The Club, Bolivia-style

Day two of my Bolivian experience ran the gamut. This entry was written Friday night, but I couldn’t post it until Saturday (today).

I woke up early Friday morning and prepared to take a shower. Thankfully the guest shower has hot water. It doesn’t use a hot water heater like in the U.S. Instead it is an electric shower head that heats the water as it flows through the head. I was a little scared of the thing, truth be told. I envisioned being electrocuted or something. Actually, it worked well. The problem was that the water pressure was too high and caused the bottom of the head to pop off. I had to screw it on several times before I got it tight enough to stay.

After the shower experience, it dawned on me that being in Bolivia is in many ways similar to taking a vacation at The Club. My great-grandparents owned a small house near Clearwater Lake that the family called The Club. When my dad moved back to St. Louis we would go there for vacation about one a year. It didn’t have too many amenities, and the shower was definitely not great. It was in a dark, musty, cellar-like “downstairs.” There were always spiders or other bugs crawling around and the tile was gross. To get to it you had to walk outside down earthen steps covered with smooth gravel and stones and held in place by railroad ties. Well, here I have no air conditioning and there are bugs all over. The doorpost of the guest kitchen apparently serves as the front door to an underground ant world, and they roam all over the place.

Talking about ants reminds me of another place that Bolivia makes me think of: Bullard, Texas. In Bullard we had fire ants. I don’t think the ants here are fire ants, but still, ants and I don’t get along too well.

Anyway, back to the events of the day. This morning Yoli and I had planned to eat breakfast together and then go clean something for the seminario before lunch. But Yoli didn’t arrive on time. This is quite unusual for her, since she is very punctual. I was at a loss, and didn’t know what to do. So I ate some peanut butter crackers, thinking she might still arrive with the food. I spent 15 minutes looking around for her and asking people if they had seen her, but nobody had.

Finally I found her as she arrived at the seminario. She was limping, and explained that she had done something to her knee the previous day. She limped all day and her knee was somewhat swollen. So we just took it slow. She brought baked apples with grapes, something her mom had prepared the previous night but that I couldn’t stay for because I had to get to the bus before the buses stopped running. They were good.

It turns out that we weren’t going to be cleaning anything, but PRUNING. Between the girls and guys’ dorms is a walkway with two large trees in the middle. Some of the older professors call it “la avenida del camotes” which means Avenue of Sweet Potatoes. A girl and guy in a relationship are said to be camotes. Anyway, after pruning the trees so that I could walk under them without ducking (I’m one of the tallest people here), we had to dig up bricks from an old garden that was being converted for another use.

After all the work Yoli and I ate lunch. We stayed at the seminario so she didn’t have to walk much. We made a chicken-flavored rice soup from a package and then we each took brief naps before preparing to go to work. In Bolivia, the work day runs 8am-noon, is interrupted by lunch (the main meal of the day) and resumes at 2 p.m. It’s over at 6.

I spent a good chunk of time in the office trying to figure out why Fireworks MX was displaying most of my fonts with “jaggies” instead of smoothly. I realized that I had forgotten to install Adobe Type Manager when I installed the OS last week. We also spent a long time trying to figure out the password to the seminario’s internet access so we could set it up on my laptop. The actual password wasn’t recorded anywhere, and the only thing Yoli knew was a clue she had been told by a former boss. We had trouble calling the ISP, but we emailed them, and eventually the called back and helped us out. Let this be a lesson those of you in the workplace–always keep good records of how to access your account so those who come after you can have a smooth transition.

I met Russell Penney (“Don Russell” to everyone at the seminario. His nickname is “Rusty” which is quite funny) today. He is the rector of the seminario and the man who last June invited me to come here. When Yoli and I were in the office, Rusty came by and we talked about the setup of the site. I think it will be a larger site than I originally envisioned. It will be interesting to see it come together.

In the evening Yoli and I went to eat dinner with her sister Noemi and her husband Alcides. Noemi and Alcides were married in July. Yoli and I were padrinos (godparents) and purchased their rings for the wedding. On Thursday night (the night before) Alcides showed me his ring (which Yoli picked out when she came back to Bolivia in July). It was very nice, and strange… Because at the time I accepted the idea of being a padrino, I didn’t know Noemi or Alcides. And now, here they are.

