A Day in Our Lives: Homestay vignettes

After moving in with our homestay families just a short three weeks ago, each of us has felt a rush of emotions as we have just begun to adapt to living with new families and not being with the group 24/7. Living in Tiquipaya has presented many new challenges but the openness and kindness shown by our host families have served as a bedrock for each of us as we adjust to living in this completely new environment.

Even in just this short time, we have begun to forge strong relationships with our host families, yet each of us also has vastly differing experiences with our families. Some of us have many siblings, some of us help out with the family businesses, some of us help take care of a multitude of pets. Our different family experiences have given us an amazing collage of ways of life here in Bolivia, and a network of incredible people who have touched our lives. 

In lieu of having a single person reflect on their homestay experience, we decided to have each member of our group share a brief vignette about a specific aspect of their homestay experience that they felt was important to them. Each of these experiences comes together to create a full day in our lives, and highlights the important role our families have played so far in our experience in Tiquipaya.
 

6 AM: Ariel

Sunday market with stalls of bright, fresh produce

The Sunday Market in Tiquipaya

Early Sunday morning, I am awakened by my homestay mom knocking on my door. “¡Vamos al mercado!” (Let's go to the market!) She calls to me. Still half-dreaming, I drag myself out of my bed, bid farewell to Mono and Bakaila, my family’s two cats, and get in my family’s car with my grandma, my mom, and my two-month-old little sister. My homestay grandma and mom are already full of energy: for them, waking up at 2:30 AM from Monday to Saturday to prepare food in our family restaurant has been their routine. 6 AM? It’s probably nothing. 

The mornings, when the heat is not as scorching and the streets are somehow magically filled with vendors overnight, emit a different dynamic--not as drowsy as in the noon or dangerous as at night, but vivid, awaking, and bustling. (However, I may never be able to fully appreciate and understand it since I will never be fully awake at that hour.)

In the Domingo Feria (the Sunday morning fair), my abuelita (grandmother) navigates the complex web of vendors and narrow streets comfortably, buying food for Sunday’s family meal from the best food stands, while each vendor greets her “¡Buenos dias, Doña Maria!” (Good morning, Doña Maria). A lifetime of coming here every Sunday has given her the chance to know all of them. We then drive 20 minutes all the way through bumpy roads to El Paso to buy bread from a very specific street vendor who, according to my abuelita, has the “most rico Panchito in Cochabamba” (the most delicious bread in Cochabamba). Sometimes we go to the El Paso church just to get holy water. As we passed by small pueblos (villages) and fields on our way, my homestay mom would explain everything around us - Apote, El Paso, an organization that a Bridge Year student from last year used to work in, a river that recently started flowing again, and the long tunnels that stretch down from the mountaintop to provide meager water for the rural areas. 

The market trip takes us 2-3 hours. Spectacularly, I feel closer now to my homestay family as I learn more about the rhythm and corners of the little pueblo that they’ve grown up in. Being able to partake in their almost ritual-like routine every Sunday, I find my sense of belonging even when I barely speak their language. Bits of their life and beliefs expand themselves to me, more powerful than words, as I peek into how their years of experiences weave a huge web of knowledge covering this part of Cochabamba. 

 

11 AM:  Kat

View of a house across some land with mountains in the background and trees around

The view from Kat's room that she looks at while resting or finishing up homework around lunch time

After finishing my work at the school (my community placement), I take public transportation back home and meet my host mom for lunch. Generally, my host dad and brother are gone during the day so mealtimes have become a special bonding time for me and my host mom. Often when I return home, she has already prepared lunch so I generally help her prepare the table or heat up the food before we enjoy our meal. We chat during lunch and she usually fills me in on what's going on with the family or what is happening in the town. She always has very good insight as to what is happening, so lunchtimes are often a "news brief" that keeps me informed and helps us to continue bonding. After lunch, we always head into our daily "descanso" (rest), which involves laying in my bed trying to soak up the little bit of rest I have after work and before Spanish class. Although to some this time may not seem very eventful or exciting, being involved with the family's usual activities--no matter how big or small–has proven extremely valuable in making me feel more comfortable in the home and finding my place in the family dynamic. Even though this time at home during my lunch hour is short, it is valuable time that has been essential in bonding with my host mom and feeling like I am a part of the family. 

