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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_8918Roxana 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.

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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.


I got up really early on Tuesday morning (was that only yesterday?!?), finished packing, made some sandwiches, gulped a cup of tea and at 5:15 am, as instructed by Roxana, I called a taxi. Thankfully she had given me two numbers to try because no one answered when I called the first one. I told the operator where I was and where I needed to go, picked up my backpack and headed out to street. There was cab pulling up as I did so. It seemed awfully quick so before I got in I asked if he was the one I called. He said he was so I hopped in. He then asked where I was going and radioed in my answer (using a radio that resembled the walkie talkies we took out on duty when I taught in Ottawa). I texted Roxana to let her know I was in a taxi. About ten minutes later, the taxi driver said we had arrived at the place I wanted to be. There were several mini-buses loading up as well as food stalls along the side of the road. I couldn’t seen any sign of a bridge in spite of apparently being at the first bridge on the way to the airport but one of the food ladies told someone else that was where he was so I just waited. A woman approached and asked where I was going (I assume because she wanted to sell me the bus ticket). I explained I was waiting for a friend. Eventually Roxana showed up and apologized. She hadn’t been able to get a taxi via telephone and had to resort to one down in the street. She had a glass of tohorí (the hot, chunky corn drink) and offered me one but I declined.

Around 6:15 am, our ride pulled up. It was the principal of the school in Maragua along with two teachers. The teacher in the front seat has her toddler on her lap. The teachers at the school are all from Sucre. They leave for Maragua early Monday morning and return to Sucre Friday afternoon. With financial help from Japan, a new school was built beside the old school about 5 years ago and some of  the old classrooms have been converted into accommodation for the teachers.

The trip to took a bit over 2 hours. The road started out paved, then paved with stones, then gravel and finally dirt. It was windy and we basically went up and over a mountain. The scenery was gorgeous. We went through a pine forest (apparently a reforestation project), a eucalypt forest and then started down. The earth was amazing colours – red, green, purple, yellow – but I was in the middle of the backseat and couldn’t get any photos.

We arrived in Maragua around 7:40 am and agreed to meet the director in his office at 8 am. (photo) We then headed to the guest house down the road, dropped off our bags and went to find Don Basilio (Don is title of respect), who lives next door and runs it. No one at his house knew where he was so we left a message and headed to school. 


The meeting with the principal went well. He is new to the school and has only been there a few weeks so he didn’t know how the library worked in the past. We set a full staff meeting for 5 pm in the library so that Roxana could do a presentation about the library and help create a library timetable. He also agreed to release the 8 student libraries from their morning classes so they could help us reorganize the library. (There is no librarian in the school libraries. The principal or a teacher holds the key and student libraries staff the library after school.) IMG_8747

There was then a full school assembly which consisted of the student lining up at the flagpole in their classes, one behind the other – both primary and secondary students. A teacher spoke about it being the birthday of Sucre, some students recited poems and other sang. It was hard to hear anyone and the students were fidgety and chatty. 

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After we headed to the library which was in quite a state – dirty, littered and books out of order. With the students, we managed to pull all the books and other materials (games, art supplies, musical instruments etc) off the shelves, rearrange the shelves, clean them, inventory the books and put them back on the shelves. It took all morning and I did have to remind the students at one point that they were there to work not to play the instruments or do puzzles. There was a break at 10:30 am when the students went and had their school breakfast – bread and some white cloudy drink that I didn’t ask about. (I had one of my sandwiches.) At some point, Don Basilio stopped by and gave us the key to the guesthouse.








Around 12 the students left to get their school lunch. Some of the mothers come to cook lunch but the students have to bring their own bowl and spoon – and many seemed to have forgotten their spoon. At 12:30, Roxana and I headed back to the guesthouse to have our lunch. The guesthouse has a “kitchen” with two gas burners at one end and some odd dishes and cutlery.

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There is a laundry sink outside as well as a covered area with a table. There are two bedrooms with 4 beds each, one bathroom (that did have a shower after all) and one single bedroom. It was set up in partnership with Condor Trekkers (who also run my favourite vegetarian café in Sucre) because they run hiking trips in the area. There were lots of foreigners passing through. Some stopped to have lunch, some stayed the night and a couple camped across the road (their guide stayed in the single room). I stashed my bag of food in the kitchen and we headed out for a walk to “La garganta del diablo” (the Devil’s Throat). We along the river and met up with the kindergarten class and their teacher who were carrying an assortment of bottles and jugs. They were heading to the river to get water for their plants. There was very little water in the river which was good because we had to cross it and then take a path down to the Devil’s Throat which is next to some waterfalls.


