Monday, March 31, 2014

From Santa Cruz to Minnesota

I woke up before the alarm on Sunday morning, March 23 and was pleased to see the sun was up so I could get a bit of view of the hotel grounds.

Here are palm trees at dawn.

And I got a look at the outside of my room.

 The garden area was very pretty.

Here's a close up of one of the flowers.

And the swimming pool looked very nice too.

Our driver was there at 7 AM and we were quickly away to the airport. As we drove she explained that Santa Cruz is settled by "rings." That explained why we never seem to drive on a main street. Santa Cruz is now developing the 10th ring, and if I understood correctly, rings 5-10 are products of the 20-21st century.

We arrived at the Santa Cruz airport at 7:30 AM for our 9:30 AM flight and needed every minute of it. First we checked in through a kiosk to get our boarding pass. Then we stood in a very slow line to check luggage. The reason the line was so slow is that each passenger must fill out a "legal form with no mistakes" about name, entry into country, and leaving the country. Then we were told to go immediately to the gate for the flight.

When we went up an escalator to the boarding gate areas, we found two more lines. The first one involved basically turning in the departure part of a form we had filled out when entering the country. Then when done with that we went through a security search for narcotics. I was carrying two paperback books in my bag and ended up giving an English lesson. The title of one book was The Vicious Vet. The woman searching my bag wanted to know what the word, vet, meant. I explained a veterinarian is someone who cares for animals and because it is such a long word we usually just say vet.

When done with this I was invited into a dressing room for a pat down search by a woman officer. Then into a line for another search of the luggage. This time I was asked a question in Spanish and replied, "Sorry, English." Another officer came over and explained he spoke English, but I couldn't understand the next sentence he spoke. This was the only time when anyone spoke English that I had difficulty understanding. In fact I was surprised at how many people in Bolivia spoke English. I said, "no comprendo" and they let me go.

We walked through an small shops area and then finally were at the boarding gate. Segundo had a boarding zone that let him board immediately; I waited about ten minutes. I couldn't believe it. After the airline attendant reviewing my boarding pass, here again was another luggage search. By this point in time I was rather dumbfounded about the searches.

I had an interesting seat mate on the flight to Miami. She was a woman now old enough to be retired. She explained she had two sons in Santa Cruz and one daughter in Florida so she goes back and forth. She is a ceramic artist and had some pictures of her art on her phone to show me. Her "paid" work, assuming artists often need another job, was working with children who are deaf, teaching them sign language and also teaching them ceramic arts as a way to make a living. Talking with her made the trip go faster.

Now for immigration in Miami. Anyone who has traveled into the United States knows there is form everyone must fill out with name, where going in the United States, and what you are bringing into the United States. Well, Miami has a new thing. Now one does the same thing on a computer kiosk. When I had conquered this, the first thing the immigration officer said to me was "Why are you coming to the United States?" I told him I was coming to the United States because I lived there. I think he was simply talking on automatic pilot and didn't pay attention to what kind of passport I had. Then he threw away the form I had filled out on the airplane.

We found the luggage and then had to do the next step. Here we somehow got separated. I looked and looked and couldn't Segundo. I decided the best thing was to get to where the hotel shuttles stop and try to find the shuttle to my hotel. I was so glad Segundo finally found me, for I then used his phone to call the hotel for the shuttle to pick me up.

Got to the hotel and went down stairs to the restaurant for supper. On the TV over the bar area I kept seeing a basketball game and hearing Iowa State. I don't usually go to hotel bars for conversation, but curiosity got me and I went over to see what was happening, and so got updated on the NCAA tournament. This game ended quite dramatically, so I was very glad to see the final two minutes.

The next morning I went to the airport about 9:30. Without my phone I couldn't quite remember the exact time for my flight. Got checked in without any problem for a 1:30 PM flight. I couldn't believe, however, how rude were the TSA officers at this airport. I now has TSA pre-check status with Delta, but the TSA wasn't running the pre-check line when I started in the line. Then about two people in front of me, the line opened, and the TSA officers just yelled at us at how to do the pre-check line. Now the pre-check line is for experienced flyers. I don't think we need to be yelled at!

Later I went to buy some tissues because a respiratory infection was hitting me hard. I got yelled at too by the register attendant because I didn't have anything smaller than a $20.00 bill. I was glad to leave Miami, and have decided it's an airport to avoid if possible.

