Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Week 5: Goodbye La Paz. Hello Tarija.

Hello again friends, family, random people who read this,

I apologize for the extreme lateness of this post, as I have been very busy in my last week in La Paz and my first week in Tarija.

But because of this there will be two posts this week! For those of you who have been worried about me, I am fine. Nothing bad has happened to me, and I seem to have had great luck for the most part.

Day 30-31 - October 27th - 28th, 2014 - Oncology

As it sounds, yes I was in the cancer ward for my final week in La Paz. And yes I was still in the children's hospital. Which means I was basically listening to patient charts of children who were dying.

And yes it was hard. Children who were losing their eyes due to retinoblastomas, children who were losing their hair, or had no hair, and children screaming and crying in pain.

To be truthful, it may have been one of the harder experiences I had in La Paz. Dying children is not really something to be excited about.

This is the entrance to the ward where the residents wait for the doctors while preparing their materials (washing hands, getting masks and gloves, etc.). That young boy in his mother's arms has a retinoblastoma, and he has bandages all across his right eye.

The other thing about this ward is that all visitors or parents are forced to wear robes and caps like the ones in this picture. This is necessary in order to reduce the amount of pathogens in the air keeping the area as sterile as possible.

Each room is separate by glass walls, with a glass door that slides open. My guess for why it was this way was because it was a little more sealed than the other rooms in the hospital that may not have been as secure.

As these two days passed, I listened to the doctors talk about chemotherapy and the outlook of the patients' recovery, sadly hearing stories of possible death and loss of eyes.

Even so, these patients never seemed sad to me (unless they were in pain). They kept smiles on their faces, played with toys, watched television, and talked a lot for patients that could be dying. From my perspective, it shows how hopeful children are, even in the lowest points of their lives. I learned a lot from them in this week.

Day 32 - October 29th, 2014 - Las Cebras de La Paz and Fútbol: Bolívar vs The Strongest

You remember the zebras? Yeah, I did that. And it may have been my favorite day of the entire time I was in La Paz.

The zebras stand for something in La Paz. They stand for happiness, kindness, proper treatment, and safety. The main job of the zebras is to direct traffic in an always busy and dangerous city. They dance around in the streets with signs and flags, letting pedestrians know when it's safe to cross, and telling cars when they need to stop.

The reason these zebras exist is to provide jobs for people who don't really have the ability to get a job. For example, orphans who are old enough to leave the orphanage, but they never had the chance to go to school or get a job. The zebras gives them an opportunity to have a job.

It also helps mothers who don't have a husband and who have to watch their kids. It provides them a job so they can also go to school at the same time.

I actually got to do this with a couple of my friends from England as well as my Spanish teacher. We were introduced to some of the zebras and the manager and then we did a little bit of dancing and singing and we were off.

One of the things I liked most about this was that zebras are supposed to wave to every child they see. They are allowed to hug and pick up kids as well as say hello to everyone. The reason for this is to make people happy who may not be having the best day. For the kids, it makes their day as well. But they believe the zebras are real and it has somewhat of Disney-esque to it.

I think the fact that I was so important to kids and people, and my job was to be happy and dance, made this my favorite experience yet.

Following the zebras, my friends had invited me to a soccer/fútbol game later that night. Two teams faced of in a La Paz classic. Each of the teams were clubs were from La Paz, so as you can imagine there was a bitter rivalry.

The side I was on was Bolívar. There colors were blue and white, as noted here. The fans were loud, chanting questionable phrases directed to the other teams and middle fingers flying everywhere. What an adrenaline rush.

Although this is blurry because of the crazed fans and excitement, that gray patch towards the top is a giant flag. That we pulled over the crowd. And jumped around, grabbing the flag and waving it up and down.

After any of the 4 goals that Bolívar scored, the fans would go insane, climbing the fence, waving shirts and blankets, yelling and bragging to the other team. Fútbol really is as crazy as it should be. Technically, this was my first real soccer game ever. And I will be sure to go to more in the future.

Day 33-34 - October 30th - 31st, 2014 - Last days in the hospital and Halloween

My "last" two days (haha) were spent in oncology and dance clubs. And they may have been two of the greatest days/nights of my life (although I say that about everyday in Bolivia).

In the cancer ward, it was pretty much the same story both days. I went with the doctors and listened to the charts and watched children play with toys and their parents.