We spent a bit more time sorting things out in the library in the late afternoon and had everything ready by the time the staff showed up. Roxana gave a presentation, we gave the teachers some time to look at the games and then the principal worked with the teachers to create a timetable. They managed to schedule all of the primary classes and some of the secondary.


It was nearly 7 pm by the time the meeting ended and we got everyone out of the library. We headed to the boarding house down the road to sort out a schedule for the student librarians who keep the library open in pair from 5-7 pm Monday to Thursday. (This had been in place in the past but had stopped for some reason.) The boarding house was quite large but there are only about 20 or so students who live there.

When we got back to the guesthouse, we were exhausted and neither of were hungry which was good because there were lots of guests and Don Basilio’s wife was cooking for some of them. (We found Don Basilio having a nap on one of the other beds in our room…) Around the time I was heading to the bathroom, the power cut out. I grabbed my headlamp and wet wipes. (The showers heat the water by electricity and I wasn’t up for a cold shower in the dark.) We crashed early and didn’t get up until after 7 am. (The principal had told us we could get a ride back into Sucre the next day around lunchtime so we didn’t have to get up early and start walking.)

In the morning, we discovered that a teacher had dropped off dinner for us (bowls of rice and lentils) and they were sitting on the table, oops. When I went into the kitchen to grab my food, the bag and everything in it was gone! I was quite baffled but decided to check with Don Basilio later. Roxana had two bananas and we had some packets of biscuits that we were given to us the school so I ate a banana and biscuits. My bottle of coke was in my bag in my room so I decided to have some (I hadn’t brought tea bags with me). I went to open it and it exploded all over my pants and the floor. I cleaned up my pants as best I could and Roxana cleaned up the floor.

We tried to find Don Basilio but he had disappeared so we headed off on a hike to the top of a ridge which gave us great views of Maragua and the surrounding countryside.

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Around 11:30 am we went back. We found Don Basilio and told him about the missing food. He said he had heard dogs fighting and that he figured they got into the kitchen and took it. I explained that I didn’t really care about the food but that my Swiss army knife was in the bag. He wandered off into a ravine to look for the bag while Roxana and I shook our heads at his story. He didn’t find it and when Roxana went to pay for our night, he told her we didn’t have to pay because my stuff went missing (but we did anyway).

We headed back to the library and helped the kindergarten teacher show a film using his laptop and the projector in the library. I am a bit slower when the menus are all in Spanish but I was pretty sure I could fix the problem (his laptop screen and what was being projected were not the same window) and eventually I did.


At noon, we closed up the library and sat outside where we could keep an eye on the principal’s car. A teacher came by and brought us a plate of food – a hard boiled egg, boiled potatoes, chopped up cucumber and tomato, spicy sauce and a piece of dried meat. I ate the egg, Roxana had the meat and we split the rest. A bit later another teacher brought us two bowls of the students’ lunch – which looked like a yellow dahl  but was actually made with wheat with bits of potato and the odd bit of veg and meat. We fed one bowl to an Argentinian hiker who had asked us about a store earlier and split the other one.

Shortly after 2 pm the principal came by and we loaded up for the trip back. This time it was only Roxana and I and I managed to get some photos.

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Tomorrow Roxana and I are taking a volunteer and her daughter to Sopachuy. It is a 6 hours bus ride and we are on a 9 am bus. I better go pack!



Wet wipes, Peanut Butter and Coca Cola


Yep. I’m getting ready for another trip to visit a library!

Tomorrow morning I have to call a cab at 5:15 am and then take it to meet Roxana at  the “primer puente al ir al aeropuerto” (the first bridge to get to the airport). Apparently the taxi driver will know it. There we are to be picked up by a teacher going to Maragua.

We will spend the day there in the library. (I think we have a meeting and a planning session with the librarian.) We sleeping in a place with “cabañas” (cabins) but there might be extra people in with us. When I was asked I was told there is no shower and that if I wanted to bring my sleeping sheet it might be a good idea. Sounds rustic.

Wednesday morning, we will get up early and walk for about three hours to get to the point where we can catch a lift back to Sucre.

Oh and there is no where to buy water or food in the village so I have to pack water as well as lunch, dinner and breakfast.

Bring on the adventure!

An Awesome Weekend (so far)

This weekend is only about ½ way through and already it has been great.

Friday after work I went to a meeting of “ La Asamblea del Consejo Nacional del Voluntariado Conavol Capítulo-Chuquisaca” (the Assembly of the National Council of Volunteering – Chuquisaca Chapter) with Maritza, the director of BiblioWorks.


