Nova Scotia Artist, Joy Laking, posts ramblings while she's travelling and painting in South America.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012, "The Chair"

Every time I drove through Great Village,  the old chair, sitting road-side in front of the antique shop,  called to me.  Even at a distance, I could see the chair’s surface peeling off.  The chair’s bones still looked good; solid square legs, hefty arms and a back that was big and broad.  The eight cut out triangles on the back added just a hint of good humour.  In the winter, the chair was laden with snow. In the summer, the chair was blistered and cracking.  The flimsy bottom slats were topsy-turvey.    Finally, I stopped the car  to have a closer look.

As I approached, I heard the warm tenor voice of the chair say; “I used to live in the doctor’s house.  Many, many fine men and women sat in me.”  The pine table next to the chair softly added;  “I lived in a warm humble farm house. Six children, an old grandmother, the farmer and his wife said grace over me before all their meals.  I was the centre of that happy household.”  Suddenly the battered trunk under the table piped up; “And I started out in England.  I carried all of the things that the grandmother and the farmer brought with them to Canada.  The farmer was just a little boy then and his father was there too.  An entire house-hold in a box and I was that box.  When we first arrived in Great Village, I was the only furniture we had.  People sat on me, played games on top of me and when the boy’s baby brother died, it was me that supported the little pine coffin while the entire community cried.”

I went into the antique shop and stuck a deal with  Clair, the owner.  The next afternoon, he delivered the chair, the table and the trunk.   We lugged them to the basement.  I started chipping off the dirt and loose bits.  I sanded, glued, clamped and polyfilled.   Throughout this assault, they were strangely quiet.  I wanted them to be perfect again.   After several weeks, I realized that nothing could make them new again.  Just as I am my past, so they were theirs.

I brought them upstairs to the kitchen and welcomed them to their new home.  I made a plump pillow for the chair bottom, I painted the table a cherry red and I polished the metal bits on the trunk.  Together,  we are all happy and beautiful. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December 9 2012

Woke up this morning to glorious early morning light, billowing clouds, and a very high tide. I grabbed my camera and Marsh and I set off for the cabin. The river was mirror-like and ready to spill onto the marsh grass. In the far distance, I could see the splash of spray as waves crashed onto the beach. How could it be so calm on the river and so riled on the bay? We started off toward the bay but suddenly my camera card was full. Inadvertently I had a very small 128 card in the camera and I was shooting raw files and so the ten or so photos had filled the card. No matter, I thought, I'll go home and get a bigger camera card. As we approached the house I could hear a huge racket of crows. I've never heard anything like this. It put some speed in my step. In front of me a cloud of raucous crows rose from a maple tree. Left on the bottom branches was a large dark shape, an eagle I thought. But no, it's tufted head showed it to be a great horned owl. Darn no pictures left on the camera card. I struggled to erase one to make room for a photo, grabbed a quick shot and the owl rose into air and flew down into a large spruce tree, with all the crows above it, taunting and bullying.file://localhost/Users/joylaking/Desktop/marsh2emfile://localhost/Users/joylaking/Desktop/marsh1em

Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 30, 2012

Another busy week and this is my last posting from Bolivia as we fly to Peru tomorrow.

On Tuesday, after a meeting at the Ivar Mendez International Foundation, Jim and I were off to CATI orphanage with Ernesto, where I taught art. We had a terrific morning doing pastels and watercolours and ending with toothpicks and plasticine. Then we had a great lunch at a vegetarian restaurant. After sietsta, we went to visit the well know Bolivian artist, Javier Fernandez and his wife Marta. We spent a wonderful couple of hours. I loved his work and feel inspired to try more dry brush watercolour. Havier and I tentatively made plans to explore possibilities to do a joint exhibition in Canada and Bolivia.

On Wednesday, after a beauty treatment at Yumey´s sister´s shop ¨Miriams¨, I took Miriam, Yumey and Ernesto out for lunch. The beauty treatment was a huge contrast to Aucapata for me. Earlier in the morning, in preparation for this treat, I had plucked a few hairs from my eyebrows and after breakfast when Jim wasn´t there, I cleaned my very dirty thumb nails with the end of my straw. You can just imagine me later in the morning, when I was plunked down in a very upscale beauty salon having every hair on my face pulled out by a whirling string while at the sametime, some else was fussing over my hands. Quite an experience! I think I´m more comfortable in the muddy, pig-shit filled streets of Aucapata than the cosmopolitan world.

In the afternoon, the made over me again taught art to a different group of kids at CATI orphanage.

Thursday morning, I had a meeting with Mario Condez Cruis, in preparation for the class I was teaching in the afternoon at the Bolivian Art Academy. I love Mario´s art and I very much enjoying renewing my acquaintance with him. (We had supper together three years ago). After the meeting, Jim and I bought a dozen full sheets of watercolour paper and a large bag of fruits and vegetables for my teaching at the Academy. Jim and I then took Yumey, Lucy, and Yvonne for lunch at my favouite vegetarian restaurant. The class in the afternoon was just great. Yuonne came to translate and after showing the Aucapata paintings, I demonstrated a full sheet watercolour in thirtyfive minutes. Afterward, the students were each given a 22¨x 30¨sheet of paper and given one hour to do their full sheet painting. There was lots of resistance. I gave out both my paint sets and all four of my brushes and still we had to make do. Fortunately most of the students rose to the challenge and they all learned allot. Two refused to try. One girl was uncomfortable wrecking a full sheet of paper. I tore it and said ¨Now I´ve wrecked the paper, Go ahead and try the exercise.¨ The other girl flatly refused and continued to do her painstaking copy of a reclining nude. Unless she changes, her hopes of being an artist are sadly nil. After the exercise, I demonstrated another twenty minutes of finish details and invited everyone to come and stay with us in Canada if they are ever in our country. It was a most enjoyable time, nudging young creative minds but I was totally exhausted afterwards because of my coninuing asthma.

