Tuesday, June 22, 2010

La Despedida

The fashion show went over great! We got to really promote Tantakuna, and the fashion designer, Jodi Arnold, will continue to keep our product in her store to sell in New York. There’s so many new projects that are underway, including surveying interest in savings/banking, new Tantakuna products, the greenhouse project, possible small loans to the teachers that work at PH, new advertising initiatives, holiday cards, furthered child sponsorship programs, and a microenterprise training program, which is all fantastic, but rather hard since I’m leaving soon. I feel like I’ve finally truly sunk into the community here: I have all my special places- my favorite bread shop, cafés to do work, cafés to watch the world cup, discotecs, bars, produce stands, and park bench reading spots; I have gone to spinning and yoga classes, committed to memory all of the trufi/micro routes, and taken up Portuguese class; and most importantly, I have befriended some of the most wonderfully kind and colorful people both from here and from around the world, one of which even became my “novio”, and it’s all just in time to say goodbye.

It’s funny how much you are able to kid yourself that you have become wise, or at least wise enough. Every trial, triumph, or tragedy shapes us anew, and to think at some point that we have reached a pinnacle at which there is nothing more we will discover about ourselves and the world seems so silly. The more I learn, the more I figure out that there’s actually so much more to know. God has continued to grow and humble me throughout my time here as he has always done and will continue to do, because as long as I am alive I will always fall short, but through mercy and grace that is ok. I am sad to leave but grateful for all the memories I will be taking with me. I trust that there is an hour for everything, including one to say farewell, and as difficult as that can be, I know that with every adieu comes a new adventure that will be as exciting as we’re willing to make it.

Besos para siempre

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Why are there so many rad things to do in Bolivia?! I met the Austrian in La Paz last weekend to bike THE DEATH ROAD, supposedly the most dangerous road in the world, which entailed a 35 mile downhill mountain bike ride along the cliffs of the Andes, starting at about 16,000 feet above sea level. It was absolutely incredible, despite my sore bum at the end of the ride. My friend from the states was passing through Bolivia so we decided to meet up as well and do a pampas tour in the jungle. We had quite an ordeal with TAM (never fly with them, your chances of actually taking off are slim to none), but eventually we got to Rurrenabaque. Just a side note- If you were wondering where all the Israelis are, this is where to find them. I am certain that at least 90% of the tourists in Rurre were Israeli. The first things we did when we got there was find a hostel to throw down our stuff and eat. The first thing they did was rent motorbikes, and I don’t think they got off them until the following day. Another give away was that on every corner there was a powwow piping away at a shisha--even at 10 in the morning while eating breakfast! Anywho, the pampas tour was great, but I must say that the majority was spent gawking at alligators, which I have plenty of in my backyard in Florida. I think my favorite part was canoeing at night and being able to see more stars in the sky then I have seen in my life, and with what seemed like an equal number of fireflies all around us. It’s these gentle ambiences that take my breath away.

I meet so many new people every day from all around the world and it is so refreshing--I’m already building up a nice vocabulary in German, French, Portuguese, and Hebrew! Besides this trip I have been traveling strictly on the weekends, but I have found myself running into a lot of the same people, which reminds me that there are no true goodbyes. I have learned so much from the people I have crossed paths with, of myself, culture, beliefs, Israeli card games, French humor, and all the places I have to see. I have been offered an infinite numbers of couches to sleep on if I am ever “in the area” and I have well-diversified my facebook friends list. God makes life sweet, and he does it through people.

Anyone going to be in NYC this week?! There is going to be a fashion show on May 6th at the Cooper Square Hotel which will promote and give proceeds to our women’s handicraft group, Tantakuna. Right now we are shipping off products to New York and finalizing our catalog so that we can hopefully get some good publicity. More exciting news is that we are starting a greenhouse initiative in partnership will Karl Rabeder so that we can involve the community in sustainable organic farming! I am very excited about this one; I just hope I can see it through before I have to go back to the states.

Friday, April 9, 2010

¡Como vuele el tiempo!

Everything went smoothly in Peru--I got a new 90 day visa which was ideal. However, I ended up bribing the wrong person to get back into Bolivia; I guess it’s just a skill I’ll have to work on. A few weekends ago my friends and I all traveled to Potosí to explore the silver mines and then to Sucre to stare at white houses. All future travelers to South America: nothing is ever open on Sundays.

The mines of Potosí were great. After we were picked up and geared up our guide stopped our van to purchase mine crew “necessities”. This included a bag of coca leaves, tobacco, alcohol potable (96%), dynamite materials, and orange soda. We all cheers with a cap-full of the alcohol, spilled a little for the Pachmama, and threw it back. If death has a taste that was it. Once at the mines our guide showed us how to pack the dynamite and we all took turns holding it in our mouths (or elsewhere) while posing for pictures, but once the wick got short we dropped it and ran... When we finally got to journey inside I found myself without problems venturing into the unknown darkness, nor did I spook looking down the 100 meter deep pits, but when it came down to getting on our hands and knees to crawl down a narrowing tunnel... yikes!