My Spanish is coming along but still isn’t perfect so I wasn’t able to understand all of the presentations and conversations but there were 20+ organizations with representatives at the meeting and one of the orders of business was to elect a vice-president. Maritza was nominated, people said amazing things about her and then she was elected with a strong majority of votes. I was impressed. (I was less impressed but not surprised that the meeting was scheduled to take place from 6:30 to 7:30 pm but because of so many late arrivals, it started at 7:30ish and finished at 8:40 pm.) Maritza and I went out to a restaurant off the plaza after and had yummy quiche and a chance to chat about things other than BiblioWorks which was lovely. We didn’t have dessert but I think I might be coming back to try them another time. 


Saturday morning I went to drop some laundry off at the place across the street from my house and ended up having a long conversation (in Spanish) with young guy about education, books, the Internet and more. It is a family run business and he and his sister are both students but also work at the laundry. I get them to wash my stuff in a machine and then I hang it up at home. Then I headed to the market to get fruit and veggies. I went to “my” fruit lady, then “my” veggie lady (who always gives me an onion for free because I only ever want one small one) who gave me an enormous tomato (usually there are only Roma ones) that she said she had saved for me (which I don’t believe at all but it did make me feel special) as well as a free bunch of green onions (which I don’t like but passed on to my Malaysian friend, Chong), and then I went upstairs to “my” avocado lady who knew which variety I like best and how many. I also picked up some rice but it was the first time I bought it at the market instead of the grocery store so I don’t know yet if the woman will become “my” rice lady. (I have a spice lady too but I didn’t buy any spices today. Spices can be a bit tricky because I don’t know what most of them are called.) It is nice to be building relationships with the people I do business with on a regular basis.

Soon after I got home I logged on to Skype to see if I could connect with my friend, Carine in Switzerland to wish her a happy birthday. She was talking to her parents but said she would call me back. When she did, I spoke to Carine, Justin and Ella for a while and then other friends, Dan, Renée and their son, Sam, came over for dinner so I talked to them too. Justin used to teach in Bolivia (and Carine has visited) and Dan and Renée used to live in Lima so we talked about S. American things. Carine, Justin and Dan all teach at the school where I taught (Renée works for Interpeace and is used to being the only non-teacher in the group) so we also talked about school stuff. It was great to be a part of the conversation and catch up with them all. After an hour or so, the computer battery was dying and Carine had to go start supper but just before I said goodbye, other friends, Joel and Melissa and their daughter, Lua, showed up so I was able to get in a quick hello to them too. Joel and Melissa used to teach in Ecuador so they have a S. American connection too. Unfortunately another set of friends weren’t able to make it due to illness. As I have said before, I love the way technology allows me to stay connected to friends around the world!

I spent some time puttering around, picked up my laundry, went to the supermarket to buy peanut butter etc and when I came back, Chong and I went for a long walk. We walked away from the centre to an area neither of us had explored before and ended up overlooking some less developed parts of Sucre. 

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We then wound our way back to parts we are familiar with. We attempted to explore around the old train station but it turns out it is private property. The guards were nice about it and the dog the signs told us to beware of (in Spanish and English) was asleep. 


I bought a bag of popcorn on the way home. I think it is awesome that there are ladies selling bags of fresh popcorn all over the place.

After a shower, I ate my enormous tomato as part of my dinner and read for a bit. 


It is not unusual to hear marching bands playing in the evening but one going by sounded especially close so I went out to the street and discovered it was!


I don’t yet have any plans for tomorrow during the day but in evening, Chong and I are going to head up to the Mirador to see if we can see the lunar eclipse (if we can manage to stay awake late enough).


An Interesting Morning

Last weekend, my landlord’s father passed away. He had Parkinson’s and was frail but it was still a shock to the family when he was discovered to not be breathing and though they called an ambulance, they were unable to resuscitate him. Earlier this week, the godmother of one of my co-workers was in the hospital (I don’t know the details) but she didn’t make it. I know it is just coincidental that I know two people who have lost someone in the same week but I am reminded of life in Tanzania where it seemed there was always someone on staff at the school who had just lost a family member. It was a large staff but many of the people who didn’t make it were young people  – a young wife, a young child, a sister. It made me very aware of living in a country with a lower life expectancy.

This morning, my colleagues and I piled into a taxi and went to the home of our co-worker’s godmother to pay our respects. We took a floral arrangement. When we arrived, we went into the house. It was a large house with lots of wood. It looked to me like an old house that had been well taken care of. (I didn’t take any photos because it seemed disrespectful.) The coffin was at the end of a long room that I think was usually both the dining room and living room. It was surrounded by flowers to which we added the ones we brought. The furniture had been moved out and chairs were set up along the edges. We greeted the family members of our colleague – her mother and a sibling and then took seats. Other people were sitting closer to the coffin. People came and went. Some were checking their phones. One couple were reading the newspaper. Our colleague came out from another part of the house to greet us and then went back and later came out with a tray of drinks for us. We stayed for about 30 minutes and then said goodbye to our colleague and her mother.

