Friday, March 28, 2014

A Visit to Jironkota

The mid-week days of our stay in Bolivia involved a trip to Jironkota. All I knew was that this was a village where we would work on greenhouses,  that we were going west from Cochabamba, and that this visit would put us at the highest altitude during our visit in Bolivia. Initially the plan was to start at 6 AM with the hotel providing us breakfast to eat in the bus. Well, we had already experienced three days full of activity in Bolivia and we were tired and "negotiated" the start time back to 7:30 AM and ate breakfast in the dining area as usual.

We drove through Cochabamba and then the city that abuts it, Quillacollo. Then we started to climb up into the mountains. We were traveling on the 2-lane highway that connects La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. It is a good road, but obviously carries a lot of traffic, primarily truck traffic. I kept remembering that when I first went to Poland, too, it was a 2 lane road that went all the way east and west across the country. It carried everything from truck traffic to horse carts. There were so many things in Bolivia that made me think of Central Europe that I had to keep reminding myself where I was. Sometimes it would just be a gate in a wall, just like one I always walked by while living in Hungary.

I had an aisle seat on the bus, so no chance to take photos until after about 90 minutes of travel, when the driver announced, "Mas alto." He pulled into a parking area next to a bridge. The SUV carrying some passengers also stopped. We all got out to walk around and this gave me my first chance to take photos of the mountain scenes in this direction.

The altitude here was approaching 4000 meters. Amazing to be so high and yet everything is green, not full of snow.

The above view that includes people helps us to understand the height of the nearby mountains. And what the people are doing is looking at the cows that were walking along the top of the mountain ridge.

And to my further amazement the Mano a Mano host staff provided a coffee break here.

Across the road was a sobering reminder of just where we were. All the along the highway I had seen these markers, a remembrance of a place where someone had died in a motor vehicle crash.

After this lovely break, we boarded the bus and continued up the mountain to a  height of over 14,000 feet and then went down slightly and turned off on a gravel road. We traveled on this road for at least 30 minutes with numerous promises of "just around the next curve and we will be there." Well, at last we found the right curve and arrived at the school serving Jironkonta.

The map above was similar to many I've seen children draw in many places in this world, but I had never before seen so many mountains put on one map for such a small area!

The school building here is U-shaped with a large plaza in the middle. I walked in and saw:

basketball and futbol -- all is right with the world.

We were handed a program:

What looked like a necktie puzzled me until I learned it was Bolivian Father's Day and the children were ready to do a program for Father's Day. Well, I was further puzzled because I never saw a Bolivian man wear a necktie like this -- and there really were no fathers at the program. I assume they were all away working hard in their fields.

We were seated facing a large group of students who were standing in formation in the plaza. I learned later the school had 247 students, from what I would guess might be grades 1-8 as we count them in the United States, and that 83 of them stayed during the week because they lived much too far away from the school to walk back and forth every day. One Catholic sister, right now helped by another Catholic sister from Peru, was responsible for the students who boarded. Certainly I assume the older students helped with the younger students, but caring for 83 children is no small task. 

The program opened with Bolivian National Anthem and the raising of the Bolivian flag.

Next a boy -- perhaps 12 or 13 years old-- recited a poem. According to our translator the message was something like this: We may think our father does not love us. He is always away from home; he is always at work. Or our mother says: 'Just wait until your father gets home.' But late at night he climbs to our bed and covers us with a blanket and kisses our forehead." I learned later this young man walked to the village area where we were spending the night, coming with the poem written out in beautiful cursive with decorative borders on the paper on which he had written it -- giving it to one of our trip leaders as a gift.

Next some primary children presented a song:

The girls did eventually sing. I don't know if they were to wait for so long or if they simply had to build up courage first.

This group was followed by another group of singers, this time older students.

I am uncertain if the girls are singing in Quechua or Spanish. The translator told me the song is something like "Hey! You're a cutie. Let's go to Santa Cruz and have fun." They sang a second song with lyrics like this: "I saw you with another girl/women. I don't like being single, but you can have her and I'll be alone." I assumed, incorrectly, these were popular songs, and was quite startled to learn they are "traditional" songs. Well, I guess some things in the relationships between men and women never change. And the translator went on to say that Bolivian songs are right to the point and sometimes a bit "bawdy."

I was pleased to get a different angle for photographs and get this photo of the beautiful guitar played by one of the young men.

I also took the photo below to simply show the beautiful braids that all girls and women wear in the Quechua culture. Later in the week I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was over 90 years old and she still was wearing beautiful braids in her hair.

The books and school supplies we brought were presented, and soon this excellent program was over. The children ran to their school rooms and each brought out a large soup bowl with their initials on the bottom. They ran to the opposite side of the plaza for their lunch.

After the visit at the school we drove perhaps only about 10 minutes to another location within the village community. We arrived at the Health Clinic, one that had been built with the community through a partnership with Mano a Mano. 
Arriving here provided me with the first view of the one of the clinics that I have been hearing about for many years. And after a busy morning, arriving here was a great blessing too because it holds two toilets!

The doctor assigned to the clinic greeted us.

This clinic also has a nurse assigned. The doctor and nurse are not just for this village. The doctor explained one of the communities she serves from this clinic is 15 K away, and she doesn't have a car. She walks everywhere. The doctor and the nurse are employed by the Bolivian Ministry of Health. Mano a Mano supports the clinics by providing medical supplies, things that are sent from Minnesota, and also provides continuing education for the health staff.

To get back to the city to see her family the doctor hopes for a ride for the 20K out to the main highway and then be there at the right time to catch a bus the remainder of the way.

 The photo above shows about half of the main hallway. It is lit primarily by skylights from above. There is an office for the doctor, an office for the nurse, an empty room for dentist --waiting for the time one is assigned here, a private room for delivery of babies, and another room for giving immunizations. The clinic also has a kitchen.

Looking at the medicines in the dispensary I could easily see that the basic service here, rightly, is primary health care and also the management of childbirth.

Outside the clinic building is a solar panel.

 The solar panel provides energy for freezer that protects the vaccines that must be kept cold.

There is also enough energy to fuel 2-3 light bulbs within the clinic.

For lunch we set up tables down the hallway and had ham and cheese sandwiches with fruit. As we were finishing lunch someone said, "I think we are being welcomed." We went outside and saw this:

I couldn't quite figure out what made the drum heads, so got some help with my question. The drum heads are made with goat skins. And because I expressed interest the men allowed me to take a couple beats on the drum.

I spent a couple hours in the afternoon cutting up vegetables for the evening meal.

 Here's what the vegetables looked like after cooking. Our full supper looked like this:

veggies, potatoes, and rice with a black bean and sausage sauce. Very good.

As darkness fell, a fire was lit.
 I didn't last too long. The sleeping pad and blanket were calling me and I curled up to sleep a few minutes after 8 PM. I slept in the doctor's office with 3 other women. And so I finished a day at 4100 meters (13,451 feet)!

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