Thursday, January 19, 2012

December Celebrations

December in Bolivia works double-time as a month of celebrations. Whereas those of us from the United States spend the month Christmas shopping, decorating our homes, and writing Christmas cards, people in Bolivia are also commemorating the rites of spring, which includes the commencement of summer vacation, graduations, and even dance recitals. In the picture below is a high school graduation, which is called a promotion. These students have completed programs in the technical arts: computer technology and fashion design, among others. In the picture below, Hermana Elsa, the head of the school, introduces the dancers who will perform during the graduation ceremony. I have seen many traditional dance performances in the past two years, and even performed myself, but this student performance was of a profession calibre.

This school is called San Francisco and Santa Clara Colegio, and the tuition is $3 a month. Because the tuition is so affordable for people of little means (and the education excellent), the parents work together, almost as a co-operative, to keep the school going, working on the school grounds and in the large beautiful garden between the buildings and the walls that surround and protect the school.

I am going to teach for the second time in my life at a high school. I had just agreed to teach English classes the next year at this school, as well as take on a catechesis class. In fact, I am at this time teaching two interim English classes in the summer session.  At the time of the ceremony, when I thought of myself as a mere onlooker, I suddenly found myself being introduced to the crowd of parents, relatives, and friends in the auditorium as the new English instructor. Not in the least a known quantity, I was the subject of applause in a room full of people whom I did not know. I had not done anything worthy yet; I had merely agreed to try to do something worthy. So I was surprised by the show of appreciation, or rather, the welcoming applause of the people whose children I was teach.

Another graduation or promotion ceremony took place the next day, Sunday. My husband and I have a young friend in our barrio. Her name is Lizbeth, and just a couple of weeks after we had moved to Cochabamba, we were sitting on the bus, talking in English, when a girl behind us asked us if we could give her English lessons. Apparently, she had been listening in and heard that we were teaching English classes. We agreed to visit her at her house sometime, meet her family, and have English conversation with her once a week. She took us up on our offer, and called us up to make these English conversation lessons happen. After being here for a year, we no longer offer private tutoring, not even to Lizbeth, but we have developed a strong friendship with her and her family.

In addition to introducing me to the shopping venues of Cochabamba, Lizbeth has been an active participant in the campus ministry film series Filmania, which Joel and I have helped to promote. The campus ministry of San Simon University, called pastoral juvenil, sponsored two film series last semester, in which we screened films and led discussions about the moral, social, and political dilemmas that emerged in the films. Lizbeth has been an avid discussant, bringing her friends and high school teachers to the film series. When we showed the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird, definitely a relevant film for us in Bolivia because of its theme of racism, Lizbeth almost finished the book in English before attending the screening. Sorry to say, the film ruined the book for her because she did not expect Tom Robinson to die at the end of the narrative.

Lizbeth was also the only Bolivian to attend our all-Franciscan Thanksgiving dinner. She takes care of our pets when we are on vacation and drinks hot chocolate in our house when it is cold and rainy outside. She introduced us to her older brother Nelson who is mastering Japanese, German, and English in his work as a travel agent in Uyuni (he is an economist by education and trade, and continues to look for work relevant to his degree). The four of us watched Happy Feet at our house one Friday night. Her parents have offered us hospitality on many Saturday afternoons (almuerzo [lunch]), as well as providing the twelve plates of food on Good Friday (a Cochabamba tradition in which families eat 12 plates of food on the afternoon of Good Friday, a plate for each disciple. While most Catholics are fasting, Cochabambinos are struggling to force down another plate of food. It should be noted that the plates do not contain meat.). We had Christmas breakfast with them as well, a meal of many varieties of sweet breads, one of which was very much like the beignets served at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

One last celebration in December: my birthday dinner. The Franciscans--the missioners and Padre Iggie--came, as well as Lizbeth and her parents (the Belizes). Fellow missioner Nora made my cake, and I received a number of thoughtful gifts.

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