On Friday, I took Yvonne and Lucy painting on location. We worked outside for four and a half hours. Then we caught a cab to the office and I did an interview for an international radio program on culture. Luckily Yumey translated and I didn´t have to do much of it in Spanish.

One of yesterday´s highlights for me, was seeing the two pairs of shoes that Jim purchased on the ¨sky´s behalf¨for Anahi. This tiny girl was one of our favourites; full of vitality, spunk and creativity. At our civico, she danced with two friends. She was obviously the leader. She was wearing a lovely traditional white blouse, a full gold skirt and her two broken sandals. We had noticed her wearing these at all of our classes at the casa and at school. Before we left, Jim traced her foot. Today he got her a pair of solid sandals and a pair of pink dancing shoes that will fall out of the sky for her when Danillo (another IMIF dentist) returns to Aucapata on April 8th.

After the radio interview, we had an excellent two hour meeting with the IMIF staff on our ideas and our experience in Aucapata. We had lots of great experiences and our biggest challenge of the bugs and the constant itching can be dealt with for the folks who follow us. Afterward the meeting, the IMIF staff took us out for supper and surprised us with two amazing gifts. A Bolivian silver tray and a Bolivian silver wine set. Both of which Jim and I will cherish. Most of all, we cherish the people we have met and worked with and the enriching experiences that we not only survived but gave our best too.

A present from a student in Aucapata, will also have a place of honour in our home. Jose gave me a wonderful sling shot that he had carved. The carving is beautifully done of a naked woman with her arms raised to hold the sling. Probably there are all kinds of ideas that can be read into this image!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

March 26, 2012

Well the Aucapata adventure in finished and early this morning we arrived back in La Paz. The third week in Aucapata was really terrific. By then I knew all the kids by name and they knew that if I wasn´t teaching art at a school or our casa, then I was sitting somewhere outside painting. All they had to do was to find me. I had the nicest times with these kids. Although they usually wanted me to play or paint them, after they realized that I was working, they would sit and watch for hours. If they were still watching when I finished, I always painted them. At our art exhibition on Saturday at the house, I displayed the fifteen paintings and three sketches of Aucapata that I did and I also displayed all the sculpture, painting, prints, and pastels that were done by the kids and adults in the free open after school sessions and on Saturdays. It was a terrific little exhibition and well atended by a throng of fourty kids who made art, ate pop corn and had me draw them non stop for the full three hours. We also had a four teachers and a smattering of parents and neighbours attend. Five of the adults went home with sketches of themselves as well.

Jumey, the director of IMIF came to Aucapata on Tuesday for the exhibitions at the schools and the Saturday exhibition. Having Ernesto and Jumey living in the house as well as Amparo, Lucy and us was a bit crowded. Even though we got three extra chairs, two of the original chairs had broken and collapsed (only one with me on it) and so for supper and our nightly wizard game Jim would sit on my painting stool. (He still won at wizard even with just his head showing above the table top).

Jumey excellently represented the foundation at the official part (the civicos) of the four exhibitions. She also improved living conditions at the casa. When Ernesto arrived on the food truck, she had him also bring a kitchen cupboard. Now that she´s seen the way the tiny frying pan tips over because the handle is heavier than the pot, I know that a new frying pan will also be on its way.

It was also extremely important that Jumey see first hand some of what we accomplished as well as some of the challenges. Jim and I will both have lots of suggestions for the foundation in our final report and eventually it will be Jumey´s role to implement some of them.

Our original plan was to depart Aucapata at two this morning by bus. Yesterday morning we were pleased to find a truck and driver for hire that should have made the return trip to LaPaz for the six of us cheaper, faster and far more comfortable. Off we set at 2:30 yesterday afternoon. The first five hours were glorious because it was daylight for our trip on the narrow rough winding trail. After it got dark, we arrived at the paved road, and this is when Spanish conversations started replacing the radio dance music. Jim and I didn´t know what was wrong except that that there was allot of slow eratic driving. At midnight, in a very unsafe area of ElAlto, our driver stopped and pretended to run out of gas so that he wouldn´t have to drive into La Paz. Luckily the cell phones had been humming and Amparo´s parents arrived and picked her up and shortly afterwards the five of us piled into Paz´s little car ( Paz is our friend and taxi driver) to be driven into the city. An hour later Jim and I were safely in our LaPaz hostel.

Aucapata Word Picture 4

The morning is shrouded in gray.
Only the village exists.
The mountain have disappeared.
The flat light on the brown adobe buildings
Is cold and depressing.
Suddenly there is a glow in the sky as
The sun tries to break through.
Just for a moment, the green weeds
In the street look alive.
Then the gray rushes back in.
Even the main square is gone.
Out of the mist a herd of sheep pass by.
Their old shepherd, dressed all in gray,
Is surprised to see a colourful me,
Sitting on the door step in the fog.
We both smile and wave.

Aucapata Word Picture 3

I´m wondering how people live their lives in this remote mountain village. The women work hard cooking on small woodfires, scrubbing clothes in streams, tending animals and crops. Everything is labour intensive. Sometimes, the children walk hours to school but race and play on their way up or down the mountian. Even when it is dark, kids are playing. Often a tiny girl, maybe aged six, has a baby sister or brother tied to her back. She heaves the bundle around, changes the baby in the street, and is a mother. Often that baby is a big baby and can already walk. Even when it is dark, kids are playing outside. They use two litre pop bottles as tobaggans or skate boards and take turns hauling each other down the hill. Faster and faster until the puller tires or the pulled crashes. They build mud dams in the street to make puddles big enough to lie beside. Their skipping ropes are hand made or woven grass.

