Amanda Dorough | The Beautiful Journey


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Hope From Dust: Mexico Pt.1

I’m constantly amazed by how God uses us.  The very idea that 160 virtual strangers, with few skills and a wide age spectrum (we’re talking early teens to mid-80’s here) could come together for a week and accomplish so much is mind blowing to me.

I mean I know my way around a camera in general, can paint a picture and can plan a mean vacation, but building a house?  Let’s just say people aren’t knocking down my door to build a bird house for them let alone a people-house.

But still I go, and God reminds me that it’s not by my strength but by his that any of this can get done.  After all, “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called” right?

This years trip marked my 7th mission trip to Mexico with the group now known as Go Inc., comprised of a collection of churches from WA, OR and CA.  While normally my church flies down on Friday to meet up with the group this year the opportunity presented itself for us to go down on Thursday to help set up camp along with a few other church groups, and man was it hard work.  I’m pretty skilled at setting up a regular camping tent , and have gotten to the point where I can set one up in less than 5 minutes, no problem.  But in Mexico we don’t sleep in regular tents, we sleep in old Army tents, which are huge, and community encouraging but a beast to put together.  I never realized how much work really went into setting up camp or truly appreciated those who did it, but it’s something I will never take for granted again.

I can’t be sure exactly how long it took us to set everything up because of the sheer haze of exhaustion clouding my mind, but I would guess it was somewhere around 4 hours or so.  By 9pm that night, while everyone else stood around the campfire socializing I was back in our mostly empty tent, since the other churches we were with didn’t arrive until the next day, conked out.

tents

tents

And alas, there is no rest for the weary.  We were up bright and early at 6 the next morning ready to work again.  This year I was given the honor of leading my churches Mexico team as well as being a site leader for a team while in Mexico, something I again felt utterly unqualified for.  Part of being a leader is taking part in what we call a 2-day build, which allows leaders to brush up on their skills and the elements of building an Amor house in order the better lead their team members when we set to work the coming Monday.

The two day build is essentially a normal house build just accelerated (it usually takes us 4 days).  That first day 26 of us set to work.  While half the team worked on marking out and leveling the foundation the rest of us sorted through stacks of 2×4 and sawed them to appropriate lengths, getting ready for framing the walls later on and biding our time until we were ready to mix the concrete for the foundation.

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A really cool thing about this two day build is that it was in the same little neighborhood we had worked in the year before. At around 10 o’clock, while I was standing out in the street wrapping up the 2×4 sort this little red car pulls up and lays on the horn.  Next thing I see is a woman jump out of the car yelling “Amanda! Amanda!” followed by her 3 kids. It was Maria, the mother of the family I had built for the year before.  She had seen me from their house and had rushed down to say hi and see if any of the others were there as well.  A couple hours later I got a chance to go up and see their house, the house we had built for them, and it was pretty incredible.  They had finished the inside, putting up drywall and putting laminate on the floor.  Although small, only two rooms, it looked like a real house.  She then led me back to the small one room building that had been their house before, proudly exclaiming that it was her kitchen.  While Maria’s kitchen didn’t look like a kitchen you would find in any American house, I couldn’t help but get the biggest smile on my face.  It was a beautiful kitchen, because she loved it.

2 day build

*Photo by Alex Bateman

That first day on the two day build we were able to finish the foundation as well as a couple roof panels.  That left a lot of work for us to do on the second day, so, as soon as we arrived we got right to framing walls.  By lunch-time the house had been assembled and was ready for us to start covering the walls.  Five hours later the house had been covered in it’s first coat of stucco and was essentially finished.  While we planned on having a team come back to do the second coat of stucco later that week, we finished the day by presenting the keys to the family and officially giving the house over to them.  With about 20 hours of work total the house was technically finished and livable, and for the most part it was amateurs that built it.  That is incredible.

2 day build

*Photo by Alex Bateman

Sunday, like normal, was a day of rest.  We split up to go to different churches in the morning, my team this year once again went to The Ark, a large church in Tijuana.  The last several trips I’ve done to Mexico I’ve been able to go toThe Ark and it’s always such a blessing.  While worship is primarily in Spanish (the way I like it!) the pastor always gets the message translated for us.  This year it was especially hilarious because he kept getting languages confused.  One minute he would be preaching in Spanish and the next in English.  This gave the poor translator a tough time and us a lot of laughs.

The rest of the day was filled with memories.  Van rides with my family for the week, aka Team 5, tacos at El Flaco and palletas for desert, cold sodas and churros from the Amor Store, and just relaxing.  After 3 days of hard work it was a welcomed opportunity to rest and recharge for the week to come, and boy would it be needed.

 

El Flaco

tacos

palletas

Because there are so many parts of Mexico that deserve to be talked about, but attention spans tend to be small, I’ve decided to break this post into two parts.  So don’t fear, the story doesn’t stop here.  Stay tuned for part 2 of the story of Mexico 2014, coming in the next couple days.

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The Mexico Blog

So there I sat, on a dusty cot, a beam of sunlight sneaking under the open tent flap and searing my back.  It was weird and exhilarating all at the same time.  It had been 6 years since I had last ventured across the Mexican border, and 14 since that first life changing trip.  A lot had changed over time and on that first day I anticipated the movement that would happen that week.