I had a lovely seat mate too on my flight to Minnesota. She is a woman with multiple sclerosis and is having problems now too with her optic nerve, making vision a difficulty. She had a large print book, but the light in the plane wasn't just quite right for her. So we just talked all the way from Miami to Minnesota.

I made it back to my building at 5:50 PM and went right to the property manager's office to see if they had my phone. Yes!! and in fact they had slid it under my apartment door, so even had I been delayed until after 6:00 PM and the office closed, I would have been reunited with my phone. As I said on Facebook, if I had to do such a stupid thing, I am glad I did it in such a safe place!

It was a great trip to Bolivia. If you have read the other posts about this trip you will have learned a great deal about the work of Mano a Mano. I hope some readers will consider a donation to Mano a Mano. Click here for the donation page. Another way to help if you are an Amazon customer is to use and designate Mano a Mano as the organization you wish to support. That way Amazon donates!!!

Last Day in Cochabamba

Many of my trip colleagues were interested in going to the market on the last morning we were to be in Cochabamba. Not me! Bolivian crafts are beautiful, but I have already purchased many things from the craft sales that Mano a Mano does in Minnesota. Also I knew my large suitcase would be full of things for me to bring back to the Mano a Mano office. So I was delighted when I was invited instead to go watch our lunch food being prepared.

While waiting in the hotel lobby for a ride I wandered out street side to take photos of interesting vehicles that went down the busy street.

I have seen these somewhat informal taxi vans in many places in the world -- and have ridden in a few of them too!

Here is a scheduled bus such as we might find in city transportation systems in the United States -- and I've ridden in these too in other countries.

What I don't know is what role these very colorful buses play in the Cochabamba transportation system, but I certainly enjoyed seeing them.

Trucks like this are a common sight, carrying people, cargo, or animals.

About 11:30 we found ourselves in the kitchen, only there was nothing for which we could help. I did find the cooking process, however, to be fascinating. The dish being prepared is associated with Carnival in Bolivia and when I saw how time-consuming it was to prepare I could understand why it is regarded as somewhat a holiday dish. In the photo by the window is one of my trip colleagues. He has culinary training, and was taking notes to see if he can replicate the dish.

The pan on the left began with 20 onions and about 12 cloves of garlic. When this was cooked down, then the women began to add a red spice of some sort. They explained one never stirred this spice into the onion mixture, for stirring would make it "hot, hot, hot!" The first time about two teaspoons of the spice were dropped in and simply allowed to simmer its way to the bottom. Then the onions were pushed to the edge and a well created in the center and about one cup of the spice was dumped in and the onion mixture gently folded over the top. The jar holding the spice was a re-purposed glass jar that could easily hold four cups of whatever this spice was and eventually all of it went into the onion mixture. Later at the luncheon I didn't hear anyone say anything other than delicious, and no one found it "hot, hot, hot!" In the large pot of the left pieces of rump roast were simmering under a layer of cabbage. When the meat was considered cooked it was removed and chicken pieces put in for cooking.

Meanwhile down on another floor in the building, in another kitchen, a huge pot of rice was cooking.

About this time with 4 women and 1 man in the kitchen, I decided there was too many cooks in the kitchen and went to another room to read and simply be quietly out of the way.

When the shoppers arrived we went up to the sixth floor verandah room where we found the "appetizers."

Here are bowls of fava beans and corn.

I was amazed to find the cheese I had been enjoying starts out like this. Every time before I had seen it in small slices on a plate. I had no idea it started out in a beautiful wedge like this.

Here is some of the dish for lunch. Couldn't get it all in one picture. One places some potato pieces on the plate, then a layer of rice, and then a layer of the red onion sauce. Much to my amazement the beef roast and chicken had been sliced into smaller pieces and then fried. The meats were then placed on the top. This is very good.

Here is part of the group at the luncheon.

And one of the trip colleagues expressing our thanks to the Bolivian hosts.

The others disappeared after the lunch, but I stayed at the Velaquez home waiting for Segundo to finish up his last pieces of work and last good-byes to his family.

Late in the afternoon we headed for the Cochabamba airport. We got there early enough we had time for a snack and conversation with the family members who had driven us to the airport.

From this food stand we got empandas and banana drinks. The U on the end of the name of the food stand made me think it was a Polish word!

