Lost and Found in Bolivia

Chronicles of Rachel's Peace Corps service in Bolivia as an Agriculture Extension volunteer.  I hope not to get too lost during my 27 months, but I have a feeling I'm going to find some things.  Enjoy the stories!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008


la calle Schell, Lima, Peru, South America


So it’s been a rough few days, even since we’ve settled here outside of Lima.  We’re doing Close-of-Service medical tests, learning about our options (still don’t have a list of where we could go) and finding out that we have to make very fast decisions about certain things.  But here is a list of what I’m thinking.


If I transfer directly to another country in Latin America (my favorite option)…

  • I likely won’t be coming to the United States before I transfer (so any shopping has to be done in Lima or the next country)
  • I get to keep learning Spanish.  And impressing you all with that.
  • There’s a good chance there will be tropical fruit involved.
  • I get to know and love a whole new Latin American culture!  I’m a lucky girl, getting to integrate into not one, but 2 cultures.
  • This option isn’t guaranteed because the host country has to accept me once I decide I want to go, but I’m pursuing it as my number one.
  • Regardless of what happens in the new country (if I had to early terminate or medically separate…hopefully neither), I’ll always have Returned Peace Corps Bolivia status…so I don’t lose that on resumes, etc.


If I choose the “re-enroll” option:

  • I close out my service now, get the Returned status, and actually return to the US.
  • Have some sort of top-of-the-application-pile status for doing a full 27 months in another country.
  • Won’t leave the US for a while…new programs aren’t really leaving again till January/February
  • I’ll be pretty bored at home after the novelty wears off and I can’t get a job (like last year all over again)
  • I could maybe look into doing a Master’s International (which combines grad school and then 2 years of Peace Corps to earn a master’s degree)


If I just decide to COS and move on:

  • I may do Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) in central America
  • I may choose grade school
  • I may move to California and join a hippie commune…or just be friends with hippies
  • I may move to California and get a paying job working in anything related to nutrition, food, agriculture, or farmers’ rights.  As long as I can speak Spanish.
  • I’ll be proud of myself, but I don’t think I’m ready to be done with Peace Corps yet, despite the rough times.


Thanks for your support so far, I think the hardest blow is that I won’t be able to see my lovely supporters soon if I transfer, and that it’s going to be very hectic to tie up the loose ends in my site over the phone.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

safe, not necessarily happy

Hi All,

You may have been seeing the news about Bolivia (like, the 5 seconds CNN plays between Hurricane Ike and Wall Street)...but the situations between East and West and City and Campo and Evo and the US were all deteriorating really fast. So first we were consolidated into one city, then the decision was made to evacuate us to Lima, Peru, and recently they decided to temporarily suspend the program in Bolivia. So I´m safely in Peru, but emotionally a mess trying to figure out what I´m doing next. I´ll have several options: leaving Peace Corps and being considered a returned volunteer (which has several benefits in terms of jobs and health insurance), or transferring to another country to do more service. I´m hoping I can transfer to another spanish-speaking Latin American country (wonder how they´ll feel about my cruceño accent) and do another year and a half or so, but the accepting countries tend to dictate what they want in terms of skills and time commitment. I hope it can work out that way though, I don´t feel like I´ve accomplished my Peace Corps goals yet.
I´m so sad that this is happening to Bolivia. I feel guilty that I can leave but the Bolivians are still in the midst of serious turmoil. All my friends in site will probably be safe, but this could be the beginning of harder times. And like many of us have expressed, we felt that we were doing important and useful things in our communities, which were very hard to leave. Personally, I barely knew what was going on, other than gas wasn´t arriving to my site, and that things suddenly were doubling in price. So I really left loose ends because I thought I´d be going back in a week or so. We had many tearful goodbyes with our staff, who were so incredibly supportive to us even while their own home country was going through this and as they knew they were mostly about to be without work. I could never thank them enough. Our country director and the second-in-command (I hope you´re reading this!) were so honest and patient with us and our millions of freak-out questions, how could we ever thank them enough?
I´ll keep this updated as much as possible, please don´t worry about me...but keep Bolivia in your thoughts and prayers if that´s your thing. They need the good vibes more than I do.
we evacuated in this military plane from the 1940's!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

and now a word from...

ok so I got this e-mail from my former boss at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.  The Garden Apprentice Program is all about teenagers doing apprenticeships around the BBG, including in the Children's Garden.  These teens are really great (taught me some sweet dance moves), so if you feel like giving your support, read below!