One of the little boys, the same boy from the first two days, kept waving at me, even though he could only see with one eye. I thought it was great, knowing that he couldn't see very well and still wanted to wave and for me to wave back.

 Each one of these patients was less than 10 years old and fighting cancer. Some of the toughest children I have ever seen.

On the first night, I ended up going on a walk and to a club with a girl from Bolivia who I had met the week before. She wanted to hang out before I left for Tarija, so we talked awhile and walked down the Prado Street and ended the night actually pretty late.

It was a nice send off for me with one of the great people I had met in La Paz.

The second night was Halloween. And it is just as crazy as it is in the United States. People dressed up everywhere, children going from store to store, instead of house to house, and tons of parties and dances.

Oh, and my friend was definitely wearing a chicken costume.

My friends and I ended up going to one of our favorite dance clubs called TTKOS. Its normal music style is reggae and it was extremely fun to go hang out and dance.

This was my technical last night, so we were going to stay out really late.

We danced all night until around 4:00 in the morning and my friends decided they wanted to go home. My flight was at 11:45 the next morning so I had to get home for that.

Day 35 - November 1, 2014 - My last day in La Paz..... Just kidding....

If you would like to know what I did on this day, I waited.

And waited.

Waited a little longer.

Waited until it was too late! The taxi that my coordinator had set up to pick me up for my flight at 10:00 in the morning never showed up.

I didn't have my phone anymore either.

So my host dad called a different taxi, which arrived at around 11:00. I said goodbye to family and was off.

The drive took half an hour. I got to the check in station 15 minutes before my flight.

And sadly, they told me check in was closed and I would have to change my flight.

So there I was, in a foreign airport, where it's still difficult to communicate, with no phone, too many bags to carry, and a missed flight.

Thankfully in the airport they have phone stations. I called my coordinator and he told me to change my flight to the next day and to take a bus back down to Sopocachi. Now I know I had a lot of the greatest days ever, but this was definitely the most stressful day I have ever had.

Even so, I ended up making it back, unpacking one outfit for the next day, and going to a cafe for awhile to ease my mind. Everything turned out fine though!

Day 36 - November 2nd, 2014 - My REAL last day in La Paz and my new family

Today, I left my home, or what was now my home, and I was actually sad. I had made so many great friends and memories, I didn't really want to leave.

I loved my family

The area.

My friends.

My work.

The people and culture.

I wasn't really ready to give that up. I took one last picture with part of my family and said farewell and that I hoped that I could see them again someday.

My flight left at 3 in the afternoon, and everything went smoothly. I even had 30 minutes to spare before my flight took off this time!

It was also the first time I got to walk on to the landing strip and board a plane. It made me feel like the president or something of that sort.

And as my flight left, I thought of the great people who had changed my life forever.

As my plane arrived, I was greeted by my new coordinators who took me to my new home. And basically the rest of the day I rested. I didn't really talk to my family much, as I was tired and somewhat nervous, but that would soon change.

Now that I have been in this country for over a month, I finally feel at home. In fact, so at home, that sometimes I wish I didn't have to go back to the United States. I have learned a lot about myself, about people in general, and I've loved every minute of my time her -- even the hard times.

Once again I thank everyone for their patience and their forgiveness on my tardiness. I am trying to get internet but it's actually harder here than in La Paz. I have so many stories to tell when I get back, and there will be another update this week. Stay tuned.

Love you all and ¡nos vemos!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Week 4: New Friends, New Places, Same Love

Day 23 - 25 - October 20th - 22nd, 2014 - Insomnia and a day in the life

Hello again! This week was very interesting for me because for the first time in my life, I had insomnia and could not sleep. It could have been the altitude, the frequently changing weather, or basically any other random things you could think of.

Because of this my first three days were somewhat boring because I slept quite a bit during the day and did not attend the hospital.

Instead I will be giving you a break down of a day in the life of me, in La Paz! As well as some cultural facts and interesting experiences I have had.

Every morning, I wake up around 7 am, sometimes a little later if I am extremely tired (which insomnia definitely caused). I normally take a shower, get ready, grab something to eat really quick, and head out the door towards the hospital. Not a very exciting morning, but the rest of the day is.

I walk across the same bridge everyday that crosses a major road in La Paz. It is somewhat difficult because it is sloped and the altitude makes it hard to breath.

