My Bolivian family

2 September 2005
6:34 PM

I arrived at the Cochabamba airport yesterday at 9:00pm—about an hour late—picked up my bag, and exited to the arrivals area. There I was greeted by a large sign that said RYAN (a first for me in an airport) and my host mom and dad, Juana and Nestor. We took a short taxi ride to their apartment where Nestor and I carried by suitcase up four flights of stairs. Then I met my host brother, Jorge. He is 23 and is studying electrical engineering at the local university.

My host family is great. I think it is going to be a fantastic experience living here. I am fortunate because Juana already understands a lot about having a foreign student. Many people told me that their families would serve food continually at meals and expect them to eat all of it. Right away, Juana said, por favor, dime si no quieras comer mas (“Please tell me if you don’t want to eat any more”). I also know that it is not safe to drink tap water here (unlike in Chile). Without my asking, Juana showed me where I can get bottled water in the house and she explained that she was being very careful when cooking food.

Don't speed

I am already learning lots of new Spanish and my family thankfully does not hesitate to correct me. After I arrived, we ate dinner and introduced ourselves. Then my family wanted to see the photos that I brought, so I had to show them all my pictures and explain what each one was about. Some were easy, I just said, that’s my brother Michael, that’s my sister Erin. Others, like the picture you see here, were more difficult to explain. I had to say that my friend Kate’s stepdad is a police officer and dressed up to take funny pictures with us during our spring break road trip, and that I wasn’t actually breaking the law. I muddled through it. With any luck, my family doesn’t think that I’m an American outlaw.

It is surprising how much vocabulary is coming back to me now that I have to use it. It also helps to be willing to express yourself using alternate (sometimes awkward) phrasing of your original thought. So far, I’ve tried to explain the rules of American football to Jorje (which is funny because I once called the OLB the “offensive linebacker”), talked with Juana about health problems in Bolivia and the U.S., and watched my first episode of The Simpsons in Spanish.

In other news, I finally unpacked my suitcase. I can’t express how fantastic it is to have a place to store my clothes and toothbrush. Juana put me in a lovely room; I’m a little embarrassed because they gave me my own bathroom. Classes at the Maryknoll Institute start Monday. Until then, I’m going to be relaxing and learning my way around Cochabama.