At four pm, or five pm or 8 pm there is honking on the mountain top. The bus is arriving. Everyone drifts towards the square. The bus doesn´t leave again until 2 am or 4 am but some of the passengers are ready and waiting. The bus roof is piled high with bags and boxes and sometimes passenengers. The cold metal interior of the bus is filled with wool wrapped people waiting to be jossled and tossed on the rough winding mountain road.

The first truck reached this village in 1974. Now all the able bodied men and boys return home in 4x4s from the mines on Saturday. One night a week to drink and procreate before retuning underground.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Aucapta Word Picture 2

The bites covering my everywhere.
My fingernails and feet dirty.
Even the clothes washed and
Dried yesterday feel grungy.
I swear to throw out everything.
I will have a shopping bananza at Louis.
I will not take another cold shower
With a wet bathroom floor
And a dirty towel.
I will have stacks of crisp folded tea-shirts.
I will never eat plain noodels or drink instant coffee.
I will have fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms. basil, dill......

Aucapata Word Picture 1

The dirty mud streets
Filled with pig shit and garbage.
The buildings, also of mud,
Rising higilly pigilly;
Mostly windowless.
Old gray doors out
To long gone balconies.
Everything enshrouded
In a heavy soul-sucking mist.
No mountains, no sunshine
no coloured wild flowers.
And then a bird sings.

Friday March 16, 2012

It´s the end of week two. I´ve had breakfast, done a wash in the kitchen sink. organized all the supplies for this mornings class and now I have a half hour to write before we start to lug the art supplies uphill to school.

This has been a tough eye opening two weeks. We´ve had four power outages, one lasting for over two days. Yesterday, there was no water in Aucapata for the entire day. We also had the teachers protest which shut the schools for three days. This turned out to be really really great for me since I had time to paint and I just taught one big class every afternnon between three and sixthirty.

Yesterday we had our first day at Charaj. Luckily we got a ride there with Don Manuel at 8 am. The school yard was full of moms and dads and kids. The moms wore small round light brown hats, black ponchos with red trim and multicoloured wool skirts. The men wore short pants, with a comerbun, a poncho over a shirt and the traditional knitted andes hat with earlugs. Unfortunately, they wouldn´t agree to let me take their pictures and so the ones I got I grabbed at a distance.

The kids were overwhelmed with the pastels and paints. Noone wants to mess up new supplies. From 12 to 2 the kids have lunch and two of the moms came with big wool bundles and set up our lunch. Everything was in pots with lids, fresh cheese, omelettes, salsa, rice, boiled potatoes. It was served on tin plates with a big spoon. Poor Jim was reluctant to eat because of his worries of Gringo stomach and his preference for cookies and pop for lunch, but I just smiled and told him to eat!
The mom´s sat on the floor to serve and of course wouldn´t consider eating with us.
Everyone is comfortable on the ground except for me. I miss sitting in a comfortable chair.

After lunch we hiked about a half hour uphill to the road, where we sat (and I painted) for two hours waiting for the bus. Eventually we gave up and walked the two hours home before it got dark. Luckily for me, most of this walk was gently downhill.

Saturday March 10, 2012

A busy exhausting first week in Aucapata. Today, I had a class for older students between 10 and 2 and then a class for all the little kids from 3 until 5. Yesterday afternoon, I did bakers clay with the kids. A bit of a long shot since we don´t have an oven to bake the creations. I went inside to get something and when I came back out, a pig was gobbling up my sculpture!

Walking down to Cosnipata

Walking down the rough mountain road to Cosnipata,
White mists swirl across the sunny blue sky
And the vast green valley vista.
The distant gray mountains appear and disappear.
Hazy siloetts of trees are there and then not there.
The light mists enshroud us,
Becoming a thick gray fog.
Suddenly it is cold.
Our camera´s are put away, coats go on, hoods up.
Soon rain pelts down.
As quickly as it begins, it rolls away
And the sunny day reappears.
The light sparkles on wet wild flowers,
In orange and yellow and blue,
As well as tiny purple orchids.
Around the corner,
Three young teenaged girls,
All with amber skin and thick black hair,
Amble by to school in Aucapata.
They´re wearing light-colours sweater sets
Full velvet skirts and sandles.
They must be wet but they don´t look it.
Shyly they return our greetings.
Soon a cluster of boys race by,
Pushing each other and calling out
Bieno Diez, Good Morning.
Eventually, we leave the downhill road
And start up a steep long uphill path.
I am exhausted, although by now,
I should be acclimatized to the thin mountain air.
I have to keep stopping to let all my muscles rest,
And my thumpìng heart return to normal.
At the crest, a small adobe casa sits
Cantilevered over the valley.
The dooryard is filled with animals, laundry and life.
A smiling woman races up from their casa to greet us.
Finally we arrive at Cosnipata School.
Twenty two young brown faces with lively dark oval eyes watch us.
It is hard to to get them to relax and smile.
They are worried.
They want to do everything just right.
I open my pack and pull our my purse paints.
Suddenly, they are my students.
We paint together,
We use pastells on coloured paper,
We build with tooth picks and pasticine.
We make a big mess
And have a glorious time.

Friday, March 9,2012

This week we did four days of teaching art, two in Aucapata and two in Cosnipata. Walking to and from Cosnipata was supposed to be a 20 min stroll down and a 30 walk back up. Instead the hike was more than an hour and the going was gently down for three quarters and then very steeply up. Luckily Jim was my mule and carried our stuff. It was all I could do to get there and back. After the first days walk, I said that wouldn´t go to Charaj which is our distant village and billed as two hours gently along with ten or fifteen minutes steeply down.

The teachers all left for LaPaz today for a protest. Last night when the bus came in at four with Amparo, our dentist, people were gathering for the return trip to LaPaz which didn´t leave until 1 AM. There were several benches in a line filled with teachers. I couldn´t believe that they were going to sit there for nine hours before starting a twelve hour bus ride. Juan Carlos, the bus driver, his wife and daughter were at the bus. When I realized that they too were just going to try to sleep and stay warm until 1 AM, I impulsively invited them for supper at 7. After I invited them, I realized that we had limited cutlerly, pots and chairs but we made do. We had a wonderful feast and Amparo could translate so that was a huge help.

