Goodbye Bolivia, hello again England!

Hi all! I’m now back in England, and happily so – though it was sad to leave Bolivia once again.

After the trip down south in Tarija I had a few days helping with English classes in the language university in the centre of Santa Cruz, with an American missionary who works there, and a Bolivian teacher – and also helping out at the English-speaking school for primary and secondary aged students, which was founded for missionary kids decades ago and is now majority Bolivians. Helping there in the English-speaking school was an interesting cultural experience, as was staying with American missionaries – I learnt many new things about US culture, and in the school saw some of the difficulties of recreating one culture within another, especially the struggle many missionary teachers face of picking up the language when surrounded by English-speakers in the working environment.

I spent the following week preparing things for the disaster relief trip to the Beni. Our purpose in the Beni was to do medical clinics attending to the medical needs of people in communities who’d been affected by the floods; distributing food and clothing to those who’ve lost homes and possessions and everything with the floods; giving lightweight and reliable water filters to schools, churches and medical centres so they can safely drink river water without catching the most common water-borne diseases of the area; preach the Good News and give out Christian literature to individuals, schools, churches, medical centres and children. So there was a lot to prepare before leaving Santa Cruz! For several days we worked hard to sort out buckets, filters, medicines and more (though mainly the medical supplies).

After leaving Sant Cruz to embark on the Beni trip, there were countless problems. The boat (on which we were to live for the duration of the trip) needed an extra part. We were three female Bolivian doctors, two female pharmacists (including myself) and a male Bolivian pastor – and the pastor stayed back an extra half day to get the boat part and travelled later. The money for food for the communities in need was unexpectedly declined us at the last minute, after having been positive up until that point. When we finally got to the boat itself we discovered that it wasn’t yet ready to travel (and was also being re-painted…?!) – days after we’d expected to set off. Haha, I could go on… But, as I’ve come to know and appreciate, ‘así es la vida’ in Bolivia (and often in missions in general in many developing countries) – we certainly can’t always expect things to go according to plan!

Amazingly, one of our contacts (in the town where the boat started) had got chatting to a group of Mennonites, who for some reason without knowing our situation decided to give us a LOT of food and clothing for the trip!! One of the doctors expressed her amazement because the Mennonites in Bolivia usually keep themselves to themselves and don’t get involved in the lives of any Bolivians, ‘their own little world within our country’. It was truly miraculous how God provided for the needs of the trip at the last second.

The boat trip itself was also full of problems. Three times the boat’s motor broke down and the first two times we were waiting at least several hours for the men to fix it, including traveling to get replacement parts etc. The third time it seemed unfixable and so we ended up being towed the rest of the way. All this, along with the late start, meant that we had little time to get to the final destination and so were only able to visit about five communities – and only doing a full medical clinic in one of them. This was sad as we were sure there was more need out there, which we had to just pass by. But hopefully the second group going soon will have less problems as the boat should be well and truly mended… And we had a lot of time on the boat to put the medicines into a user-friendly system/order for the next doctors and pharmacists!

Despite the discomfort of living on a broken and very noisy boat in uncomfortably hot weather most of the time, washing in river water, sleeping in a hammock and having absolutely everything covered in insects, I personally felt that I had a really wonderful time. It felt like a lovely community of people (albeit living together in what sometimes felt like somewhat claustrophobic quarters) – the 3 doctors, 2 pharmacists, pastor, several men running the boat and some of their families, women cooking… I think there were 21 of us in all. It was really nice to spend time chatting together, praying, worshipping with singing and guitar, reading the Bible together and sharing life – especially as there was very little else to do most of the time. I found the heat difficult, but it was lovely (for me) when it became a little cooler. It was like a retreat – nothing to do for the majority of 10 days, except rest, pray, chat, sing, read the Bible, eat, watch the sky and the wildlife… It was great! I feel like I learnt a lot. An experience like no other, and I know I’ll never forget it. The views were incredible too – and wow, the stars!! The wildlife was also very impressive – some awesome insects; many crocodiles; pirhana which we ate; monkeys often screeching at us; PINK DOLPHINS (“bufeo”) and more. The sunsets were breathtaking, and I spent several hours on a number of evenings sitting on the roof just watching the sky and being amazed.

After the trip, having been able to do SOME good work in communities in pretty desperate need, it was a relief to return to the city despite how much I’d enjoyed the trip. Being able to shower in clean water; sleep lying flat; not be constantly slapping myself as a reflex to kill insects while trying to sleep; seeing other people; simply being on land again – so good. After two and a half days back in the city I left Bolivia. So my remaining time there was mostly catching up with and saying goodbye to friends old and new, washing things and re-packing, and a few events/meetings/special meals. Last year when I left I was very upset to do so, fairly resentful of needing to come back to England even though I knew it was what God wanted, and just very reluctant to leave. This year it was much easier to come back to England – although it was sad to leave, I think it was a much more healthy departure than last year when I was practically dragged away kicking and screaming. Perhaps because of only being there a short time, perhaps because I have confidence that I’ll be back at some point, perhaps because I was missing certain people a lot (and also certain aspects of British culture!) – perhaps a combination of many reasons. Either way, I’m glad to be back, and was welcomed back with hugs and a big roast dinner – Colin and Elisa are awesome!

Ben is still in West Africa, returning to England this Saturday. He seems to be thoroughly enjoying it now, despite having both heatstroke and a cold!! I’m very much looking forward to seeing him at the weekend.

What now? I’m staying for almost a week (which is now half over) in Wraysbury with Ben’s family, and on Sunday returning to College for two weeks to finish up this year’s studies and catch up with everyone there. I’m especially looking forward to seeing my Gloucester church again. I’ve come to appreciate them a lot – really great people. Then, Summer! Finland (meeting most of Ben’s extended family), Estonia (seeing some old friends again, yay!!), New Wine (working for OSCAR in the marketplace), seeing family and friends in the North…. Then back to College in September.

As always, thanks so much for your prayers and support, and please do keep in touch!!

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