We flew to Santa Cruz because our flight from there to Miami went out early on Sunday morning, and it was somewhat easier to go down to Santa Cruz the night before. Our flight out of Cochabamba was at 7 PM so alas all of the trip was in the dark.

At Santa Cruz we were met by a driver who took us to a hotel. I had a very nice room,

It had a nice large bedroom, a sitting room though the doors seen in the picture, and a nice bathroom. For Santa Cruz the temperature was cool. Slept well now that I was down to sea level!

Learning about Mano a Mano programs in Bolivia

Our Friday in Cochabamba provided us with the opportunity to visit the headquarters for two parts of Mano a Mano. First we went to Mano a Mano Bolivia.

This part of Mano a Mano works with communities to build health clinics and schools, helps to support students who are awarded university scholarships, and also facilitates continuing education for the health clinics staff.

After having sorted and packed many pounds of medical supplies, I was happy to see some on the other end. Actually, we saw little, for most is stored elsewhere, and the space we were in was being cleared for a big continuing education medical conference -- maybe 350 participants!

Here is the architect with her chart on the wall listing the 2014 activities. I was surprised to learn about support for projects from Europe as well as Canada for the work. For example, from Canada one supporting group is Students Offering Service (SOS).  Somehow, no one had ever mentioned that me before.

Another example, I looked out the window and saw this heavy equipment.

Then someone mentioned to me this equipment had been donated by the Swedish military.

In order to use every cent of funding wisely, Mano a Mano Bolivia builds the school desks being discussed above


the health clinic exam tables.

On the left is the metal worker who fabricates the metal legs and so forth for the school tables and the health clinic tables. Mano a Mano doesn't just build the exterior; they leave either a health clinic or school ready to go with equipment intact.

After visiting here, we went to the aircraft hanger maintained by Mano a Mano Apoyo Aereo. We learned airplanes are tools. In Bolivia airplanes are almost essential due to the challenging geographic terrain and lack of roads in many areas.

Just as our bus was arriving was arriving, someone said, "A plane is coming in."

We moved out of the way so the pilot could taxi to the hangar.

If I remember correctly, the pilot had just completed a food delivery trip to a mission located in the Beni Department which has been devastated by huge floods. On a similar run earlier in the week, the pilot had been greeted with two children with serious medical conditions that needed to be airlifted to hospitals in Cochabamba.

In addition to these two purposes, the planes are also used to ferry health professionals into areas yet lacking in health services where they conduct weekend clinics. A road trip might take 12 hours, a plane trip 1 hour. It is easy to see it is better to have health professionals doing 11 hours of health services than sitting in a van going slowly on a road.

Here is a bigger plane. You may have wondered how that small plane could handle a group of health professionals.

 This one was having its 10,000 hour check while we were there.

I saw two interesting murals painted on the walls of the hangar.

After completing this visit we returned to the hotel for a bit of a rest. Some wandered to the nearby grocery store and came back with some very interesting potato chips -- not like chips we have in the United States, but very good.

Our evening destination was a celebration dinner at La Estancia. While doing some research on Bolivian cuisine after returning to my home, I found Bolivian cuisine is influenced by Polish immigrants. That really made me scratch my head because I didn't see anything that I thought was Polish food. Then when working with my pictures I was reminded of what I chose to drink that night:

This made me think of beer from southern Poland. Perhaps this is the influence -- anyway, it was really good beer. I will remember this brand if I return to Bolivia.

I also had what the menu called kotlets, but the dish was certainly different than kotlets in Poland.

And it tasted very good.

As we were leaving the restaurant, fireworks were going off in the hills behind us. The next day I asked if the fireworks for a holiday or a special event, and was told, "No, the fireworks were there just because someone felt like shooting them off!"

Bed felt good that night! We had certainly had a busy week.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Greenhouse Project and Celebration

We went to the village of Jironkota because it is the first village to construct greenhouses in conjunction with the Center for Ecological Agriculture, a part of Mano a Mano in Bolivia. The idea of the greenhouses is to provide a place to grow vegetables to supplement the corn and potato diet eaten by most villagers. The greenhouses will also extend the growing season 3-4 months divided between the start and end of summer. The greenhouse will also allow the villagers to make good use of scarce water.

The greenhouses are not made of glass; rather the walls are constructed with abode brick. The abode will retain heat over night or on cloudy days.

When we arrived the villagers had constructed the walls for two greenhouses. They had hoped to do more but the summer in Bolivia had been very wet and they had experienced difficulty in getting the abode to dry.

