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.