The Orchestra

January 15, 2007 - to our family and friends

Well, we thought it time to write again.  Its hard to believe but it has been almost one month already since we left our "sunburnt country".  We seem to be somewhat settling into life here, although we are still not at our intended destination.  We are in Santa Cruz still, still uncertain of what we will be doing.  You will be aware that we were awaiting the return of the administrators for the school in Guayaramerin from their vacation in the US, and we believe they will be returning around the 30th of Jan.

However, some of you may not be aware that a couple of weeks ago the Christian TV station that we are staying near to (and that is run by the same organisation - Gospel Ministries International - GMI) asked if we'd like to stay in Santa Cruz and work with them at the TV station, helping with video editing, production, and producing music tracks and some other things, along with the additional opportunity to travel around central South America taking video footage for documentaries of their various projects (eg schools, orphanages etc) and simple nature videos (entitled "Momentos de Paz", which in English translates to "Moments of Peace" which are 30min video segments with scenes of natural beauty set to relaxing background instrumental Christian music).  Well, it was very unexpected.  We have really had to make it a matter of prayer, and won't be able to make a decision until we can talk with the adminstrators for the school about it together with the director of the TV station.  One possibility for us may be to live and work from the school, helping remotely with video editing and taking video footage, and travel between Santa Cruz, Guayaramerin, and other places where we will need to take video footage.  Anyway, we'll see what happens.

So in the meantime... we have been spending a lot of time at the TV station helping with little jobs, learning about the process involved in making video doco's, and last week we spent a lot of time practicing for and then recording some music on video with two other people here (something not altogether what we'd anticipated doing!).  Michael played the Cello (no he didn't bring his cello with him) that he borrowed off some friends here, and I played the flute (it fits in the suitcase better than the cello).  One of the volunteers who started an orphanage in Bolivia played keyboard, another lady played the guitar, and the director of the TV station played trumpet.  Most of you will know that our musical skills are definately not a a professional level, but although Bolivians are very musical, few people have had the opportunity to learn to play instruments other than the guitar, so these musical talents are really appreciated.  Well, it was a lot of fun having the time to play some music again, and it's a great way to get to know people.  But there was one part of the whole thing that was even worse than standing in front of a video camera (or 3)...and that was the makeup!  For an all-natural girl, TV makeup is hard to take!  Even Michael can half empathise with me on this one... as he didn't get out of it either.

Some of you have asked if many people here speak English...and the answer is almost no local people speak any English.  So we are getting lots of practice with our "Espanol".  We have been spending an hour most days with one of the volunteers here, Martha, who offered to help us with learning  Spanish.  Martha is Mexican-born, but most recently comes from Switzerland, the birthplace of her husband Daniel.  So Spanish is her first language (she speaks 4 langauges) and she is a great teacher.  So while it feels like our Spanish is coming along slowly, we can understand more each week, and we can even venture down the street without our phrasebook now!

It has been a wet rainy Sunday here today, and we've been cooped-up inside for most of the day...  I can't remember the last time I had a day like this.  Of course, we so much wish it would rain like this at home.  I think it only stopped for a few hours this afternoon.  It's not what you want on your washing day... so we had to procrastinate that one.  Michael had run out of undies though, so washed some and then ironed them dry.  It's amazing how you can make do when you don't have things like dryers.  And when its raining, of course nothing drys in this sort of climate!  The last few weeks have been a mixture of hot and not-so-hot (couldn't say cold though) - we even needed a blanket one night.  But even still i don't think the temperature has dropped below 20 degrees at night.

Some of you asked about what food we've been eating etc over here.  Well, the food here doesn't seem that much different from home, although I'm sure it probably is a bit.  A lot of their local dishes have meat in them so we haven't tried them.  They have this thing called "Empanadas" which is kind of a bready pasty little thing with some small filling - either meat or cheese.  We don't mind them, but everything here seems to be "con queso" ie "with cheese".  They really like their cheese, even though they use a very artificial tasting cheese in most things).  We tried something nice the other day though, called 'Tamales'.  Its made of ground corn (maize) that is mixed up with yes, cheese, and wrapped in corn leaves and baked.

Well, the lady whose house we are renting a room in cooks Empanada's as her business.  It's interesting to see the process that is taken, and also the hygiene (or lack of) that goes into food preparation in countries like this.  Its probably better not to think about it, because a lot of the food that we buy precooked is probably not much better.  But, honestly, her fridge (which we keep a little bit of food in) is alive!  And the food we keep in it...well it seems to go off quicker than if we didn't refridgerate it at all!  

