Sunday, September 26, 2010

Not Coca, But Basil

"It's Hard to Dehydrate Food in the Yungas, among other Things"

In Carmen Pampa, at our apartment at the UAC (Unidad Academica Campesina), most food preparation and cooking take longer than we are used to. Here is one shot of our kitchen: in the foreground are the basil leaves that are so abundant here at the college. We decided to dry the leaves so that we could store them for another time, since we can't possibly find enough recipes for the basil that we get from Rosemary, the person in charge of the organic garden across the road from our house.

Note also the water filters, two of them, in the background. We can purify five two-liter bottles of drinkable water in record time with our stainless steel water filter, where we pour the water after we have boiled it for twenty minutes (due to the altitude). To the right, you see the invaluable jar of peanut butter (brought in by visitors from the United States), as well as the other staples that belong in a typical cupboard.

We have accustomed ourselves to soaking the fruit and vegetables in a solution called DG-6, a kind of bleach that kills bacteria and parasites,. Everything takes much longer here, from purifying water, to preparing fruits and vegetables, to washing clothes by hand.

The morning commute, however, takes the same amount of time as it did when I commuted to work when living in a community outside the environs of Nashville, Tennessee. As I walk down the hill from the upper campus, Campus Leahy, to the lower one, Campus Manning, to teach my 11:00 English class, I feel that my new lifestyle is much improved over my former one, when I endured the traffic jams on Interstate 440 on the way to teach class.

Here, I slip down the mountainside (what one instructor calls a "controlled fall") in a mere twenty minutes, taking the shortcuts that the students have created, even to the extent of creating a hillside of steps cut from the ground itself, easy to go down but daunting to climb back.

At this point, the steepest part of the commute is over.

I pass the tea plantation before coming to the coffee plantation. The coffee plantation is next to the "cafetal," which is the structure where the coffee beans are dried and refined. It is an elaborately designed structure, with a large roof to protect the coffee beans as they dry. At night when we walk up the hill, the lights there are still on and people continue working there. Coffee production at Carmen Pampa is a small operation, with just enough coffee to sell to the locals (like Joel and me), but the coffee is the best that I have ever tasted.

After crossing through the other managed areas of the hillside, I cut through the pueblo of Carmen Pampa itself, weaving my way between the homes of the people living there.

Here, when I first aimed my camera at some of the ducks on the steps, the rest of the ducks scurried up to join them, as if they wanted to be included in the picture too.

I pass the cows also as I walk down to the lower campus. Finally, I pass the hog shed, where the hogs are always snorting. I feel a twinge of guilt as I walk past then, knowing that I am a huge fan of Carmen Pampa ham, the best that I have ever tasted (just like the coffee!). The ham is a cross between Tennessee country ham and Virginia ham in the United States. Joel and I buy our eggs, ham, chicken, and coffee from the farmers close by, as well as benefiting from the continual harvest of vegetables from the organic gardens here.

The recycling center itself is cutting edge, from my perspective. In effect, we have the production, processing, and recycling of our food here before our eyes. In another blog, I will give all the details of our recycling center, along with pictures. This center, like all other aspects of food production and re-use of waste is fundamental to the research projects and resulting theses of the students who study here. Joel and I are the beneficiaries of this educational process.

The schedule for us here is challenging, when one factors in the climb back up the hill to perform other duties, among them, pastoral. The problem for me is not so much that we are scheduled to do many kinds of work, like continuing to facilitate the children's library that Jean and Lee Lechtenberg established, teaching two classes, working with campus ministry, and preparing Mass and having Liturgy of the Hours every morning at 6:30 on our upper campus, but that the commute up and down the hill to attend to these responsibilities is so exhausting. As ever when one is on mission, all activities take longer to do and many activities may be shifted around on the calendar. One may prepare a class only to find that the students have been re-routed that day for a campus clean-up or a lecture that has materialized at the last moment--one that students actually should attend because opportunities for exposure to this information are limited and must be grasped when available.

Last night at the Maryknoll House in La Paz, where Joel and I stay when we come to the city, I was reading a Spiritual Directory for missioners (that I randomly found somewhere close to the chapel) and noted that two of the key qualities for missioners were accessibility and adaptability. My response to this is in the affirmative. My job here is to be accessible when and where I am wanted, and my other duty is to adapt to the circumstances of those times when I am accessed by those who may need what I have to offer.

With that lengthy sentence, I will close my blog. This weekend in La Paz, where we come to buy necessary goods for our apartment in the yungas, we have the companionship of a few friends from Carmen Pampa who came here also, as well as the conversation of a priest who has lived in Bolivia for 36 years, almost as long as our mentor Fr. Iggie Harding. Fr. Mike Gilgannon lives in the Maryknoll House and works in the department of La Paz, as a priest, educator, writer, and general administrator of programs. It is good to have the differences offered by the city in La Paz to offset our experiences in the place that we call home, Carmen Pampa. It is also good to hear the words of advice from a seasoned priest who has been in Bolivia for so long. From him, I discover that my reactions to the differences in culture are quite typical for a citizen from the U.S., and I also hear that Bolivia has been evolving over the years to a more efficient nation. I also hear of his optimism about the Morales government as well as his optimistic stories about his work in establishing youth groups, both college and high school, and new parishes to accommodate the migratory groups who are moving down into the city from the campo (countryside). I take away from the Maryknoll House his courage and optimism so that I may have a little more spring in my step (Oh those aching knees!!) as I climb back up the hillside after working in the campus below.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great description of your daily life and surroundings, Lynn. What an incredible place and what a challenge! I'd love to hear about the teaching, too, whenever you have another moment to write. Best to you both!