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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

A series of reflections in the 2nd person.

En Route to the Indigenous Nueva Vida Community.

You are crammed in the back row seats of a bus, your body folded between Hoi, Chumby, and 3 day packs. Hoi has run out of mate (a traditional tea, and a staple drink of the trip) so your spirits are spiraling down into the abyss. But then, you hear an uncanny warbling from a few rows ahead. It is mystical. It is magical. It is Inbal. And she is singing the first section of your unofficial official group A anthem, Bohemian Rhapsody. You feel it. The overwhelming urge to burst into flamboyant song. It fills you from head to toe. A chorus of shouts bursts out around you and you are propelled to join in: “Figaro!!! I will not let you goooooo. Figaro!!!” So you bounce up and down in the back seat of a bus as you traverse unpaved back roads and attempt to sing songs that are tremendously out of your range at the top of your lungs and although you haven’t pooped in three days, you are content.

Nueva Vida Day 1
It is seven in the morning. You wake up in a tent. In a church-school-house-hybrid that you helped to convert into the sleeping space for the entire Dragons group the previous night. You are in that unpredictable space between sleep and consciousness, yet you are aware that Benito’s foot is a smidge too close to your mouth. Should you bite it? Definitely! But you are distracted by what happens next. A bell rings and excited children’s voices surround you. Some kids are running outside, others are in the church-school-house hybrid climbing upstairs, and even more, have already made it upstairs and are romping and stomping and playing the recorder directly above your head. You think I need to sleep and close your eyes. But then you hear it: not one, not two, but three roosters doing rooster morning activities right outside the screened window. COCKA DOODLE DOOOOOO. You think, I need to sleep, and close your eyes. But then you hear it. BAWK BAWK BAWK. It is a hen. The rogue hen is inside the church-school-house-hybrid and is heading directly for your tent. You mentally prepare for the worst-what ever hen inflicted terror that may be. But then it veers left at the last second and makes a b-line for Emma’s and Isaac’s tent. You are safe, at least for a moment. And in that brief respite, you wonder at the once in a lifetime alarm clock you have just experienced. You know it’s going to be a great day.

Nueva Vida Day 2
It is the evening, and everyone else is already asleep. You are still approximately 12 hours away from the unsavory realization that you have achieved laxative immunity. But for now, you remember that it has been 5 days since your last deposit. Is tonight THE night, you wonder. You peer outside. Cicadas and moths and mosquitos swarm in the soft light, and you are reminded of the bites that cover your arms, legs, and ankles. You are tempted to itch. It is very, VERY tempting. But you have a new priority now. This is your chance. And you take it. You fling open the screen door and trollop across the yard to reach the bathroom in record time. Approximately 30 seconds, to be semi exact. You are used to the smell by now, but it still catches you off guard. Earlier that day, bees swarmed around the small hole in the floor where business is made, but now the small beasts lie dead, covered in unknown substances on the sticky floor. They have been replaced by merciless moths that circle the white light of your headlamp. No one is in the neighboring compartment, so there is no pressure or anxiety regarding the business making sound scape. All things considered, you are experiencing near-perfect business-making conditions. And yet, despite all your efforts, you are unsuccessful. Bloated, you look up to the night sky and think, maybe tomorrow.

Now for a reflection on a more serious note:
The Nueva Vida community welcomed us with open arms and hearts. We felt their tremendous generosity and kindness from the moment they rowed us and all of our gear across the river the night we arrived to the massive goodbye breakfast they made for us before we left. I’ll always remember the smile that Sara, one of the moms who cooks meals for everyone at the school, would give me when I’d ask for thirds of Masaco-a traditional tropical Bolivian dish made of smashed plantains. I don’t think any of us knew what to expect. Even Alan, who’s brother is the principal of the Nueva Vida boarding school and the reason we were able to visit the community, was unsure. Our group was the first group of foreigners to ever visit the community.

What I’ll remember most about my time in Nueva Vida are the relationships I made with the students. There was 5 year old Emi; she always wanted to be loved, whether that was through holding hands or getting carried or being hugged. Then there was 6 year old David; he never ceased to be joyously violent. We would roll around in the dirt in the middle of the soccer pitch together or chase each other through the clothes lines. He always punched me with a grin on his face. There was 9 year old Leonarda; she was shy but curious. Then there was 10 year old Natalie; she was super outgoing and willing to try new things. Then there was Luis Miguel and Luis Manuel, both soccer phenoms. There was Ibenka, Alvaro, Ayso, Alexi, Aysura, and so many more. Without any Spanish experience, I communicated through body language, facial expressions, games, soccer, art, and drawing diagrams. Communicating non-verbally was uncomfortable at first, but by the end, it felt natural and easily accessible.

We also spent a lot of time both during and after the trip learning about indigenous rights in Bolivia, as well as reflecting on how indigenous culture, religion, and tradition has been diminished or altered over time by “development” and foreign interference. We discussed the meaning of our presence as a group of majority white outsiders in their village. The experience was exciting, fulfilling, complicated, and at times uncomfortable.

Can’t wait to share more about it!