 

2 PM: Sean

Following a delicious lunch, I play a game with my 8-year-old homestay brother. We have an informal rotation of Pick Up Sticks, a video game on his tablet, or his favorite: Uno. Whether skillfully extracting palos (sticks) from the pile or placing a “más cuatro” (“plus four”) onto the stack of cards, our event is always rambunctious and fun because of my brother’s endless energy. Sometimes other family members, like my homestay mother, join in our games. 

After this, I and whichever family members are home typically take a few minutes to sit around the kitchen table. We talk about the day’s events, our plans for the evening, and anything else that comes up. At times, comfortable silence will set in as we all rest, think, and gaze at the Andean peaks barely visible over the fence outside. Afterwards, I rest for un rato (a bit), say goodbye, and catch a trufi (taxi/bus) to Spanish class at the Casa Amaru

 

Husky looking at the camera with its tongue out, laying on the tiled ground

Amelia's homestay dog, Parker

5 PM: Amelia

After Spanish classes, I sit on the patio, indulging Parker (my host family's adorable three-year-old Husky) by paying him constant attention. There’s a slight breeze in the air, and I am fully embracing the gorgeous weather paired with a picturesque sunset, slowly nearing completion. This town is certainly true to the name Tiquipaya, known as the “city of flowers,” referencing the year-round spring climate. 

Suddenly the air shifts and the smell of freshly made popcorn drifts by (a personal favorite). To Parker’s dismay, I stand up and head inside, anticipating it from the delicious scent. Inside waits my homestay family: my mother and father, two little sisters (9 & 12), and grandma. We sit around the popcorn on the kitchen table, quickly digging in. The taste reminds me of home, but I soon realize that word has a new meaning to me. “Home” has evolved from the small town and immediate family I have grown up with. At that moment, laughing around the table with my family, our connections prevail over language barriers, and I feel as at home as ever.

 

8 PM: Pierce

In my homestay family, supper is the one meal we all eat together. After a pretty busy day, I always look forward to the evenings as a time to relax and unwind. My four homestay siblings, parents, and I all gather around the table as my homestay mom puts the finishing touches on tonight’s dish. We eat and talk about whatever happened that day, how my younger homestay sister is doing in school, and whatever stories come up throughout the conversation. Pretty soon, the food is all gone, but everyone continues to talk, or, as Bolivians would say, charlar. One by one, the members of the family stand, thank each other for the food (to which each person responds with the classic “provecho”*), and head to bed. Eventually, the last one will tell me, “Nos vemos manana, Pears” (See you tomorrow, Pierce). This is how my days end in Bolivia. 

*Provecho used in this context is somewhat of a salutation or blessing related to appetite, favorable digestion, and nourishment and health from food.

 

10 PM: Andre

To mark the beginning of the new month, my family partakes in a traditional Bolivian ceremony called a K’oa. K’oa is a celebration of life and gratitude to the fortunes the earth, or Pachamama (the goddess Mother Earth), has given. The ceremony begins with the construction of the Mesa, a platform covered in herbs, aromatics, minerals and decorations. Each of the materials has a significance, and burning them symbolizes the materials being sent back to the earth as an offering of thanks.

After a brief period of my homestay brother struggling to start a fire, eventually we get it going. Once a few minutes have passed, the fire is ready. My family has explained to me that the key is to let the wood burn until it is just charcoal and ash. This is primarily to avoid the Mesa burning too quickly. My brother carefully lowers the Mesa onto the coals and everybody gathers around. One by one, as we watch the Mesa begin to slowly burn, we each take turns pouring alcohol on each of the four corners of the fire and then expressing our thanks and hopes for the future.  

To my family, the K’oa is both a connection back to their indigenous heritage and an important social gathering; as time passes, more friends and family come to appreciate the ceremony. After the official part of the ceremony is over, the festivities soon begin. We listen to music, dance together, and my brother's band gives an impromptu performance. This togetherness, in my mind, is the most important part of the K’oa. The ceremony is a way for us to show appreciation for what we have, but it’s only when we are living in the moment together with the people that we care about that this appreciation can be truly felt. I’m eternally grateful that my family has been willing to share such a personal and beautiful experience with me, and I now feel an even greater connection with them.

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Ariel Chen, Kat Livermore, Sean Hession, Amelia Wray, Pierce McCarthy, and Andre Penn