Our Mexico trip this year got off to a bit of an exciting/exhausting start.  We decided to drive down instead of flying in order to cut costs.  The drive started out with momentum and smiles, making stops at Krispy Kreme and Jimmy Johns along the way, but as soon as we crossed over the California border the trouble started.  The next 30 hours involved 2 car repairs, 1 tow truck ride, 5 hours in a Walmart parking lot, little sleep, and a race to get to the Mexican border before it became to dangerous to cross.

Breakdown!

We made it.  Just in time.  We rolled into camp at 10:30 and the place was silent, everyone was asleep. Thankfully the other women in our tent had set up our cots because at that point I didn’t have the energy to do it myself.  I had just enough stored to change into my pajamas, unroll my sleeping bag and crawl into bed.  Sleep was instant.

Saturday was a workday.  It was hard, but by 6am we were up and in line for breakfast.  I was part of a group that headed out to Rosarito to finish of a handful of houses that still needed their last coat of stucco.

Stucco

The first house my team worked on was on the hill overlooking the ocean.  This family litterally had a million dollar view, but their house was the size of an American bedroom.  I was able to use my intermediate Spanish to stumble over words and speak to the family.  Five kids and three grandkids lived with them.  Crowded.

In all teams were able to finish 9 houses for families that day.  The smiles on the families faces as we loaded up vans to leave stretched from ear to ear.  It was contagious.

Love kids!

Then came Monday morning.  My team, team 12 got into our van, tools in hand, excited to get to work on the first step of constructing a house for the Diaz-Fuentes family, the foundation.

This year nearly all teams were building on the same 3 streets, close enough to visit on lunch breaks. The unity that came out of the close proximity was incredible.  Seldom was there a moment without a person from another team on your site helping you get stuff done.

Working Together

Somehow I ended up being the person on my team with the greatest Spanish vocabulary and experience.  A daunting task for me.  Maria, the mom of the family we were building for got used to me stumbling over words and putting together choppy sentences and just laughed with me.  A humbling experience to say the least.

Maria and her husband Alberto were so great to us over the 4 days of the build.  They didn’t have much.  Their family of 5 was living in a small house the size of my bedroom, but they spoiled us with food.  I didn’t have to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich once, and each day  we had a different juice cooled by ice, a luxury I had never experienced in my previous trips.  Maria said “We were blessing her with a house and happy workers work better.” She also wanted to leave a positive impression on us “so that we would come back to Mexico.”  Beautiful.

Jonathan

The rest of the week really flew by.  I didn’t feel well through most of it, so I ended up spending more time in the shade or AC than I wanted. But one of my favorite experiences came on the third day, and it’s a silly one.  We had put the frame up the day before so day three was set aside for covering the the walls and roof.  The roof had always been my favorite part of the build in the past, but this year I didn’t get up there, instead I worked on putting tar paper up on the walls using the most awesome tool I’ve ever held, a hammer tacker.  I know, some of you are out there going “really?”  There’s just something really cool about a tool that does double duty.  You would hit the stuff with it like a hammer, but a staple would came out!  I love it!  I actually decided I’m going to buy my own to bring down with me next year.

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So now it’s hard to beleive that I’ve already been home for 3 weeks.  There was something really special about Mexico this year for me.  The last time I went, in 2007, I enjoyed my time but when thinking about coming back again the next year I felt like I could take it or leave it.  I think now, that I’m established as an adult (although people still often mistake me for a youth, others tell me that’s a blessing, I have mixed emotions concerning it) and a youth leader I feel like I have a role to fill and like there’s something bigger than I can imagine that I can do through this missions vehicle.  It’s funny because I didn’t think it would ever be Mexico.  Thailand, Bolivia, Swaziland maybe, and long term, but a week trip to Mexico, nah.  Now I have a different attitude.  Already I can’t wait to go back next year.  I want to impact lives down in Mexico, but on the flipside I’m also excited about impacting the lives of youth, and I think that’s the avenue that God is telling my to invest in now.

Team 12

 

If you want to see more p pictures from the Mexico trip this year you can click here.


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2012, You Were a Pretty Great Year

It’s hard to believe 2012 is already ending.  It was a full year to say the least.  I managed to really “get around,” finding myself in 8 different countries on 4 continents.  I said goodbyes to old friends & formed lasting relationships with new friends. I moved away only to return a lot earlier than I planed and I dared to dream new dreams.

2012 you were a good year.  Here’s a look back at everything you held….

I rang in the new year with 28 members of my World Race W-Squad family at a farm on the coast of South Africa.

New-Years

Although our month in South Africa was short in terms of ministry, we were able to enjoy everything our location had to offer, primarily the incredible beach at Plettenberg Bay.

January

Then, after the longest, sweatiest travel-day ever we made it to Beira, Mozambique and the Kedesh Boys Home.  I would be lying if I said the month was comfortable, in fact it was pretty much the opposite, but the boys were incredible and truly changed me.

february

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And then it was on to Swaziland, our last country on the continent of Africa.  The living situation couldn’t have been more sweet.  I doubt any other World Race team has gotten to live at a country club/game reserve.  Oh and did I mention I went on a safari?  Because I  did, and it was awesome!

