It was a long trek, but I made it–safe, sound, and excited–to La Paz last Thursday. After a seemingly interminable eleven-hour layover in Lima, I suddenly found myself flying over rugged mountains and catching a quick glimpse of beautiful Lake Titicaca before the plane landed at the airport in El Alto, high up above the city of La Paz. I walked carefully down the airplane’s steps in light drizzle, with unfamiliar palpitations in my chest–partly from emotion, to be sure, but also from the sudden arrival at 13,325 feet elevation! Happily, passing through immigration and customs was a breeze, and I quickly met up with my friend Susan, a former PCUSA mission co-worker who is back in Bolivia to do doctoral research.
Susan guided me and my abundant luggage to a taxi, and soon we were off on the steep road down to my new home, where we were met by Cleo, the director of Red UMAVIDA (the Joining Hands network here in Bolivia).
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the many ways in which I already feel quite at home in this new place. I’ve encountered many friendly and generous people in these first days, and plenty of things have brought a smile to my face. Many of the little details of life are similar to what I’ve encountered in Buenos Aires and in Colombian cities, although the larger context is unique. The socio-political dynamics of the country, the heavy influence of indigenous Andean cultures, and the extreme nature of the landscape itself are all new to me. I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with our partners here at UMAVIDA and also at the Independent Presbyterian Church in Bolivia.
“Slowly by slowly,” as a friend likes to say. For these first days, I’ve spent about half my time asleep! And much of the rest has been focused on small triumphs such as getting internet service and a post office box (you can send me letters! Casilla No. 1207, La Paz, BOLIVIA), signing a lease for my apartment (almost done), and jumping through the many hoops to get my year-long residency visa (this is still a work in progress!). Susan reminds me that for at least the first month, just breathing is an accomplishment, and I’ve tried to take that to heart and be gentle with myself. Twice I’ve been able to push myself slowly up the steep slope to my home, but more often I spend a dollar to have a taxi give me a lift!
But there is a reward for being so high up the hill: an awe-inspiring view of the city and surrounding mountains, which I have the blessing of being able to gaze upon right from my window. It is truly captivating at all times of day, and at some point, on a clear day, I will get a good picture of Illimani, which hopefully will show you just a bit of the incredible majesty of this place. This morning as I read the psalms for the day, this verse stood out to me: On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. (Ps. 145:5)