Back in Bolivia: My week-long journey to marriage begins

I’m dealing with one of those classic “unrealities” right now. Here I am, back in Bolivia after nine months away. I’ve been re-united with the love of my life, I’ve greeted and spent most of the day with my future-in-laws, I attended the Avant prayer meeting and caught up with several missionaries I knew before (and heard reports about those I knew who were absent).

The unreality is that my parents are here.

I have to admit to some brief culture shock. Though I remembered the smelly markets, the dirt roads strewn with trash and building materials, the unusual living quarters, the buses overflowing with people and driven like rollercoaster rides, the crowded streets, and everything else, it still smacked me in the face again.

I was quickly over it and back in love with this place. As I discussed with my parents tonight, it is so unlike suburban St. Louis. My mom put it like this: “folks here live outside.” Day-to-day life for most is not buried in a cubicle deep within some building. Nor is it hidden away inside a gargantuan house in some cookie-cutter subdivision. Life is outside, public. The streets, the buses, the neighborhoods are brimming with it.

I like that about Bolivia.

In any case, you probably want the details, so let me get to them.

We arrived safe and sound in Santa Cruz around 8 a.m. this morning. The trip was mostly uneventful, though the last leg (from Cochabamba, Bolivia to Santa Cruz) was quite turbulent. I’m thankful there were no hangups with luggage or any of our connections.

I rushed to greet my fiancee, Yoli Zegarra, once we cleared the baggage area. She was there along with Corina Clements, who runs El Jordán, a support and training center for street kids.

We arrived to the guest house and put away our things, and Yoli and I took Mom and Dad to see a kiosko, which is a sort of tiny store run by a woman out of a building connected to her home. Places like these are found all throughout Santa Cruz’s residential areas, which are very different from our single-use zoned neighborhoods.

After eating a quick breakfast, Yoli and I went to the market to buy some material for a dress for her mom, and an iron to give her sister for her birthday. I loved going through the markets, crowded and crazy, and riding again on the buses (to which the same description applies).

Finally all four of us made our way to the home of Yoli’s parents. It was my parents’ first ride on a bus, and their first real look at the city, since the bus route cut across the city through its very heart.

Reuniting with Yoli’s parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews was a trip. As each group arrived, I would greet them excitedly and introduced my parents.

At first it was a tad awkward since there were so many people there. In addition to being the day of our arrival, Monday was also the birthday of both Yoli’s sister Lucy and Lucy’s son “Papicho” (whose real name is Jonathan).

Doña Lucila did a great job of cooking and setting up her home. Lucy cooked some chicken (joking she shouldn’t have had to, since it was her birthday) which was absolutely delicious.

Though conversation was tough initially, it improved over time. Obviously my parents don’t speak much Spanish. And while I speak a good deal more, mine still leaves a lot to be desired (and my listening ability is still fairly low). As different family members had to leave, things got better. There was less chaos and more of a chance to focus on individuals for conversation.

We made plans to visit Noemi and her husband Alcides on Wednesday afternoon. Later that night, my dad and I will fishing go with Alcides, Don Hector, and the other two brothers-in-law (Juan, Lucy’s husband; and Boris, Eliza’s husband). I’m quite sure those three guys will try to play some trick on me. They are all pranksters (especially Alcides). But I’m sure it will still be a fun night, and we’ll certainly get good exercise practicing our communications skills since Yoli won’t be there.

Eventually I ended up playing a game of Uno with my parents, Yoli, her sister Noemi, and Lucy’s daughter Leya. I ended up the victor, though it was close.

After staying at Yoli’s house most of the day, we returned to the Avant guest house for the mission’s prayer meeting. There wasn’t a huge turnout. Many of the people I knew best were away on different trips in Bolivia or on furlough (a sort of missionary’s vacation from the field) in the U.S. Still there were a few folks I knew from my previous trip, and one guy I had met through email earlier in the fall. It was a good time.

Now I’m preparing to hit the sack. Tuesday promises to be another big day.