Hello from El Alto!
At this point, I’m guessing many of you have begun to hear of our adventures directly from your students because of our newfound ability to use Internet cafes (!), so rather than summarize what we’ve been doing, I’m going to give you the tools to interpret what we’re saying and thereby understand our schedule for yourself. How? By kicking it back to grade school with a vocabulary lesson. Here we go!
-El Alto: the city where we’re staying. At only 32 years old, El Alto is the second largest city in Bolivia, has a population of over 900,000, and comes in at an elevation of over 13,000ft.
-La Paz: the neighboring city, easily accessible via trufi or teleférico (more on these later). A very busy city, La Paz is more crowded and urban than El Alto, and also about 2,000ft lower in elevation. Home to the highest international airport in the world.
-Homestay mom/dad/sister/brother: parents, you may have some competition here! These are the families we are living with in El Alto. They have welcomed us into their homes and treat us the way they do their own families, providing for us the family structure, love, and support we miss from home.
-Internet cafe: a room full of computers (and often teenage computer game players) where we can access our emails and Facebooks and sometimes make those much-cherished calls home. As most of us have memorized, it costs 3 Bolivianos (around 50 cents) for an hour and a half of computer time.
-video chat/call: essentially a phone call done through a computer; we can see you, but you can’t see us (the computers here don’t have cameras).
-Compa/Teatro Trono: the home base for our activities while we’re here in El Alto. Also, an amazing organization that combines political activism, art, and traditional Bolivian culture. Teatro Trono began as a creative outlet for children in trouble with the law, and now provides free classes on topics such as theater, self defense, and Aymara to the local community.
-Ciudad Satélite: the area of El Alto in which most of us are staying. Characterized by the many satellite towers in the area, which make finding our way home just a little bit easier.
-Mercado Satélite: the market in Satellite City. Items for purchase include breakfast, toothpaste, and socks.
-Aymara and Quechua: two local languages, both thousands of years old. Aymara is more prominent in Bolivia, while Quechua is more common in Peru.
-trufis: mini buses (really vans) used for transportation throughout the city.
-teleférico: the public transportation system in the area similar to the subway in the U.S., but with gondolas instead of underground train cars. The views from the various lines of the teleférico are spectacular (seriously, it is impossible not to stare when casually riding from El Alto to La Paz).
-Cholet: a type of house that combines the chola style of dress (traditional, colorful) with fancy chalets (larger, more expensive houses). Very cool-looking; covered in exciting patterns and colors.
-marraquetas: an incredibly delicious type of traditional Bolivian bread. Similar in appearance to mini baguettes.
-salteñas: a type of Bolivian street food similar to empanadas. Often contain diced carne (beef) or pollo (chicken), as well as a spice-filled sauce, all wrapped up in a flaky, doughy shell.
-cold: as my homestay family is fond of saying, it is always cold here. Don’t be surprised when your students wistfully describe warm fires and summery beaches. Don’t be worried about us, though: we’re learning how to layer.
-shower: something we do roughly every three days, occasionally while standing in a bucket that is dumped into the toilet because there is no floor drain in the bathroom.
-home: as Brian so aptly addressed in his first Yak to us, our concept of home is ever-changing. You might find yourselves needing to clarify exactly what we mean when we say “home.” Some options include our homestay homes, anywhere we might find food, Compa, our houses in the U.S./Canada/Germany, our beds, and our families.
-bye/goodbye/talk to you later: even if I don’t say it, I love and miss you so, so much.