365 days in 365 words

23 August 2006
5:00 AM

In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Polonius said brevity is the soul of wit. I suspect probably also of keeping your readers. With that in mind, here is a manageable account of my past year in South America at the rate of one word per day. Just like the days, some words are more interesting than others: word 32, ‘Cochabamba,’ versus word 167, ‘the.’ If you want more words, an alternate version has links. And regarding the 365 words: this introduction doesn’t count.

After signing up with Holy Cross Associates, I left the U.S. one year ago. I visited Chile for a week with my fellow associates Caitlin, Emily, and Roy, before arriving in Cochabamba, Bolivia for language school. I made lots of mistakes learning Spanish, though my host family was understanding. Three months later, I could speak with some people sometimes. Meanwhile, I found that Bolivia isn’t in good shape. I also experienced the Day of the Dead, visited the Jesuit Missions in Chiquitania, saw llamas, and descended into Potosi’s working mines—truly hellish.

I left Bolivia in mid-December, the day that Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, was elected. In Chile, I moved into my house in the countryside where men bike down the street with their cows. Christmas was my first away from home. During January and February I did summer projects. I went on a missions trip to Osorno. I played with children at CEVA, a week-long summer camp. We took the kids to the zoo, which many had never seen. I spent a week with Habitat for Humanity. Construction is not in my future unless I get a gym membership.

When the summer ended, work in Chile began again and I started my daily jobs. I split my time between various places: the parish soup kitchen, a girls’ foster home, helping with high school English classes, and a nursing home. Each brings its own challenges. At the girls’ home, the day is a success if I can help a girl through six math problems; at the nursing home, I am learning how to exit gracefully during a resident’s forty-five minute monologue—they give me plenty of opportunities to practice.

I have soaked up some of Chile. Its sights: southern Puerto Montt, colorful Valparaiso, colonial La Serena, the vibrant Elqui Valley, thousand-year-old palm trees. Its food: empanadas, cazuela, pisco, pastel de choclo. Its music: Inti-Illimani, Victor Jara, Los Jaivas. Even its history: first female president Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration party. And its daily life: hand washing clothes, using a calefon, going to the market.

I miss people and things from home, and I look forward to going there eventually. For now, this is home.