By this time it was nearly noon so people were heading home in different directions. One of our interns needed to take a poster to a university career fair and spend some time at the booth for her faculty (psychology) and the other intern and I decided to tag along.

The University of Saint Francis Xavier in Sucre was founded in 1642 making it one of the oldest universities in the world and the second oldest in the Americas (at least according to Wikipedia). Each career had stall with displays and pamphlets.

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I managed to collect only three pamphlets. The stalls were spread out across a large area both in a covered sports hall and between it and the economics building. We wandered from stall to stall and also stopped to watch the psychology group put on a skit. 

IMG_8593The students were very eager to share about their departments and to show off their displays. I walked home for lunch contemplating the circle of life. People at the end of theirs juxtaposed with young students just beginning their adult life.

Living the Learner Profile

You can take a teacher out of a PYP school but you can’t take the PYP out of a PYP teacher.

The IB website says this about the Learner Profile:

“The International Baccalaureate® (IB) learner profile describes a broad range of human capacities and responsibilities that go beyond academic success.

They imply a commitment to help all members of the school community learn to respect themselves, others and the world around them. Each of the IB’s programmes is committed to the development of students according to the IB learner profile.”

I’d say I am showing signs of living the learner profile here in Bolivia. Here are some examples for each trait:

  • Inquirer: I am constantly inquiring – both about how things work here and at a various offices around the city as I attempt to get my paperwork sorted.
  • Knowledgeable: As a result of my constant inquiry and questioning, I am becoming more knowledgeable about Bolivian culture and customs.
  • Thinker: Every time I speak with someone in Spanish (i.e. all day long), I am thinking about how to express myself (and how to conjugate my verbs). 
  • Communicator: I am using Spanish all day, every day with everyone I interact with. It has been 21 years since I spoke it on a regular basis but I am getting by and it is getting better. As part of my volunteer position, I reply to all the emails sent to inquiry about volunteering opportunities and I post on the BiblioWorks social media channels. I have also been updating this blog far more than I ever have in the past.
  • Principled: I respect the people I interact with regardless of their background.
  • Open-minded: I had corn based drinks for breakfast when visiting a small town. Enough said. IMG_8309
  • Caring: I am working to develop relationships with the people I work with as well as those I buy from at the market and interact with at various businesses. (I have a great contact at the migration office in Sucre if anyone needs a residency permit…)
  • Risk-taker: I moved to a country (and continent) I had never been to to take up an unpaid position with an organisation I found via a Google search. Also crossing the road here can be a bit daunting (even with zebra crossing guards). Pedestrians do not have the right away and turning vehicles will take you out even if you have the green light in the direction you are crossing. 


  • Balanced: I am working to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise and to not only focus on work. (I could stand to have a bit more of a social life but I think it will come.)
  • Reflective: I am constantly reflecting on what I am experiencing as well as how it fits with my own ideas and past experiences.

Now I wonder if I’d be able to come up with examples for all of the PYP attitudes…

One Last Office to Find

This morning I went to the bank on my way to work to pay the fee for my identity card. Then I went to work for a bit before setting out to find the SEGIP office. In Steph’s notes it gave a street name as well as two cross streets. I couldn’t find one of them on a map but I figured it could only be at most one block in either direction from the one I could. The street I needed is in an extra hilly part of town (all of Sucre is hilly and in parts it feels like an Escher print because a road dips down in the middle and there is no way to get anywhere without going both up and down). I trudged my way up and then along the street where the office was supposed to be. No office. I took out my phone and tried to find the office by name in Google maps but it only came up with the branches of the same office in other Bolivian cities. I then opened my browser to see what a Google search could turn up. I found the SEGIP website but under the offices tab, there was no listing for Sucre. I went back to the hits and finally found a news article that mentioned it being on a different street “near the outdoor theatre”. It turned out that street ran parallel to the one I was on, so I decided to see if I could find it. One direction was downhill but only for a couple blocks and the street ran for several more blocks in the other direction. I took my chances and starting walking downhill knowing full well that I might have to turn around and go back up the hill but after half a block or so I spotted a lot of people outside a gate. At first I thought it might be a school but when I saw that there were several photocopy shops (including a mobile one in a mini-van), I figured the odds were good that I had found the place I was looking for. Steph’s notes said to ask for the office for foreigners so I went in and stood in the information line. There was an epic line up to one side that I think was for drivers’ licenses. It looped back and forth like the lines at Disneyland but without any entertainment. The information person told me to go past the line up to the very end where I would see a sign for the office I needed. I found the sign but it was on a back wall. At a right angle to it was a locked gate and next to that there was a door to another office but it had a different sign. I peered in and looked confused enough of that someone at a desk took pity on me. He said to come in and go around the corner to find the desk I needed. I took a seat at the desk in spite of there being no one manning it. After a bit, a woman turned up. She had forgotten her reading glasses at home and had gone to pick them up. She had one of the most sophisticated computer set ups I have seen yet – printer, flatbed scanner and fingerprint scanner. However it took her three tries to get the scan of my passport to print the size she wanted. After the first two tries (too small and too big), I couldn’t hold back any longer and I told her which size to select (which was the correct one). I think maybe I have found a new calling – IT training for Bolivian civil servants…

