Bolivia | The Family

In the fall, you can hear the crickets in the afternoon on sunny days. That slanted light just before twilight, so rich in the trees. The sun hides a welcome chill in the air. I dreamed of the sea, the sound of the surf, and wind playing in the dune grass back home. Air, sweet salt air is what I need. Being here has been like swimming in pudding with a clothespin over my nose. The high altitude and the pollution in the streets in Sucre has taken a toll on my health. Some days are better than others, but it’s a daily struggle for my old strength.

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A new family of kids came to Nanta, three girls and a small boy of five. They were shy at first, all huddled together, not sure of their steps around all the madness of the other children. The girls looked after their brother like their mother would. Dirty faces with grand smiles. Two of the girls sported big pocketbooks for backpacks, one black with fake alligator skin, the other white, both chock full of school supplies and stuff to survive in the streets with. That first day they sat with me at lunch looking at me with wide dark eyes, trying to feel me out. I was struck with the care Patricia took with her brother, moving the bowl of soup close to his place at the table then arranging his shirt so the spills would not dirty it. He sat staring at me while she coaxed him to eat. I asked her age, only six yet so responsible. She said she shines shoes near the central market place, probably only one of the three girls in all of Sucre to shine. That’s a boy’s world here. When I found out she had no shoeshine box I told her she could make one here. “Cuantos?” “Gratis,” the eyes wide and big on that one. “Cuando?” “Mana despues comida.”

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They followed me into the shop that next afternoon with anxious faces. I handed Patricia the pieces of wood and divided the glue and nails amongst the rest to bring out to the table in the garden. After she applied the glue to one of the pieces, I held them together and told her to nail. “Me?” “Yes you, nail!” Her was brother there with his chin resting on the table. The two sisters huddled close waiting the action. The first taps were soft and uncertain, but with each stroke she gained confidence until she sank her first nail. Big cheers from the family. Lou Lou, one of the Bolivian staff of eighteen, was at the sink watching in awe as this young girl invaded the boys’ territory with each swing of the hammer. Her brother and two sisters were there for total support through the whole project, inching closer and closer to me making contact with their small bodies. Their collective breath was so bad it could knock a bear over. Just one of the job hazards at Nanta. The next day her sister built a caja and that broke the dam for the other girls to want to build cajas and money boxes. It was a mad day for me, trying to grant their wishes and keep it all together. The boys watched with territorial suspicion. I was exhausted at the end of the day.

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