A letter from Chenoa Stock in Bolivia
January 22, 2011
A ver …
While enjoying a game of Uno with my host brother and sister, Pablo and Kelly (10 and 12 years old, respectively), in the place that I will call home for the next five months in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I noticed that whenever it was Pablo’s turn, he would closely and thoughtfully look at the cards in his hands and say “A ver” (a Spanish phrase meaning “Let’s see”). One could see the intent look on his face as he examined his cards to determine what he was holding, what he could learn from the previous person’s turn and what he could now offer to the community card stack from his hand. Upon completion of this game (which we all know lasts a bit longer than planned), I realized that I, too, am looking at the new cards in my hands, looking at the new environment and culture that surrounds me in Bolivia, and saying to myself, “A ver,” as I examine what I have, what I am learning, and what I have to offer.
What I Have: Two weeks ago I made the journey south to Cochabamba, Bolivia, the City of Eternal Springtime. It is here that I am living at 8,500 feet, surrounded by beautiful mountains, and enjoying the mild climate that the southern hemisphere summer provides. I am living with a host family, which includes mi mama, Scarley, mi papa, Wilson, their two hijos (children), Kelly and Pablo, and mi abuela (grandmother), Albina. I will live with this family for my entire five months in Cochabamba, in order to not only learn Spanish through immersion, but to learn about and experience the dynamics of a Bolivian family. One aspect I have definitely enjoyed has been the food. My abuela is a marvelous cook and has been so great about following my need for a gluten-free diet. Thankfully I can eat potatoes, as this is one of the staple foods of Bolivia. I have had it in the forms of soup, papas fritas (french fries), mashed and boiled; who knows what else my abuela will come up with during these months! Lunch is the main meal of the day, which consists of the Primero (first course) of sopa (soup), then the Segundo (second course), which usually consists of at least two types of carbohydrates (rice, potatoes or quinoa), usually meat (for carnivores, which most Bolivians are) and some type of vegetable preparation. I will definitely not be starving here! I’ve watched my abuela cook a couple of times and plan on attaining her sopa secrets by June! On top of enjoying the amazing food and fresh orange juice I have every day, I am also surrounded with a new culture to discover, new modes of transport to decipher, ubiquitous street dogs to avoid and, of course, a new language to learn.
What I Am Learning: As I say buen provecho (equivalent to bon appétit) to my future food explorations, I am actually lucky enough to be living in this beautiful city for the pure role of studying and learning Spanish. I am studying at the Maryknoll Language Institute, which was founded by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in 1965. It was first founded to prepare Catholic missionary personnel for service in Latin America or other Spanish speaking countries, but has since opened its doors to include lay mission personnel from all denominations as well as those people who have a heart and commitment for service. They offer classes for Spanish as well as Quechua and Aymara, which are two of the Andean languages spoken in Bolivia. Their website (options for Spanish or English) is the Maryknoll Language Institute.
Last week I began the 22-week Basic Course for Spanish. There are 20 students in this course who come from the United States, Canada, Korea and China and basically hit every spot on the age spectrum. Some are new and some are veteran Maryknoll missionaries who will move on to serve in Latin America. Some are missionaries from other denominations, and others are just out of college and still in search of where their path is taking them, who thought knowing Spanish might help in that discernment. We are partnered together by our language level and the fact we will be having all of our classes together for the next five months. Monday through Friday we have four 45-minute classes a day with different teachers. These teachers will change every quincena (two week block of class), so we will receive a wide variety of personalities, teaching methods and accents. The classes are all in Spanish and use a textbook which was created by Maryknoll teachers. The beautiful part of this institute, in my opinion, is that it is not only Spanish classes that they offer, but they go beyond language and also provide weekly conferences on different topics about Bolivian culture (health, water issues, family life, racism, ethnicities, etc.) as well as organize excursions around the area to learn and experience the culture firsthand. We went on a tour of Cochabamba last week and had the privilege of visiting El Cristo de la Concordia — a monument of the biggest Cristo (Christ) in Latin America! What a start to our time together! So it is from each of these experiences and my day to day classes and interactions with taxi drivers and my host family that I will have my eyes opened more and more to what it is I am here to learn about.
What I Have To Offer: As I look around in this world of newness, I look within and ask, “What is it that I have to offer to the community card stack?” How can I take these fresh surroundings and become a part of them and also learn from them? Much of this may come from my experiences of living abroad, of immersing myself in a new culture and of learning to find who I am amid the differences. I am called to offer an open mind to the opportunities and adventures that lie ahead; respect for the culture that is embracing me amidst the joys and struggles of life; patience in times of misunderstandings and miscommunication; kindness and love toward the connections that will be made with those who may be strangers to me now; gratefulness for the time to be in this moment and to open myself to the unknown and humbleness as I reach out to others for help and guidance in this new place and let go of the need for self sufficiency and control.
But perhaps the greatest thing I can do is trust in G-O-D (however one defines him/her/it), the Spirit that moves through me and all of you, who encourage and support me during this time of transition. “A ver, let’s see” … not only what we have and not only what we have to offer, but what we have to learn and receive. “Let’s see” and be open to the Mystery that dwells in each new moment. Only then can you be awakened to what you hold in your hand and how that can contribute to the global community around you. A ver…
Joining Hands – UMAVIDA
For more information:
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 301