Things I love about La Paz…

We’ve been here in La Paz for 6 weeks.  It has been overwhelming and bewildering, and it feels like it is EXACTLY where we’re meant to be.  I have so many thoughts I want to share. There are so many things that I have seen that I want to reflect upon and process.  BUT…it seems the most appropriate to share the most beautiful, the most amazing, the most charming and, of course, the most delicious discoveries of our time here so far.

  1. Saltenas.  These are wonderful little pockets of spicy sauce, veggies and sometimes meat contained in a sweet dough.  For a newcomer, there is no real graceful way to eat these.  They drip down your chin and get under your fingernails. You’ll likely give away what you had for lunch when you have these because there will be inevitable remnants on your shirt and possibly even pants.  All humiliation endured for sporting red spots down your front is completely worth it if it means eating this amazing creation.
     
  2. Mountains.  They are brown, red, and illimani_lapazgreen.  They are jagged and rolling.  They are everywhere.  Bits of city hide behind them and wind around them. And if the day is clear, you can see the tallest of them, Mt. Illimani, with its jagged peaks covered in snow against the bright blue sky.  Just beautiful.
     
  3. Taxis.  Where do I begin?  There is something very relaxing about being driven everywhere.  You hop into a cozy car, gaze out the window, talk to your kids and soon you have arrived at your destination.  And, if you want a little excitement along the way, just watch your taxi driver drive.  There are no words for the skill demonstrated by these men. We have made our way through striking crowds, over curbs, through alleys only inches wider than the car and many, many traffic jams.  All safely and without a single bead of sweat on our drivers’ forehead. Ahh…yes.  Taxis.
     
  4. Dogs. Everywhere dogs.  Where has God brought me that I 2017-02-19-16-14-03am SURROUNDED by dogs??  They follow you on walks, they take naps on the sidewalk.  One even entered church to join us as we were singing this past Sunday.  Anyone who knows my immense love for dogs will surely understand that this experience makes the saying, “a kid in a candy store” a reality for me. You just can’t touch the “candy”.  Ever.  No matter how cute and furry.
     
  5. Women.  The women I have met here are truly incredible.  The women of La Paz are beautiful and strong and yet very humble.  These women are insightful, gracious and extremely warm.  Women of all ages have shown me friendship, have been patient with my awful Spanish, have been eager to img_7407help me find furniture, purchase the right meat, and learn the taxi system.  One woman in particular has helped our entire family navigate through the somewhat complex immigration process.  A few years ago, she realized that it was difficult for foreigners to go through this process.  So she altered her career to help those who need it. I have found this to be the general spirit of the women here: Strong, beautiful, tough and compassionate.
     
  6. Volunteers.  I have to mention our volunteers.  What words do you use for a group of mostly college age kids whose dreams are to alleviate poverty, change the world and grab a milkshake or two along the way?  They are fun, intelligent, soft-hearted and motivated.  They spend countless hours serving, playing, laughing and praying.  These are those who will change the world.
     
  7. My Spanish Professor. I have immense respect for this man. He meets with Alex and I every day (at least for now) to teach us Spanish.  Every time we learn a new phrase or answer a question correctly, he praises us with the utmost sincerity.  He is patient and kind, and cares deeply for his family.  He has suffered loss in ways I don’t want to imagine, and yet there is a strength about him. Él es un hombre noble.
     
  8. Our Children’s School.  The kids came home after being there a week and said, “We still have not met a single mean person”.  This school was not where we initially thought we would send them (that story is for a different post!), but we stumbled file_006across a treasure. I love hearing the stories of the child from France, the boy from India, the other girl from America and the children from Bolivia all eating lunch together, learning together.  I love that they are learning traditional Bolivian dances, discussing world issues casually in the classroom and buying treats at the nearby market stand.  It is the kind of experience I had hoped for them.
     
  9. Children.  The children here are also beautiful. I know I have used the word beautiful quite a bit in this post, but I am lacking for something more appropriate.  They are large-eyed and rosy-cheeked.  I have seen children who are hungry, children who are neglected, children who are well-fed and children who are loved. They are each beautiful, they sparkle  and they love. They will give you a grin and then take you by the hand.  I am helpless against these children.  I find myself unable to tear away, unable to say no (even when offered strange fruit off a nearby tree) and unable to stop praying for them long after I leave them.  The children here are beautiful.
     