I pass the same exact stand every morning.

Cultural fact number 1: These stands are normally ran by more indigenous women called cholitas. These women roam the streets, wearing bowler hats and colorful packs on their backs, sometimes carrying children, other times belongings.

The way these women wear their hats describes their marital status. Straight up and down signifies married. Slightly cocked signifies single or widowed. These women also tend to avoid back problems, mainly because they must keep proper posture in order to maintain the position of their hat. Interesting right?

Following my hospital experience, I cross through a plaza called Plaza Abaroa. This plaza is very close to my house and has quite a bit of history behind it.

Eduardo Abaroa was a colonel in the War of the Pacific, where Chile fought against Bolivia and Peru. In the Battle of Topáter, the Colonel was highly outnumbered by Chilean forces as they fought to hold the Topáter Bridge.

As the battle raged on, Colonel Abaroa fought to his dying breath, which sent him into fame as a war hero. Bolivian tales tell of his response to surrender, saying, "Surrender? Your grandmother should surrender herself!" In his name, this statue was erected and the plaza named after him.

This picture doesn't even depict it correctly, but the traffic in La Paz is hectic. My comparison would be New York with fewer traffic laws and regulations. Somewhat dangerous at times, but also extremely fun to maneuver through.

These are the notorious minibuses of La Paz. They are very common and pretty much everywhere in the city. They are also super cheap, which makes them a great choice for travel.

These guys are called "Las Cebras de La Paz". Next week, I will speak of my experience as a zebra! But as of now, I will describe this amazing project that has been going on in La Paz for almost 13 years.

The job of the zebras involves directing traffic and keeping people safe in the streets. But probably the most important thing is their desire to serve. The zebras are known for greeting everyone, bringing happiness to people, being friendly, waving and hugging children, and being superhero-esque to the children as well.

The project creates jobs for orphaned children who come of age to leave an orphanage. Because they never had the opportunity to go to school or get a job, they work at zebras in the city. It also provides jobs for mothers who don't have husbands and don't have the time or ability to get jobs.

After seeing what they did in the city, I had so much respect for them, I decided to try it myself the following week (stay tuned!)

And following every day, La Paz lights up for the night life. The beauty is almost unfathomable in this city and I fall more and more in love every day/night.

Day 26-27 - October 23rd - 24th, 2014 - Surgery Week 2 and a little dancing

As you all remember from last week, I absolutely love the surgery ward. This week was just as exciting as before.

The ward is full of patients recovering from previous surgeries, continually monitored by the doctors and residents in order to insure full recovery.

Every morning the patients are served breakfast. But it is far different than American breakfast. It mainly consists of milk. And maybe yogurt if the patients are lucky.

As the patients lay in bed, most of the residents overview charts, or get on the Internet which is also not typical in the United States. Also, I apologize for the partial thumb in the following picture (haha oops...)

My last day in surgery, I got to witness the removal of a gall stone in a young girl. Sadly, I forgot to bring my phone into the operating room, so I have no gruesome pictures.

Instead I will describe it in gross color.

The first step of the surgery involved making a 4 inch incision right below the ribs on the left side of the girl.

The next step consisted of using a Bovie, a scalpel that uses electrical current to cut through flesh and coagulate blood and tissue. As the doctors cut through layers of fat and skin, the smell of burning flesh and ozone wafted through the air.

The stone was very large and had migrated from the beginning of the gallbladder towards the back half. This required the doctors to make a larger incision (actually had to do it twice).

Once the incision was large enough, the doctors took sutures and tied knots surrounding the gallbladder in order to locate the stone.

Following the removal of the stone, a large portion of tissue was removed because the stone had pretty much destroyed it.

Although the surgery was very long (approximately 3 hours!), the procedure was far different than the hernia repairs as well as the pulmonary infection. It provided new insight into a different location of the body and gave me great experience.

Day 28 - October 25th, 2014 - Tiwanaku and La Noche Blanca

On Saturday, I finally got to visit the ruins of Tiwanaku (highly recommended by my grandpa).

The mix of stone carvings and statues was extremely intriguing, and the fact that these ruins existed over 1000 years ago without modern technology is even more profound.

This map shows a basic layout of the ruins, including the pyramid and the cemetery.

