Thursday, July 2, 2015


The survey is actually going really well! I've only snagged 3 respondents so far. We went for lunch at this place really far away and I got lost on the way back. So I didn't return to the office until 3 and missed two potential respondents. And apparently its too "frio" in the morning for people to leave their homes (its like minimum 50F outside in the morning), so there is very little foot traffic in the morning. Still, the preliminary results are very interesting.

I can tell that the business owners are all thinking about the questions thoroughly and not just rushing through it to finish. Which I appreciate a lot! Thank you non-American culture of taking your time with things. Con calma.

The owners also seem to be learning new things about their businesses. Or atleast they're thinking about things that they hadn't given too much thought to before. For example, the survey has a question about fire safety, and that seems to be one that's taken them all by surprise.

I'm feeling a lot more confident and re-energized in my project after the rockiness of  yesterday. Update.. I now have 5 respondents! 45 more.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Small victories

Today I typed the Spanish word for machines as "macinas" because I was mentally sounding out the word. The correct spelling is "maquinas." I think this means that I learned the word auditorily rather than from reading or writing. Yall, I'm learning things from being here!!!!

Work updates.

This is basically my work day today. But instead of a year, change it to a month (not as bad).

What happened was that I was supposed to be doing research on the automotive sector of our affiliated businesses. The problem was that after a month of designing the survey, we started calling people and realized that a phone survey was not going to work with this sector. The mechanics were all busy and weren't particularly interested in participating in a survey. I didn't personally administer the first survey, my male Bolivian coworker did, so it wasn't a language/gender barrier issue. The mechanics are the most macho and gruff of the whole bunch (according to my coworkers) and they are supposedly very temperamental and scary. This was something that I was concerned about from the start of the assignment, but I was assured that it wouldn't be a problem.

My boss tried to brush of the "initial issues" we had this morning administering the survey, but I knew in my gut that the problems would keep going on the same way. So I finally advocated for myself (yay midterm retreat!) and said that I really didn't feel like this survey would produce any significant results.

Then I forced myself into his office and had a meeting with him (not being fluent in Spanish makes self-advocating difficult. People tend to brush off your concerns as you not understanding what's going on. I had to clarify that I understood what was happening, but I didn't feel comfortable with it). The new plan is to modify my existing survey to be more general and cover all the different sectors that my organization works with. Instead of calling people, I will do the survey in person with the people who walk into the office  to pay their monthly association fees. Going to the businesses directly isn't possible because the address system here only leads you to the general location of a place. Yes, convenience sample, I should feel ashamed. But since everyone has to pay their fees, the sample isn't too skewed of representation. I'm a little frustrated because this is what I wanted to do from the beginning before they put my on the goose chase of the automotive sector.

It shouldnt be too much more work to modify the survey. I'll just have to work more efficiently and diligently. I need to start administering the survey ASAP. We get about 7-10 business owners in the office everyday. My goal is to survey 50 people, so it should take about a week. I feel more confident in the in-person surveying, so I have renewed hope for the project.

Wish me luck!

Monday, June 29, 2015


ToroToro is amazing!!! It's known for dinosaur footprints, so I thought we would just be walking around a field looking for them all day. But we did so. much. more. than that.

The first day we spent underground in a cave. The cave was massive and kept going on forever. There were so many secret passages and waterfalls and drops. We crawled and climbed and slid and scaled through crevices 1 foot high to halls 20 feet high.

The next day we hiked through a canyon and went to a waterfall at the bottom. The canyon was completely dry, but the waterfall was a little oasis of moss and trees and flowers. It was absolutely beautiful. The waterfall itself had little passages hidden throughout, so we explored it barefoot while dodging all the little streams of water that were falling from above.

On the last day we expored La Ciudad de Piedras. We were told it would be a "casual hike" but it was the most extreme day of climbing. It was good that we did this the last day because I would have been too terrified had I not had the two days before to gain my footing in the outdoors. There were terrifyingly steep rocks to scale and dangerously narrow paths to take, but the views from the hike were incredible. Incredible.

Those three days we were in three completely different outdoor settings: caves, canyon, and mountains. But I was somehow able to survive traversing all three terrains. My arms and legs and feet did things I didn't know they could. Thank you human body for being amazing.

Literally living under a rock

On Friday marriage equality was legalized in the United States. It was a full 3 days before I heard any word of it.

