It looks like I’ll be spending some time in a different hemisphere before too long. Details aren’t finalized, but I think it’s safe to say I’ll be going to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, for about four months starting in January. My church has been supporting an orphanage there for longer than I can remember. I’ve been hearing about this children’s home since I was 12 years old and seriously thought about going there at other decision points in my life. This time, I’m actually going and not just listing it in my options.
If we had smilies on YAR, I’d use the one where the character jumps up and down excitedly with a giant grin.
Since this will be my first trip to the Third Word—technically I was in central Jamaica when I was three, but I don’t remember it—I know I have a lot of mental work to do in the next two months. I can never be fully prepared. I expect to be changed a lot while I’m there. But there’s no reason I can’t start that personal process in the mean time.
What/who do my fellow YARs recommend I read, listen to, watch or talk to before I go? If you’ve been to Bolivia, or Santa Cruz, or even this orphanage (like Denver), what do you wish you would have known before you went? What should I pay close attention to while I’m there? What surprised you the most? What do you wish people would ask you about?
I’m not talking about what I need to do legally or transit-wise. I’ve got that covered. Those questions are much more straightforward.
For what it’s worth, I already speak Spanish. It’s not as good as it will be, definitely, but I didn’t just let my Spanish die after graduating from college with a Spanish minor. I spent a semester studying abroad in Spain in 2003. I experienced a small amount of culture shock with that, given that Spain is a lot more like the U.S. than Bolivia is like the U.S. My questions and passions about life and faith are a little different than they were then. I’ve kicked myself plently of times for opting to go to Europe instead of Latin America. (Don’t ask. It’s embarrassing.) Through my various immigrant friends, most of whom are Guatemalan, Mexican and Columbian, I’ve already had these Nationally Debated Issues brought into a deeply personal context for me. It will be interesting to go, myself, to one of the many places from which people are emigrating.
Also, when I filled out the volunteer application, it asked if I or anyone in my family have struggled with alcoholism, drug abuse, addictive behavior or homosexuality. (Such a wonderful list in which to include sexual orientation, eh?) Since they asked… I talked about my aunt, who came out as a lesbian about ten years ago, and the turmoil that caused since she was married to my uncle and had two young children. Then I clarified that I don’t believe it’s a sin to be lgbtq (I didn’t use that abbreviation, though) and Christian standards on promiscuity apply to all people regardless of their sexual orientation, in my view. It doesn’t seem like that belief is going to stall my application, though, based on the response I received today.
The first responder to my application also cautioned me about to whom I reveal my profession. I’m going as a volunteer/tourist, but I was trained and have worked as a reporter. It’s not like I’m going to magically not be a reporter en mi ser because I’m washing dishes and wiping snot from toddlers’ noses. I have zero media contacts in Bolivia… but knowing me, if something big did happen in Santa Cruz, and I had the right sources… it’s conceivable I could write something and sell it to AP. But that’s pretty unlikely. In the mean time, I suppose I put down my profession as volunteer or something. If anyone asks what I did before being a volunteer, I’m not going to lie. I have nothing to hide.