Anyway, Noemi prepared dinner for us. It was very simple, and I can’t remember the name of the food. It was a sort of cake made up of yucca and meat. Yucca is a tuber that is a lot like a potato, but much bigger. She mashed it up in a a tree trunk that had been hollowed out by fire (I forgot the name of this thing, also) and then mixed it with a little beef and cooked it. I’m not sure if it was baked or fried. We also had hot chocolate, which was strange for me, but in Bolivia they drink it all year, regardless of the season.

Alcides and Noemi showed us three of their most precious wedding gifts. The first was silver-plated tea service set. I explained to them that my dad sells the machines that electroplate items like that (I also told this to Don Hector (yoli’s dad) on Monday). The second item was a poem his mother had written and given to him after the wedding. His mother was from the “campo” (countryside) and had little education. So it touched him that she could write such a poem. the third item they didn’t actually show to us, but he explained it was a piece of lingerie for Noemi given by a lady. Apparently they opened it at just the right time on their wedding night, and it was a perfect gift because they had forgotten to buy it themselves before the wedding.

A side note about last night (Thursday): We went back to Yoli’s house for dinner. Yoli lives with her parents, youngest sister Sara, and her sister Lucy’s family (husband and three kids). Noemi and Alcides live in a house almost next door. It’s amazing how families stay close like this.. it is totally the opposite in the U.S. So on Thursday there were like 14 of us eating dinner on their front patio. The inside wasn’t big enough. They cooked everything outside. Their stove uses a propane tank, and is therefore portable. The sink they used was outside. in front of the house is Yoli’s mom’s small store (Doña Lucila). Every neighborhood has small stores like these. No such thing as single-use zoning here, and I think it’s better that way.

Again Alcides rode with me on the bus home and we had a lot of conversation. I’m finding it easier to express things in Spanish, even though I mangle most of the words (using the wrong gender or verb tenses frequently). It’s still very hard to understand what people are saying unless they speak slowly.

At some point I will have to travel home on the bus by myself. I don’t think it will be too hard once I can remember where to stop so that I can yell “pare” and get the driver to stop.

In Santa Cruz, people are out and about late into the night, especially on Friday. It reminds me of all the people outside at night in St. Louis city, except there are even more. Adults, kids, dogs, everyone is outside. Some are having fiestas, some are entertaining guests, some are drunk, whatever. Tonight we saw a birthday serenade on the ride home.. It’s a tradition Yoli has told me about before where a group of people go to the home of the birthday person at night and sing a song to them from outside the house. This particular serenade was being performed by a group with instruments. It was very loud, but funny.

On Saturday I will be helping Yoli with student registration, probably serving as a tabulator for book prices. I think we will be going to see “The Two Towers” that afternoon. Yes, yes, I know, it will be my fifth time. But she wants to see it, and who am I to deny her that pleasure? :)

About Josh Renaud

Josh Renaud is married to Yoli and together they have four beautiful niƱitos. Find him on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.
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5 Responses to The Club, Bolivia-style

  1. Joe Renaud says:

    Josh,
    Yoli definitely should not be denied the pleasure of seeing Two Towers!
    Thanks for the advertising “plug” for electroplating. For the record, (in case any potential customers read this) my company manufactures/sells electroplating equipment, chemicals and supplies.
    Have Fun — Dad

  2. Justin says:

    That is wild Josh!!! I am not sure what it would be like if I were to go to Bolivia and eat…I am definitely more picky when it comes to “mexican” food than you=)
    Give Yoli and her family love from Becca and I…and really do it.

  3. steve says:

    Hey how about an Applebee’s plug? Oh wait, I’m trying to quit. And yes, you should be denied your gazillionth experience of “Two Towers”. Holy cow, you should be able to recite that movie by now.

  4. Michelle says:

    I think it’s very gentlemanly of you to take Yoli to see “The Two Towers”. :)

  5. Carolyn says:

    Was reading the Post-Dispatch business section the morn on the Super Bowl commercials, which naturally made me think of you, Josh. We’re going to miss sharing the laughs with you, but your experiences in Bolivia are real time – and bringing smiles all around here. Incidentally, I have still not seen Two Towers! Yoli is blessed.
    Carolyn
    PS Emily Fogleman left for 5 months in Kenya yesterday!