Eventually she had everything she needed, including a dreadful photo of me. She said to come back on Monday with a photocopy of my passport. (I guess she didn’t want to try scanning and printing again.) And that’s it. There aren’t any more offices on my list that I have to find to request documents.

On the way back to the BiblioWorks office, I stopped by migration to ask my new best friend a couple questions for incoming volunteers. He asked how it went with my ID card and told me to come and show it to him after I pick it up. Not sure why but with all the volunteers coming who will need to visit migration to extend visas and a couple who need to apply for the same one as me, I am happy to stay on good terms with him.

The Light at the End of the (Residency Permit) Tunnel

Today marks two weeks since I started the process of applying for my residence permit. I was crossing my fingers and toes that the migration official would accept the document that the notary covered in my blue thumbprints and the other document that she said she couldn’t do anything with. I started out in the BiblioWorks office where I replied to a few emails and then I took a deep breath and at 9 am I headed to Migration.

The official in charge of cases like mine was eating his breakfast when I arrived. I started by telling him that I had taken the two documents to a notary as he had told me to do on Friday. His reply was, “What did she say?” so I told him that she said she could only do an authentication of our signatures on the one and nothing on the other. He said that was fine but then he wanted new photocopies of the one covered in blue thumbprints. He also tried to convince me that I should apply for a 2 year residency permit rather than just one. (The price of 1 year is just under $200 USD and a 2 year is about $90 more.) He said I could think about it and come back later in the week but I said no, I would only like it for one year and I would like to submit my documents today. When I got back from making photocopies, he accepted all my documents and then sent me to the bank to pay. On my way back from the bank, I stopped and had photocopies made of the deposit receipt. When I got back to Migration, I was told I had to wait for a different officer. She was quite busy so I waited for ages. When it was finally my turn, I gave her the original receipt as well as the copies. She asked me for the “sheet” the other officer had given me to take to the bank and didn’t seem impressed when I told her he hadn’t given me anything because I already had the bank account number (in Steph’s document). She filled out my name on a special folder and sent me back to wait for my usual officer.

There were several people ahead of me but by about 10:30 am it was my turn. The officer filled out an online form, printed off copies and had me sign them and then started filling out another online form. This one involved him taking a photo of me with a webcam and five impressions of each thumb using a small device connected to his computer. After that he was supposed to click to upload the information but it wasn’t working. His solution was to madly keep clicking his mouse button. I bit my tongue instead of saying in my best teacher voice, “Take your hand off the mouse” which is my usual reaction. Eventually I did show him how to use Ctrl+Alt+Del (Supr on his computer) so he could do a force quit and restart his computer. Unfortunately it didn’t fix the problem. He spent a while on the phone with someone in La Paz and then more time exchanging WhatsApp messages with them. After about 45 minutes, it worked which meant more printing of documents, more signing them etc And then suddenly, he was printing my visa and pasting it into my passport! (With 15 minutes to spare before the office closed for 2.5 hours for lunch!)

He sent me to get two photocopies of and then we were done. He was very apologetic about the delay and thanked me for my patience. (I’m not sure he realized just how much patience I have needed over the last two weeks of the process…) I was a bit stunned as in Steph’s notes it says the visa takes about a week after you submit everything (but that hers took two weeks) and that once you submit all the documentation, migration will make arrangements to visit your house. This visit requires paying the taxi to and from the migration office for the officer who does the visit as well as having the most recent light, gas and tax bills, the ID card of the owner and a letter to the director of migration saying you live where you do that is signed by the owner. I feel like I got off quite easy and felt good about being done with the process.


Or nearly done. The official gave me a stack of papers and a bank account number. The next step is to pay 450 Bs (about $65 USD) and then take the papers to another office to apply for my identity card. He warned me that the office I needed to go to wouldn’t open until 3 pm.

I treated myself to lunch at my favourite vegetarian restaurant (Condor Cafe) where I had a yummy moussaka and touched base with “my” waiter, Edwin.