MARCH

Next we traveled onward to one of my favorite countries in the world, Thailand.  I got to make a quick stop at GES in Bangkok before heading northward to spend the month in Chiang Mai working with human trafficking rescue and slum children.

MARCH2

April brought me back to a place I never thought I would see again, Angkor Wat.  I visited for the first time while living in Bangkok in 2009, and by chance, a 4 day vacation for Khmer New Year allowed me to return again, and let me say, the ruins were just as cool as the first time.

April

But the real reason we were in Cambodia wasn’t to visit Angkor, so after our 4 days we headed south to a tiny village among rice fields called Kampong Speu.  The month was rough.  It was blazin hot and our surroundings were primitive, but we were granted the opportunity to teach english to a group of eager children and just have fun with them!

may

Next, after 10 months of traveling the world, we found ourselves in Malaysia, the last country and last month of our World Race.  The ending was bittersweet.  I was so done living out of a backpack, but saying goodbye to my new family, especially my Unchained Rhythm girls, was rough.

june

In June I found myself back on American soil for the first time in nearly a year.  Seattle was gorgeous as always…

july

… but also lonely at times, that’s why it was so great to meet up with my World Race friends for the Kingdom Dreams conference in Georgia, and celebrate my 27 birthday with some of my best friends.

july-2

In August I got the chance to shoot my first wedding, which also happened to be the wedding of one of my best childhood friends…

august

And then I vacationed with my fam in NE Washington, taking a road trip with my sis and niece on the North Cascades Hwy on the way back.  I’m always amazed by how beautiful my state is!

August2

In September I kicked my fundraising for Bolivia into full gear, but still found time to enjoy moments with my family, like going to the Puyallup fair for the first time in years!

september

In October I packed up my bags again and headed south, to South America that is.  I landed in Cochabamba, Bolivia on October 12 to begin 10 months of ministry with Hospitals of Hope, and within one week I already had a chance to visit a place on the top of my bucket list, Salar de Uyuni, and it was awesome!

october

Then, only one week later I was given the chance for another awesome experience, biking Bolivia’s Road of Death.

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I spent the rest of the fall exploring Cochabamba with friends, working at HOH’s Cafe Xelda and playing with orphans.

november

And then December came and with it came a very tough decision, the decision to end my time of ministry with Hospitals of Hope and my time in Bolivia, making it home just in time to celebrate Christmas with my family.

december

It’s been a crazy year.  A lot of ups and downs.  A lot of tough decisions and many tears shed.  I don’t think 2012 will stick out as the best year of my life, but instead it will be used as a foundation year that I can build off of, and that makes me even more excited for 2013, because I have a feeling this next year is going to rock!


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Drawing Bolivia to a Close

I’ve been home for a week now. I have to admit it still feels pretty surreal to me. There were moments during my last week in Bolivia when I wondered if I’d made the right decision. While my life in America is far from perfect, sitting here, in my bedroom, bundled up in sweats and blankets, I know I’m in the right place and I feel blessed.

Getting home was no easy task. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more stressful travel experience in my life, but at the same time God’s provision really had a chance to shine through. Getting out of Bolivia itself was a miracle. I spent 40 minutes arguing with the immigration guy over my visa. Technically I had overstayed my one month visa, however I began the extension process as soon as I arrived in the country. It was due to Bolivia’s lack of governmental organization and efficiency that 2.5 months later I still hadn’t been granted my extension. I tried to explain this to the guy (in Spanish to boot!) but he still wouldn’t budge, it was $123 fee or nothing. Oye vey!

And then there were the flight delays. My first flight from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz was delayed, although it didn’t matter much since I already had a 14 hour layover at the airport, but then, when I checked into my flight to Miami the next morning I was informed that it was delayed as well. We touched down on American soil at the exact same time my flight to Seattle left. It looked like I would be spending the night in Miami, and I wasn’t excited.

But, here’s the point where things started looking up. I made my way through customs and to the American Airlines customer service counter to get a hotel voucher for the night. When my turn came I went up to the counter, explained to the agent that I’d already been rebooked onto another flight while I was in Bolivia. She asked where I was going and when I told her Seattle she said “wait just a second, I may have something…” There was a flight leaving for Seattle via Dallas at 6:55 and I managed to score the very last seat on it (sorry standby folks!). Only issue was it was already 6:15, I needed to hustle, and I needed to call my mom! So I went in search of a pay phone (I know, I know, old school but I thought I would be living in Bolivia for 10 months so I cancelled my cell service). I went up to a TSA agent to ask if she knew where pay phones were. She got a confused look on her face, pulled out her iPhone and said I could use it. PTL! (Praise the Lord!) Next, getting through security proved to be quite a task, the line was long, as in like an hour long, an hour that I didn’t have. So I walked up to the agent guarding the priority line, I asked her how long it would take because I didn’t have much time, showed her my ticket, and she waved me through. PTL!

I made it to my flight on time, but like both my flights before, it was also delayed. Again stress began to build up inside of me. I saw my 50 minute layover in Dallas shrink more and more, and once again I wondered if I would make it to Seattle in time. So I did the only logical thing I could do in the situation. I prayed that my Seattle flight would be delayed. I just needed 20 minutes, please God delay the flight by 20 minutes.

