Friday, May 29, 2015

An English man in La Paz

Having lived in a sleepy Cornish town for the last 9 months, I was looking forward to returning  to a busy city environment. La Paz, I am pleased to say, did not disappoint. Being put on the Zebras project gave me the opportunity to be out on the streets of La Paz and really engage with the surroundings and the locals. There are beautiful views from wherever you stand, of mountains and sunsets, parks and skyscrapers. Travelling by cable car as the sky gets dark and the streetlights begin to turn on I feel very blessed for having the opportunity to live and work in this crazy little town.
I hear the nightlife here is fantastic, I myself don’t like to drink or party so this aspect of the town is lost on me which is useful considering we are on a dry programme which allows for no alcohol. There are however, plenty of things to do around the city of a night time that don’t involve drinking, for example music concerts and art exhibitions most nights of the week displaying the vibrant talent and culture of Bolivia.

We were lucky enough to be in La Paz for (night of museums) a festival celebrating the museums and art galleries of La Paz, for one night only entry to all these venues was completely free and in addition to this there were more street performances and markets set up around the city than anyone could have time to look at. 
Living with a host family was an interesting experience. My host grandmother, Soledad, didn’t speak any English nor I any Spanish but we quickly found ways to communicate. Slightly raised voices and exaggerated hand gestures seemed to be the way forward for us, providing a fun and challenging way to improve my Spanish but making it awkward at times when asking for necessaries such as toilet paper.

Being a 24 year old man it had been some time since I had to report to anyone about my comings and goings and this proved an aspect of my life here that I often failed at. Going for late night coffees with friends and forgetting to text my whereabouts did cause some friction with Soledad but I think she thought of me more as a wayward, favourite son rather than any kind of nuisance.
She was an amazing cook and so very welcoming. Because of her kindness and hospitality I was able to gain a deeper insight into the importance of the family unit and an understanding of how it fits into Bolivian society as a whole. She took me in as if I was one of her own and I will miss her dearly upon my return to the UK.

When living centrally in La Paz and being surrounded by its charm it can be easy to forget the reasons programmes such as the ICS scheme are in a place like La Paz, parts of the inner city seem very affluent, but the further you head out from the centre the more obvious it becomes that parts of La Paz are still in dire need of attention.

Alalay is a children’s centre on the outskirts of La Paz, where we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to run several workshops. Many of the children who live and are educated here have been orphaned or are living on the streets for various reasons. I don’t particularly like kids, I think they are needy and stink so I generally try and stay away from them considering I have my own needs and body odours to contend with. These cheeky children however did come close to melting my icy, Cornish heart.

The workshops we ran for them (on the themes of human rights and non-violent communication) hit varying degrees of success, with half the children (usually the younger half) wanting to take part and engage with the subject material whilst the other half (a group of 12-14 year old lads) preferred to cause mischief and mess around with a football.

At first this proved a challenge for the group, particularly considering only half of us knew any Spanish. Luckily I was able to bridge some of the gap by teaching them a selection of my favourite cheeky English words, in return they taught me how to play with a spinning top and thus quick friendships were formed. Also, consequentially, they might have learnt something about human rights and non-violent communication, but it was difficult to tell.

There are so many clichéd sayings that people use when visiting South America that I could apply to my time here. Here is just a short selection;
·       “Everything was so eye opening”
·       “It was such a life changing experience”
·       “Very Rewarding”
·       “I should write a blog for all my friends and family to read about how eye opening, life changing and rewarding this experience has been for me”
I now understand why these lines are so heavily used by people on their gap year because they are all true.

I hope you, the reader, get your chance to travel to somewhere as exciting as La Paz, experiencing life in an entirely different culture and giving your time to a cause you believe in passionately. Because the opportunity that has been afforded to me By International Service is one that I am immensely proud to have been a part of and the memories are sure to last me through another 9 months in a sleepy Cornish town.



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