Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

Blog post numero uno: December 2016

Hello! Blog post numero uno 1 is finally here, just cheekily sneaking it in on the last day of the year! Sincerely sorry for the delay. I could offer a million reasons, however, the best one being, we are adapting well to laid back Latin life ūüôā We hope you will get a¬†taste of our Bolivian life through this blog. Note that what is written is representative of my/our personal thoughts and opinions. I have to back pedal a bit to get those of you up to date if not connected to our church in the UK, our sending organisation: Church Mission Society, Facebook or Twitter.

Life is good. Moving from the UK to Bolivia just over 2 months ago was not an easy task. Can’t imagine having to do it without the help and support of our friends and family, we are grateful! No matter how many times one has moved in life, it is always more of a stress and strain than one might think, both physically and mentally. We ran out of time seeing people in the end. We send virtual hugs and kisses to those who we missed, know you are important and much-loved by us.

We arrived into Viru Viru ( a type of tree) Airport in Santa Cruz without incident, minus grumpy check in man and a bit of turbulence,  via Madrid in the wee hours of the Bolivian morning, 4am to be exact, sailed through customs/passport control in about 20 mins. We were surprised, as were told not to expect much as everything happens much slower in Bolivia. We had a mental pic of the  DMV scene from Zootropolis with the sloths. Sloths- Bolivia, it fit! We were met by the Bishop of Bolivia (Obispo Raphael), Claire and Bely one of the pastors at our receiving church and his lovely wife. We were warmly (people & weather) welcomed to the country.

Shortly after arrival, we¬†were whisked¬†off the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra to the AirBnB we booked for the next 11 days. It was about 515am. Despite our best efforts to tip-toe around with our 9 large suitcases, our hostess woke up to meet us, very bright-eyed¬†I might add! We spent the next few hours chatting in Spanish, drinking pots of coffee and laughing while Andrew disappeared off to bed. Our lovely host, Maritza is now our friend, more like family really as we have met most of her Aunts and Uncles ( tios y tias), ¬†all of her siblings, her daughter, and grandchildren. She has more energy than anyone I know, knows everything and everyone in Santa Cruz. Spending time with her is a blast, she is a riot! Her apartment is a great option for those who want to visit. She did a session on Spanish vowel pronunciation with Andrew and the girls-it sounded like a vowel shouting match! The only word she ever says in English is ‘crazy’. It sort of sums her up in a fun way.

We hit the ground running in Santa Cruz de la Sierra-well Andrew did, literally! Long story short, he went out for an early morning run, tripped on uneven pavement and went flying, hit his head, ¬†knees, elbows, hands. He returned home covered in blood; we thought he had been clobbered! He explained he’d fallen, which had been seen by a couple driving along. Thankfully they stopped, helped him up and offered to drive him to hospital all spoken in English! ¬†Important to note, there are very few English speakers here unless they are from an English-speaking country, also Andrew’s Spanish was pretty much nonexistent at this point! The couple Cristian and Romi¬†are Bolivian; they took Andrew home once they¬†realised he did not need a doctor. Cristian has become a friend and a running partner to Andrew. We have been out for lunch with this lovely couple and look forward to getting to knowing them better.

Liliana and Anayah are settling well, they have taken the majority of this life change in their stride; we can learn much from them! ¬†The novelty of this big move is not waning. Honestly, I think they feel they are on an extended holiday. They have not been in ‘proper’ school since July.We think we have decided on a school¬†but will save this for next post. ¬†They swim in the pool in our building almost daily, do loads of arts/crafts, reading, etc. Home educated in the mornings, however, ¬†as it is currently summer hols here, we are having some time off! They attended 2 weeks of summer school classes where they baked, crafted, sang, acted, danced and painted with watercolours- all taught by very gifted people from the community. I even did lead a craft session! ¬†Girls have been taking private Spanish lessons, pretty much immersing themselves in the culture even playing football 3 x per week in a local summer club for 2 hours at a time, yes, even Anayah! ¬†They understand more of the language than they let on! Now it is a matter of growing in confidence to step out and speak the language. This takes time. A proud moment was hearing them read out a bible verse, individually, not together in front of the children in Sat√©lite Norte (more on Sat√©lite below). We play ‘I spy’ and ‘Go Fish’in Spanish and try to chat in the language as much as possible. We received Spanish Scrabble for Christmas as well. Girls love taking the local micro buses around the city, visiting markets, choosing and trying exotic fruits /veg. You can find anything and everything in these mercados,¬†of which there are many. There is a large fruit truck that drives through the streets, the driver shouts out the names of fruits, we always seem to hear SANDIIIIIAAAA (watermelon) which prompts us all to run downstairs and buy fruit from him. ¬†One of the many fruits previously unknown to us is achachair√ļ, recently come into season, girls are loving it. It is a fragrant mix of citrus; a hint of sweet grapefruit, lemon and a touch of honey, what is not to like?! Its¬†name means ‘honey kiss’ in local indigenous language, Guaran√≠. ¬†Break the skin with a knife (posh), teeth (native) ¬†expose the fruit, suck the fruit of off the large seed, or seeds inside and smile. This fruit is native to our area of Bolivia. There is even an Achachair√ļ Festival in Porongo,¬†a gorgeous nearby pueblo. Also, Mangas (mangoes) grow wild everywhere. There are 2 massive trees in front of our apartment building, most convenient.