Plans here shift daily and the biggest asset is remaining flexible. Ernesto was to have left yesterday but he is still here. Today´s plans of teaching at Charaj are cancelled because there is no school. My plan of having a shower or doing laundry in the kitchen sink is off because we are again without power.

This time in Aucapata has some amazing experiences. The walk to Cosnipata, while difficult for me, is absolutely fantastic along a mountain edge, with a sprinkling of adobe casas here and there. The mists roll in and out, constantly exposing vast vistas then obscuring everything except the immediate path. Occationally people, pigs, mules or dogs walk the other way. The teaching I love. I find I am able to communicate with the kids easily through demonstrations and pantomime. The kids, while shy and worried about making a mistake or wasting materials, have long long attention spans and they love the various projects especially with the new supplies.

Monday, March 26, 2012

March 6th, 2012

We spent most of yesterday moving in. After setting up the fridge, I covered the box, it came in with my sarong to make a kitchen counter. I supported the box with bricks and sticks but still it wasn´t up to holding cans and heavy stuff and it tumbled over to be rethought. Late in the day, I started a quarter sheet painting in the street. The rain moved in and my mountains disappeared. However, this is the first quarter sheet painting that I have started on this trip. In the early evening Ernesto got a phone call saying that Lucy, my teaching assistant, was on the bus that had broken down and wouldn´t make it to Aucapata in time for tomorrow. I started learning a few more absolutely necessary terms in Spanish (such as the names of the four kinds of teeth since this art project has the double aim of making dental health important). Jim busily cut chicken wire into pieces (for our papermache tooth project) and we got ready to pull off today´s art class just the two of us. Then suddenly the bus got fixed and Lucy arrived. Ernesto and Lucy speak no English and our Spanish is so bad that we can´t talk about anything. I did cook supper for us all and then continued sorting the art supplies that we brought with us.

I was up at 7 am this morning working on a few extra ideas. A four hour art class is very long. We were supposed to start at 10 but at 9, Lucy told me the class was three hours and didn´t start until 11. This was the first time when I realized that remaining totally flexible would be really really important to surviving our time here. Once we got to the school and had our official welcome, we got our class. Instead of the fourty we´d expected we had 24 and all are really young. No big kids in this group. I did a sketch in the class and showed paintings of Nova Scotia. Then I introduced our project ¨Tus dientes limpios permanecen para siempre¨. We gave a diente mascota (pet tooth) to each student. Everyone gave their tooth a first name and then they had the mystery of figuring out its´last name. Once it was decided that it´s last name was Molar, Premolar, Caninos or Insisivos, they drew their pet teeth and painted the negative space around the tooth in primary and the resulting secondary colours. Then we started the papermache teeth. No problem forming the giant teeth with the chicken wire. Then we handed out newspapers and tried to get the kids to tear them into pieces. This was a new concept and it took allot of convincing. Then we rolled up our sleeves and gave out six large containers of flour and water pater. What a huge mess! The only failure I ever had teaching school art (for fun) was paper mache with Danica´s grade three class, and for some reason I had decided to try paper mache with little Spanish speaking kids. I had thought that I had fixed the problem by substituting chicken wire for the burstable balloons that I used twenty years ago, but we still had a big mess. At 1:30 pm, I made an executive decission to end paper mache and clean the tables and the kids. Then I gave out boxes of tooth picks and plasticine and we had an activity that everyone loved and no one wanted to stop doing!

March 5, 2012

I am writing to tell you about our trip and safe arrival in Aucapata before I go down stairs and join Jim and Ernesto in unpacking boxes. At 2 pm yesterday, March 4th, we joined Yumey and Yvonne at the new Ivar Mendez Foundation office in LaPaz. A decrepid old bus sat empty in the driveway, (no heat, reclining seats or bano in this bus). In less than two hours, we had loaded the bus with beds on the roof, a refridgerator inside and boxes and boxes and boxes. There was barely room left in the bus for Jim and Ernesto and me. On we hopped. The bus wouldn´t start so our driver, Juan Carlos, fiddled under the hood to get the bus started. An ominious sign,I thought. The City of La Paz is at the bottom of a high mountain valley. The city has grown so that all the surrounding hills are narrow streets edged with layered buildings in adobe, brick and occationally finished with painted stucco. For some reason, we needed to take a back way up out of town. This necessitated Renesto jumping off the bus to scout the route, (not always successfully).At one point we pulled a uturn on a narrow steep streeet and Jim and I were both concerned that the bus might rool. After more than a hour, we reached El Alto, the large upper city. Roads here were flooded and traffic was detoured on rough muddy tracks. We made one stop to pick up the bus driver´s wife and young daughter. The ominous beginning faded because I felt with the drivers wife and daughter on board we were probably in good hands.

After we left El Alto and it´s conjestion and poverty, the landscape until it got dark and we were in the mountains was captivating; soft green hills, lamas, pigs and people and a sprinkling of brown adove homes with snow capped mountains in behind. At our only official pit stop, we quickly took out our coats and hats, long underwear and mits. Bundled up, we were as comfomfortable as one can be in the dark on a very rough, winding narrow mountain road. At three a.m., after tightly manouvering around a truck parked in a dark narrow street, we stopped and the bus driver immediately started unlading the bus. We were ¨home¨in Aucapata having made record time. The renovated I.M.I.F. House in Aucapata was waiting for us. Unfortunately, since we are the first people using this house, it is absolutely bare (or was until we filled the first room with beds and boxes). I had envisioned unpacking our food into kitchen cupboards and getting my clothes out of the back pack for three weeks, not cupboards or closets. At four AM as I was unloading boxes, I was mentally comparing this house to the one I had on Quirpon Island, Newfoundland.