This past weekend the Austrian (oh yeah, the German speakers are even now) and I went to the Salar de Uyuni, or the salt flats of Uyuni. A MUST DO! If you have only three or four days in Bolivia, not kidding this is IT. As soon as I get a camera chord I will upload pictures, but as I’m sure you know a picture can never fully capture the awe-inspiring sights that we tend to encounter. The bus ride there makes you pay for it--a total of 13 hours, mostly on a VERY bumpy dirt road with a change in Oruro, but we had an absolute blast. The main attraction was a huuuuuuuge salt flat, more than 10,500 sq. km, but the tour took us to three gorgeous lagoons with wild flamingos, natural geysers and some amazing rock formations (arboles de piedras, or trees of stone). What made it so great though, were the people on our tour--3 from Germany (go figure), 1 from Holland, 2 from Australia, 2 from England, 1 from Peru, 1 from Spain, the Austrian and me, the U.S.A.-ian. It is always the people around you that make the difference and this group made it such a positive one!

I’ve fallen in love with my kids. It had come with endless frustration but also encouragement. I can’t even express how gratifying it is to help them discover that yes, they CAN do it: they can write the letters, they can recall the numbers, they can finish. Every one of them is so incredibly different, it has been quite a challenge finding a way to motivate and help each individual. Some finish their projects in record time and just want your thumbs up, some need a bit more direction (an “R” is a line, an arc, and a tail.... a line, an arc, and a tail, a line.... an arc.... and a tail....), and others are just flat out bored and need to be shown that learning can be fun. Remember Mikel? Nothing is fun unless it is followed by a high five and a fist pound. Have I mentioned that they are all only four years old?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Flying Niños!

Hello my lovely friends and family!

Sorry it has been a while. La guarderia is still going well--my kids are amazing! Every one of them is so unique and special; I really do love spending time with them. One of my niños, Mikel, delights in not listening to a word I say, but it is impossible to stay mad at him, as he does everything with such pure innocence and joy. Numerous times a day he will come flying at me mid-air (usually after jumping off a table), which has really sharpened my children-catching instincts. Another one, Richar, I believe to be indestructible. He is constantly running into things full force. A little guy, his might and determination far outweigh his balance and spacial awareness. He reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Carnaval in Cochabamba was far crazier here than it was in Oruro. I really don’t know how, but my friends and I ended up walking along the parade path in the opposite direction, in a “globos” line of fire. No less than 300 water balloons, multiple cans of shaving cream, and a blue spray paint facial later I was done. Utterly destroyed. Despite all of that the craziest part of the day was that while we were walking through the parade, Evo Morales himself was guided right past us by a police squad and into the bleachers we were standing in front of. The president of Bolivia was about five feet away from me, close enough that if I had really wanted to I could have touched him (although it probably would have come with the risk of a club to the stomach). If that were Obama he would’ve been walking in a bulletproof glass box with about 20 times the number of armed men around him!

There is a new volunteer at the project from New Zealand. She is also very much interested in microfinance and economic development, so hopefully we can join forces to make such a system more of a reality here. I am also grateful that this now tips the English/German-speaking ratio a bit more in my favor.

I performed an instant-coffee taste test the other day. I fully expected Nescafe to win, but 1st place went to Iguacu, although by the time I was satisfied with my decision I was buzzing and my taste buds probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between coffee and soap.

On another more interesting note my visa is expired and I must leave the country in order to get a new one. So probably next weekend I will be heading to Peru. I have been so greatly blessed, however, because my host sister, a Peru native, has offered to come with me. What first seemed like a slightly risky trek (the border is not the safest, and we are still unsure of whether or not I need to stay out for more than 24 hours) quickly transformed into a weekend va-cay at Lake Titicaca with a friend.

Please continue to pray for my health and safety.

Un abrazo,


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Water Balloons & Shaving Cream

Hola! I hope things are well in the northern hemisphere--things are moving along here. My Spanish, or rather my Castellano, is improving (or so I like to tell myself), and I am continuing to soak up the culture here in Bolivia. I just got back from a raging fiesta in Oruro, where Carnaval was taking place. For some twenty odd hours there is a parade that marches all around the city. You can buy a ticket for 80 bolivianos, which is about $11.50, and that allows you to sit in the bleachers to watch the parade go by. You can choose to sit there until dawn the next day, which I’m pretty sure some people actually do--with the occasional bathroom break of course, or, like the tourists we are, you can walk around the city intermittently. This one plaza led us up a landing where you could see the entire town up until the mountains that surrounded it.

Best investments of the day:

1) Poncho - For the entire day I was covered in water-balloon remnants and shaving cream. At one point during we were grabbing a late lunch where they weren’t serving any vegetarian food, so I ran out quickly to buy some cheap pastries from a stand not twenty meters away from the restaurant. I considered putting my poncho back on but thought I’d be ok for just a few minutes. I stepped outside the door and “splat!” water-ballon to the back, and “smack!” shaving cream to the face. Oh well, así es la vida (that’s life). While paying for my pastries a small boy came up to me, arm raised and balloon in hand. I looked him dead in the eye with my hand out, and said, “por favor.” He lowered his arm, smiled, and gently placed one of his water-balloons in my hand like a good little boy as I said, “Gracias.” Needless to say I had some vengeance on my way back to my friends.

