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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Wyles

A series of medical events...

The last couple of weeks have been action-packed. We are now over halfway through Lent, the girls have started going back to school in person 2-3 days a week, there have been an influx of medical appointments, and that later foreshadowed my own opportunity to be sick for a few days. There have been movie nights, tasty experiments in the kitchen, hogar remodeling days, long walks under the Bolivian sun (which hits very different at 8,000 ft), homework days with the girls, late nights peeling & cutting vegetables, and many a salteña and cuñape were eaten. Life here can be both fun and stressful, but in hindsight, I can only ever see it as undeniably beautiful!

The best story I have to tell this time around starts with a fractured arm. One of our youngest, who is an energy-filled monkey if I’ve ever seen one, fell off of her bunk bed while jumping around and ended up with a fractured arm. The next morning, we rushed out the door to take her to a doctor that was about 1.5 hours away (on a good day). Given that I had no idea where this doctor was located, two older girls also came along. *Imagine our team*: 1 very tiny child with a broken arm, 1 very tall gringa who had no idea where she’s going so is basically just a makeshift chaperone, 1 older girl who also had no idea what was happening but came along to learn, and 1 older girl who kinda knew where she was going.

The trip turned into a 2 hour journey due to us getting lost in the city several times. We eventually found a bus that took us through the hill-country for an hour and eventually we hit the town we needed to get to. The one older girl who kinda knew where we were going led us to the doctor’s office and we celebrated because the journey was over! Haha– nope.

Mountain views in Cliza, Bolivia

Long story short, the doctor we went to was a big scam! The reason we traveled so far was because we have discounted financial arrangements with doctors in different locations, and the doctor lied about being the person we were searching for… Before we knew this, he sent us to get expensive x-rays at a nearby clinic. While we were there, the woman attending us told us that the scan that was ordered for the child’s shoulder had absolutely nothing wrong with it. We were confused! We had the real doctor’s phone number, and thinking they were still the same person at the time, we called the number to get us a ride back to his clinic, but the doctor had no idea what we were talking about. Sketchy…

We eventually found our own way back to the office where we finally realized that this wasn't the real doctor. When I was called back I told the doctor we knew he lied about being who we were looking for and he continued to try and charge us a ton of money for a treatment for her shoulder (which wasn’t even the damaged body part). We got out of there and eventually found the real place. The real doctor wanted us to call the police and demand our money back. But have I told you already what our four-person power team consisted of? We had some very good laughs, counted our losses, and made our way back home.

Fast forward a few days and it’s time to take this joyful little girl back to the doctor for a checkup. I was initially going to take her alone but another volunteer, Grace, ended up coming with me so that she could also learn where the doctor was located. All I can say is thank GOD she was there.

This time around the trip seemed to be going SO much smoother than last time. We were 15 minutes away from our destination and all was right in the world. And then we stumbled upon the first bloqueo (or blockade, in English). Bloqueos are Bolivia’s primary form of political demonstrations and they are VERY common. A bloqueo consists of a group of people who block off a road and don’t allow any vehicles to pass in order to make a political statement. And if they try to pass, it can get violent. But should you choose to hop ship and walk, you can get by with no problems. And on that sunny Thursday morning, we made the (in hindsight) very dumb decision to walk.

Bolivian blockade

Mind you, we were on a Bolivian highway in the country area that surrounds the next city, so there weren’t any alternate routes. But the others who also decided to walk seemed pretty confident that we could walk for a little bit and eventually the bloqueo would end and we could get another car into the city. But unfortunately, there were actually 2 or 3 more bloqueos that were great distances apart which resulted in no quick way to get into the city. We were able to find a couple of cars to hitchhike in in-between bloqueos– which we were only confident enough to use thanks to the other Bolivian women who walked with us– and we made it to the doctor after about an hour of walking.

Wanna know how long the doctor’s appointment took? Five minutes.

So we’re about to start our way back and we call to ask the sisters (nuns) what we should do, and the only real option was to start walking back– so walk we did. But the funny thing is that about a half hour into our walk, we were told from a walker coming in the other direction that the situation had far worsened since the morning and there were now blockades stretching much further towards our destination. This meant less cars and more walking.

So here’s the new power team: not 1 but 2 gringos who very much stand out among the crowd and only kinda know what they’re doing and 1 little girl with a broken arm walking on the side of a highway for who knows how long. Can you tell how hilarious I find this?

And we really did not know how long. My Google Maps said it was a 7.5 hour walk from where we started to where we needed to end up, and I contacted a taxi service who told us there was no way they could get a taxi to us because of the blockades. Grace and I went back and forth carrying the little one on our shoulders and of course she got some walking time too. We ended up walking on that highway in the hot sun for over 3 hours before we finally got past the last blockade. We played “I Spy”, listened to the ‘Encanto’ playlist, and spent a good deal of time trying to convince the little one to use the restroom outside until it was too late and accidents were had.

But I have to say, as exhausted as we ALL were, that little one was so strong. We didn’t know how long we would be out there, but I can’t remember her complaining and she was only brought to tears for a couple of minutes. When she started crying, we decided to start praying a rosary with her as we walked. And wouldn’t you know it, a few minutes into praying, we found a car that would ultimately carry us to the end of the blockades. And that tough girl got a feast of fried chicken and ice cream once we finally found our way back home :)

Dessert first!

I’ll venture to say I sound a little bit dramatic here. But honestly, I think it’s important that I own up to the dramatics. I come from a very privileged country where I don’t have to worry about blockades leaving me with absolutely no other option than to walk on the highway for hours to get home. For me, it was an exciting and unpredictable adventure that I’ll never forget. But for all of the kind, helpful people we met along the way, it was just another Thursday.

And it was all for a 5 minute appointment.

Life is funny, huh?

Always ready to help on a baking project

Making cinnamon rolls with the girls

Many women here carry their children on their backs with a material called an "aguayo" which is what they're imitating here :)

First day of in-person classes

Rainy season in Cochabamba

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