This morning, I am again ready for adventure and hardwork. Tomorrow, we start teaching so today is our chance to make our house as much as a home as we can.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

March 3, 2011 La Paz Bolivia

The past week in La Paz has been hard work, exciting and totally exhausting; partly a result of my ongoing asthma, the high altitude, the long hours and okay probably being overweight and out of shape is partly to blame. We go to the Ivar Mendez International Foundation Office at nine every morning. Eventually we´re done work for the morning and I struggle up the hill to El Torino Hostel and then sturggle up one flight of stairs to the lobby and three more flights to our room. I fall into bed and power nap for as long as possible; one day, ten minutes but usually at least an hour. Then it´s back to work by three until seven. (The past two days we snuck out at six because we were both so tired.) We´ve been finalizing all our plans for our three weeks in Aucapata, and we were sourcing art supplies and compromising and adapting plans to what is available. Then, we actually had to buy the stuff, a 100 of each and each shop might have ten. The first morning we went sourcing supplies was the biggest challenge. We went with Lucy and Ernesto who will both be with us in Aucapata. Unfortunately neither speak any English and they had a list of supplies, but it wasn´t a list we were party too or that considered the projects I want to do. I was almost in tears as I kept trying to get them to stop buying things until we knew if we needed them. Eventually we returned to the office, and I was able to discuss the problem with the director Yumey. It has taken us the rest of the week but we do have all the supplies organized and packed and on Thursday we got our groceries. Even our drinking water has to be brought in so you can just imagine the amount of things. We are not sure that Ernest or Lucy or the dentist Amparo will be bringing their food (we hope so) but if they don´t we will feed them and send a big grocery list to come in with Ernest after week one.

Our hours for the upcoming three weeks are extensive but I am still hoping to have enough energy left over for some painting. In Aucapata, where we will be sharing a house with Ernesto, Lucy and Amparo, we teach from 10 until lunchtime which is 2 pm.
We have fourty students for the four hours twice a week. On Tuesdays and Fridays, we walk to Cosnipata, a close village (20 minutes down hill) where we have twenty-eight students and on Wednesdays we walk to Charaj, fourty-five minutes along and then another ten minutes steeply down. We have eighteen students in Charaj. In addition, we have after school classes every day at our house at 4 pm and also all day Saturday. For these, I´m hoping to paint and whoever shows up can paint with me or they can work with Lucy.

Yesterday, since the bulk of buying and packing was done, we visited two other projects that the IMIF helps in La Paz. In the morning, we went to an orphanage CATI. It´s not an orphanage in our sense of the word but rather an integrated emergency day care (between 7 am and 7 pm) for children, zero to aged sixteen. These kids might be living on the street or living without adequate parental care because their parents are in prison, mentally ill or having addiction problems. CATI was started by a German Foundation and is now also funded by the Protestant Churches in La Paz. The IMIF provides the dental care. It was fun to paint a couple of the kids and when we come back to La Paz, hopefully we´ll be able to do a couple of days of art projects there.

In the afternoon, we visited a community health centre funded by the catholic church. They provide excellent primary health care as well as dental care and they also do education for teachers of special needs kids. They have five dental offices. Four are very old and very basic but one is state of the art and has been provided by the Ivar Mendez Internation Foundation.

During all of this week of planning and shopping, our enviroment in the office is quiet but when we step out onto the street, it is a dizzying mixture of smells, sounds, traffic and confusion. Everyday there are more than a hundred police on our street. Our hotel area has been blockaded for the past three months because it is close to the presidencial palace. In the morning sometimes we find two lines of police, shoulder to shoulder with shields and face shields, wearing flack jackets and with guns. Mid day the blockade might have ended and the police, while still there, are just lining the streets and then later again they are stopping all traffic and only letting pedestrian through with a reason. Whenever the blockade is down, the street sellers, beggars and the traffic instantly reappear.

The Cholas, the indigenious women, wear small woolen bowler hats,and a huge glittery shawl over a multilayered very full glittery skirt. The woman has to be very pump in order to carry this fashion off and this is the standard of beauty. I am always interested in what is beauty because of being an artists. For my art creation, I can only hope to realize my perception of beauty which is very much shaped by my culture. It is so interesting that beauty can be so entirely different in other cultures.

Well we leave later today by bus for Aucapata and we will not have internet for the next three weeks. This doesn´t mean however that we won´t be thinking of you and we hope you´ll continue to think of us.

ps I´m really excited about our art projects, all on the theme ¨Tus dientes limpios permanmecen para siempre¨ A full report of the actual projects and the results will follow upon our return to La Paz.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 24, 2012

Jim and I have spent the last three days in the mountain city of Huarez Peru. It´s in a high valley (3000m) between the Cordillera Negro and the much higher Cordillera Blanco (over 6000m). The buildings in this area are relatively new since an earth quake in 1970 leveled much of the area and killed 70,000 people.

One of the first things that we noticed is that the ladies hats here have a much much higher crown than we have seen elsewhere. The top is dented like a fedora. On one side of the crown is a large semi circular design made of folded fabric. Sometimes the design is the same colour as the hat and sometimes it is dramatically different. The basic hat is not wool but rather a finely woven cotton or linen. Just at the crown flairs out to a wide upturned brim, there is a one and a half inch fabric band. The ladies all have two usually scruffy braids in their hair and the rest of their costume is similiar to many of the indigenious costumes of South America; multi-coloured blouse, a very very full solid coloured skirt edged in decorations, a bib apron and then a commercial peruvian blanket over the shoulders. This blanket is a baby carrier when needed, a hay or stick carrier or it will even hold a bomba or bricks. In Huarez, multi-coloured leggings are worn under the skirt. The leggings end in baggy flesh coloured stockings and loafers or sneakers. Men wear ordinary work clothes and the kids wear colourful North American clothing.

