By Sister Ann Fearday, ASC
Friends and co-workers Gonzalo Flores, Magda Navia and I left at the crack of dawn on April 12 in Betsy, our 20-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser, for a four-day pastoral trip to the Camata, an area in the northern part of the department (or state) of La Paz, Bolivia.
I rode “shotgun” upfront with Gonzalo, who can see out of only one eye and hear out of one ear. My job was to throw out bread along the way to the scrawny dogs who herd the llamas, alpacas, and sheep and also to announce impending disaster—fallen rocks on the road, an animal about to dart out, a vehicle coming around a blind curve.
We did fine crossing the Altiplano, the high plateau where the Andes are the widest, but as we got into the mountains and then dipped into the valley, the fog mixed with rain clouds compromised our vision. We trudged until 4 p.m., not stopping even to eat, so we could make the most of the daylight.
Then suddenly, we heard, then saw a mudslide. A waterfall reaching up several thousand feet had washed away most of the road, leaving muck that made it impossible to go any further.
A few more vehicles, including a bus, soon shared our fate. Even with double traction, no vehicle could get around or through the debris. My heart went out especially to the passengers of the bus. This rural area has no electricity, cell phone or Internet access, hotels, restaurants or stores and no one would be going anywhere for a day or two, except to backtrack.
Fortunately, my companions and I were fairly close to our destination, so we turned around in the direction of Marumpampa, one of about 18 small communities in the Camata area. There, pastoral leader Doña Marina invited us to limes, avocados and bananas from her trees, freshly ground coffee and hot cracked corn.
The next day was Bolivian Children´s Day, a day the children anticipate almost as much as Christmas. They bring their cups from home to school in anticipation of receiving hot chocolate. Doña Marina provided the hot chocolate and we of Salud Integral, our multipurpose center in La Paz, provided the cookies. Each of the 40 children in the primary grades of Marumpampa also received school supplies. In the rural area, children treasure a pencil and notebook. They do not take such gifts for granted.
During the next three days, we also visited schools in the rural communities of Camata, Tipuaya, Quiñuaya, Llallahuati, Millisí and Coasí where we continued to celebrate Children’s Day. In most of these rural areas, children attend school only until the 4th or 5th grade. Only Camata and Marumpampa have a high school. Now however, Salud Integral has arranged for four of the best students to continue their studies at a university in La Paz. In return, they give eight hours of community service every week.
Besides praying, playing and celebrating with the children, we also met with the adults, reflecting on how we can be true to our vocation as Church, the Body of Christ, when a priest may come only once or twice a year.
Did I say I was glad to be back in Bolivia? Yes, indeed!