IMG_8566(I let him know that Kenna has sent me on a mission to get the recipe for the spinach pie I had there last week.It was too busy at lunch time to get it from him today.) IMG_8284

I spent the afternoon at the office doing assorted tasks while waiting for my first official initial volunteer meeting. A volunteer from Montana and her 11 year old daughter arrived in Sucre on the weekend and are staying with the woman from whom she has been taking Spanish lessons via Skype for the past few months. They will be volunteering in our library in Sopachuy starting at the end of the month. It was around 4 pm when they showed up, we spoke for awhile and then had a meeting with Roxana, the project manager for that library (she and Silvia are each responsible for 6 libraries). She helped answer many of the volunteer’s questions. This part of the meeting was in Spanish and it always makes me smile when I end up being the “translator” in the office when someone with only somewhat less Spanish than me needs help. (My Spanish is coming back to me but I am still far from fluent. I am contemplating taking some lessons once I finish off all my migration stuff.) The exciting news (for me) is that I will be going to Sopachuy with Roxana and them on October 1st to settle them in. We made a plan for the volunteer to come by again tomorrow at 4 pm so we can go through some documents.

As we were wrapping up that meeting, another visitor came by for me. It was an English guy who had hoped to volunteer with BiblioWorks while on sabbatical but his plans changed and he needs to go back to the UK earlier than he planned. In spite of this, he came by to make a donation to BiblioWorks.

Just before I left the office, Roxana invited me to visit another library with her next Monday. She told me we will have to get up super early and take a noisy school bus to Maragua. We will spend one night and then to come back we have to walk 2 or 3 hours to a main road to catch a bus back to Sucre. Sounds like another great adventure to me!

Tomorrow I will head to the bank and yet another office to apply for my ID card. It will be odd to be able to focus on my work at BiblioWorks and not have to keep dashing out to go to various offices. Oh but I do need to go back to Migration tomorrow to inquire for the American volunteer with regards to how her 90 day visa works. There seems to be something about Americans returning every 30 days to their point of entry into Bolivia to keep it valid. We are hoping this is untrue.

One of the assorted tasks I took care of this afternoon was getting Maritza to take a photo of me for the BiblioWorks website. Thankfully it looks better than the one on my visa!


A Trip to Presto

BiblioWorks has a municipal library in the town of Presto and a school library in the village of Tomoroco which is not far from Presto. Some of the local authorities have changed recently (there must have been elections) so Roxana and Silvia, our library technicians, have been visiting the libraries to form new library committees and help the committees and librarians with their planning.

Silvia invited me to accompany on her trip to visit two of the libraries that she is responsible for.

We left Sucre at 4 pm on Tuesday and took a big bus to Presto. IMG_8299 We took along 4 boxes of books that were purchased on behalf of the mayor’s office for the library. About an hour and half into the trip, the road became much bumpier. At first I thought we were on a dirt road (I couldn’t see very well from my seat) but when we stopped for a short break in a town, I realized the road was paved with stones.IMG_8298We arrived in Presto around 7 pm, checked into our “alojamiento” (literally accommodation but seems to usually refer to a place where you can rent a room with a shared bathroom). Then we went back and made arrangements with Don Jaime, a member of the town council Silvia, knows to stash the boxes in a shop near the bus stop. This took a bit of time and then we returned to our room, had hot showers and called it a night. (I was thankful I had had a proper Bolivian multi-course lunch and wasn’t hungry for dinner anyway.)

Wednesday morning breakfast was tojorí (a drink made from corn that I don’t recommend) and bread. IMG_8309 I avoided looking at the water the glasses were being rinsed in as well as the cloth with which they were being dried and hoped my stomach would too. I was hoping for tea or coffee but neither seemed to be on offer.

We headed to the library and set up for the meeting. Silvia had a powerpoint presentation for the people present (the librarian, representatives from the town council and from the schools). She had also prepared documents to be filled out (by hand) with the roles for the library committee, a change to the library hours and a plan for the library. IMG_8345

Then we spent some time chasing down officials who hadn’t been at the meeting but who had been appointed roles on the committee (such as the secondary school principal).

For lunch we stopped a very local, very basic place. Silvia suggested I have the soup saying it was a rice soup and asked the woman to prepare me a tomato salad. She knows I am vegetarian and has a better grasp of it than many Bolivians but it is still a bit of a stretch. I gave her the chunk of meat that was in my soup (I think it was chicken) and ate the potato and the glob of rice. Then I attempted to pick out the garbanzo beans and a few green leaves that were in the oily broth while avoiding the specks of meat. I was only semi-successful. My tomato salad was fine. By this time I was feeling the effects of no caffeine so I bought a bottle of (warm) coca cola. I managed to drink about ½ of it and stashed the rest for later.