(An aside
The costumes in Saragura Ecuador (which Jim and visited last week and which is now my new favourite South American village) were very appealing. Men, women and kids all wore traditional clothing. Both men and women had one long thick beautiful braid (probably freshly done everyday). Also everyone was so glad to see us since Saragura is off the tourist trail. The men wore bermuda length black trousers and a woven dark red and black poncho or a black shawl and a black fedora. The women wore a narrow, slightly pleated black skirt, a detailed white blouse tooped with a 6 inch wide beaded necklace. They wore a black poncho over one shoulder. The poncho was fastened with a large silver pin and they also wore large sliver earrings. A small brimmed round black felt hat completed their outfit.)

Right now we are on an eight hour bus headed to Lima. It appears that this entire mountain is sand, To the left the mountain rises almost vertically to the sky. Some areas are strung with what I would call ¨snow¨fencing, obviously to slow down drifting sand. To the right, the sand falls away, hundreds of feet vertically to the pale Pacific. How a narrow paved road could be engineered to stay on this sand base is a miracle to both Jim and me.

Tomorrow morning we will be at the airport at 4:30 am to catch a plane to La Paz. The next phase of our trip will be preparing for our trip into Aucapata, buying enough food for ourselves and are supplies for three weeks of classes with over 100 kids. I´m not at all worried about the isolated envciroment. It´s my communication skills that are a worry as my Spanish is even worse that I thought it was!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22, 2012

Just a few notes to tell you about yesterday's challenges. I am not living up to Alegria or Joy; my pollyanna self that finds the joy in everything. Perhaps this is because of my troubling asthma but perhaps you will understand when I tell you just what the day was like.

It started early. We hadn't had a real meal the day before having been on buses for twelve hours travelling to the mountain town of Huarez, Peru. This explains why I was hungry. Jim and I walked several blocks into the centre of town. At the first restaurant, after receiving a menu, we sat for another twenty minutes before getting up and leaving. At the second restaurant, for Jim, I pointed to the continenal breakfast that was listed on a sign and then I pointed to the regional breakfast that was listed underneath it for me. After a half hour, a plate of trout and frenchfries arrived. Since this didn't look like a bun, I assumed it was my breakfast. A minute or so later another breakfast arrived. This one had two brown lumps and some potatoes. I flipped over one of the lumps and there were the little teeth, little eyes and four little little feet of the guineau pig. Certainly took my appetite away.

Jim thought we should try to arrange for our flight from Lima into La Paz and we found the local agent. After sitting with her for an hour, she told us to come back in at 12:30. We went out on the street to round up the cash only to discover that it was War Tuesday in Huarez. Apparently this is not nearly so bad now since several years ago the police outlawed the throwing of used engine oil. I still found it awful. The streets were clogged with gangs of young people armed with water buckets. Explosions kept going off. Most of the shops were closed and most people not enjoying the battles could stay home but we had to get money from bank machines and return to the travel agent. Then the airline was on lunch break and we had to return to the travel agent a third time at 3:30. Eventually the police shut down the war, we got our plane tickets and had supper. Then we stopped at an internet cafe so that I could update this blog. Suddenly I was violently ill, probably from the delicious supper.

Hence ended another day of travel.

February 18, and 19, 2012

On the 18th, we take a five hour bus ride to Piura, Peru. When we arrive Puira is crawling with taxis, tuk tuks and collectivos. We have to decide whether to find a hostal or whether to push on to hopefully someplace nicer, safer, quieter. We find a bus company with a bus to Chiclaya leaving 7pm which gives us two hours. Dragging my big wheeled pack with my little one on my front, we pick our way across eight lanes of traffice towards shade, beer and food.

At 7, we're back on a bus headed to Chicklaya. We arrive at 10 pm on a Saturday night during Carnival and most hostals are full. We have to go to eight of so before finding one that is clean, very hot, very noisy and for us somewhat expensive. The painting on this hotel room wall is of a large naked lady, colour coordinated to match the curtains.

Yesterday, February 19 was not a bus day! After checking out the local cathedral (standing room only) and having breakfast, we took a taxi to the next town to visit a museum on the Moche culture,Museo Reale Sipon. This is an exceptional world class musem. The building ia a huge red pyramid reflecting the pyramid that the Moche people built for the remains of the Senor of Sipon.

The displays are extensive and extremely well done. All of the achiological dig is documented in photos, panaramas and the actual finds. What struck me as ironic, is that the entire site was to insure everlasting life for the Moche chief complete with wives, extra women, a young boy, soldiers, animals and possession. In many ways, this extreme preparation for everlasting life has achieved just that. Seventeen hundred years after death, we are looking at the remains of these people and admiring all of the golden glory, sophisticated earthen ware and their metal tools. Collars have been reconstructed from the thousands of tiny shell beads. Glorious decorative friezes and wall paintings have been put back together from shards. The sophisticated society of the Moche hierarchy lives on. Whenever I see the fantastic old pots, gold work and wall paintings, I remember the artists who created all of this beauty.

Back in Chiclaya, I notice that one hotel has two huge reproduction King Tuts out front and that the Chiclaya city sign features Greek columns and Greek urns!

February 18, Macara

a border town in Eucador next to Peru

It is noisy, very very noisy.
Trucks and vans with giant loud speakers
Continually blast down the streets;
Men shouting their pitches.
In front of the shops large boom boxes
Blare dance music.
The streets are full of trucks, buses,
Motorcycles, dirt bikes and ATV'S;
All are loaded with entire families.
All are blowing their horns.

It's hot, very very hot.
Empty hammocks are hung above
The steeply steps sidewalks.
Next to the hammocks,
There are cookers and people
serving up cerviche, sopa,
Swatting flies, deepfrying chicken,
Hustling teeshirts or sunglasses.
The children with their dark eyes
And hair, are all beautiful.