We landed in Dallas with 10 minutes until my take-off time and a gate on the opposite side of the airport. I ran to the train and then home alone style through the airport to hopefully make it before the gate closed. I didn’t care if my bags made it, I just needed to be on that plane.

I reached gate A21 completely out of breath, and go figure, the flight was delayed… by 20 minutes. Thank You Jesus!

So, in the end I made it home at 1am on Christmas Eve. It was such a blessing to be able to spend Christmas with my family this year, and honestly, it’s a blessing to be able to experience winter. After having summer for the last 12 months this change in weather is welcome.

So this brings to a close the Bolivia chapter in the story of my life, but of course I couldn’t finish out this story without a few more picture from my last few weeks in South America….

This is what rainy season looks like in downtown Cochabamba.  There were some points where I was wading through water midway up my calf.  Yikes!

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I decorated the cafe a bit for Christmas.  Feliz Navidad!

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I joined the Christmas Choir at my church.  Nobody will be calling us for a recording contract anytime soon, but we didn’t do to bad!  We would sing a song and then there was a drama that went along with it.  It was actually pretty cool!

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And of course I couldn’t wrap up my time in Bolivia without more pictures from Casa De Amor 1 🙂

Boy did those kids love their Christmas tree!

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Sweet little F (I can’t share their real names).  I love her smile!

IMG_3977Spending time with my precious N.  I miss holding her so much!

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And then there’s G, the little trouble maker.

IMG_4000 Little A has so much personality.  It think she’s going to be a great leader one day.

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Spending playtime with spunky little R.

IMG_1049One of my favorite pictures of Katie with P.

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Playtime at the Casa!

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When the rains came, these little white flowers started popping up in the front yard every morning… they were gone by afternoon.  Weird.

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View of the waiting room in the Hospital.  If you look hard enough you can just catch a tiny glimpse of the cafe in the bottom right corner.

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And then, on my final day at the Hospital I walked outside and the place was overrun with children, hundreds of them, it was a Christmas Festival at the Hospital!

IMG_1122And for a final picture I had to give you all a look at the native Quechua woman and how they carry their babies 🙂

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So there we go, the end of the Bolivian era.  It’s hard to beleive that 2013 is already upon us.  I’m super excited for this coming year because I feel like some big things are coming, and with that there will be some big changes around the blog, but more one that later!


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When in Bolivia… Bike the Worlds Most Dangerous Road

Pictures of Bolivias North Yungas Road usually strike up one of two emotions in a person, sheer terror, or adrenaline filled excitement.

Labeled “the worlds most dangerous road” several years back due to the hundreds of deaths that occurred on it annually, the road isn’t for sissy’s. Built in the 1940’s by Paraguayan prisoners of war, most of the road is barely wide enough for one vehicle, making passing a potentially fatal event. Because of it’s narrow width, the North Yungas Road is also the only road in Bolivia where vehicles drive on the left side of the road, allowing downhill drivers to get as close to the edge as possible when needed.

Today the road isn’t as busy as it once was, thanks to a new, paved highway leading from La Paz to the city of Corioco, however you’ll still find an occasional vehicle making the dangerous trek along with dozens of crazy mountain bikers, who can be seen making the 63 kilometer ride down the worlds most perilous stretch of road.

I am now one of those crazy mountain bikers.

Visiting the North Yungas Road, aka Road of Death or Calle de Muerte has been on my “things I want to do list” for years. When I visited Bolivia last fall I desperately wanted to ride the road, but thanks to a fairly steep price, riding the Road of Death was a little to far out of my budget.

However this time around, with 10 months in Bolivia to look forward to I was determined to make it happen some way, and, couple weekends ago, thanks to an incredible gift from a new friend, I got my chance.

It really was a last minute, whirlwind trip. Our friend Angus, who had been volunteering at HOH for the last couple months was flying out of La Paz the coming Saturday, but he was spending a couple days in the city to see the sights. On Thursday night at about 7 we got confirmation from him that he’d booked a tour on the Death Road for the next day and within an hour Kristin and I had contacted the hostel about getting on the same tour, and were in Quillacollo (the closest town to us with a bus stop) buying overnight bus tickets to La Paz.

We arrived in La Paz bright and early the next morning and went straight to the hostel where we were immediately informed that the tour “unfortunately” had no more space on it. Seriously? We sat down stumped trying to decide what to do, and that’s when Angus walked in. He convinced us to go to the tours meeting spot and try to beg to get onto the tour last minute.

And guess what? It worked! And apparently the hostel never contacted the bike company. Hmm…. Some shady business going on there?

Our tour had about 20 people on it from all over the world and at 7:30 we all loaded into a van and minibus and headed up into the awe striking Cordelleria Real. Seriously, the tops of the snowcapped mountains looked close enough to touch.

After we had all unloaded and tested out our bikes we headed out on the first stretch of the ride, which is not technically on the death road (this first part was paved!), but incredible and dangerous none the less.

Where we started. We followed the road to the left all the way down through the valley.

