Thursday, May 25, 2006

Copacabana II: Work Hard Play Hard!

On Friday, when everyone met up at Tiquina (except the Calaminas people who we were going to pick up Saturday around lunchtime), a big group of us (read: everyone but the people in charge) headed to a place called El Paraiso for a swim. Nevermind that we had to go through a pseudo garbage dump to get there, it was worth it! Of course we arrived around 5.30pm as the sun was setting, so I didn’t have the courage to do more than wet my feet – the water was freezing! Guys and girls went to two different spots 30s away from each other but separated by a few rocks and a downhill path… Pictures were taken (on the left, left to right: Luisa, Maria Elena, Ninoshka, Isa, Me, Adriana, Paola, Natalia), laughs were had, and it was time to head back for a group dinner of arroz con leche followed by a guitarrada. There was no campfire, but most people present huddled together on some steps in the middle of camp and sang along to Adolfo strumming his guitar, it was mellow and quite enjoyable (photo below left, left to right and back to front: Adri C, Clau, Luly, Ninoshka, Elen, Martin; Freddy, Adolfo, Natalia, Cinthya, Moreina; Victor, Me, Pepe, Riselli, Maria Elena, Isa, Luisa; Chicho, Sofia, Mario, Abner, Alvaro). Of course, around 11pm it started raining so we all dashed to our tents, and within 10min the mother of all storms came down upon us, moving a few tents, threatening to rip off the cover of the tent where we provided medical attention (medtent), and making everything very very wet. Surprisingly, only a few of us ran outside to help stabilize the camp! After grabbing one tent to avoid it from drifting farther away from its assigned spot and hearing Claudia yell my name, I looked right and barely had time to dive like a goalkeeper to prevent the roof of the medtent from flying off into the night! Sofia, Chicho, Luly, Claudia, Pepe, and I finally got together in the medtent once things had calmed down and shared a few brilliant laughs before deciding it was time to move on. Pepe was “on call”, Sofia, Luly and Claudia decided to go fix up the kitchen tent, and Chicho and I went to sleep. What a night!

In Copa, we set up camp on the indoor basketball court of the coliseum and after a quick visit to Church (I stayed behind with Lucho to watch the truck and our belongings) we all headed to the beach for the traditional group dinner and Baptism ceremony. The insane people swam (photo on the left, left to right: Abner, Luis, Mario, Milton, Alvaro, Pepe, Andres, Chicho) while the sane people started preparing dinner, which was Salchipapas, yum (photo below on the right: Sofia with her ton and a half of sausages to be chopped up for dinner)! I peeled potatoes, cut sausages, and switched to self-designated event photographer, haha. A fire was lit and kept alive by periodically throwing on some gasoline (no comment), and one by one all the newbies went up to be blessed by the pseudo-priest Pepe, marked with a red mercuro-cromo cross by Sofia, and given a cool little red thread bracelet by the godmother or godfather. My godfather? Pepe, who taught me the basics of First Aid and pretended to tie his shoelace so I would attend my first patient… (Photo on the left: Pepe and I during my baptism as Pepe gives me the symbolic red thread bracelet)

Other good memories:
- Sofia’s jokes... El Cojito winning the prize
- Eating trout at the market
- Having what seemed like a never ending back ache fixed in less than 7min (thank you Freddy!)
- Having three people say thank you during the debriefing
- Crossing the lake as stowaways, all piled on top of each other and covered by blankets so we would look like random material instead of people, and getting the mother of all cramps in my thigh without being able to move or make the slightest noise. Ouch!

The list goes on...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Copacabana I: Biggest Bolivian Red Cross Operative of the Year!

The Copacabana crew (left to right, back to front): Adriana C, Maria Elena, Martin, Andres, Elen (?), Victor, Cinthya, Freddy, Adri M, Luly, Luisa, Paola, Adolfo; (?), Isa, Risselli, Daniela, Moreyna, Ninoshka; Me, Mario, Abner, Alvaro, Milton; Clau, Chicho, Sofia, Natalia, Pepe.

The tradition of Easter Weekend here does not stop at an Easter egg hunt or attending Easter mass on Sunday night. A significant number of people, both of faith and not, go on a pilgrimage which takes them on foot from the city of La Paz all the way to Copacabana, on the borders of Lake Titicaca. There, a visit is paid to the Virgin of Copacabana, and a promise is made for the following year. The Red Cross has been involved in this activity for some 27 years, setting up various posts along the way (Penas, Huarina, Compi, Tiquina, Calaminas) and attending pilgrims for a few days before heading to Copacabana and having a ceremony of their own, the baptism of all new volunteers. The latter part of the tradition might be relatively new, but today it is an integral part of one of the most looked forward to events as far as a Bolivian Red Cross volunteer is concerned.