Draging my overstuffed wheeled packback,
While Jim lugs his,
It's a choice of dodging traffic
On the cobbled street,
Or humping up the steps on the sidewalk.
We reach Hostel El Conquistador.
The tiny dark room on the forth floor
Seems decadent with it's roaring air conditioning,
a toilet seat, limitless toilet paper,
And a print on the wall.

The art says nothing about
The charism or challenges that are Ecuador.
The image is a very pretty English thatched tutor cottage,
With leafless apple trees laden with blossoms,
A flower garden with a kalidoscope of blooms,
A stone bridge, a decorative water pump and a pond;
Only the swan is missing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17th, 2012

Early morning bus ride from Saraguro to Loja

Within a block of the bus station, we stop so that peddlers can cruise the bus selling chapa de papas, chocolate, ice cream, water and more of the amazing looking buns that are always disappointingly dry and tasteless. Outside the shop that the bus stops beside, hangs a pig and another lays on a table. Both have heads and legs intact. These carcasses illicit my sympathy. After the peddlers depart, the bus careens up and out of Saraguro. Our bodies vibrate to the ever present blast of South American dance music. We sway and rock while the bus races out of town hugging the winding mountain road. Quickly we are in a green mountain paradise. Large clumps of gigantic elephant grass, pines, eucolyptus, palm and banana are interspersed with fields of corn, spinkled on every mountain surface that can sustain them. Since planting and harvesting are all done by hand, only a verical slopè is too steep.

Occationally, we see horses, pigs, goats or sheep. The greens of fields and forests are broken with yellow/red sand slides or outdrops of ragged gray rock. As we reach the peak, we look down on the billowing cloud top. Above the sky is an intense blue.

At the next valley, we start our winding desent. Midway to the river, we pass a cluster of adobe houses. A few are stuccoed and painted pink and blue or coral and cream. The roofs are weathered brown tiles. Often ferns and grass have made a toehold in the tiles. Sometimes a bower of blossoms add a splash of colour to the roofs. In the gardens, people are hoeing, milking cows, debarking logs. One woman, with two large flat market baskets and a baby on her back, flags down our bus and climbs on board.

As we reach the valley bottom, the foliage is more jungle like. Hybiscus and Fuscia are growing wild. A beautiful green vine with small orange blossoms is draped over rock and bushes. Some of the trees are laden with large yellow blooms. As soon as the bus crosses the bridge over the shallow brown river, we start another winding assent. Back and forth we traverse the mountain to gradually make the climb. We can look back way down the valley to see the ribbon of road twisting and turning off into the distance. Looking up at the undulating mountain ridge, there are a patchwork of fields right to the top. Where there are fences, the posts, supporting the barbed wire are rough twisted tree branches. In some places the posts have taken root and are covered in leaves. At one isolated homestead, chickens scuttle about and a woman washes clothes in a bucket and then puts them on the fence to dry. Foot paths with steps dug into the soil and sometimes handrails in the most dangerous areas link the homesteads to their fields or distant neighbours.

The bus alternates between grunting up the grade and then suddenly flying along the more level sections. We pass numerous sparkling white water falls that plunge down the mountain into the rivers.

Occationally, we see the giant cactus that has the enormous tree sized flower stocks. Suddenly I gasp at the sight of an enormous smooth green tree trunk that narrows as it rises and is topped with an explosion of leaves. What ever this tree is called, it is spectacular. Condors soar overhead. The beauty leaves me breathless.

As the bus enters the outshirts of Loja, we see our first billboard. I am personally ashamed that it reads McCains.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16, 2012

We are now in a remote mountain village called Saragura in Ecuador. It´s great. Probably my favourite village in South America to date. Unfortunately I am very sick with a chest cold ( yes I did start the antibiotics) so this means I can´t walk very far uphill and everything is uphill and I have to have alot of naps. Despite that and despite that the food is awful, (Haven´t yet found anything that we like eating. There is nothing resembling a menu or any familiar food except frenchfries and eggs and there absolutely no English), this is an amazing place. The people here were moved from Lake Titicaca hundreds of years ago by the Inkans and somehow they maintained their culture. The men wear short black trousers, a red and black poncho or a solid black poncho and a smallish black wool hat and usually they wear rubber boots. They also have one long black braid. The women wear tiny black bowler hats or large flat white felt hats with black designs painted under the brims. (again they have one beautiful single braid of black hair). They also have lots of beading and beautiful colourful blouses and silver shawl pins fastening the black wrap that goes over one shoulder. They wear big silver earrings and long pleated black skirts. The children are all gorgeous and usually wear North American clothing and brightly coloured touques. I did draw some of the kids yesterday and gave them the drawings. Of course that was a hit.

There are lovely woven wool blankets and woven linen or cotton tablecloths for sale but we just can´t buy anything and have to lug it along. My pack is already bursting with my coat and fleese. Because there are very few tourists (we´ve only met one other; an american lady who is here looking at orchids that resemble mushrooms or mushrooms that resemble orchids), all of the locals are happy to see us and they talk away in fast spanish. Jim and I just smile.

The village of Sunagura (land of corn) is high in the Andes and is situated in a green valley surrounded by very very steep hills. The houses within the village are mostly stucco, and in the surrounding countryside, they are stick and mud wattle with tile roofs, mostly with unfinished second floors. We did take a taxi to the next village this morning and then we walked back to Saragura. It was the most interesting walk on a sort of mud trail past houses with little gardens filled with flowers and corn and mellons. Only my constant stopping and coughing and huffing and puffing and the prerequisite daily rain balanced off an amazing experience.

