Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wrapping Things Up in a Certain Way

As the sun rose a couple Fridays ago, I zipped up my bags, headed to the aiport with Dan, the director of the short term mission program, boarded a plane and, 45 minutes later, landed in La Paz. This signaled the beginning of my journey home, a journey that, during my time in Cochabamba, I had both looked forward and dreaded depending on how things were going on a particular day, but that I had also begun to feel was not urgent and not necessary, at least not yet. What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that I could have stayed in Cochabamba longer. If classes weren't starting in a month, my life in Cochabamba could have rolled on for a while longer and I think I would have enjoyed it.

New city--La Paz!  Before heading back to the States, I got to explore for a couple of days.
 I even got to explore a bit outside the city....see below.
My time in Bolivia, you see, was markedly different from any other trip abroad. I wasn't a tourist, I wasn't a student, and I wasn't visiting family. Instead, I was, technically, a missionary. What does that mean? Well, I certainly didn’t go with the goal of converting people. For me, my time in Bolivia was been about presence and participation, and I think most (if not all) Maryknollers who stay in a country for a few years would say that those words also define their experiences as long-term missionaries. For all the negative connotations associated with the word “missionary” (especially in Latin America), “presence” and “participation” sit well with me, not only because my work in Bolivia really was about being present to people and participating in the life of my barrio and he city, but also because it allows for people from all walks of life to be missionaries. One does not need to be wealthy or from the United States to be present and participate. Almost anyone from any country can do it and success is almost always guaranteed.

In the Altiplano, about an hour outside of La Paz
My last week in Cochabamba was full of a lot of goodbyes, both to people I had gotten to know and to places as well. Some goodbyes were good, like the one to the shower that gave me electric shocks and to the tap water I could not drink. Other goodbyes were not so easy, in part because I felt I was saying goodbye to a lot of possibilities: the possibility of deepening frienships with people I had gotten to know, the possibility of seeing more of Bolivia, the possibility of eventually feeling self-assured in my work, of learning to barter well, of futher understanding Bolivian culture, of mastering Bolivian dance--the possiblities were truly endless.
Araceli, one of the girls who lives at Corazon del Pastor (CDP), liked to put on my hat and sunglasses and call herself "Meghan 3." ("Meghan 1" was the first Meghan-named volunteer to arrive at CDP, and Meghan 2 was me--the second to arrive.)  Araceli promises to fill in for Meghan 2 in her absence.

While I may yet have the chance to master Bolivian dancing in the States and while I certainly hope to stay in touch with the people I met in Bolivia, some of the possiblities mentioned above are probably better ascribed to the process of building a life in a country or doing longer term (as in years) mission work.

Moving to a different country is certainly more attractive than ever before, but my time in Bolivia was never about settling in for good. Instead, it was about being immersed in a new culture for a time and getting a taste of what cross-cultural mission is all about. Indeed, I think my yearning for more time in Bolivia is not only appropriate, but also far better than feeling like I've had enough of Bolivia and never want to return. For that reason, I suppose I am grateful for the bittersweet goodbyes and the reverse culture shock I'm experiencing now. At present, the challenge I face is that of continuing to nurture my relationship with the people of Bolivia, of staying connected with a culture that is not my own and with a country that is not only far away, but also very different from the U.S. I could push the challenge aside (it is, after all, not so hard to do now that I have re-entered the relatively cushy world of middle-class America), but I accept. With an open heart.

Last day at the home and my pointe shoes were as popular as ever. 
When I said goodbye, I left my shoes and toe pads at the home so the girls could keep on dancing.
An inhabitant of the Altiplano who resides at the Tiwanaku ruins. 
Maryknoll volunteers, sisters, and friends together for one last dinner
with an excellent dessert made my master baker and volunteer, Veronica Holland (sitting next to me)

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