I won’t even go into all the pre-Copacabana work that had to be done, especially considering the responsibility and leadership was out to lunch and as a result a few people ended up running around like headless chickens to make miracles happen. Bottom line? We had drink donations, a brochure, enough material and food to cover everyone in every post for the whole four days, transport, and gas. Woohoo!

The trip from La Paz to the various posts was quite eventful, as a drunk driver crashed into our truck and it is only thanks to Chicho’s amazing reflexes that the damage was minimal (well, on our end – the car was totalled) and a miracle that both the driver and the woman with him (not sure if it was his wife, gf or sister – that detail got lost somewhere in irrelevance) were alive and relatively unhurt! This made Chicho the hero of the trip, though as far as I am concerned Pepe comes in close second as he was up 24h straight, driving through the night and well into Thursday to help compensate for the lack of transport caused by the truck being required as evidence by the police…

This year, yours truly was assigned to one of the two biggest posts, Tiquina. Located on the border of the Lake, it is the second-to-last post before the pilgrims make it to their final destination – and as it is the crossing-over point, it’s hard work. We arrived Thursday morning at dawn, and barely had time to set up camp before people were already asking for our help. Between Thursday morning and Friday afternoon, we attended approximately 380 cases, mostly blisters (fix-up: sew through the watery part of the blister with a needle and thread dipped in iodinized alcohol – it stings like hell but will work wonders in terms of rapid recovery) and muscular fatigue (fix-up: massage with liquid called friccion which is basically magic and includes all sorts of different meds such as aspirin, alcohol, and god knows what else). Photo above left is part of the Tiquina crew eating ice cream: Luisa, Alvaro, Cinthya, yours truly and Chicho. Missing are Paola and Pepe.

Friday afternoon everyone picked up camp and drove up to Tiquina, where everyone spent the night before going to pick up the Calaminas crew and heading to Copacabana for 36h of leisure time.

[More photos to come, right now Blogger isn't being cooperative, grrrrr.]

Monday, May 15, 2006


The course entitled “Asistente de Primeros Auxilios Avanzados” (APAA) usually takes two weeks and gives you a more complete understanding and knowledge of First Aid, including what to do in case of spinal lesion or birth! It is organized by the OFDA (Office of Disaster Asistance), a branch of USAID, and in this particular case in collaboration with the Bolivian Red Cross La Paz branch (FLP). The last time this course was offered was approximately five years ago, so you can imagine the excitement when I was invited to participate! It was supposed to be totally interinstitutional but in the end we were 12 from the FLP, 4 cops and 1 firefighter. Furthermore, it lasted three weeks because bang in the middle came Easter Weekend, which is when the biggest operative of the FLP takes place, so we had a five day hiatus during which everyone worked night and day (more about that in the Copacabana posts). Photo above left: learning what to do in case of a protruding eyeball. Turns out part of the prehospitalary treatment involves something called a donut. (As Homer would say: Donuts - is there anything they can't do? Hehe)

In theory, we had class Monday through Friday 6-10pm and Saturday and Sunday 8am-8pm. Weeknights, however, we rarely got out before 11.30pm, and weekends around 10pm, often arriving early and leaving later still in order to practice group presentations and study for exams. Not to mention that a couple nights a week at least, a few of us came back to my place to study… Intense, to say the least, but incredibly interesting and a lot of fun (thank goodness the participants all had a great sense of humour and were fun to be around hours on end!)

Photo on the left: my team in the process of immobilizing me (impersonating an old lady run over by a motorcycle) after treating a front arm fracture.

Sidenote: escaping reality with Claudia, Pepe and Sofia on the Tuesday morning before our final APAA exam was truly brilliant. ICE AGE II rocks, teehee, even though I saw it in Spanish.

Photo on left: Me all smiles after having given birth through a plastic everything to a plastic baby, with the help of attending APAA-to-be, Javier.

The APAA team (left to right and back to front): Neyda, Victor, Sofia, Martin, Pepe, Me, Ramiro, Javier, Luis, Oscar, Ale, Freddy, Ramiro M, Paola, Fatima, Luisa, Maria Elena, Ivan, Adri C, Edson, Quique, Clau, Andres & Luly. Marco's missing for some reason, maybe he is the one on the other side of the camera, ahem.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Baptism at the Hospital

On March 23rd I arrived at the Oncology ward of the Children's Hospital and much to my surprise, the buzz of excitement was out of control because the priest was on his way! Turns out Carmen, the Hospital psychologist, had organized for a priest to come in and baptise the children who weren't baptised and wanted to be... Before I knew it, I was named godmother to Roger and took part in a baptism ceremony! Thank goodness for barbijos, wearing one made it less obvious that I didn't know the words to the prayers used, sheepish grin.

Roger being baptised.

Post-Baptism fun with the camera... Left to right: Brandon's mother, Me, Wilder, Abel; in front Brandon and Carmen aka CrazyHairChuckyPerson