I hadn’t mountain biked in years so at first I wasn’t confident in my abilities and was convinced I was one of the weaker riders, so I stayed toward the back of the pack, but after the first couple rides (we would stop and regroup every couple kilometers) I realized I wasn’t so bad and the need for speed soon won over. Before long I was in the front of the group, usually finishing just behind our guide and another guy from Ireland.

But when we finally reached the traditional “Death Road” everything changed. Riding on large, loose gravel is a whole other animal and I decided to take it slowly (or slower…).

40 Kilometers of the ride is on this stretch of road so by the end of the ride my bum killed me and my fingers were cramped from gripping the breaks.

But, even though the ride was difficult, the road narrow, and the obstacles plenty I never felt truly scared for my life, that is unless I rode a little to close to the edge. I mean, hit one rock and you’re done. No more Amanda, adios! Thankfully that didn’t happen, and actually my entire group made it the whole length of the road without an injury, minor or major, which apparently is a pretty huge deal.

On the famous “postcard point.” I’m one of the ones sitting on the edge in the front.

Once we reached the end of the road outside of Corioco we were all sweaty and hungry. Over the course of the last few hours we had descended from 4,700 meters to 1,900 meters and had gone from the high Andes to the Amazon, and let me tell you, the Amazon was hot!

Kristin, Angus and I after riding for hours.

Our bike riding was officially done for the day, so we loaded back in the vehicles and headed a couple minutes down the road to an animal rescue center/nature reserve where we were going to have lunch/dinner.

The place was pretty unreal. Parrots and monkeys roamed around freely, and when we were finished eating we were able to go swimming in the local river. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to wash the sweat off from a long day.

In my opinion, we didn’t get enough time at the last stop, but we had to start heading back to La Paz eventually and because our bus driver wanted to take the old road back (aka, the official Death Road, aka the one we just rode down) in my opinion the more sunlight we had the better. Thankfully our driver was one of the most experienced, if not THE most experienced driver on the road, so we were in good hands, although there were a few turns I had to close my eyes on. At one point he stopped and opened the door of the bus, and we had maybe 4 inches between us and a very, very, very long drop. Yikes!

But alas, we didn’t die (Thank you Jesus!) and now I’ve lived to tell the tale. All in all the Death Road ride was incredible. Probably one of my most exciting experiences ever and one I definitely recommend.

My last few weekends here in Bolivia have been a lot quitter, spent in Cochabamba instead of traveling around the country and I’ve really enjoyed the chance to relax and dig into the community a little deeper, but more on that in the posts that come!

And speaking of posts to come, just a quick note on my blogging situation here. The internet, as I alluded to before I came is not the fastest so I’m forced to leave a little more time between posts than I would like simply due to the sheer frustration I feel every time I try to put one up, but keep watch because I have a lot to share with you all!


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El Dia De Los Muertos

Last Friday was El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

Chances are you’ve heard of the DOTD before.  Maybe you’ve even gone to a party, because honestly, in North America we simply see the day as another excuse to celebrate.

Here in South America the Day of the Dead is a serious and major holiday stemming back hundreds of years.  It’s a day to both remember your departed ancestors, and to pray for their souls, because, in the minds of South Americans there’s a great chance that their love ones won’t get into heaven if they don’t attempt to intercede on their behalf.

In modern times, on the DOTD most families will set out a table covered in their departed loves ones favorite foods.  If a fly comes and lands on the food the insect is seen as their ancestor coming to enjoy the meal.  In Bolivia there are a lot of flies, so getting one to land on the food isn’t a problem.  Then later that night the family eats the food that has been sitting on the table.

On the DOTD families will also visit the graves of their loved ones in the local cemetery, covering tomb stones with flowers or paying local children to cry and plead and pray for their family member (because children are seen as innocent and pure of heart, the DOTD is actually a pretty lucrative business day for kids).

Many years ago, in the countryside of Bolivia the DOTD had a more morbid tradition.  Late at night family members would go to the local cemetery, dig up the remains of their dearly departed relative and carry it under their poncho to the local cathedral so that it could be blessed.  No joke.  But the government has recently outlawed this practice hoping to stall the spread of disease.  It makes me wonder though, if maybe the tradition lives on in some remote places….?

This year I was able to witness my first Day Of The Dead.  Because it is such a large holiday doctors didn’t hold consolations in the morning which meant the hospital was essentially closed except for emergencies and also meant we got the day off.

The other volunteers and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon with a local youth group at a pool a few blocks from the Hospital. When we were walking back we could hear loud music thumping in the distance, and when we got close to the hospital we could see dozens of cars parked in front of it.  At this point two things went through my mind, either there was a HUGE accident, or there was a party at the Hospital.  But when we reached the hospital the party wasn’t there.

So where was the party?  Well at the cemetery of course.  That’s right, and they only thing that lies between the hospital and the cemetery is a field.

To give you an idea of how loud the music truly was, the house that had the speakers pumping literally took the entire villages power, so we arrived back at the guesthouse without a lick of energy to cook, entertain, nothing.

So what do you do when the powers out and it’s starting to get dark?  Check out the party of course.  Well, really we decided to go check it out because we were curious about what it was like, not because we were in the mood to party.

As we got close to the cemetery we noticed more and more food stalls had been set up.  Drunk men cat called from every direction, yes we felt very out of place.

