Notes from Bolivia.

AuthorWilkins, Andrew

Drew Wilkins is a former Worldwatch staffer who recently spent three months working with nurses at a rural university, la Unidad Academica Campesina, in an area known as Carmen Pampa, northeast of La Paz. These commentaries are adapted from a blog he wrote while in Bolivia.

PART 1: April


April 15

So I've been here a month and I'm only now doing my first blog post. I'll try to catch up on what I've missed. Here are the basics:

Above is Carmen Pampa, as seen from Chovacollo. The large complex at the base of the photo is the lower campus of the Unidad Academica Campesina (UAC, pronounced "walk"), a satellite campus of the Universidad Catolica Boliviana. The complex in the upper right is the upper campus. I live on the lower campus. Internet access is on the upper campus. Now you know why it's taken so long to get this blog started.

The 600 students choose between five programs at the UAC: nursing, teaching, veterinary medicine, agronomy, or ecotourism. The mission of the university is to train mostly disadvantaged children from all over Bolivia in fields that will allow them to return to their communities and make a positive impact.

April 19

I'm not very good at Spanish. Six years of study in the Hingham Massachusetts Public Schools and all I could say when I arrived was, "Tengo una cita con Anita" ("I have an appointment....") The worst part: there's no one here named Anita.

The funniest thing I've accidentally said is, "I have the flavor of an orange." I also recently asked if syringes were called gringas (the feminine plural of gringo, a quasi-derogatory term for foreigners). They're actually called jeringas. The nurses thought this was hysterical.

Then there's the Bolivian accent. Instead of trilling their R's for words that begin with R or contain the letter RR, they make a Z sound. So rico becomes zico, as in, "Esta sopa es zico, ?no?" "Zico, hmm, I don't know. I could tell you if I knew what the hell 'zico' meant." There's nothing like having to translate words first into Spanish and then into English. That's what you call a "conversation stopper."

Then there's Aymara, the indigenous language spoken by most of the people in the (really) rural areas around here. All I've been taught to say is "waliki," which I think means "good" or "well" or "I'm fine" or maybe "Your mother is a horse." Very useful for communicating in the campo.

The one nice thing about the language barrier is that sometimes I use it as an excuse...

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