Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mistaken for a local??

Written: 11:00AM

A lady who only spoke Spanish just asked me for directions. I either look Bolivian, nice, smart,  competent, or like I speak Spanish fluently. Or she has seen me lurking around the airport for so long that she thinks i should know where things are. 

Update: She seems unsatisfied with my directions. Small steps, yall. 

First impressions

I am officially in Bolivia! It's been great so far and everyone has been really friendly. The Spanish they speak here is different but somehow much easier to understand that what I'm used to hearing in Texas. This has made communication surprisingly easy and everyone has been able to understand me so far. We'll see how it is outside the airport when people are less used to speaking with foreigners.

My Visa worries were for naught! Immigration in La Paz was really relaxed. They gave us some forms to fill out during the flight and baisically you just hand them in. The visa was 360bs (I think that's about $45. I was expecting to pay $170 so that was a surprise) but I only had $US on hand. The funny story is that the exchange counter was outside of the immigration check point and essentially at the exit to the airport. The immigration people told me to go there and come back so baisically I could've run free into Bolivia (don't worry I came back and actually paid for one). The only warning I got from immigration was that my shoe was untied and that I should tie it.

All the airport employees in general have been super friendy! There is a distinct difference between here the the U.S in terms of how much friendlier and welcoming people are here.

Another thing that took me by surprise was the wine on the plane! It was just a regular option along side orange juice, water, coffee, and soda. It wasn't extra or anything. They served it before dinner and then again after dinner. (Oh, and yes, I was given an on flight meal of American food). Who knew that airlines did that!

The one issue right now  is the lack of Wifi. Or a better way to put it is a misinformation about Wifi. There are rumors flying all over the place that one part of the airport has Wifi, and when you go there an employee will send you to another part of the airport. The cycle continues but each employee assures you that there is definitely is wifi. I'm t's been a fruitless chase and I have settled for drafting this post and then reading my book. 

My next flight to Cochabamba (final destination) isn't until 14:00 and it is currently 9:00. I'm afraid to take a taxi out to the city because I have no one to come with me. So I guess it's  nap time! 

Almost fainting and coca tea

Written: 10:00AM

I woke up from my nap feeling really sick. I didn't know what was wrong but it was  hard to breath. I tried breathing really quickly and then slowly... I had no idea what I was doing I was just trying to get some air somehow.  It helped a little bit but then I started feeling light headed. I thought maybe I was dehydrated so I started walking towards one of the airport cafes. 

But when I stood up my eyes went all starry and I couldn't even walk straight. I realized that I was about to faint and luckily found a chair to sit down in.  

I realized at this point that I had altitude sickness. I don't know why my nap triggered it, maybe something to do with resting heart rate. Anyway, when I sat down I forced myself to breath slowly and then I breathed into a bag (hyperventilating?). I have no idea if any of this is supposed to help altitude sickness but something I did brought me mostly back to normal and I sat and rested for a bit. 

After I got my walking back in order I order myself a coca tea! It is what people in the Andes drink to be able to tolerate the high heights. It's supposedly illegal in the United States because it comes from coca leaves so I am a little excited to taste it.

 I will let you know how it goes!

It is brewing quite slowly. I'm trying to make it strong for the highest medicinal effects.

First sips downed! It tastes pretty much just like a leaves crushed in water. Hints of green tea. I don't know if it's working or if it's placebo. 

I guess I feel a little better. I will avoid naps for the time being.

Friday, May 22, 2015

TSA took my PB away

I have arrived in the terminal to head to Miami! So far only a few minor heart attacks.

First the American Airlines person who was checking me in and said I needed a Visa to get into Bolivia and that the system wouldn't print the boarding pass for the connecting flight. I told her that I was sure you could just get it in-country, and after pressing a few hundred buttons on her keyboard, she printed my ticket. I think I'm good to go now..Bolivian immigration have mercy on my soul. 

In more tragic and troubling news, the Transportion Security Authority (alias: TSA) has confiscated and discarded my freshly purchased peanut butter. 

Yes, my carry on bag was plucked from the security line, gruffly frisked, and pillaged of all protein-rich matter. My dream of bananas and peanut butter for breakfast dissipated in a Jiffy.

Speaking of breakfast, I wonder if I'm getting fed on my next flight. It's supposed to be 6.5 or so hours which places it on an indifferentiable cusp. If they do feed me, I wonder if it will be American food or Bolivian food. I hope it's the second one. If it's the first one, I would be content as long as it contained no peanut butter. That would be too traumatizing at a time like this.

In other news, the gate that my plane is supposed to depart from has been invaded by a delayed flight to and from Dallas. So I must now make the journey to a new gate. So gotta go. 

Classic, Dallas, classic.


Today is the day I leave! My bags are packed: I have two carry ons and one yuppy-looking camping backpack (you know, those really tall ones with all the pockets). Its only 30 pounds but it hurt my back after running around the living room with it on for a few minutes. I really should have worked on my back more at the gym this semester (but Jennifer Aniston....).

We're driving from San Antonio to the Houston airport so I'm waiting for my dad to get off work so we can leave. I'm at a Starbucks with my wallet and keys strewn on the table and my laptop bag unattended in the seat next to me. This is the last time for a while that I'll be able to be this careless with my things. I will enjoy it while I can.