We have been enjoying local delicacies, a few to highlight are:

Majadito: seasoned rice, fried bananas, charque ( dried meat) and a fried egg. Sounds disgusting, looks even worse and tastes amazing!

Salte√Īas: Look like an empanada, but has a thin gravy inside. Chicken or meat, spicy or not with potatoes, olives, and egg, encased in a slightly sweet pastry. Traditionally eaten between breakfast and lunch. Natives eat them by hand, biting off a small corner of the pastry and sucking the liquid out. Liliana and I love them, spicy for me every time.

Cu√Īap√©s: Made with tapioca/cassava flour (as¬†known¬†in the west) here it is referred to as yucca or almidon starch¬†flour (naturally gluten-free) and a local cheese called queso fresca. The texture¬†is slightly crispy outside doughy, cheesy inside. A Bolivian version of the dough ball? Best when served warm, eaten on the day they are is local tradition to eat them at tea time. ¬†Cu√Īap√© is a Guarani word meaning: Cu√Īa- woman, ¬†p√©-breast. I made this yesterday for the first time; they were scrummy and lasted all of 5 minutes.

Churrascos are popular, many people have large outdoor grills as it is too hot to cook indoors. Meat is popular, carbs are popular, sugar is in everything. Not the healthiest cuisine on the earth, but there are options. Fresh veg is available everywhere and not expensive, but it is not really served as part of any local dishes! Yucca is a staple food found in most dishes; it is easy to prepare and available all year round due to it being fairly easy and super quick to grow.

Home: We live in a small 2 bedroom apartment in a fairly large condominium not far from the city centre. It has been a good base for us as it is close to many amenities; shops, church. We can walk most places, however, 2 buses (Micros) go past our apartment building which can also take us to church, supermarkets, outdoor markets etc. Once we decide on a school, we will most likely look for accommodation nearby to the school. Many have asked about a postal address for us. Unfortunately, the postal system here is most unreliable and inconsistent. The overall opinion is a PO box is best, and even this is slow to receive.  We have a friend who has kindly offered us the use of his as a short term solution, so if you would like to know this, ping me an e-mail, FB message or WhatsApp . Everyone here uses WhatsApp, for everything. Even the church has groups set up for communication on all fronts, I am still not used to it!

The people we have met here are lovely, deeply spiritual people. They are eager to get to know us, curious and interested in us and we in them. They value family, they value commitment although they don’t often have great examples of it. Many have extended families living under one roof. There are not many elderly living alone or in elderly homes as family look after each other. This is lovely. Sadly, we have encountered quite a few people from broken, single parent families, due in part (not all) to the father going away to find work to support his family and as he finds work, he also finds another family. Life expectancy age is low here due to health issues mainly surrounding diet and lifestyle-diabetes is a serious problem, amoung others. We have also noticed that many of the working class live day to day, not by choice, as they don’t have reliable jobs or regular income which limits planning. This can be both sad and refreshing as none of us know what is really around the corner, do we?

We are spending most of our time learning the language and culture, getting to know people; listening, observing, asking questions sensitively.We have a lovely Spanish teacher called Jenni, who was recommended by our landlord Patrcia,  who although Bolivian, lives in Reading, England now! Jenni comes to our house 3 times a week, she is amazing at accommodating our different levels of Spanish knowledge. Learning the language is a big focus for us as we need to be fluent to in order to build relationships with the local people.

Sat√©lite Norte: We are currently working with local mission leaders on a project in a community north of Santa Cruz called Sat√©lite Norte. We rent space in the ground floor of a small building. The long term dream and vision is to purchase land and build a church, the locals want a church. The land has been identified and the¬†owner wants to sell, ¬†but deeds to the land don’t exist. Yes, this is an obstacle, not an impossibility! I make jewelry with the local women as well a short bible study discussing some challenging, important topics, such as forgiveness, ¬†the unconditional transforming and reconciling love and power of Jesus being a few. Getting to know these ladies, spending time with them is a highlight of my week. I have also learned (sort of) a new skill! We also attend and help Bely and Claire ( leaders) run a bible study with adults on a Saturday-this is growing! Many are bringing their entire families, sharing their hearts with us, asking deep questions. Sunday is the children’s ministry; most weeks we have about 25-30 kids. ¬†We sing, we craft, we eat, we pray, we give and receive hugs, ¬†a football is flying around in it somewhere and we learn about the Lord. It is like a big messy church and we love it! We recently celebrated Christmas with both the bible study families and the children’s ministry.They were both wonderful occasions of shared fellowship, photos above. There is much more we will be doing in this place as the community is hungry and open for more-this is really exciting! Continue reading Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia