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

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 thump├Čng 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.