Newsletters 15 and 16

Newsletter 16 – Latin Lockdown

Since our last newsletter we have remained in a strict lockdown here in Bolivia. Our weekly trip to the market has become a highlight. We have to wear a face mask, walk about 3 km (no public transport) and get sprayed by a disinfectant tunnel before having our temperature taken, a foot wash and smothered in hand gel.

Being in lockdown does have its challenges but there are a number of things that do make us smile and help us to get through these uncertain times. There’s the Corona virus song which is played at full blast at least once a week. Four huge speakers are strapped to the back of a truck and driven through the streets of Cochabamba. We have no choice but to listen as all the windows start to shake as it passes by.

The latest trip to the post office also kept us amused. It’s a 7km walk and we had no idea if in-fact it would be open. To our surprise it was and we were told to join the social distanced queue. Picture in your mind total chaos inside a crumbling building stuck in the 1950’s with post bags, parcels and letters piled up to the ceiling. After being told that there was no post for us today we then had to play the waiting game. It also helps if you look really sad and lean your head to one side. ‘Por favor, we are sure there must be something for us, something was sent four months ago!’ One kind gentleman started to open one of ten dirty, old post bags. Behold, the first parcel belonged to Dino y Ruth and after more sorting and fumbling two more showed up ten minutes later. A successful trip and another story to tell. Thanks to everyone who has sent parcels to us. They do arrive eventually and English chocolate and decaf tea bags always lift our spirits.

Always thankful for our post office packages
Squashed Maltesers are just as good as normal maltesers
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We celebrated Dean’s Birthday

One of the largest Catholic churches in Cochabamba happens to be our neighbour which is lead by a very charismatic priest called Ronaldo. His latest activities included flying over the city in a helicopter and sprinkling Holy water over his flock. He also now has a huge TikTok following. His latest rap song went viral on social media, basically telling everyone to stay safe and stay inside. He has also fashioned a kind of Pope-mobil and can often be seen rolling though the streets of Cochabamba singing and blessing the people. You just can’t write this stuff and it’s all happening here folks!

The Catholic Priest on his Fly by blessing

We have not been able to see the boys in the rehabilitation centre but have sent messages and a video via the social workers and hope and pray that they are well. The Army have been collecting food for the most needy and regularly patrol the streets in a truck asking for basic supplies. We have also been able to help our friend Wilfredo who was in the youth centre a few years ago with a financial gift. Our mission organisation has also been partnering with churches to supply food baskets, especially for children who’s parents are in prison. The government here are desperately trying to slow the spread of Coronavirus by asking people to stay home, but many people live in desperate poverty and cannot survive for long if they do not work. The government have given each family a payment to support them at this time, but we are seeing more and more people venturing out and coming into the city. The next decision will be on the 31st May and possibly some businesses can reopen in some areas depending on the numbers. The hospitals are very under funded; for example the news reported that in one department of Bolivia they had 15 ventilators and at the moment only 2 actually were in working order. Another photo emerged of a Covid -19 waiting area in a hospital of people in wheelchairs in a big hall with their oxygen tanks. In a system where there is no free National Health Care, where some doctors are refusing to treat patients and many people are staying away from hospital, the total of 14,000 cases in Bolivia is unlikely to be accurate.

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An example of the food parcels our mission was able to send to local families
Hospital waiting area
Army officers are always polite and helpful in our local plaza
Mmmm…. what would you like for dinner?
Meeting by Zoom …. with our Kairos Family

We are not sure what’s next. We are praying that we can get back to some kind of normality soon. Our Bolivian church meet a couple of times a week via Zoom with worship and a short chat. People are finding it really hard to be apart and we have some days when we struggle too.

Newsletter 15 – Virus Update
Since the first case of Coronavirus arrived in Bolivia on 12th March we have been in a strict lockdown. The government took action to close schools, shops, restaurants and stop transport very quickly.

Here in Bolivia you are only allowed out to go to the market and buy food once a week from 07.00 – 12.00 depending on the number on your national ID card. Our cards end in the same number so we can only venture out on a Wednesday. Thankfully the shops have been fairly well stocked, as Bolivia produces a lot of its own food. Recently as a way to help social distancing and keeping people away from crowded places there have been mobile markets allowed to circulate the neighbourhood in the mornings. A truck with fresh veggies and fruit in sacks along with basics such as pasta, rice and eggs. (It reminds me of the lady who used to come to our village when we were kids, who knew everyone’s name, selling us ‘raspberry pop’.)When we do get to a shop we get our temperature taken, sprayed with alcohol gel, shoes cleaned, handed a jet washed trolley and, as of today, blasted in a tunnel of disinfectant. One of the strangest things is that there are no children allowed outside at all. It is so weird not to hear or see kids playing or bustling around the street.

Understandably everyone is extremely worried as the health system here is severely underfunded and poorly resourced. The government are trying to keep the numbers of infections down. The official figures are low, but this does not take into account the people who are not able to go to hospital because they cannot afford it, or treat themselves with some herbal or traditional remedy. People are not getting tested so it is unknown how many people have the Coronavirus. The government here have extended the quarantine until end of April. They have provided funds for 500bs per family (£50)  to buy food whilst in quarantine. Utility bills and debts have been frozen and if a household keeps their water, gas and electricity under a certain amount then the government will pay those too. This has helped in part to allow people to stay at home. Many, many Bolivians live in poverty and earn money one day to pay for food the next.