Walking through the cemetery was an incredibly weird and creepy experience.  People here aren’t buried very well or very deep. In America our cemeteries are neatly laid out on grid system but in Bolivia, at least in the countryside where I live, they just bury people wherever the heck they can find space.  I was more than a little unnerved having to step on so many obvious graves.

In the end am I happy I got a chance to see the celebration?  Yes, it was definitely interesting, but more than that, I am so, so, so happy for the hope I have in Christ.  For the knowledge I have that Christ died for my sins and my families sins so that I don’t have to continually pray for their salvation and admittance into heaven once they’ve passed on.

And now, I’m praying for as many opportunities to share that hope I have with the people I meet here in Bolivia so that maybe come next Dia De Los Muertos they will be praising God for what they’ve been given instead of praying out of desperation.

 


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Where Heaven Meets Earth

There’s a place, near the top of the world where endless expanses of blue sky meet an endless blanket of white. The place is surreal, incredible, gorgeous…. It’s like no other place on earth and you almost feel like, if you could jump high enough, that you could reach heaven.

God truly had a special plan in mind when he created the salt flats outside of the Bolivian town of Uyuni. An endless expanse of white crystals that stretch on for miles and at the center reaches a depth of 150 meters. In case you’re wondering, thats a lot of salt.

I first saw a picture of Salar de Uyuni about 5 years ago and it was immediately placed at the top of my bucket list. Like I said before, the place looked surreal, and the photography opportunities seemed endless. It was a special kind of paradise.

Over these last few months, as I planned my return to Bolivia I have to admit, there was a piece of me that hoped that sometime during my 10 months in the country an opportunity would pop up for me to visit the salt flats, I had no idea it would come only a week after my arrival.

When I arrived at HOH there were 4 other volunteers. Two of them, Angus and Allison had already been here for two months. They’d traveled around the country and had made a failed attempt at getting to Salar de Uyuni, so before Angus left last week they wanted to try one more time. I just happened to arrive at the perfect time.

So, two fridays ago, a week to the day since I arrived in Bolivia we packed up our backpacks and boarded a bus to Oruro and then a train to Uyuni. It was a long travel day to say the least and it included a dramatic change in both altitude and temperature. We left the spring-like climate of Cochabamba and were greated by 40 degree temperatures in Uyuni. Brrrrrrr.

The next morning, after making a quick stop at our tour companies office, and at the market to buy necessities like water and toilet paper, we all loaded into a Toyota 4×4 along with an Aussie guy named Scott and headed out into the flats with a brief stop at a train cemetery and a salt processing factory along the way.

Playing on the trains at the Uyuni train cemetery.

The company gave us a bag of props to use for pictures so we had a lot of fun taking perspective shots on the flats.

After eating lunch in a retired salt hotel, taking a bazillion pictures and watching our driver/guide/cook Orlando fix our flat tire we headed deeper into the flats, making a stop at Fish Island, which is covered in giant Cacti, and thankfully, had a bathroom.

Fish Island

After our hike, we drove further into the flats, and further away from the horde of other tour groups. This gave us a chance to stop and really take some fun we’re in the middle of nowhere photos, and also gave us a chance to see the sunset over the flats.  So gorgeous.

That first night our accommodations were pretty awesome. We got to stay in a salt hotel just to the side of the salt flats. Literally everything was made of salt. The walls, chairs, tables, beds (although we had a real mattress thankfully), it was pretty awesome.

Relaxing on a salt bench, next to a salt wall in the walt hotel.

The next morning we took off into a landscape beyond the salt flats, skirting the border of Chile for most of the day. Our first stop was at the ancient lava fields of an active volcano, half in Bolivia, half in Chile. If you looked really close you could see a little plume of steam rising from the west side of the volcano, but don’t worry, it didn’t erupt.

Then we were onto the first of many lagoons, and I got my first glimpse of my highly anticipated flamingos. The setting couldn’t have been more gorgeous. Aside from the fact that the locals call it “Stinky Lake” (in spanish of course) because of the lakes sulfur content, the surrounding high peaks and bright pink flamingos made the location perfect.

After lunch we were off again, and we truly learned why these tours are taken in 4×4’s. The landscape and driving was pretty rough, climbing over rocks and falling into holes, but our next 2 stops were totally worth it. First we made a brief stop at the Stone Tree. Formed from a rock that had been worn away over time by wind and erosion, it was a pretty cool site to see, then we were off to an even cooler stop, Laguna Colorada, aka Red Lake. Yes ladies in gentleman, it’s not a photoshop job, the lake really is that red. It looked as though someone dumped a million cans of Campbell’s tomato soup in it, incredible.

That’s one big stone tree!

Flamingos in Laguna Colorada

After a long day of driving, the laguna was our last stop and we drove 5 minutes to our hotel for the night, which was unfortunately made of bricks, not salt. The hostel itself was entirely unimpressive other than the fact that we froze our butts off. When we woke up at 4:30 the next morning (a ridiculously early start) it was well below freezing, and as we took off into the martian landscape I couldn’t help but notice we were driving over frozen puddles. Brrrr.

We drove up, and up and up until we finally reached an altitude of 5,000 meters (aka 16,404 for you Americans), enter altitude sickness, fun. As Orlando was explaining the altitude we managed to run over a boulder, yes a boulder, but the 4×4 handled it. That’s one tough vehicle!

