Thursday morning I met up with Roxana, Wendy and Sophie at 8 am so we could take a taxi to the bus station. Wendy and Sophie are from the U.S. and will be staying in Sopachuy for about 5 weeks. Wendy is going to help with some English classes at the secondary school in the mornings and run “clubs de lectura” (book clubs) in the library in the afternoon.
The bus left on time at 9 am and we got to Sopachuy a bit after 2 pm. The first part of the journey was the same as when I went to Presto but instead of turning off on to the road paved with stones, we continued on the highway. (Eventually we did turn off the highway but quite a bit further along.) Along the way we passed the towns of Yamparaez, Tarabuco and Tomina, towns where BiblioWorks also has libraries. The bus stopped in Zudáñez (a small town) for a bathroom and food break.
Once in Sopachuy, Roxana and I checked into our hotel then Roxana went to find out where the apartment that had been arranged for Wendy and Sophie was. When she came back we walked there with all their stuff (including a box of books and a box of things for the apartment). The apartment had been found (and cleaned) by Delmira (who was the librarian when the library in Sopachuy was opened) and her friend, Valentina, who lives across the street from it. They had arranged for beds, a table, some chairs and a small stove (but the stove was missing a few parts – the burners and the thingy on the hose that attaches to the gas bottle). Valentina has a daughter who is a year or so younger than Sophie and despite Sophie speaking only limited Spanish, they hit it off.
A bit later we stopped by the town hall to pick up the key to the library. (The librarian and nearly all the other people who work for the municipality were in Zudáñez for a sports tournament for municipal employees from across the region.) Unfortunately the librarian had forgotten to drop off the key. There were some phone calls and some waiting and Roxana made a trip to the librarian’s mother’s house to pick up the key but she wasn’t home. We gave up and went for a wander around Sopachuy. It is a lovely little town with two rivers, two squares, lots of trees and is surrounded by low hills.
Later, after Wendy had a bit of an unpack, we attempted to find out about getting parts for Wendy’s stove. The first shop we asked at had the hose part but not the burners. We decided to come back for it if we could find the burners somewhere else. We tried a few more shops with no success. When we told Delmira and Valentina, they went off to find the original burners which were quite rusty but they figured they would probably work. Valentina took the stove home as it was going to require tools to change the gas hose. We went back to the shop to buy the hose but it was “closed”. It was wide open but there was no one inside and a broom and mop were crossed across the entrance to indicate it was closed. We hung out for a while but eventually gave up.
There is another library in Sopachuy set up by a German organization so we went to visit it. It had three rooms – a sort of back room with the books and then two larger rooms with tables where there were quite a few students doing homework. The librarian was a very friendly Bolivian woman.
The store had “re-opened when we passed by so we picked up the hose and went to drop it off at Valentina’s. She was home but her daughter (and some other girls) were playing with Sophie at her house so we passed it to her to give to her mother. When they brought the stove back with the hose attached, we discovered that they had actually gotten Wendy a brand-new stove!
In the evening, Wendy, Roxana and I went for dinner (Sophie had managed to have dinner with Valentina’s family and her new friend). We went to a restaurant in the hotel where we were staying. They were out of meat (which was better for me anyway) so we had rice, potatoes, fried eggs and “salad” (a few slices of tomato and some chopped cucumber and onions – more like a garnish). Restaurants tend to have one choice, not a menu to order from. At lunch time, there is a soup and some sort of meat served with rice, boiled potatoes and usually a bit of “salad”. At dinner time there is no soup. Many Bolivians just have a snack in the evening instead of a full meal.
Friday morning, we met Wendy for breakfast at a kiosk in the main plaza. I had coffee which was made by pouring some thick, syrupy coffee from a small pot on the table into a mug and adding hot water from a thermos that was also on the table. When I asked for some milk for it, the woman brought over some milk in a measuring cup and poured it in for me. I also had some bread (on which I spread some of my peanut butter). Roxana had an apple tea and some pastels (fried turnovers with a bit of cheese inside them). Wendy went for the coffee and had bought some fruit.
Roxana went and picked up the key to the library from the town hall (the librarian’s mother had dropped it off at some point) and we went to visit the secondary school to see about Wendy helping with English classes. It is a brand-new school a bit out of the centre of town (but the town isn’t that big so not really very far). We had to be let in as the gates was padlocked.
The principal was very welcoming. He explained that there are German volunteers helping with the 3rd through 6th years (equivalent to 9th to 12th grades) but that Wendy would be most welcome to help with the 1st and 2nd year English classes (7th and 8th grade). He said he would meet with the English teacher to sort out times and for Wendy to come back on Monday at 9:30 am.