As you can imagine we are very worried for the boys we work with. The hygiene facilities are basic and often limited sanitation products. We have not heard any news from the centre for about a month. Many of the families live a long way from the town and we’re sure the boys are concerned for their loved ones. All the other projects we work with are similarly closed to volunteers for now.

Fresh, organic, local fruit and vegetables

A day in the Life….

Before the lockdown started here in Cochabamba we wrote this description of a typical day. We really miss our daily routine so we hope this gives you a flavour of life here.


All packed and ready for the next session
A thick layer of sunscreen…check! Hats and sunglasses…check! Old AppleMac and sound equipment…check! Lines learnt and drama practiced in Spanish…check! Parachute and games equipment…check! The ‘Niffler’ (Ruth) to make sure we have at least 4Bs (40p) for the return bus ride…check! Prayer for protection…double check!

After being warmly greeted by the heat of the day, we make our way to Avenida America, the main street that cuts through the busy city of Cochabamba. A long line of tall palm trees lead the way to a crossroads, where the race for the 260 ‘micro’ begins. I guess it’s called a micro because it’s like a small minibus but we never underestimate its ‘Tardis -like’ qualities, as there is always room for one, two or three more people and their children!

The bus will stop anywhere along the busy street, so you have to position yourself to be the first person the bus driver sees by forcefully sticking two fingers in the air (which indicates the number of people travelling by the way) and dodging traffic, motorbikes and street sellers to achieve your goal. Once you have won your seat you are now bent double with your knees firmly pressed against your chest. It’s now time to say goodbye to any form of personal space. In the past some Bolivians have been very keen to sit on your lap or stroke your arm and comment on how hairy it is whilst playing music at full blast on their cell phones! One of the great things about living in a collectivist society is that without fail everyone will say good morning to you as they launch themselves into the ‘micro collective’ …this makes us smile every time.

Once you have overcome the very satisfying feeling that ‘you’, a foreigner, have navigated the complexities of riding a Bolivian bus across town, the realisation that you might have to get off at some point suddenly dawns on you. There are various ways to do this. The first and most effective is to shout ‘esquina’ (corner) as loud as you can. This exercise is not for the timid or faint hearted as many times we have not shouted loud enough and had to walk for 2 or 3 blocks because we missed our stop. The next and probably the most Bolivian way to stop a bus is to shout ‘bajamos’ which simply means ‘we are getting off now!’. This can only be used if you are feeling very confident with your Spanish and does seem rather rude when you are from the United Kingdom.

We scramble off the bus at kilometer six and a half on the ‘Blanco Galindo’ (White Rooster) a very dangerous and dusty six lane high way. Probably the best way of knowing you have arrived is to look out for the two sign posts, ‘Tantra’ and ‘Eros’… a not so subtle reminder that we are now in the heart of the red light district. We take our equipment and our life in our hands as we navigate our way across and make the 10 minute hike along a road that we now fondly call Bleak Street.

It’s now time to prepare for the ‘Mosquito Run’. The valley of the shadow of death comes to mind, as we arm ourselves with Bolivian fizzy pop from the corner shop and make our way down this muddy track. The occasional beaten up street dog observes us invading its territory as we pass by. Show no fear becomes our brave mantra, but this only lasts for a few seconds. A frenzy of leg and arm slapping ensues as we try to swat away the onslaught of mosquitoes. Finally we look up through the dust at the large metal doors and the high barbed wire of the Youth Rehabilitation Centre.

We lift a small metal flap in the door and call for assistance. Hola..! There is always a warm greeting from Reynaldo who likes to practice his English with us… “Dino – my friend – how dar you? Please don’t speak in de Spanish – Only English por favor”.

Whilst the police officers check our bags, there are always a few boys sitting in a shady corner. They are kept there for a couple of days before they are integrated in to the main community. This time however they all seem to be huddled in a circle, reading something together. We wander over to give them our usual greeting and realise that they all have Bibles. Bibles that we bought for the centre three years ago. Wow! There are five teenage boys having a Bible study together. You just can’t write this stuff!

From a distance we hear some boys calling our names. Hey Dino y Roooof. Twelve lads appear one by one. They have rushed their lunch so that they can be ready for Youth Alpha. It doesn’t matter so much that our Spanish isn’t perfect, the boys know that we care for them and know each of them by name. We are greeted with wet hand shakes and back slapping hugs. They all have self made tattoos, battle scars and they smell a bit strange sometimes. They have come from a world that many of us will never know or experience, but God is changing their lives and that is good enough for us. Each one of these young people have a story to tell and have been in trouble with the law, but we have never experienced such a willingness to change, they have been given a second chance and they are open to God’s power and love in their lives. We sit in a dark hall, surrounded by a patchwork of curtains, the odd stray dog and we talk about eternal things.

We meet with these boys, and others like them, five times a week. We have come to the realisation that we love this work. It’s what God has called us here to do and the rewards far outweigh the cost. We now have a ‘captive audience’ for the next two years. These young lives which are hidden from sight are so precious to God and most of them are hearing the gospel message for the first time. So, we are all packed and ready for the next session … bring it on!

It’s hard to find words to explain how we are feeling right now as we wait for the doors to open again but we are praying that God will make us stronger through this time of lockdown. Our thoughts and prayers are with you wherever in the world you might be. We are feeling very far from home at the moment, but are sure this is where God has called us to be.