Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Missing the mountain bowl: La Paz to London

You know that clichéd airport scene that you see in 2 star movies shown on Netflix where tears swamp the suitcase covered floor? The one that I've always thought doesn't really happen? Yeah...that happened.

Leaving La Paz to return to London was an experience much more emotionally charged than I could have anticipated 10 weeks earlier. Saying a heavy-hearted ciao to our new families, new friends and new home. Leaving the hyperventilation inducing hills, the Spanish verb tense mistakes, the daily salteña - empanada choice, the traffic-Tetris streets. Bolivia is a country of great variation, from seemingly endless salt planes to otherworldly volcanic vistas, every one one of us will be left with some overwhelmingly beautiful mental pictures (and real ones too of course).

Whilst in Bolivia with the ICS programme, some of us made life decisions and gained new perspectives, some realised new skills and harnessed new linguistic capabilities and we all made lasting global bonds. For me, one of those bonds has been with a group of young people who can be seen wandering the jungle streets of La Paz adorned in zebra stripes. Before arriving in Bolivia, I had little knowledge of who the zebras were and their role within the city let alone the staggering impact that they have. Early on, we suited up and were zebras for the day...a day filled with sweat, smiles and ecstatic children. The positivity that the zebras spread across the city is immeasurable. But who are the people inside the suits?

We were fortunate enough to find out over our ten weeks here through our weekly workshops with 15 of these incredible young people. Their honesty, enthusiasm and general attitude towards all aspects of their lives is something that will be impossible for us to forget and something I endeavour to always adopt. The spectacular human beings that made up the rest of the Ciudadanos del Mundo team have spoken about all of the places we've been, people we've met and project outcomes we have achieved.

There have been four key highlights of working on this project for me. 1. The yoga session during our workshop on non-violent communication at Alalay children's centre - it was surprising and beautiful to see them all react so positively to it. 2. Our workshop on stress management and mental health with the zebras - mental health is a global issue which currently does not receive the correct level of societal attention. It is an issue that we all come into contact with and learning about the context of mental health in Bolivia was extremely valuable. 3. Working with such a talented group of people 4. The Apthapi that the zebras shared with us during our final session with them. This final point deserves additional attention; Apthapi is a common thing in Bolivia. It is process whereby a group of people get together and each bring food but this food is to be made of whatever that person has in their house at the time. It is not about bringing the most impressive culinary piece of art but it is about showing that each person is willing to share whatever they have with others. To share food, conversation and each other's company. If I were to select an appropriate metaphor for our time living in La Paz and working with International Service ICS, I would say that the past 10 weeks have been Apthapi. We have shared our everyday with each other, our histories, and our goals. We shared seeing new things for the first time...and yes, we shared a million different types of potatoes. I will miss all the people that I have met through the duration on the ICS programme you are all wonderful. And Bolivia, I will miss you too much. The people, the mountains and the ever wandering street dogs.

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