Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Bolivia, Part One

Being of Bolivian heritage is a part of me that I love beyond words.  My brothers and I are first generation born in the USA and this is sometimes difficult for us.. or at least it is for me.
Our beautiful Bolivian flag
Spanish was my first language but I was soon bilingual, learning English mostly from watching Sesame Street and Electric Company.  From a very young age, we were taught that Spanish was spoken in the house and English was for when we went to school and were with friends we had made.  It's wonderful how, even as a small child, we knew which of our parents' friends spoke English or Spanish which is why I encourage people who know more than one language to teach them to their children from the start.

When I was eight years old, my family (including our dog, Tootsie) moved to Cochabamba, Bolivia.  As far as we knew, it would be a permanent move and it was a very scary, yet wonderful, experience.  My older brother was 10 and the younger one was 4 at that time.  For the first time, we got to meet family members we had never known and it was great!  I had no idea what it was like to have such a huge family, but now we were surrounded by loved ones and it was truly amazing.  But we soon learned that being bilingual and loving some Bolivian food was completely different from living there, adapting to different customs and going to school in a language that wasn't English.  I had never read too much in Spanish, nor had I ever tried to write in my first language, so it was a bit of an adjustment.  After some tutoring, we were ready to dive into going to school and test out a new world.  Luckily, my brothers and I adapted rather quickly to school in Spanish and our grades were really quite good.  I can still out-spell many who write in Spanish all the time and I'm kind of proud of this. (giggle!)

Being that I was a child, I don't even know all the details as to why life didn't work out in Cochabamba for my parents, but a couple years later, in 1979, we were on our way back to the States.  I have to admit that readjusting to life in the USA proved to be more difficult than I could have ever imagined.  I felt as if I no longer fit in and/or that no one understood who I was or what I had experienced while in Bolivia.. and those two years HAD changed me in more ways than I could comprehend.

I went back to Bolivia in 1989 to spend time with my grandparents (Mom's parents) and with the rest of my family.  Mom's youngest sister and her daughter lived nearby, so I spent a lot of time with them and had the chance to get reacquainted  on a different level.  I was 20 years old and had been suffering from intense depression, which is what prompted my visit.  I needed to get away from the life I knew and it was the best place I could think of that would help me find my way back into myself.  I don't think it was until I was invited to stay with my cousin Patty and her family (husband and two children) that I began to smile again.  You see, they did not have much when it came to possessions, but they had a deep sense of family, acceptance and love that I had never felt until I stayed with them.  Patty and I would talk for hours on end (playing cards, as we Bolivians do!) and she helped me find a piece of myself I had lost in my depression and for this I am forever thankful.  We were always surrounded by family members coming to visit or we went as a family to typical Bolivian restaurants and ate the most delicious food for just pennies.  It was basically every day life and it was just what I needed.
This picture reminds me of the street Patty and her family used to live on.
In 1993, one of the worst years EVER for me with my MS, my two brothers and I went to Bolivia as a gift from our parents.  I was walking with my quad cane and wasn't able to be on my feet for too long, so I wasn't quite sure if this trip was a good idea or not, but I was willing to find out!
La Paz at night with the majestic Illimani overlooking the city.
My brothers, Fernando and Gonzalo, and I spent the first week of our vacation in La Paz with my mom's younger brother and his family.  The altitude of La Paz is insane when being accustomed to life at sea level and due to the lack of oxygen, I had trouble lighting a cigarette but that didn't stop me from trying!  While there, we made a day trip to see ancient ruins of our Incan ancestors at Tiwanacu.  It was a fascinating day and only wish I would have been able to move around better, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
A portion of Tiwanacu

La Puerta del Sol (Door of the Sun.. or perhaps it's called the Gate of the Sun?)
La Puerta de la Luna (Gate of the Moon)
As much as my brothers and I enjoyed our time in La Paz, we were anxious to return to Cochabamba, where we had lived as children.  It wasn't until we were in Cochabamba that I began to experience Bolivia on a different level and truly began to appreciate it for what it is and rejoice in its simplicity and awesome beauty.  And this is where I will pick up the story tomorrow!

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