Fear not, I will take a break from my vigilance every so often to send more updates. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Two days before departure

Its officially two days before I leave for Bolivia. My flight leaves from Houston at 7pm on Friday, and I will fly through Miami to La Paz. In La Paz, I will obtain a Visa and then proceed to Cochabamba where FSD will pick me up!

I'm getting nervous because it's my first solo international travel. It shouldn't be that complicated, but if something goes wrong I will be outside of the safety bubble of the United States. I didn't think I would get this attached to the U.S. but maybe this is anticipatory home-sickness. Atleast I'll be flying with American Airlines so that gives me a little bit of comfort. I'm sure that once I'm abroad I'll settle into travel mode and be really excited to be in a new place (and below the equator for the first time)!

I am currently procrastinating packing because after living in Houston for two years I have no real clue how people dress in the "spring time" (which is Cochabamba's weather right now). I also need to pack some different types of food in case I get homesick for the sugary, cheesy tastes of America. FSD also said that foods like pancake mix make good presents for your host family so I'll bring some of that. I think it'll start adding up so I somehow need to figure out how pack light.

Other than that, there are a few more travel documents and important paperwork that I need to make copies of. I have already made a nice little address book of important phone numbers and addresses, so at least that is taken care of.  All this shouldnt take too long, I just have to sit down and do it. But first, here is the first journal entry of my Loewenstern:


My general research topic this summer is small business development in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I will be working with CADEPIA, the local chamber of small business  and commerce. I won't have a specific research question until I arrive in country and start working with the organization, but I have some background from my preliminary research.

Cochabamba has many "micro-enterprises"- small businesses of 8 to 10 employees. Not only do these businesses provide a stable livelihood for many people, they are also considered a driving force of development in the theory of endogenous economic growth.

Some potential research that I could do with CADEPIA is to see if micro-enterprises have, in fact, contributed to economic growth in the area. I would work with CADEPIA to define growth indicators, collect quantitative and qualitative data from businesses owners, and combine these elements to see where development is happening and where it is lacking. From there, CADEPIA could better assess where it's services are most needed and help more entrepreneurs with their businesses.

This is just one example, but there are so many different possibilities for research. It all depends on what CADEPIA sees will be most help its clients. The purpose of community-based research is for your finding to benefit the community in which you are working, so there is no way that I can define from abroad what business owners in Cochabamba would like to know about their local economy.

For now, I'm just going to keep reading on similar research done in Bolivia and South America and hope that apprehension of "the American business man" (see: Water Wars) doesn't impact my ability to communicate and build relationships with Cochabambans.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Your role in international development

This week's readings shined a light on the big, scary, question surrounding all of our service projects: do international development efforts even work? The Gates Foundation argues that, yes, international aid projects have contributed to an unprecedented rise in the global standard of living. And the article by Hobbes suggested that it works, but only on small-scale, highly individualized projects.

Both of these articles made me feel much more confident about my research's potential to help the community. My project will be tailored to the specific region, so it will not have the issues of being a duplicate project from an unrelated part of the world. And if countries like Bolivia are already open to and creating growth, then my project can give another push to the already-spinning gears of progress.

But despite these positives, international development comes with many responsibilities. The Gate's Foundation essay explained what is probably the biggest of these obligations, and that is to ensure that the community is at the center of the planning and execution of the project:

"Are the recipient countries in charge of figuring out where health clinics should be built and training the workers? Are donors helping local teams build up the expertise they need to put the Western experts out of business? Are the best performers sharing the lessons they’ve learned so other countries can follow suit? This has been a big area of learning for the foundation."

If you follow this type of thinking, a lot of the other responsibilities will essentially just fall into place. But there are a few other responsibilities that I want to highlight.

First, I think a huge responsibility is to realize that your service work is often, metaphorically, curing the symptoms and not the illness. My research project on how to address microenterprise issues in Cochabamba will hopefully help a few business owners have more income for their families. However, this does nothing to alleviate the greater socioeconomic and macroeconomic issues that caused these business owners to be of low-income in the first place. These greater changes can only come from policy initiatives from the domestic government. In the meantime its fine to provide services to address some of the issues, but I think at the same time, international development workers must look to see what the bigger reason is for the existence of the problem they are addressing.

Piggy-backing from that, the next key responsibility is to make an impact in a way that progresses policy changes. This can be done in many ways, ranging from encouraging locals to vote for pro-business laws to the volunteer writing to their state senator to end trade-distorting farm subsidies.The volunteer must try to make the service expand from just addressing symptoms to addressing broader issues.

Finally, this brings us to the international participant's responsibilities after returning home. The chief responsibilities once you've returned is to spread the knowledge you have acquired. Your experiences in country have so much value for dispelling myths about international service and xenophobia in general. And when you discuss what you have learned, it is important to tell the narrative in a way that emphasizes community involvement and eliminates the misconceptions of PlayPump-esque failures. If we change the narrative of international service, global volunteerism will hopefully follow and evolve so that all participants become responsible partners who truly empower the community and think sustainably.