I am very grateful for the privileged lifestyle that I live here in Bolivia. I think of this sometimes when I am passing people on the streets in the city or when I am going out to a nice restaurant that I know many people around here would not be able to afford. I also recognize my status almost daily here at the compound. I am very fortunate to be receiving an education at Emory and although I am taking out incredible amounts of loans to pay for school, in theory they are covering our expenses for the summer. In part this means that they are paying for our food and lodging while we are staying here at the MAP compound in Chilimarca. From my understanding thus far, the money that the University is paying for us to stay here is actually a way for the organization to make money and so it doesn't just cover the expenses of our housing and our meals. I am not exactly sure how much is being paid but I imagine it to be roughly $250 a week which is a lot for being here in Bolivia and would be enough to live off in the States. I don't know how much the people that are helping us out make, but I am certain that it isn't much. A lot of the staff members come to help fix things in the house if there are any problems but there isn't anyone dedicated to maintenance up here. It is also a slow time of year for visitors so it seems like it isn't really necessary.
The biggest help that we get comes from the woman who cooks our lunches and dinners during the week, going shopping for our groceries, and cleans the house once a week. We have had two women that have been here throughout our two months here. At first Margarita was here because the main cook Mercedes was out of work because her son and husband had been in a terrible car accident. A couple of weeks later Dona Mechies (Mercedes) came back and Margarita was no longer with us. We got to know Mercedes fairly well and are always appreciative for the things that she does for us. Unfortunately it seems that her son's health has gone downhill again and he has been in and out of the hospital. Dona Mechies also had an accident in the kitchen and cut her right hand very badly and may have even cut a vein. She is out of work again and I am not exactly sure why. I also don't know if she has insurance for her son who is disabled, or if she gets any type of paid leave while she is gone. It is a very unfortunate situation. Since she has been gone I have been selfishly missing the fresh-squeezed orange juice that she had been making for me with greater frequency after she learned how much I loved it. Honestly though I could care less about my missing out and I just hope that she and her family are ok.
In the meantime Margarita is back with her. I am equally grateful for all of the things that the has been doing for me and my team from Emory. She is a great cook and always prepares lovely meals for us that include a soup and then a segundo or main course that usually entails fresh vegetables, cut cucumbers and tomatoes, a meat of some sort, and often time potatoes and/or rice and/or pasta. Before she leaves in the afternoon, often to go to her second job she leaves another course which could be lentils, lasagna, or a quiche for our dinner to go with the leftovers from lunch. Once a week she comes to clean the house and sweeps and mops, cleans the bathroom, and takes out the trash (including our toilet paper from the bathroom because you don't flush it here). We also pay her a couple of dollars extra to do our laundry once ever week or two and she seems very grateful for the extra income. Margarita has also been kind enough to share some of her culinary secrets with Betsy and I and we have begun learning how to cook like real Bolivians. A lot of the stuff is not that complicated but things are done a little differently here. What I still really want to learn is how to make the incredibly rich soups that we have everyday. They range from potato soups, to cream of peanut soup, to this pureed spinach soup that sounds disgusting but is absolutely delicious. Through conversations while cooking I have come to learn a lot more about Margarita and about the hard life that she lives. I still don't know how old she is and I think she only appears to be old because of her short round stature but I imagine she isn't much over thirty. She has three children aged 15, 10, and 8 and although she loves them, she is a single mom and has a very hard time taking care of everyone. She has told me that she wishes she could be like me and not have any children still. She works at least two jobs including her work here and also sells vegetables during the evening and I don't even know what else. It seems like she might pick up a few things for herself when she goes to the big market between 3 and 5 am on Wednesday and Saturday to pick things up for her other business and for our food here. It should also be mentioned that she carries all of this food on her shoulders and on her back to get through the market and then to get from wherever the bus drops her to here. I promise not to complain about carrying groceries from the car to the house ever again. I am also very thankful for supermarkets and for the baskets or buggies that we have in them. Margarita has lived a hard life and seems resigned to working hard and doing the kind of work that she does. She is a great cook and learned to cook when she was 13 and was working in the Taquina beer factory not far away preparing meals for the workers. When I asked if she was in school at the time, she explained to me that she grew up with her grandmother and that they didn't have any money for her to continue to go to school and that her grandmother was getting old and needed someone to support her so she went to work very young. I mentioned that the good thing about her having three children was that they would be able to take care of her as she got older and maybe she wouldn't have to work so much but she didn't seem very confident in that as a possibility. I know that her children are in school but I don't know how she manages to support all of them on what I imagine is a very very very modest salary to say the least. She is a good woman and makes me recognize and appreciate the position that I have in society, and helps me to remember that it is not something to be taken for granted and that I should be reminded to do good things for others or to leverage my position to make the world a little bit better of a place.