It was the first big news item that I "missed" because of my travels.* It was also the first piece of news in a long time that I heard by word of mouth rather than from behind a screen. I was on a bus with about 14 other people, and one person found out the news from her phone. Then she announced to the whole bus that gay marriage was legal in all 50 states.

Once we heard the news, we spoke our words of approval, happiness, and surprise, and then.... continued doing whatever we were doing before.

 Sleeping, reading, staring out the window.

This was interesting to me because it was the first time I was out of the 24-hour news/social media cycle. Usually, when something big like this happens, I find myself constantly surrounded by endless "news" of the event. "News" in quotes because there is usually nothing "new" about it. It's more and more headlines saying the same thing and every person on the planet pitching in "their" two cents (which tend to be the same as everyone else's two cents). 

In contrast, yesterday I heard the news from one source, from one person, on one bus. And then went on with my day.

It would be wonderful to be in the United States right now and celebrate with everyone who has fought for and been impacted by this ruling. But for now I am over joyed to be away from the American media.

*The FSD squad took a trip to ToroToro where were spelunking in caves underground. So we missed the news because were were literally under a rock.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


It's about the halfway point of the trip and that makes me really sad. It is going to be awful to have to leave in a month. This past month has been amazing and Cochabamba feels like home. It isnt even the superficial "honeymoon" period anymore. I know the flaws and struggles of life here, I acknowledge them, and I still don't want to leave. The return culture shock is going to be hard.

I try to think about the positives of going back. Maybe wifi? But now that I've gone without it, I'm really liking being disconnected. I like having to actually interact with the people around me and be present in the current moment.

I'm really questioning why I live in the United States. Life here (and, similarly, life in Sri Lanka) is so much better. People are just...happier. And I'm not just basing that on a 20-year-old's view of vacationing in South America. The people who live and work here and who have lived and have worked here for years are happier. There's a greater sense of community and compassion and genuine love for each other.

It's supposed to be "dangerous" out here, but I honestly feel safer among people here. Maybe petty theft is a bigger problem in Bolivia, but I dont feel the fear of people that I do in the United States.

Every time I leave the US I have the greatest dread of going back. That means something.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ode to trufi drivers

Trufi drivers are the champions of multi tasking. I have no idea how they manage to do so many things at once. On one particularly busy morning I noticed just how insanely on top of things they were, so now I dedicate a post to them.

Refresher course on trufis: Trufi's are just small cars, about the size of your usual sedan. However, trufis are modified to have 3 rows of seats so in total they hold 9 people (1 driver and 8 passengers). Each trufi has a route number displayed on its roof. Passengers stand by the side of the road and flag down the appropriate trufi. People board the trufi, find a seat, and when they want to get off they tell the driver . The driver will let you out (disembarking often requires other passengers to step out to carve an exit path for the person leaving) at the next intersection and collect the 2bs. fee.

As simple as this seems, lets break down all the different tasks that a trufi driver simultaneously does.

First the driver must search for passengers. This means driving while keeping an eye on the side of the road for waving arms. Note that theres dozens of trufi routes and hundreds of people flagging down trufis, movils, and taxis. The trufi driver must distinguish its passenger from all other people.

While he's looking to collect passengers, the driver must also be aware of how many passengers he already has. People are constantly getting in and out of the trufi so keeping count is not an easy feat. Also, children only count as half a person, so that complicates things even more. I've never had a trufi driver stop to pick up someone and then realize theres no room. Its mystical.

On top of counting the passengers in the trufi, the driver also has to make sure everyone pays. You can hand the driver money from inside the trufi as you're getting out. Or you can pay from outside through the passenger seat window. This means that the driver has two different directions from which money is coming to him.

Now lets put all these elements together. The driver cruises down his route, looking for passengers to pick up. He spots some people, stops the car for them and lets them in. As they get in some people are leaving the trufi and one pays for the ride from inside the turfi, and one person pays from outside the car. One person hands him a 10bs. bill, so he has to make change. He continues driving and listens for anyone saying they want to get out. As the driver is about to change lanes, he hears a woman from the back row say she wants to get out. The driver pulls to the side to let the woman out, and then the person next to her decides she will get out too. The driver ensures that he collects the fee from both people. Three more people board the trufi and it is now full. Repeat this for the entire route, all day, everday. All while making sure not to hit children crossing the street and following all (okay...most) traffic laws.

Thank you, trufi drivers, for navigating the chaotic streets of Cochabamba.