In Tiquipaya, consciousness comes to me slowly and confusingly. Many nights, I dream of my family, set against the far off background of America. A few nights ago, I had a dream that my mother owned a stationary store (she does not) and that real living boys stood in the big windows, dressed as tin soldiers. This dream was interrupted at 4:17 AM by my body. Just like me, my stomach is not accustomed to this country and its goings on, and occasionally it has a meltdown. I lurch to my feet and stumble around in the dark, my dusty feet searching for their sandals. With an audible gurgle, my stomach advises speed. Having found my sandals, I fumble for my headlamp. I won’t need it until I get to the bathroom. I open the door to my room and square my shoulders. Taking a deep mental breath I grimace as my presence is loudly announced by the floorboards. Every step, no matter how I creep or slide is like a crack of thunder. “Lo Siento,” I whisper to the mass of blankets that is my host sister Luz. With a slight moan, she rolls over. Vero, my other host sister, makes no move. Finally, my hand touches the handle of the door. I open it to the blinding light of the bulb at the top of the stairs. Here, I have to be careful. Goofy, one of the three family dogs, and my mortal enemy, (he bit my elbow!) lies sleeping in the warmth found at the top of the stairs. Carefully I step over him (still semi-blinded) and walk down the stars. Now I have reached the heart of the house – the kitchen table. Vacant now at 4:20 AM I pass it and cross the first courtyard. On my left lies the kitchen – two gas tanks under a set of burners. To my right stands a brick wall. The bathroom likes on the other side.
Now I have reached the gate. Directly beyond the gate sits the sink which serves as dishwasher and washing machine all in one. Shutting the gate behind me, I find myself in the second courtyard, under the hulking mass of the turkey roost. Lit by the orange of the street lights, I can see the sleepy birds shuffling their feathers on their lofty perch. Giving it a wide berth, I walk under the criss-cross of wires that serves as a dryer, counterpart to the sink now behind me. Here in the second courtyard my next obstacle (the first being a quiet exit from my host sister´s room, which I am pretty sure I failed) presents itself. The other two dogs make their bed in the deep shadow created by the roof of the long building that creates the far wall of the second courtyard. Here in the building, in the darkest corner (did I mention my fear of the dark?) lies my goal – the bathroom. I must be careful around the dogs. If I startle them, I might incite into them instinct to protect their territory. Slowly I approach the wall. The dogs are awake, but let me pass without incident. Finally I can answer natures rather urgent call.
My mission completed I head back to my bed. This time, as I walk into the first courtyard I see someone at the previously empty table. “¡Luz! ¿Porque estas aqui? ¡Es la cuarto y media en la mañana!”
“¡Yo tengo tarea!” she replies, holding up her art project, a recreation of a church made out of thick paper. After apologizing for waking her up, I mime fighting, “¡Como John Cena!”, swinging my fists gently at that age old foe – homework. We have been watching Wrestle Mania Smackdown Live after dinner. I wish her good luck as I tiredly walk up the stairs, grateful Ican return to my cozy bed. Once more I make the clamorous trek across the bedroom floor and crawl into bed. Clutching my pillow (my rolled up fleece jacket) I get ready to dream of my family, and tin soldier themed stationary.