Our first stop for the day was only a couple minutes past the 5,000 meter point at some geysers. We got out to take some pictures, and the minute my foot touched the ground I immediately wanted to jump back inside. It was freezing. Take the below freezing temperature and add a 40 mph wind on top of that and you get a mighty cold atmosphere. So, I snapped a couple pictures and two minutes later I was back in the SUV, shivering and waiting for my crazy friends to return.

I didn’t have to stay cold for very long because our next stop was at a natural hot spring. Yes the few minutes between taking off my layers and jumping into the water was a bit cold, but the temperature of the water couldn’t have been better. We didn’t want to get out! Alas, we had a 30 minute time limit, bummer. And once we’d put all of our layers on again we were off driving through the Dali desert and on to Laguna Verde and the border of Chile.

An interesting fact about the Laguna, no flamingos live in it because it gets it’s unnatural green color from Aresenic. The lake is full of it, so don’t get to close! The color of the water was less than impressive while we were there because apparently it was the wrong time of the day, but again, it was cold and windy so I only stayed out to take pictures for a minute.

After the lake we were supposed to drop Scott of at the Chile Border crossing, an activity I was really looking forward to because you actually have to cross into Chile to get to the guard post (hello, country 37!), but, since he was the only one in our car going to Chile he was moved to another car to save time. So instead, I was forced to look at Chile, a mere 500 feet away, as we turned around and began the long trek back to Uyuni. It was a day devoid of sites, except for a herd of llamas that showed up when we took a break for lunch, so we were just able to rest as we rode back.

We had to spend a few, freezing, hours in Uyuni before we were able to board our 1 am train back to Oruro and once we reached Oruro the next morning we were greated with a blockade, a common site in Bolivia. Usually they occur only in specific cities, but this blockade was a national one, so we weren’t able to get a bus back to Cochabamba until that evening. We spent the day wandering around Oruro, but unless you’re there during Carnival there really isn’t anything to see.

It’s crazy to me to think I was able to have this incredible adventure my first week in Bolivia. I feel so blessed by everything God has given to me so far, and I’m excited to share with you about the adventure I was able to go on this past weekend as well, and even more I’m excited to share about the ministry that’s going on here. So stay tuned. I have more to come!

If you want to see more picture from Uyuni you can find there on my facebook here, and soon on my flickr page here.


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Home Sweet Home & The Story of One Nutty Travel Day

I made it!  I’ve officially been in Cochabamba for two days now, and man, it’s hotter than I remembered!

Ove years worth of stuff crammed into 3 bags and a back pack. No bad if I do say so myself.

Getting here was no easy feat.  The travel day was nuts to say the least and I feel like there are so many things I could tell you about it.

Like I could tell you about how we sat on the plane in Seattle for over an hour waiting for the baggage to get loaded since American Airlines only had one baggage crew.

I could tell you about all of the awesome people I got to sit by on the way down, from the two middle aged men I sat between on my way to Dallas, to the Microsoft marketing pro I sat by on the flight to Miami, we had some great conversations.

I could tell you about how both domestic American Airlines planes I flew on were nicer than the one to Bolivia.  That thing was seriously a dinosaur, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the oldest plane in the American fleet.

Last meal in the states. Chicken nuggets and a frosty. Yum!

I could tell you about how we had already taxied onto the runway for my flight from Miami to La Paz when the Captain came on the speakers letting us know that the center fuel pump had stopped registering so we had to return to the gate so that maintenance could look at it, and how an hour and a half later he comes on again to tell us they only had to flip a switch and the problem was fixed (ya right *).

Or how about the fact that I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on that flight that didn’t speak Spanish fluently, even the cabin crew was from Buenos Aires, so I found myself having to answer questions and give my drink/meal orders in Spanish a lot earlier than I expected.

What a beautiful sunrise!

I could tell you about how after about three hours of sleep I woke up to sunrise over Lake Titicaca and snowcapped Andes Mountains.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.  God is an incredible artist!

Or about how on the “full” flight to La Paz the middle seat in my row happened to be open, allowing me to stretch out more (praise Jesus!), and how on the next flight from La Paz to Santa Cruz my whole row was empty so I was able to scoot over to the window seat and stare in awe at La Paz and the high Andes as we flew over them.

La Paz is at the top of the world, literally.

Oh, and then I could tell you about the point, in the Santa Cruz airport when I went to call my contact, Neco, and I noticed a long line at the American Airlines counter, then I heard a woman talking on the phone in english next to me (I wasn’t eavesdropping I promise!  I was just so caught off guard to hear english), she was telling her friend that there was some sort of *maintenance issue with the plane that they couldn’t fix immediately and the flight to Miami had been cancelled.  Ya, that’s the plane I just got off of.  Hallelujah that I made it to Santa Cruz in one piece, and my bags made it too!

Or how about the time I had to wait, with all my bags for 6 hours before I could check in to my flight to Cochabamba, which meant no bathroom for 6 hours, man that sucked.