Tiers two and three of the Garden Apprentice Program have been working on various environmental action projects around BBG this summer with the intent to educate the public on the urgent issue of global climate change and our power to enact change.  
                The culminating group project is a sculpture they created from discarded goods we gathered from around BBG like plastic bags, newspapers and cardboard boxes. They have worked long and hard for several weeks organizing and crafting their vision. The final product will be on display in the rotunda following the end of this week—please stop by to admire their work. 
                We were also able to enter the project into a craft contest put on by 
350.org, which is a website that advocates to reduce national carbon emissions to below 350 ppm. We would like to invite you to check out the 350.org website to view our project and to please vote for GAPsummer’s “Average U.S. Citizen.” The contest is judged based on viewer responses so the more votes the better.  You can follow the link below to the page:


                We hope you enjoy our piece and will join us in taking action to curb your own carbon emissions and  raise awareness about our power to make a difference. Thank you so much and have a great evening. 

Friday, August 15, 2008

All-vol conference!

Bolunteers (that's a clever way to write bolivia volunteers, especially in a country where b and v are interchangable in most people's opinion) rock.  We recently had a consolidation of volunteers (where we're all in one secure place, just in case...) due to possible outbursts stemming from the August 10th recall election.  It was a precaution, no mas, and everything ended up tranquilo (enough) that we could all go back to our normal activities a few days later.  To make this consolidation productive, the powers that be re-arranged and logistified our schedules so that many meetings happened during this time.  In other words, it was a massive conference in which people could share ideas within and without their project groups, training groups and regions.  I got to meet SO many interesting people who were so passionate about their projects, both major and minor.  I am so inspired to go do EVERYTHING in my site.  I want to do more with literacy (we have a library, after all), I'm going to try really hard to realize my goals in the family gardens/seed production area, and I want to be one of those volunteers that is a go-to person for information about doing a specific thing.  There are people that just have so much to talk about when you ask them what they're doing in their sites, and that's what I want to be.  

OF COURSE I was thrilled to see my training class buddies (it's been since April for the 20 of them in regions other than Santa Cruz).  Here we're doing a typical non-smiling Bolivian photo.  Although Bolivians love to laugh and smile a lot, they don't like to smile in pictures.  So we tried that.
We had very official technical meetings, some interesting group discussions about why we're here and what it all means to us, and some very fun learning sessions to "aprovechar de" (take advantage of) our diverse talents.  In other words, I learned to belly dance, do a traditional dance called the chaquerera, and helped teach a hip-hop session with my friend Tammy (who I only really got to know during this conference...she lives only 3 hours away!).  Our excellent third-year volunteers (who do double or triple duty helping out in regional offices, while keeping working in cities) and leadership committees organized some activities that I really got into: scavenger hunt, egg toss, relay race (complete with potato-digging and throwing a rock at a picture of a dog to replicate our experience in site), and a dance where the theme was cross-dressing. 
Painting my friend Pat's nails for our scavenger hunt.  He kept the look for the cross-dressing ball the following night.  ((Yes, I cut bangs for myself.  Good music can inspire poor decisions in haircuts--makes you want to be a cool rock star/hipster.))

I'm so fortunate to have had this happen only 3 months into my service, I'll be able to use this experience and inspiration to the full advantage of my community.


So if you see, as you often do, a señora walking down the street with a delicious basket of baked goods, or soda, or any snack, how do you get her to stop and sell you something?  Don't bother shouting "señora" as it's not very effective.  Instead, shout "cuñape" or "cafe" to signify you want some of that, and she will stop and sell to you!

Friday, August 8, 2008

We are part of a community of volunteers

Well, this post isn't at all about Peace Corps Bolivia.  Though we are dealing with some things politically now, they haven't gotten prohibitive towards our work or proven too risky for our continued presence in the country...and I'm happy about that!  However, it's important that we as the volunteer community (and those generally concerned about awesome people like PCV's) stay informed about other members of this larger group.  We are having a conference right now, thus have more access to CNN, the internet, etc., so we have been informed of the breaking news about Georgia.  Check out the link below, if you haven't yet informed yourself.  It's a serious situation and I can't imagine what the Peace Corps Georgia volunteers are feeling right now.  I would be scared, confused, angry and full of questions about what this would mean for my service.  Probably what the Kenya volunteers felt last winter when the violence broke out there.  At that time, I recall, I had felt concern but didn't understand that feeling of attachment for a country and people, let alone projects and work!  Part of me is selfishly saying, "thank goodness that's not here, let that not happen here" and another part of me just feels the pain of seeing your host country turn to violence.  On top of that, it's the opening day of the Olympics, so this sort of violence seems even more inappropriate than normal.  Please keep the Georgian people and PCV's in Georgia in your thoughts.  Why not use this as an opportunity to learn about a very interesting and rich country history?