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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Five beautiful days

To begin to write this Yak is slightly difficult, porque so much has happened in our last 5 days in Bolivia that is new, deeply transformative and certainly worth writing about. I suppose I will begin with some small details. Our bus ride to Samaipata (a beautiful place whose name can be translated as “resting in the heights”) alone was incredibly exciting for me. To gain my first glimpse at the wildlife and village and city dwelling communities that reside in this place was a moving experience. I felt, and have felt since that first bus ride, that closing my eyes would be a crime of sorts. There is so much beauty here, and too many rich cultural narratives for me to look away. I have been wide eyed and humbled every single day, made powerfully aware of my own size in comparison to this wider world. Let me tell you about our orientation. It was full of activities that prompted the most incredible conversations, group connections, and for me, a true inner reckoning of sorts. We discussed topics as diverse as the climate that we are inhabiting during this time: personal biases, identity and group culture and dynamics, collectivist cultures, and so much more that it is difficult for me to recall them all and retell them here with elegance.. Suffice to say that this has been more challenging than I could have anticipated, and with that challenge has come the best experience of my entire life thus far.

I´d like to give a few more small details describing our experiences.. Here they are:

Ana, Ben, and Jhasmany are three people who I have come to deeply respect and admire in the last few days alone. I cannot express my gratitude to them, and the feelings of comfort and security they have provided me with in the past few days, which have held various personal struggles for me. It´s been an eye opening challenge for me to be away from my family for the first time, and I did end up catching a cold. They have been there for me and have made me feel so safe to express my needs and to make this new place as secure as it was in my home.

One thing that has absolutely transformed our time here has been our nightly check ins as a group. We give our “scales” of the day (numbers that express our wellbeing, both emotional and physical) and are encouraged to get truly vulnerable with each other. We create a space where we listen to each other with mindfulness and we hold each other´s stories to be sacred. Each night now, we have taken the time to listen to three of our group members´Life Maps- our own unique, deeply meaningful life stories, expressed creatively in a way that that sharing person chooses. I personally have felt incredibly blessed to have been able to listen to so many of my beautiful group members life stories, and to have shared many a crying session with them! As Ana says, that vulnerability and our emotional moments together are what makes that space that we are creating together rich. It has certainly impacted my experience in the best way possible. I shared my story two nights ago, with photographs and letters and one special object from home, and it was truly a privilege and a blessing to feel so heard and supported by this new family. That is what this group is starting to feel like to me. Last night, as we took taxis to meet up by the side of the road to board our long bus ride to Sucre, seeing the rest of my group in a circle gathered with their backpacks in the grass, playing a game I did not yet know, I had a thought that just came to me: there is my family! I can´t say I fully understand the game yet, but I do know these people more and more each day. They are kind, intelligent, beautiful minded human beings who I am so blessed to move through this experience with.

I want to say something about Bolivia before I sign off. I want to say that learning even the smallest details and characteristics of the diverse cultures that it holds has been such a privilege. It is only day 5 today, but my first impressions of this place have made me realize how large this world is, and how incredibly important it is for me, at least, to see more places that are different from my small and cozy corner. I have one thing to say to a few of the Bolivian people that I have met so far: with my very very broken Spanish I have learned this much: Muchas, muchas gracias. To the bus driver who took us down the winding roads through las montañas, muchas gracias. I know that you were not driving for us, but you kept us safe and I saw the stars, luminous out the window and the mountains, silhouetted against the slowly brightening Andean sky and I was grateful. Thank you. Muchas gracias to the women who cooked for us and served our food in the days we spent in Samaipata. I am so grateful for that sustenance and for the comfort that your food brought. Thank you. There will be so many more people that I want to thank for recieving us in their spaces that are home, and I know that I can´t always say something well in real life, face to face, but I want to always try. One last thank you- gracias, muchas gracias- to the land. I am slowly learning about the life that many, many people believe that you hold, and I am grateful to you, too. Thank you, dear Andes foothills, for recieving me. Thank you for supporting me on our first small hike yesterday, when I struggled to keep breath in my lungs, and I felt weaker and I had thought I would before. Thank you for being there, out my window as I woke early and stared out in awe, aware in a profound way of the privilege that brought me into this space of beauty.  I am going to try every day to recognize this. I am going to keep my eyes so, so open. Thank you Bolivia, for having me. Muchas gracias. Tu me has dado dias que significan mucho en mi corazon. (Thank you to my dear new friends who helped me translate what I wanted to say. I am still learning, learning, learning.)