  10. Diversity.  There are colorful skirts, bowling hats perched on heads, business suits and tattered clothes. There are business men rushing, college students talking, aging vendors selling items, street performers juggling and babies strapped onto backs being carried hurriedly to some other destination.  Every class, every age, indigenous and local, rushing in every direction.  But at the same time, the pace is slower somehow. All of this diversity creates a rhythm.  And…it is beautiful.img_7331
     

I’m sure there is more I could write, but I’ll stop here for now.  If your travels ever take you to this city, I am sure you will have your own list.  There is so much to experience, and so much to enjoy!

Diversity is not about how we differ.
Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.
-Ola Joseph

Food

“Eating is so intimate…When you invite someone to sit at your table and you want to cook for them, you’re inviting a person into your life.”  Maya Angelou

We have been in La Paz for four weeks.  During this time, we have seen a good deal of the city, toured the hospital that serves the extremely impoverished, visited orphanages and halfway houses, went to places that could hardly be called houses, spent time with street children, spent a day at the park with extremely poor families and have heard countless stories of hardship and brokenness.

So, what is on my mind?  Food. Yes. You read that right. I just keep thinking about food. But before you click off of this blog in sheer horror at my shallowness, please let me explain!

stroganoff
One of my favorite recipes of Grandma’s

Food is a big deal in my family.  I was raised in a house where food was bought on food stamps and if those ran out, then you knew to expect potatoes for a few days. I was also raised largely by a Grandmother who was raised in the Great Depression.  Food was very important to her.  My kids love to hear stories about how she shared her “cow brains” with me (because ALL of the cow MUST be used).  Honestly, I was only 5 years old and I can still, with great vividness, remember how utterly (udderly??) disgusting was that experience.

They often bring that up when I ask them to eat their vegetables.  They have NO idea what a reach that is!!

My Grandmother loved to feed people.  She worked in a home for young expectant mothers who had been kicked out of their homes.  She was the cook.  I still have pages and pages of her handwritten recipes and notes that she wrote during that time. Cooking was a science to her, and form of love to be perfected and offered.  I would bring friends to her house, knowing that she would feed them. My friends still speak of her love.

snickerdoodles
There are no words for these cookies!

So back to the now.  I feel the same about food as my Grandmother.  A friend is sick? I make them soup.  They are anxious?  I make them bread, with the assurance that God never lets his people beg for bread.  I want to connect with a family? I have them over for dinner.  I pour over recipes, websites, blogs…looking for the food that will be enjoyed, accepted, received as a gift and understood as love.  I know…it’s a bit extreme. But it is.

Now, I am in a culture where I cannot read labels. I don’t know what a lunch, dinner…breakfast looks like.  I want to offer food as a gift, but the altitude seems to change everything I make.  However, I am confident that these things will resolve themselves in time. There is a larger issue in my mind…

I was at a family’s home this past Saturday who had so very little. We went there to wish their children well before school began. The visit also gave us an opportunity to make sure that the children were receiving what they need, that no abuse was evident and to give some extra love and support that might otherwise be absent.  While there, one of the older women brought me a drink.  It was an orange drink of some kind in a glass.  It was just a drink, but she smiled and I felt like I knew. I knew what this gift meant.  It was a thank you.  But I should not have drank it.  All logic told me that to drink meant to take a huge chance on germs, disease, and a major stomach reckoning in the future. I was supposed to say no to her thank you. I could not say no.  I drank.  Just a little. With a silent prayer of desperation that somehow it would be filtered and my gringo-self would not pay later.

” When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.. …Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  Luke 21:9-13

I keep thinking about this. This offering of food and drink.  This connection across culture…this universal object that so often presents itself as a gift.  I know I will have to learn to say no graciously.  The only way I can think to do that is to bring my own gift.  A gift of my Grandma’s banana bread, or snickerdoodles, to offer first.  Maybe then, they can receive my gift and, in doing so, give a gift of their own: the mutual enjoyment of food.

(Thanks Grandma…for your love)

use-it-up