|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.
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!
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.
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.