2) Sneakers - By nighttime the streets were soaked and covered with trash: pieces of balloon rubber, dismantled ponchos, beer cans, chicken bones, and sorry to say- vomit. Bleh!

3) Sunscreen - Apparently when you’re closer to the sun you burn more easily... go figure. I used some of what the Canadian brought, but the places I missed--yikes!

The official (national) holiday of Carnaval was these past two days, which means no work, but a lot more water and shaving cream. There has been an infantry of kids stationed just outside the entrance of my building, making my exit strategy rather difficult. From my balcony I’ve seen trucks full of people go by with huge buckets full of water balloons and what looked like turbo nurf guns. The best has been seeing full out battles take place between the truck people and the neighborhood kids. I can’t even tell you how tempted I was to fill up a bucket of my own and just dump it on them, but fears of causing permanent damage from seven stories up inhibited my great deluge.

We are starting up a Saturday program for arts and sports in the community of Ushpa-Ushpa. I will be helping to oversee the theatre and art classes, but I also have the task of marketing the program to developing countries in order to raise sustainable funds. If any of you have suggestions of who I can contact or advice on how to begin this venture please let me know. I haven’t done large-scale fundraising before, but I guess I have to start somewhere!

Please continue to pray for me, and let me know how I can do the same for you. I love the emails! And oh yes--add me on skype! I am “callieham”, a bit abstract, I know.



ps- In case you were wondering, the ice has melted. I now receive many a warm hola’s from Sebastian each day.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Feb. 8, 2010

I made it to Bolivia! After all of the planning and packing, the questioning of whether or not this was really what I wanted to do or not, and after having to say my many farewells, I am finally here and completely at peace that it was the right thing to do. That’s not to say, however, that there weren’t a few bumps along the way. For instance, during my 7 hour layover in La Paz, which I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere with such thin air before, I fell asleep at a table cradling my carry-on. When I woke up my water bottle had come open and allowed water to soak my attire precisely as if I had peed my pants. I had a pair of jeans in my bag, so I changed and dried my clothes under the dryer in the bathroom. Once I finally made it to Cochabamba my living arrangements had changed, so for the first night I stay with the woman I had been corresponding with prior to arriving. First thing I did when she brought me to her home was take a shower... or try to. I’m pretty sure I didn’t receive any directions other than turn the knob, so that’s what I did. The shower head made some sizzling sounds, burst into flames, and wilted. Uh...? Right. So I’m standing there in all my glory, naked, yelling, “Fumas! Fumas!” which apparently is not the word for smoke nor fire. Nicola walked in, looked at the shower, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Tenemos un otro,” or “We have another.”

I was feeling pretty burdened the first day as you can probably guess, missing my friends and family and destroying bathroom utilities and all, but it has gotten a lot better. I have really only been here a few days now, but I feel like it’s been at least a month. The other volunteers, one Canadian and three Germans, have already become my dear friends and have made the adjustment quite easy, although I wouldn’t mind if we spoke English every now and then since I know that everyone CAN. They’re right to try and make us all speak Spanish so that we can learn faster, but the Germans still break into their language sometimes, and when they do I try to talk to the Canadian freakishly fast so they can’t understand me either. This weekend we played a strange type of indoor volleyball called wally, went dancing, played pool (or taca taca), saw the botanical gardens, and went out to a couple of bars, including one called K-ooz, where you play yatzee on the table.

Carnaval is coming up, which is the Bolivian version of Fat Tuesday in New Orleans. It is tradition for guys to throw water balloons at girls in the weeks prior to the holiday, which is flat out dumb. The first time I got hit was on a super hot day in the middle of the Concha, a ginormous market near el centro, and it felt amazing. But since then I’ve been the victim of numerous drive-bys and ended up drenched. How do they ever expect to get girlfriends?

I moved in with a host family from Peru and it is fantastic. I have an incredible view from my room, and there is a market just below the building where I can buy groceries. Jessica, my host sister, is my age and fantastic, and we also have a talking pet parrot named Sebastian. He hasn’t really taken to me yet (I’m getting the silent treatment), but I know he’ll warm up.

As for why I am here: my Spanish is not exactly up to par, so this first month is going to be packed with one-on-one Spanish lessons. For now I am helping out at the guardería, or nursery, and also helping to build and organize la biblioteca, or library. Meanwhile I am deciding on what projects besides microfinance I want to be involved in/initiate once my Spanish gets better. I believe I’ll be heavily involved in outreach and finding ways to market Proyecto Horizonte’s mission to other places. As far as I can tell I’ll have my hands in a little bit of everything, which is perfect as it will give be insight into all aspects of this type of development.

Thank you all for your prayers and support; you have really come through for me. God has really blessed me in all of this and I am psyched to see where he leads me next. Please continue to pray for my safety and for me to use my time wisely. I can already tell it’s going to fly by, and I really want to make it count.