But when all was said and done I finally made it to my new home in the countryside outside of Cochabamba.  It’s been a quiet weekend.  The first night everyone was gone except for Elma, Necos mother (Neco and his wife Rose are the guesthouse hosts).  She only speaks Spanish so getting settledled in was an experience.  Yesterday Neco, Rose and their two boys came back from visiting family, and sometime today all the volunteers should get back, so things should liven up!

Things are definitely different around here compared to last time, but I’m excited.  This year I’m going to be stretched a lot, but I know God has good things in store!


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My Big ‘Ole Bolivia Q&A

I officially leave in a week, which means I’m going to get crackin’ on my packing list AND that I felt it was high time to answer all the questions I’ve been asked over and over again, so here you go, I hope this answers yours!

1.  When are you leaving and how long will you be gone?

I leave Seattle at 7:20am on October 11, and after 5 flights I should arrive at Hospitals of Hope some time in the afternoon of the 12.  This will be my first international flight alone in quite awhile so it will be interesting.  And then I’ll officially be returning to the US on August 7, 2013, just under 10 months later.

2.  What’s the name of the city you’ll be living in again?  Chochbonga?

I’ll be living just outside of Cochbamba, Bolivia in the village of Vinto (pronounced Bean-toh).  It’s about a 40 minute Trufi ride (the public transportation) from the city center.

Cochabamba

Look out at Cochabamba from the Christo statue at the south end of the valley. If you find the highest point in the mountains and follow it down and to the left to a yellow patch, that’s the area where the hospital is!

3. Where will you be living?

While I’m with Hospitals of Hope I will be living in the hospitals guesthouse, located about 100 feet behind the hospital.  The building used to be an orphanage, so it’s huge, and with the Andes Mountains dramatically rising up behind it, the view isn’t to bad either.

4.  Will you have internet?

Yes, however, like most things in Bolivia it’s unreliable.  When I was in Bolivia last fall our internet at the guesthouse/hospital would work about half the time.  So if we set up a Skype date I’m just warning you, there could be a chance we’ll have to reschedule.  If the wireless goes out enough I will also have the ability to go to a cafe in the city to use their wireless, or to an internet cafe down the street from the hospital, so being offline should never be a huge issue.

5.  What’s the weather like there?

Hot… and cold.  Cochabamba is nicknamed the city of eternal spring because of its mild weather.  Typically it can get into the 80’s during the day year round and then down to the 50’s or 60’s at night except during the winter (June-Aug) when it can get down into the 30’s.  The key to surviving in this weather is definitely going to be layers!

6.  How much money do you still need, and when do you need it by?

Which I don’t have specific deadlines like I did on the world race, the basic answer to this question is that I need the remaining money as soon as possible.  I still have $3200 left to raise and the sooner that money is raised the sooner my focus can be on my ministry alone instead of fundraising, so I’ve set my deadline to have it all as Nov. 1, 2012.  I’ve seen God raise $4000+ for me in 10 days, so I know it’s possible!  The only way I will be able to so ministry in Bolivia for 10 months is if this money is raised so if you or someone you know when like to help further the kingdom and change lives in Bolivia please consider donating.  You can find out more on how to donate by clicking the donate button at the top of the website.

7. Can we send you letters or care packages?

Yes, but not the traditional way.  Bolivia has a notoriously unreliable postal system, so everything sent down to me must come down with volunteers.  So, if you’re thinking of sending something contact Daniel, Hospital of Hopes international missions coordinator at daniel@hospitalsofhope.org and he will let you know which upcoming volunteer you can send it to!

So, I hope that answers all your questions!  If you have any more let me know and maybe I can do a part 2!

Oh & P.S. I now officially have everything from my needs list, including the 18-55mm lens.  God is so good!


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You May Call It Being Anal, I Call It Being Prepared

I haven’t always been a prepared packer.  Take for instance the World Race.  The week before I left my life suddenly got very crazy and in turn I kinda lost my mind, haha.  The day before I left I was shopping and when I came out of the store to get into my car I couldn’t find my keys anywhere, so I had to call my mom to come and bring an extra set.  It turns out my keys were in one of the pockets of my purse, the purse I took on the Race, which means I took my car keys on the Race with me.  Fail.  But it goes even farther.  I may have brought my car keys with me, but I managed to forget other things I actually needed.  Epic fail.

Moving to a different country is a pretty big deal, and this time I didn’t want another packing failure on my hands, so, to help me out I made a pretty extreme packing list.

And yes, I did draw half the things I’m bringing with me.  That’s just how my mind works, I’m a visual person.  Some of you might think my list looks like chaos, while others may see extreme organization, but I look at it and it just makes sense.  I see what I need, and I know exactly what needs to be in each bag…

Looking at these lists, it may seem like I’m packing a lot, but I am fully willing to edit. However I’ve done the whole living out of a backpack for a year thing, and now that I have a chance to have options, I’m going to take it!

And if a giant packing list isn’t enough, this time around I decided to take it another step further, yes, I made a packing to-do list, but one things for certain, I’m going to be one organized girl when I get to Bolivia and I’m going to be leaving a pretty organized life behind me.

Now the challenge is execution.  I mean, it’s one thing to make a packing/to-do list, it’s a whole other animal to follow through with it!

So here I go. I officially leave in 11 days, my list is done, I guess it’s time to get packing!