's suitcase had caught on fire, had awoken to the smell of the smoke, and gotten out from under her mosquite net before it caught on fire and melted.  When the panic had subsided we realised what a blessing it was that no one was hurt and the dormitory was still intact, although the one girl had lost almost all of her personal belongings that she had brought to the school.  It was great to see the next day how that everyone rallied to take her to town to replace the lost items.

Well, some of you have been asking what roles Michael and I have been helping with since being here.  I think I may have mentioned previously how we have been roped into doing a little bit of teaching.  Michael has been teaching a technical subject on basic practical electrical systems.  I originally started out teaching a little bit of a nursing subject.  However, due to a shortage of teachers here at the moment, I have been asked to teach English instead of nursing, and so the nursing subject is being put on hold until we have more teachers.  Apart from teaching, Michael has been helping out with some maintenance, development, a little bit of administrative work.  One project that he has been working on has been doing some GPS and level surveys of the property to put together a masterplan for development of future infrastructure.  For me, I have been doing a mixture of financial record keeping, videoing/videoediting (nature/music programs for the Christian TV station in Santa Cruz).  We are also in the early stages of putting together a simple documentary for the school, and got a bit of practice putting together a 15 minute DVD of some memories of the school for the American family who just left us.  I've also been teaching the flute to one of the girls here, and have managed to keep my hands dirty doing a bit of gardening here and there.  If that's not enough, there's always some more clothes to wash in the washing machine!

Last week was the most challenging week we've had since we've been here.  Last Sunday night Michael and I were returning from a walk about 10pm in the evening.
- Spiritualism - attach email taht Michael sent on Monday and then add...
...On Monday, there was some more insidences with the 2 of the girls...after much praying they were able to give their hearts/lives to God, and were freed of the attacks of Satan.  For the moment, it seems like Satan's attacks are over, but we still need prayers, that there won't be repeat attacks, we know Satan doesn't give up easily, but also we know and have seen that God is more powerful than Satan.

Well, we hope this brings you up to date on where we are at.  We trust life is treating you all well.

With love,
Danielle and Michael