We visited a cousin of Silvia’s briefly. We had to tiptoe past her husband who was passed out on a bed in the front room (alcoholism seems to be rampant among Bolivian men). The house was very basic but the cousin was kind and gave us some bread she had made. Her youngest child has cerebral palsy and is blind. He was sitting on a bed in the kitchen and I spoke to him and sang songs while Silvia and her cousin caught up. I was happy I remember some of the Spanish songs from when I taught preschoolers from Latin America in Calgary many moons ago.

At 2 pm, we headed back to the town hall because we were supposed to be getting a ride to the school library in Tomoroco for another meeting like the one in the morning. The person who was going to take us was nowhere to be found. Various other people offered to take us in 30 minutes, in a hour etc but nothing panned out and finally after 4 pm we gave up. I think the official starting time for the meeting was 3 pm and it is about a 20 minute trip. We were told that someone could give us a ride in the morning at 8 am but nothing sounded very certain and it turned out the principal of the school in Tomoroco was going to be in Presto the next day so we couldn’t have the meeting then.

We went back the the Presto library and Silvia caught up on paperwork while I looked around the library and leafed through a Spanish textbook.

Someone Silvia spoke to mentioned that there was a soccer match that night and invited us to watch. At first I thought we were going somewhere to watch a match on TV but it turned out to be a match between players from the mayor’s office (who all had matching jerseys) and other men from the town (who wore an assortment of jerseys). The match was being held in quite a nice, new looking sports hall. IMG_8401

Before we headed to the match, we passed a woman cooking chips (french fries) and frying eggs on a special cart. IMG_8400Silvia decided she wanted a “hamburguesa” so we stopped. I (mistakenly) assumed a hamburguesa would have meat so I decided I would just have some chips. However it turned out these chips are meant to be part of a dish called “salchipapas” which means they are topped with “salchicha” (slices of neon orange sausage), a fried egg, mayo and ketchup (Bolivian poutine?). The woman was willing to give me them without the egg and sauces but not without the sausage. Silvia said to get them anyway and she would eat the salchicha. Her hamburguesa turned out to be a fried egg and chips in a bun with mayo and ketchup. We added the salchicha to it and I ate my plain chips.

Back at our lodging we discovered there was no water (it was cut off to the whole town). Thank goodness for wet wipes! I had water in my water bottle so we were able to brush our teeth.

In the morning, there still wasn’t any water but the woman at the alojamiento brought by a bucket of water. Apparently it was from the river but it looked ok… I tried to zap a litre of it using my Steripen but the batteries were low and it wouldn’t work. I took my chances and brushed my teeth using as little as possible.

We returned to the same woman for breakfast but today it was api (purple corn juice) and a buñuelo (fried dough). IMG_8404I preferred the api to the tojorí but the buñuelo was pretty greasy. I also had the rest of my coke (still warm and now a bit flat so it was truly medicinal).

Don Jaime went by on his motorcycle with his toothbrush in his mouth as we were eating. Apparently he was heading to the river.

Optimistically we returned to the alcaldía (town hall) to meet with the alcalde (mayor) and see about our ride to Tomoroco. We had decided we should still go in spite of the principal (who holds the key to the library) being in Presto because we needed to check on the state of the playground BiblioWorks built at the school. Part of the agreement when it was built was that the community would be in charge of its upkeep and we had reports that it was a mess.

Several sources informed us that the mayor had had a big night and wouldn’t be in for awhile. We decided to do some library promotion at the primary and secondary schools instead. The primary principal was very supportive and we visited each class to invite the students to the library. My job was to show off a big book with tales and puzzles that hadn’t fit in the boxes we brought on the bus so we had been carting it around. There was one class of 4 year olds, one class of 5 year olds and two classes each of grade 1 to 6. The primary school building looks fairly new and modern. It is built in a circle with the classrooms facing into a central plaza. IMG_8411

In spite of the newness, there were signs of a lack of care being taken with it – broken door handles, a broken window, dirty walls. The classes were not huge, about 20 students max, and many of the teachers had obviously taken care to put up posters and learning aids they and the students had created. Classes were just starting as we went around and in most rooms the students were eating bread (except in a music class where they had bowls of a rice mixture – which I found odd as several students were playing wooden flutes…) Many of the students were enthusiastic about the library and most knew where it was. Teachers were invited to bring their classes to the library but most were non committal. They were more keen on the idea that they could borrow books from the library to use in class if they left they ID card with the librarian.


