Friday, August 16, 2013

Life as a volunteer in Mallasa

Over the past 7 weeks that I’ve been working in Bolivia, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the most interesting and wonderful characters during my daily commute from Jupapina to Mallasa.
Walking out of the calle 4 onto the main street of Jupapina is always a distance which I seem to misjudge, forgetting the long deserted football field across which I often encounter an old, friendly indigenous couple. The señora is always quick to apologise for her deaf husband’s lack of communication with the most sincerest of smiles.

Miriam with children from the Centro Infantil
When I arrive at the Centro Infantil, my rushed journey there is often reflected by a little girl called Anita in my class. Her favourite game is to mimick the calls of the micro-bus drivers; “A MALLASA, MALLASA, MALLASA! A LA PAZ, CALACOTO, LA PAZ!”.  The often chaotic micro-buses are a prominent feature of their lives! When the wee girls are not playing this game, they are wrapping up their teddy bears in their jumpers and tying their jumpers around their shoulders, an endearing representation of the cholitas of Bolivia.

After the Centro Infantil, I have 2 more hours getting to know the most dynamic children in Mallasa at Nuestro Espacio, an after-school club for children aged five to eleven. Our first encounter as we walk into Nuestro Espacio is toothless little 6-year-old Luis. My fellow volunteer, Dan, and I spend no less than five minutes trying to understand him, as he looks up at us from his height of about 3 ft 6 inches and big brown eyes, saying “PIS PIS”. After much confusion, we eventually realise he needs to go to the toilet.

Later on, an activity involves writing down our favourite things in the world; persona, cosa, lugar, y comida. It is time for timid 5-year-old Estefani to explain her drawing to us: a small baguette-shaped grey and black object which we are all struggling to comprehend. We are all equally startled when she reveals in the smallest little voice that this is a drawing of a chainsaw- her favourite thing in the world. I was hoping this was simply a case of bad translation but Estefani’s older brother Edwin insists that it is correct.

There has been a blockade in La Paz today and I gather that this is a semi-regular occurrence due to the lack of shock or surprise when I complain about the transport. As Lee and I finish Nuestro Espacio we are preparing to walk back to Jupapina from Mallasa, a 30 minute walk which I am far too exhausted to do! Fortunately two beautiful and friendly local girls from the Intercambio exchange, which we run at the local school each week, pick us up on their way home to Jupapina. The conversation is an animated ‘mezcla’ of Spanish and English as we both attempt to practice our respective second-languages!

On the way home I stop into the shop across the street. Each day I pop in to buy some eggs and bread. Much like other Bolivian shops, the bread is always slightly stale (despite the insistence that it was brought in freshly baked at 2 in the afternoon), but each day I look forward to the warm exchange with the kind-natured shopkeeper after a full day’s work.

All across Bolivia the streets are infested with corner shops called “Su tienda amiga” (“Your friendly shop”). Normally, this can only be regarded as ironic since Bolivian shopkeepers are not particularly well-known for their friendliness. However, across the road from us, our “Su almacen amiga” is run by a wonderful woman, Sabina. Sabina was a member of the peace-corp and always has a gentle laugh gracing her mouth when she speaks. Today, Sabina tells me she has a headache, shaking her cabeza with a slightly more forced smile than usual.

Life here in Jupapina and Mallasa can often move along at a frustrating pace for a London girl, but I gain genuine satisfaction from the beautiful and happy people here that I encounter each day.

Written by Miriam Malek
Edited by Sarah Cassidy

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1 comment:

  1. Your post transported me straight back to La Paz. Wonderful observations and a very vivid description!