Of course the supermarkets here just don't have the same variety of food as at home.  Actually, the supermarket is a really good place to go if you want to expand your Spanish vocabulary.  All the labels are in spanish so you learn words by matching pictures with words etc.  But it's a bit tricky sometimes when you are vegetarian and trying to make sure things don't have meat in them.  Anyway, you learn as you go I guess.

I only had my first trip to the fruit/vege market about 10 days ago.  The markets here aren't real easy to find like in some places I've been to, but I went with our friend Martha.  I really love going to fruit and vege markets in these countries.  Even though they can be muddy and smelly, its a good way of seeing some of what the real people and country is like.  One thing there that I found interesting was the lack of bargaining & bartering.  In the Philippines and other Asian countries, bargaining is very much part of the buying process even for fruit and veges, and even for the local people.  Sometimes you have to bargain them down to half the initial price they give you.  But in Bolivia, it just seemed to be that they told you the price and that's what it was.  Like most people, we love Mangos, but unfortunately seem to have developed a nack for arriving in countries just after the mango season... and once again we've timed it perfectly!  But despite this, I found some 'out of season' mangos - 3 very large mangoes for 90 cents (ie 30 cents each) - and they tasted pretty good too!

The other thing at the markets that I found interesting was what I call "the wheelbarrow boys" (they do have a spanish name but I've forgotten that one - something like 'caballero').  They are the Bolivian market places alternative to shopping trolleys.  There are lots of boys (from ages 10 and up) pushing wheelbarrows through the mud and puddles etc, and one of them will just follow you around the market wherever you go, and will help you put all your fruit & veges & other stuff in the wheelbarrow as you buy it, and then at the end they help put it in the taxi for you, and you pay them the equivalent of about $1.

Well, I guess i should talk about something other than food.

Someone asked me if they have siesta's here.  Well actually they do.  And they have longer ones here than other places I've been.  In fact, the whole town/city seems to shut down between 12 or 12.30pm and 3pm.  Almost all the shops close down for 2-3 hours every day.  It took us a while to get used to in the first few days especially when we still getting over jet lag, and we'd sleep-in a bit and then by the time we got ourselves organised and got into town, everything was shutting down.  Our first day here we had dropped off some laundry at a laundromat and went back the next day at 12.30pm to pick it up.  When we got there it was closed for the afternoon siesta, not what you want to find when it takes a 1 hour return walk to get there.  Anyway, in case your wondering, we haven't been taking 3 hour siestas each day.  Unfortunately the people we have been working with haven't adopted this practice.  We'll have to work on them on that one!

Well I said earlier that we feel like we are settling in here.  In fact, so much so, that dirty streets, shops, and restaurants are starting to look reasonable, the city sounds aren't heard anymore, and last week I thought it was about time to try drinking some raw tap water!  We've been buying bottled water up until now, and I was thinking perhaps I should start to develop an immunity through a gentle exposure to whatever is in the water here (besides all the locals drink it so it can't be too bad), so I had 2 small mouthfuls of water in the morning. Well, it did some funny things to my tummy but only for less than 24 hours.  I'm still contemplating whether or not to continue this experiment as the effects were not so severe, and the water tasted fine.  If we were just tourists here I don't think I'd bother but when you're living in a place for a year, I'm not sure what is worse...the chemicals from plastic water bottles or a few little bugs that you can develop immunity to.

Michael had a very happy "cumpleanos" a week ago - his 30th birthday!  So yes he is now officially 30.  He was lucky enough to have a second celebration of it, and happy birthday sung to him in at least two different languages.  We went out for lunch to a chinese vegetarian restaurant with some of the other volunteers here. 

Well, last but not least, there is an upcoming "Carnaval" festival here in Santa Cruz in the next week or two.  From what people have been saying about it I think it will be a good thing that we will probably not be here by that time.  For their Carnaval, apart from having the normal music, cultural dancing etc type of things, which sounds reasonable, it seems that a significant portion of the city goes into a paint throwing/paintball frenzy for a week.  Apparently people throw paint at each other, and most of the taxis/cars stop driving, except for some that cover their cars in some type of oil so that the paint won't stick to them.  The lonely planet recommend "holing up for a week" if you are in the city at that time.  I'm not sure of the details but apparently it is not uncommon that sometimes people get killed during the 'festivities'.  Anyway we're certainly not planning on buying up on paint between now and then!

Well, that is about all our news for the moment. We've enjoyed all the newsy emails from everyone at home.  Hope you are all "muy bueno"!

Love, Dani & Michael