And welcome to Tiwanaku! Or as spelled here in this picture, Tiahuanaco.

This is a megaphone, used to make announcements to the surrounding areas around the pyramid. There were four, located on the North, West, South, and East sides.

This photo depicts the cemetery, possibly where royalty within the Tiwanakan empire existed.

This statue represents both the light and the dark. The hands are arranged in a very peculiar way, as with every Tiwanakan statue. The left hand of every statue is normal. However, the right hand is backwards. What this represents is a separate person. The left side represents giving, the right receiving. The Tiwanakan culture believed this showed how the gods would give to the people there.

This image is of the Gate of the Sun. The story behind this is actually incredible. Every year we have two equinoxes and two solstices. The gate was arranged so that the sun would shine directly through, illuminating a statue directly behind it on the two equinoxes, signifying the change in seasons. During the solstices, the light would illuminate the corners of the pyramid, either on the west or east, depending on if it was the summer or winter solstice.

This wall surrounds the pyramid, and although it looks legit, it had to be completely rebuilt. All original stones were used, but it was found in ruins.

These are the legendary faces of the world found in Tiwanaku. Legend has it that each one of these faces represents a different people group around the world. How the Tiwanakans would have known that? I have absolutely no idea.

This specific face has been recognized by archaeologists and scientists around the world for one reason. The face is constructed of a white stone, different than any of the other faces in the entire ruin. The facial structure is different as well. The reason it is sought after is this: some speculate that the Tiwanakan culture was shaped partially by extraterrestrials, explaining there ability to build structures, disappear without traces, and this particular face.

Not only are the ruins amazing, but the location is also incredible. The rolling hills and mountains surround a large area of farm land; probably where the Tiwanakans thrived long ago.

This statue was the largest statue ever found in the ruins. Like the others, the hands are once again weird.

Puma Punku was a separate site in Tiwanaku, lying completely in ruin. The only thing that remains are the stone carvings crafted by this apparent super genius people group.

The precision involved in the stone craftsmanship is phenomenal; almost outer-worldly you could say.

These are the infamous H-blocks, carved with perfect 90 degree angled cuts and unreplicable today.

Note the perfect cut in the stone.

Tiwanaku was incredible and extraordinary. I also ended up meeting a friend who went with me to an art festival later that night, called "La Noche Blanca".

The artwork here was extravagant, and included video art as well as paintings and even a manikin dressed up as an art project.

I had no idea what these were supposed to mean, but they looked like swimming pool noodles, so I decided to take a picture with them. Make of it what you will.

This was a large box with open faces and green lights on each of the edges. Once again, I have no idea what it meant but I will try to decipher something. I believe it stood for that if we remain in a box and don't have open minds, we tend to be jealous or green. Make of it what you will.

These two photos show parts of a video art section in the display. These include loud noises and thought-provoking images. Making a connection between the two is the real art.

Following the art show, we had made some friends, who we went dancing with to finish the night.

Day 29 - October 26th, 2014 - Las Cholitas Luchadores and the cable car... again!

On Sunday, I did one of the weirdest things I think I've ever done. Cholita wrestling. You remember me saying something about the cultural aspects? Turns out they have a wrestling ring in El Alto where Cholitas wrestle with men dressed in costumes.

And no it's not actual fighting. It was very staged, similar to the WWE.

Although it was staged, it was extremely entertaining to watch these women get "kicked" and flipped by these men.

I honestly don't have any other words for how weird, disturbing, but greatly entertaining this was.

Again La Paz continues to show its beauty more and more everyday that I've been here. The cable car was incredible, and just as much fun with new friends as with old.

It's very hard to explain every reason why I love La Paz, but these pictures show some of those reasons. If you ever think about going to Bolivia, visit La Paz. You won't regret it.

My friends and I ended the night by riding the cable car back from El Alto to Sopacachi, our home town. Also this picture shows how difficult it is to take a picture with flash, include three people, and the city as well.

I have come to find La Paz as a home, and it's sad that I have to leave friends that I feel like I just became close with, and a city that I just became familiar with. But with these great experiences, I have no doubts that I will make just as many great friends, amazing memories, and life experiences in Tarija, my final destination in Bolivia.

Thank you again for reading through my blog and being so patient when I have been busy! You all mean so much to me and I can't wait to share these stories in person.

I love you all and ¡nos vemos!

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