For those of you who have been trying to also read Jim´s version of things, I just now realized that the link on my website doesn´t work. You can go to Jim´s blog

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 10, 2012 The Galapogos

The Galapogos: ¨One¨

With my yellow fins,
Pink face mask and
Dark blue bathing suit,
I slip off the Zodiac
Into the tourquoise Pacific.
Immediately I join
The underwater party.
Sealions look me right in the eye,
Then roll and cavort beside me.
They glide upside down,
Diving and cartwheeling.
Clouds of fish are
At my fingertips.
Gray fish with sunshine yellow
Fins and tails
Do a swimby.
Black fish with a glowing magenta edging
and yellow stipes,
Blue fish with orange fins,
A large almost phlorescent
pink fish,
Every combination of shape and colour.
This rocky lava ledge,
Beside Fioreana Island,
Provides a Galapogos Paradise.

Large chunky yellow starfish,
Slender white starfish,
Green and red undulating sea plants,
Pale pink coral flowers,
And hundred of green and brown
Sea urchins hug the reef.

In the murky depth,
Next to the reef,
Several white-tipped sharks rest.
For the moment,
I am not of interest.

Suddenly the presense
Of a giant sea turtle
Catches my eye.
Slowly, majestically,
The turtle swims to the surface
For a breath and then
Drives away from me.
I swim from turtle to turtle
Admiring their patterned backs,
Their size and grace.
I am euphoric
to be a part of this underwater world.

The Galapogos: Two¨

Sea lions bark and moan,
On a ribbon of white sand;
An edging between the cerelean Pacific
And the green lava island.
The air is already hot.
Billowing clouds along the horizon
Are starting their daily build up.
The rest of the sky is clear.
Over head, the morning moon
Is a pale white disc.

The Galapogos. ¨Three¨

Her rounded brown body,
With long blowing blond hair,
Is made ¨decent¨ by
Tiny triangles of tiger.
She flaunts and flirts,
Next to young men
Wearing sunglasses and
Wrapped in towels.
Only her eyes and mouth
Betray her age.
Her ¨new´ young girl friend,
Also a blond,
Doesn´t exude her fermones.
Her young face and perfect body
Are not a welcome invitation,
But a more reserved challenge.

Monday, February 6, 2012

February 6th, 2012 South America

( this morning, from the historic centre)

Crumbling plaster, yellows, greens, blues and pinks.
The old colonial houses, two story and three story,
All attached together, they rise steeply from the stone side walk
Steeply up the hill.
On street level, the metal doors are rolled down,
Hiding shoe shops, bakeries, corner stores,
Markets and door handle shops.
All windows are barred.
Above, the balconies in white plaster or black iron,
Support ivies, roses, cactus and pots of dead stems.
A rooster crows.
It is early morning, now no-one lives upstairs,
The narrow street is filled with cars and people
Iron doors are rolled up.
People start unloading potatoes, mellons,
Carrying bombas in cloth slings,
Or cooking fish in the market.
Later, when the sun fades,
There are lights and lives behind the upstairs curtains.
On roofs and balconies, pigeons sit like gargoils.
El paros roam and bark and scrounge.
The streets are dark and quiet.

Jim and I are off to the Galapagos tomorrow! You may not hear from us until we return on February 13th!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February 5, 2012 South America

Jim and I arrived safely in Quito, Equador on February 2nd. Immediately I remembered why I LOVE South America; the people, the smells, the Euopean buildings with balconies and flowers and crumbling details. The first morning, we found the local market, and I had corn tortillas which here are fat pancakes topped with eggs and served with sweet coffee for 75 cents. I immediately started taking photos of rows of colourful sausages and the ever present dead chickens. Later in the day we had a two hour spanish class with Jackelina and she¨s another delightful teacher like our Nuri from home. Unfortunately although I know a few words and phrases such as ¿Puedo tomarle una foto por favor?, I am still a Spanish dud. I do love to try Equadorian foods though. Yesterday I had a delicious sweet green drink made with naranjillas and a potatoe and avacador soup and today I tried a cuppa of guanabano (a huge green fruit that is green on the outside and white and sweet on the inside) as well as a psecado (fish) with yuca. I also tried Jim´s drink called maltes; a malt beer with raw eggs, sugar and milk, sounds awful tasted great. We did a day trip yesterday to Otavalo, a famous market town. Unfortunately the market was mediocre, a tourist market, not the real thing (no dead chickens), and the day was a tour and we had to stop and see the lama on a rope and stop and see the caged condor and eagles and owls. Two highlights from the day, I did buy a guaba which looked like a giant 2 to 3 foot long pea pod. It is either brown or green. The seller snapped it over her knee for me. Inside was a row of 1 inch black seeds covered in a stringy, slimy, sweet mass. Jim and I each ate this slime from around one seed and then you should have seen the eyes on the small boy when I gave him and armful of guaba! Just as it got dark we stopped in a park with a large area filled with huge clay hummingbirds, each one decorated by a different artist. I didn´t like the painted lobsters that Halifax had a few years ago, but the shape of these hummingbirds was pleasing and there was a power in the shear numbers of them and in the painting on them.

Monday, January 30, 2012

January 30, 2012

Jim and I had a meeting with Ivar Mendez in Halifax last Thursday and we are heading to this remote Mountain Village of Aucapata for most of March! We'll be teaching art to kids in three different schools. Ivar's staff from the Ivar Mendez International Foundation in LaPaz, are helping to plan all of the logistics. Although we've had an art project in this area, Jim and I have never actually been able to get there due to lack of transportation, poor roads and the rainy season. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23, 2012

I'm trying to make sure that I can update this blog when we are travelling in South America.

This morning was bitterly cold in Nova Scotia, but by the time I took Marsh, our dog, to the Marsh, the tide was high and the day was glorious. I love this little piece of heaven called Portaupique. When we first got to the marsh, there was an eagle and a flock of black and white sea birds. Always there is something to make me gasp. Luckily Marsh didn't see the eagle or he would have been swimming before we had time to have a walk.