September 1, 2013
This weekday routine we’ve set will, I assume, take us through mid-November, when summer vacation begins. From 8:30 to 12:50 (though soon they’ll start at 8:00) the kids are at the Colegio Pestalozzi. Meanwhile I work, via Internet, from 10:00 to 6:00. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings I take a Spanish class from 6:30 to 8:30. In my (little) spare time with the kids, I teach Thalia pre-calculus and chemistry and Jacky algebra and Hebrew; Karen takes care of the other subjects. Almost every morning I visit the mercado central for groceries. On Thursday afternoons we’ll go to Yamparáez, a village about forty minutes from here, to help in the library, where about fifty local kids hang out. I also have Spanish homework, an hour or two’s worth a week, and prep work for the homeschooling. I do like to read the paper (the Correo del sur, a Sucre paper whose editorials, in Randall’s words, “would make Goebbels proud,” or the Guardian or the New York Times, online) and take a walk every day, though I can’t always. Occasionally we're invited somewhere for tea or I'll go to the Mercado San Antonio for a lunch of grilled fish eaten with my fingers, making up the hours spent off the job in the evening or early morning. All this leaves me with no time to read books, exercise, and the other things I would fill my spare time with in Chicago. I have some time on the weekends; but that’s partly taken with travel and socializing. (This weekend and last we stayed in Sucre.) The differences between my life here and in Chicago are innumerable.
It’s sunny and cool almost every day here, and walking up and down the steep hills is pleasant when and where there’s not too much traffic. The streets and sidewalks are narrow; the stores are all closed between 12:30 and 3:00; the micros (small buses) make the air hard to breathe when they pass.
I have now found most of my favorite vendors at the market, all women: the woman who smiles sweetly as she sells me hearty and crisp rolls with the consistency of good French bread and fresh honey in tall bottles corked with beeswax; the old woman with few teeth who sells me dirty farm-fresh eggs (some of them blue, all with huge dark yolks) and quite perishable fresh goat cheese; the stern and tough lady who cuts me slabs or chops of beef or grinds it for me; the vegetable seller who always gives me a few extra things for nothing; the fish vendor who often doesn’t get her fish early enough in the morning for me. I haven’t yet found a fruit vendor I totally trust—most tend to overcharge gringos—but the fruit is always good; I haven’t visited the avocado girls enough because I just discovered their haunt in an upstairs corner I hadn’t seen, next to tables and tables of stews; and I alternate between several of the banana vendors, nuts-and-dried-fruit vendors, potato vendors, and grain-and-bean vendors. As for the food, we’ve tried all sorts of new fruits and vegetables, but I do miss things one just can’t get here: brown rice, lamb, raw sugar, non-pork lunch meats, craft beer, sherry, pasteurized but not sterilized milk. I’ve learned how to pasteurize now, with the help of a borrowed thermometer (we searched in every store in town for one in vain): I heat raw milk in a double-boiler to 161 degrees while stirring it constantly, wait 15 seconds, pour it quickly into a steel container that has been in the freezer, cool it, still stirring, in a sink full of cold water, and put it in the refrigerator. That way the milk doesn’t taste cooked, a taste we all find unpleasant.
I’m sleeping better here: the house is quiet, the bed big, the air cold, the blankets warm and heavy. I’m used to not putting toilet paper in the toilet, brushing my teeth with bottled water, adjusting the water heater before I shower, washing my fruit with boiled water, peeling my cucumbers and carrots, and disinfecting raw foods that grow on the ground (lettuce, radishes, strawberries). My digestive system is, however, not up to snuff: because of the altitude, I assume, it’s harder for me to digest almost everything here, so I end up with stomach aches. If I just stuck with bread and water I’d be OK, but how nutritious is that?My Spanish is slowly improving. I can’t jump into conversations between Bolivians as I’d like to, but I can have a decent conversation with one person. Almost all the Bolivians I’ve talked with are women, with the exception of Carlos and Moi (one of my Spanish teachers), both of them in their twenties—that’s due to the social circles Philly and Zannah move in. None of these women are married—Philly says that married women aren’t allowed to be independent enough to do office or social work. Karen has some married female colleagues at the University whom I hope she’ll get to know well enough so that we can socialize with Bolivian families. And then there are the Jewish families here, whom we haven’t yet met, but will this week.
I’m glad that I no longer drive, though I miss bicycling—it’s too dangerous to bicycle here except on Sundays. (Today I borrow Randall’s bike and go cycling with Philly, which is glorious because it’s the annual day without cars.) The buses and taxis are cheap, plentiful, and convenient, if on the verge of breaking down; but I walk almost everywhere.
Our first visit to Yamparáez was on Friday—not the best day to go since many of the kids go off to their parents for the weekend. With Zannah and Carlos, we take a micro to the outskirts of the village and walk down the main street which, at two o’clock, is characteristically empty. About twenty kids come, spinning tops on the street, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Martha, the librarian, who unlocks the doors. Their assignment is to make thank-you cards for Biblioworks’ donors using colored pencils, pens, paper, and scissors. We write “thank you” in five different languages on the white board—it’s funny how many of them choose to write it in Hebrew and how few in Quechua. Most of them draw landscapes or computers, but one little boy only wants to cut out butterflies and stars. I’m very taken with one little girl, Anaí, who can read faster than I can, and by another, older than the rest, who is so shy and timid it’s painful to watch. Most of the kids appear to be between seven and eleven; an older group reads comic books, watches TV, and plays video games. They’re all clearly very poor, with dirty clothes and faces, and starved for creative activity—the schools here don’t encourage that. Karen reads Huevos verdes con jamón with gusto and the kids are spellbound; Thalia and I are a bit shyer, and Jacky mostly just plays with Carlos. On the way back he sits next to two fighting cocks, one on Carlos’s lap, with ten more under the seat.