We are leaving Carmen Pampa, where we had anticipated that we would stay for the entire three years of mission. However, considering all the variables, our organization, FMS, and we decided that we should return to Cochabamba to serve in the urban ministry there. I want to take this time in my blog to highlight those major events that I both witnessed and took part in at this Unidad Academica Campesina, UAC, one branch campus of the Catholic University of Bolivia.
The Intercarreras, which means “between the majors” (carrera also means "race"), was the university's celebration of the school’s anniversary. Each one of the six majors here, including pre-university, competed in sports (volleyball, futbol [soccer], and basketball [women’s]), theatre, karaoke, and dance (both traditional Bolivian dance and modern). The loud cheering of the students for their own teams in the competitions reminded me of high school pep rallies, with gigantic banners and each group donning its carrera colors.
I was surprised by the intensity of the competition, as well as unprepared for the way that it would pre-empt classes. As I mentioned in the previous blog, one of my classes was cancelled because students had to select their carrera’s Mr. and Ms. Carmen Pampa candidates. Students missed classes so that they could go to skit and dance practice. I myself rushed into class one day after a strenuous forty-five minute dance practice (I danced the morenada, a dance that involved just a few variations of dance steps, designed in terms of costume and exertion for young to middle-aged women). Arriving afterwards in the classroom, I not only looked disheveled-- had been pulled away from my class preparation in order to practice the dance--my my brain was disheveled.
Everything stopped the Wednesday of the week of the anniversary celebration. All students, faculty, and staff were mandated to attend the official opening of the new women’s dorm. The area in front of the dorm, and behind our apartment, had been newly grated and graveled. The perfectly landscaped dorm shone in its pristine beauty. After many speeches, some Afro-Bolivian music, and a play that dramatized the plight of the poor, Andean student who was welcomed with open arms and a beca (scholarship) into the university, many of the participants danced in the hot sun, glad that they could celebrate the bounty represented by the new building, provided for the most part by USAID (Aid from the United States). After the celebration, all of us in the audience were able to troop into the new dorm to see for ourselves the dormitory rooms, shining bathrooms, and study rooms. All the women living on the upper campus would live in the new residence, which would open up more room for all and enable more students to come to Carmen Pampa.
The Minister of Coca, a dignitary from USAID, another dignitary, and Padre Freddy, president of UAC-Carmen Pampa, perform the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
All of us listening to the speeches during the ceremony. If you enlarge this, read the sign about campesino education and note that I am standing up against the wall.
A dramatic reenactment of two parents learning that their daughter will be able to attend college at UAC-Carmen Pampa.
Padre Israel, on the right, touring the new dorm with the rest of us. Israel is a priest as well as a student in the agronomy department. He is a dedicated priest and a friendly, unassuming person.
Each night brought a new competition: drama, dance, and karaoke. The theme receiving most air play was violence in the home. Alcoholic fathers were the source of much of this violence, which reflected a significant social problem in Bolivia. The nursing students presented a satire on the cholitas in the marketplace. Although I couldn’t make out all of the language, I had been to the marketplace enough to laugh at the satire, one which I as a gringa would not dare to make.
The entire university was out in force for four days, From Thursday, September 30th (actually on the 29th, if one counts the “ribbon cutting” of the new dorm) until Sunday night, activities began at 7:00 a.m. and ran until 2:00 in the morning. There was a celebration of the transitus of St. Francis also, when all of us created a natural setting for the St. Francis statue, along with his dog (or domesticated wolf). Just before Mass, a hummingbird flew into the sanctuary and began drinking the nectar of the cut flowers that we had placed in the “woods” surrounding our saint. Joel took many pictures of the hummingbird, but in only photo is one able to see it easily.
The festival industry in Bolivia is a booming business. On the Sunday when we were to dance on the soccer field, all of us had paid for and donned our costumes. As a morenada dancer, I had a lot of trouble braiding my graying hair to complete my outfit (green polera skirt, lacy white blouse, green pointed high heels, dangling earrings, and the typical female bowler hat. A visiting friend of one of Joel’s students took me to the eco-tourism dorm to braid my hair, from scalp to tip of the hair. Using a lot of water, many little rubber bands, and finally putting the tassels at the end of my trenzas (braids), she became a very good friend in the meantime. We talked about the difference between her university experience in La Paz and her friend’s in the campo, as well as about our beliefs as Christians. She wanted to use her English, which was impeccable, and I was only too glad to listen to and talk with her.
Our dance began on the stony road in front of the church and proceeded to the soccer field. I danced with the school’s lawyer, the Columbian missionary Manuala, and Lucia, who worked in the main office, along with the school nurse/librarian Danny, the head of the organic gardening Rosemary, and my department head, Ximana. All of us were mutually supportive, dancing in very high heels on a road that I had difficulty walking on in my walking shoes. But on and on we danced, the force of peer pressure on another, and the all-for-one, one-for-all mentality. We looked pretty good, although one step continued to confuse me.
The whole school danced. Dancing was, it is true, mandatory, and all of us had to pay for our not-inexpensive uniforms, but it was with a sense of solidarity that staff, faculty, and students danced. Joel was the official photographer, and his pictures caught all of us in action, a bit winded, overheated, with blisters forming on our feet (mine remained there for a month), but grinning as we dipped, waved our hands, and swayed to and fro. I thought of the subversive nature of some of the native dances, the dances that depicted the enslavement of the African slaves brought to Bolivia, as well as the indigineous men and women forced to work for the Spanish. The rattles of the dancers stood for the clattering chains of the slaves, and the long tongues on the masks showed the slaves’ exhaustion. One costume of the male dancers was comprised of a series of decorative circles that completely hampered all movement except for the dancing of the feet. Other dances stemmed from the European heritage. My own costume was drawn from the costumes of the choleras of the Andes, the polera skirt being the same skirt worn by peasant women in Spain, and enforced on the indigenous women in the Andes. The bowler hat was a fashion foisted off on the women, and one part of my dance, which clashed crazily with the costume’s history, was my own fascination with my own jewelry (which I had failed to purchase or borrow). The women who danced this dance were wealthy women who had inherited the skirts of enslaved women, but whose lace and jewelry, along with the bowler hat, bespoke pride in wealth.
I am including other pictures of my friends, students, and colleagues, who also danced:
Here are Carlos and Gladys, our upstairs neighbors. Both of them work for the university and have a toddler,
Our students in eco-tourism
Doctora Wendy, our campus physician,
on the left; Desiderio, professor in agronomy; and Ximena, head of eco-tourism.
on the left; Desiderio, professor in agronomy; and Ximena, head of eco-tourism.
Cheering students during the night competitions. As one might guess from the skeleton dressed in red, the color of the nursing major, these are the nursing students.
Modern dance also asserted itself in the later competitions. These young students are talented dancers!
After days of competing in sports, dance, theater, and karaoke (our major won in karaoke!), we had a lot of difficulty calming down from the festivities. It was only after the intercarreras Joel and I were caught in a blockade in La Paz and missed two weeks of classes. After three weeks of vacation, one could say, the two of us were able to resume our work in the classroom. Our students have now headed home for summer vacation, have gone to other universities for more school work, or are on the job market. The students in eco-tourism were a tight-knit , hard-working group, andwe hope to cross their paths in the future.