We stopped by the library after to take a look. It has two rooms but it quite small with lots of the space taken up by tables and benches. Roxana, Wendy and I hashed out a plan for her book club and then headed to the primary school to promote it (picking up Sophie along the way). We decided we would invite the students in the 3rd and 4th year classes (equivalent to 3rd and 4th grade). The second recess was just ending when we got there. The primary students have classes from 8 am to 1 pm. The principal was very welcoming and assigned someone to take us to the classes we wanted to speak with. It turned out there are three classes at each grade level.
Roxana and Wendy invited the students to come to the library at 3 pm to sign up for the book club which will run Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3 to 4:30 pm. Wendy had brought several books with her as well as Pigeon hats for herself and Sophie and there was a lot of interest. We had put a cap on the book club of 12 students because that is how many can fit in the library!
Sophie’s new friends are in the 5th and 6th years and when they spotted her in their school they all stopped to say hello. It was like being with a celebrity.
For lunch, we went to a place near Wendy’s apartment. As it was lunchtime, they were serving a soup (rice) and a main of “Milanesa”, a very flat, battered, fried piece of chicken. Roxana ordered me a fried egg to go with my rice and potatoes instead. She went for soup and Wendy and Sophie had the Milanesa. There was a bit of a mix up in the order so after her soup, Roxana also ended up with Milanesa.
After lunch, we set off to buy gas for Wendy’s stove. We picked up the empty tank and were ready to carry it but Valentina and Delmira spotted us and Valentina went off to get her wheelbarrow. Valentina also has a little boy named Moisés, who is about 3 and has Down’s Syndrome. Delmira has a little girl about the same age, named Mayra. We all set off down the street to exchange the gas bottle. Valentina also has 8 dogs and 8 cats (most of the cats are part of a litter of newborn kittens). Sophie is already quite attached to one of the dogs, a small black puppy named La Negrita, so the puppy came too. Back at Wendy’s they hooked up the tank and made sure the stove was working.
We arranged to meet at the library at 3 pm and Roxana and I went back to check out of our hotel. We also stopped at the bus ticket office to ask if the 4 pm bus (we had already bought our tickets) could pick us up at the other square where the library is. We knew it has to pass that way but we didn’t want to get left behind!
We ended up going to the library early, at 2 pm and there were already a couple of students waiting on the steps to sign up for Wendy’s book club. Over the next hours more showed up and they read books and played games while waiting for it to be 3 pm.
By the time Wendy and Sophie arrived at 3 on the dot, we had them lined up on the sidewalk in order of arrival. As we started the signup process, Wendy made a quick decision to run two clubs – one on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the other on Tuesday, Thursday. Each club has slightly more than 12 students on its list but Roxana figures they won’t all show up each time.
Wendy pulled out one of the books she has brought, a Spanish translation of The Library Lion and read to group of kids while some other worked on homework in the other room. They finished up just before our bus arrived so we said our goodbyes and left Wendy with a library full of kids.
Several people we talked to during our time in Sophachuy mentioned that the current librarian isn’t a very hard worker and that they were happy to see a volunteer coming in to hopefully get the library running better. It is especially hard for Delmira as she was previously the librarian and by all accounts did an excellent job. However in the municipal libraries, the local government hires the librarians and they tend to share the job around. BiblioWorks provides a profile of characteristics and background that they think the librarian should have but the decision rests with the government. Roxana will be returning fairly soon to meet with the mayor (who was elected earlier this year) and will hopefully convince him that the current librarian needs to pull her socks up or be replaced.
Our bus ride back to Sucre was much more eventful than on the way to Sopachuy. The driver was a bit of a speed demon, the people one row back and across from us had a puppy with them and the man in front of me had a large green parrot in a cage on his lap. At one point, a group of people who weren’t going very far got on and a rather large older lady with no upper teeth decided it was easier to sit on my armrest rather than moving back to where there were free seats. I scootched over closer to Roxana at that point. The buses we took both ways had a wall and door between the passengers and the driver (and the other random people riding in the front – one had his kids with him and the other his wife and a kid). When people want to get off at an unscheduled stop they have to knock on the door. At one point the driver put the music on extremely loudly and one woman had to bang really hard on the door for quite awhile before she was heard.
It was just started to rain as we left Sopachuy and thankfully when the rain got harder our driver decided to slow down. It rained off and on all the way back and there were even two bouts of hail. Luckily for our driver, it wasn’t raining when the bus blew a tire. He managed to change it fairly quickly. We had quite the lightning show coming into Sucre. Roxana and I shared a cab and I got home a bit after 10 pm.