When we arrived the two greenhouses looked like this. The four sides were built and logs were across the top to support the roof. I was surprised to see they were indeed logs, not lumber. (But later in Santa Cruz I saw a building of new construction that had the sides being constructed again with logs not lumber studs as I was expect to see in the United States.)

One villager was making "mud" to anchor in one last row of abode that would anchor in the roof logs.

Next then a yellow plastic roof was put on. Later when someone asked why yellow, the answer was: "That's what we have."

That's were work stopped on the first day of our visit.

The next morning I saw the doors being made.

The inside of the greenhouse is divided into six plots with a path down the middle.

Here is one of my trip colleagues getting onion seedlings ready for planting.

Then work began throughout the village for the dedication/inauguration of the new greenhouses. This happens each time a project is completed.

Village women were peeling potatoes and a couple of pitched in to help. I was truly awkward doing this because they use a very large knife for this, not a small paring knife for which I am accustomed. But feeding the peelings to the pigs seemed a very familiar activity!

When lunch appeared for us however it was pasta!

After the lunch one of my trip colleagues thanked the villagers for the wonderful hospitality.

Then someone from the village said, "We have a gift for each of you," and we were presented with the floral wreaths.

The celebration ended with dancing.

This dance may look very simple, but 2-3 minutes of it was all I could do at the altitude of 4100 meters.

Later the musicians brought out some pipes to play, made from PVC pipe.

About 3:30 we finally had everything packed up and started our way back to Cochabamba. I timed it and it took us 45 minutes to drive the 20 kilometers back to the main highway.

The only stop we made was for a couple of minutes when we saw llamas along the road.

We got back to Cochabamba about 7 PM. Our trip leader suggested getting pizzas rather than going out to dinner. We all that a very good idea as it had been a very busy two days with our trip to Jironkota, and all were ready for an early night.

Morning in Jironkota

We were slow to awake after spending the night on sleeping pads on the floor of the health clinic in Jironkota. I found I had missed a good party around the fire the evening before, but I wasn't too unhappy, and I found that throughout the week almost everyone took a bit time off to catch up on rest and sleep. Each of us missed something from our intense schedule. The sleep had felt so very good. And now I can say I spent a night at 4100 meters (13,450 feet)!

For breakfast we had Bolivian peanut butter sandwiches and fruit. There has also tea and coffee, the coffee being Instant Nescafe. I told the others that in the past few years of my international travels I have drunk so much Nescafe that I'm beginning to think it's good!

After breakfast we sang a song for the couple with us celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. We all almost ended up in tears over such an event. And Blanca, one of our Bolivian hosts had somehow used apples and other fruit plus a couple pieces of candy to make a very tasty cake.

The morning light was good for taking pictures.

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, the dark green areas are the agricultural crops.

Here's a house in the village of Jironkota.

I never inquired, but simply assumed that the rocks on the roof are to keep the roof from blowing away in the stiff winds that can occur at this altitude.

Sleeping at 4100 meters was not a task, but walking up a slight hill while doing some photos certainly reminded me of what was the altitude where I was walking.

Soon I heard someone calling my name and found I was invited to jump into the SUV and go see another village. This one was basically over the high ridge or by road perhaps 2 kilometers away. On our way we met a man walking with a young boy. I recognized the man as one of those that had welcomed us with music the day before. He explained his son was sick and he was taking him to see the doctor at the health clinic. It made my heart sing to know he had only to walk 2 kilometers, rather than about 40 kilometers as would have been the previous location, to get help for his son.

The mountain view on the way to this next village was really dramatic. And so was the view of the village.

And much to my surprise in this village everyone was getting ready for a market fair. Later we trucks heading towards this village, too, with people and produce.

People in this village had come up to the health clinic in Jironkota by 6:30 AM, before most of us were up and about, to find the Mano a Mano staff and ask for help in repairing an irrigation line. I have heard the stories before of people camping along the road for two days because they knew Mano a Mano staff would be coming by. The people in the Bolivian villages definitely are people who are not afraid to work and do everything they can to try make life better for their children.

Back in Jironkota I enjoyed seeing a herd of sheep approaching the village.

 And I learned sometimes you just have to wait to play futbol!

The remainder of this day centered on a celebration for the completion of the greenhouses which is the topic of the next blog entry.