We love the Bolivian culture very much, but there are some differences that are just so hard to deal with when you’re a Brit…
Last month we were asked to lead a night of drama and evangelism for 120 prison children and their mothers at Camp Kewiña. The prison system here in Bolivia is quite different from England. Whole families are expected to live inside the prison whilst the husband/father serves his sentence. The camp is an amazing opportunity for mothers and their children to get away and have some quality time together.
We had organised our team, practiced most of our dramas and we all had brand new T-shirts. All we had left to do was run through the programme and a few more practices before the event. Being typically task orientated we didn’t really understand what was coming next… Bolivians normally arrive within half an hour to an hour of the allocated time so we were very pleased to see our team arrive a few minutes early ready for our 2 hour journey into the mountains.
Ten of us squashed ourselves into the truck and greeted the driver who had just turned 18. We were also introduced to two totally NEW members of the team who we had never met before? hmmm…
The Bolivians were armed with bags full of food, ice creams and drinks and were up for a full on party atmosphere that was to last the whole two hours. Any notion of organising the programme literally flew out of the window with the orange peel and banana skins! I remember thinking that it’s amazing how fun and laughter so easily comes at the top of the list in Bolivia. Maybe we have a lot to learn?
We were very thankful that we had made it to the first police check point, as the driver had been compensating for the lack of front wheel tracking for the last 15km and he also seemed a bit worried that he wasn’t allowed to carry this amount of people. This became more apparent when he asked his passengers if anyone had a licence he could borrow to show the police! One licence was handed over as though this was a normal everyday request. (As there is such corruption within the police force here, many Bolivians find it easy to adopt a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality).
We arrived at Kamp Kewina in the pitch black and it was to stay that way until our presentation. Apparently there is no electricity until 7pm in these parts! Our practice session began and ended in the dark with a few cell phones as spot lights. The programme itself was scrutinised beyond belief as each team member insisted on adding another drama to the list. Dramas and skits that we had never heard of until this point and were never mentioned in any of the eight rehearsals beforehand. Trying to explain that we didn’t have time or that this was totally unprofessional was weighed against the teams enthusiasm and spontaneity. Unfortunately professionalism was lost somewhere along the way and chaos ensued!
Dinner by candlelight was a welcome break at this point as we filed into the dining hall to meet the happy campers. As we were chewing on the food that we couldn’t see before us, the camp leader told us that we may not have electricity at all and that we should only choose the dramas ‘without music’ to perform by torchlight. Once this was agreed in a frenzy by the team a miraculous event occurred. The lights came on and then suddenly went off again. One of the prison lads gave us a cheeky grin with one mischievous finger on the light switch… We showed him as much love as we could before escorting him to his seat at the table.
The performance was back on. Two hours of non stop drama and evangelism – nothing else could go wrong…
Apart from the leader of the camp forgetting to tell us that we were to be judges for a gladiator competition and that there would be a 20 minute movie: the evening was a great success. Seeing the amazement on the children’s faces somehow made it all worth it. Most of these young lives had never seen drama before and were hearing about God’s love for the fist time. Bolivians have this amazing ability to pull it out of the bag at the last minute and it would seem they live to enjoy the whole chaotic journey along the way. It guess it gives them stories to tell, like I have told this one… and life is most certainly lived to the full.
Even though at times we feel frustrated and completely out of our comfort zone as Brits, I just know we will be doing more of the same sometime very soon.
As we will be travelling over August the staff and inmates at COMETA decided to give us a farewell party until we meet again in September. The afternoon’s activities revolved around food yet again. We were able to provide each person with some cake, empanadas, yuca cuñapes and drinks. The young people performed dramas and gave speeches.
One lad thanked us for coming in every week to spend time with them. He said that they are the forgotten ones, young people that no one likes to hang out with and he thanked us for loving them. After lots of tears and hugs we were presented with hand made cards and a certificate of gratitude from the prison staff. We have been overwhelmed with their reaction to us and this was an awesome end to our first term programme.