We then headed to the secondary school. It was just before recess but we managed to talk to the five classes. There are only one class at each level and the classes were again fairly reasonably sized. The secondary students were most excited to hear that the library hours would be changing as of Monday (opening two hours later which means it can stay open until 8 pm) which would mean they could go to the library to do homework and study. The current hours meant the library closed soon after the end of their school day. (The librarian had been far less impressed by the change which had come about due to a request of the secondary school staff.)

The mayor still hadn’t appeared when we got back to the alcaldía. We hung around for a bit and eventually the man in charge of works said he could could give us a lift to and from Tomoroco if all we needed to do was take some photos. We set off down the dirt road in a truck. At one point we stopped and picked up a woman who needed a lift. She hopped over the tailgate and then called out when we were passing where she needed to be.

At the school, the playground was a bit of a mess. Silvia will be informing the village officials that if they do not clean it up, the structures will be moved to Presto. (She had mentioned this to the primary principal who eagerly offered to supply a crew to do the moving if it happened.)

IMG_8486 IMG_8491







Back in Presto, the mayor had showed up so we had a quick meeting. He wasn’t very perky but we covered most of what was needed. He seemed a bit put out that the cost of the books we had brought were to be covered by his office as per a previous agreement with BiblioWorks but Silvia can be quite firm.

We then went to have lunch. We went back to the same place as the day before but this time I choose to have rice, boiled potato and sliced up tomato with some slight hot green pepper.

Silvia was going to be leading that afternoon’s book club for children at the library so we headed back to our room to relax a bit and pick up the things she needed for the activity she had planned. The water was back on so we freshened up as well.

Many, many children showed up at the library. A few asked about the book I had shown them in their classes but unfortunately it wasn’t ready. Silvia told a story about a rabbit who didn’t take care of her golden teeth that had a strong message a dental hygiene (very important in this country where children eat sweets from morning to night!) and then passed out a worksheet that covered the guidelines for tooth brushing. Not many children were inspired by the sheet (nor was I) but many stayed in the library to do puzzles and look at books. I offered to read a book to a young girl. She chose a Spanish translation of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (El Gato Con Sombrero Viene de Nuevo) which gave my Spanish a good workout. As soon as I started to read, we were joined by more and more children. When we came to the part where the small cats join the Cat in the Hat and he calls them my letters, I had the children join in (which is a good reading strategy and helped me as I wasn’t sure of the names of all of the letters!). Silvia took a group outside for a game as well.






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We finished up, made a quick trip back to the alcadía to get another signature on a document and then picked up our things at the alojamiento and headed for our bus. The bus back was a van (it reminded me very much of the dala dalas in Tanzania) and the trip was about 30 shorter than on the way there.

All in all it was an interesting opportunity to see a small town in Bolivia, to see Silvia in action, to visit one of our libraries and local schools, to marvel at the number of dogs, pigs and donkeys wandering through town and to sample local cuisine (which so far my digestive system seems to have been able to handle). It was great to travel with Silvia who was very patient with my questions and happy to share her country with me.

Quick Residence Permit Update

On Tuesday morning, I picked up my medical certificate from SEDES and then popped into Interpol to see if my certificate from them was ready but it wasn’t. The woman told me she would call me when it was ready.

Tuesday afternoon, my colleague, Silvia and I set off for Presto (but I am going to write more about the trip in a separate post).

On Thursday morning, while we were visiting the primary school in Presto to promote the municipal library there, my phone rang and it was the woman from Interpol saying my certificate was ready. We got back to Sucre too late that night for me to pick it up so I picked it up first thing Friday morning after a stop at a photocopy shop where I got two copies of each of my assorted documents for migration. I had to make a photocopy of it for Interpol while the woman held on to my passport. I had three copies made – one for her and two for migration. My next stop was the migration office to find out if I had everything. The man was encouraging about my paperwork and the timing (the visa I used to enter Bolivia expires next Saturday). He told me to get two copies of my passport and to get the two documents from BiblioWorks notarized and then to come back on Monday (or possibly any day next week, I didn’t quite catch what he said but I confirmed that I could come on Monday). The photocopies were easy. There didn’t seem to a be a notary on the corner the migration official said there would be but I found another nearby. The notary said because the documents were signed by Maritza (the director of BiblioWorks) she needed to be present as well. I went back to the office and let her know. She said we could go to her notary in the afternoon at 3 pm. We did but the notary didn’t show up until 4 pm. She said she couldn’t “legalize” the documents because she didn’t write them but she did do some acknowledgement of our signatures on my contract that involved signing each page and putting a thumb print in various places. (My thumb is still blue around the edges despite multiple scrubbings.) She told me to ask the migration officer for an example of what is needed on the other document. So on Monday I will head back to the migration office and find out where things stand.