Kristina Owens' Peace Corps Service in Bolivia

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By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 23, 2001 - 1:34 pm: Edit Post

Kristina Owens' Peace Corps Service in Bolivia

Kristina Owens' Peace Corps Service in Bolivia

Kristina Owens' Peace Corps Service in Bolivia

Kristina Owens.

August 24, 2000 - arrival in Bolivia.

I am here and surviving. I got a bit of altitude sickness when I came and was not feeling well at all!! Everyone seems nice though. We had a bunch of interviews today, for family, project and language. I did fine with the Spanish. I was able to talk for 30 minutes .I got some shots today too. Bolivia is not as poor as I was expecting it to be, but others are definitely surprised. We go to our families on Saturday.

25 August 2000

I am in the highest spanish group and we are going to be in the same little village so we can learn more spanish together and get some quechua!!

29 August 2000

Well After my first few days of altitude sickness I feel soo much better!! On Saturday we went to our families. I have the exact same family that Susan had. They are really nice. I have a big room that has been sprayed with pesticide so anything that enters there literally dies in less then a minute. This was done cause they are afraid of chaga´s disease. Plus I have a mosquito net. Training is going well. A lot of language stuff. Even though my group is above the requirement for Peace corps we still get extensive lessons and yeah there is a lot to learn cause the Spanish is somewhat different. My family uses a lot of quechua and will go back and forth between them. We had our first technical lesson yesterday and it was pretty good. Our instructors are really nice and very knowledgeable.

Part of the training group.

Bolivia is much less poor than I had expected. There are internet cafes at every corner and then some. It is lot like Peru but things are a bit cheaper(all the artisans things) also Even though all of us stick out a bit we do not get harassed or stared at as much as in Peru or Mexico(as one of the other volunteers pointed out).

Today we came into the city and went to the open air market and saw a lot of things including really cute puppies that sell between $3-10 Dollars(yeah I want one, one of the sons is veterinarian (I think) so I can get all its shots and stuff).

9 September 2000

Training is going well Spanish classes are tedious but I deal. I love the technical stuff and we have a great trainers. One of the guys Jose (Pepe) Salinas has Ph.D. in soils from North Carolina State( I think) and he is cited in Beets book for some things he has written. He has worked a lot in Peru and Bolivia(other places?) doing agroforestry, soil conservation and reforestation. He said he likes Beets book and might want one for Peace Corps if you have another copy? actually he was hoping there was a professional edition but I told him the price of the paperback and so maybe not!!! Other then that I am doing pretty good. You know my interest in fruit trees. Well Pepe is going to help me choose 3 sites that have major tree fruit production. I am thinking of two fruits that may be interesting to do research on and both are major fruit trees that farmers have on there land or have orchards of. Peaches(I so did not think that there would be any but there are orchards and orchards of them.) They are sold a lot!!! the other one is Cherimoya (Custard apple) They put this in ice cream and it is also grown in abundance in a certain area.

Training Group.

15 September 2000

Family Life in Training.

I live in a small town of Rumi Mayo just 8 km from the city. Though we are quite close to the city it is still definitely campo. The family appears to be lower middle class. The sons all have fairly good jobs and are doing pretty good. Like most of the area residents with some exceptions we have a television with cable, a telephone, flushing toilet and shower. They have two dogs one little one and a big puppy of a year old. He is as much as of a pain as my springer spaniel at home. He is quite rambunctious. There is a large courtyard where the clothes are washed and the vegetables and chickens are prepared for food. There is the main house where my room is and everyone else's rooms are. There is a small building for the Kitchen and one for the TV room and Store. There is a gate that locks to enter the courtyard. Beyond the courtyard there is a section where they have lots of chickens and beyond that is the garden. A rather large garden with alfalfa, spinach, chamonile, many different fruit trees. The trees are intergrated between the rows of crops. Don Estaban seems to practice very good agroforestry. There are very few eucalyptus trees. They tend to suck up water fast and do not let vegetation surrounding grow to their potential. Actually the fruit trees are all over the courtyard too.

Near Rumi Mayo.

In general training has been pretty good. My family is nice and it seems others are having pretty good luck too. We just laugh at them because their concept of food and health is a bit odd. The more you eat the healthier you are and the bigger you are you must eat the most or you will get really skinny and die. For example of my entire family I happen to be the tallest and maybe the biggest. But I don't eat enough to satisfy them and they accuse me of losing weight. Another thing that is funny is that when you get sick it has nothing to do with the food that they prepare. For example Melissa who lives down the street from me is slightly shorter then me and thinner (but not unhealthy thin (just perfect)) Her family accused her of getting sick because she is too thin and I hadn't got sick cause I am gordita, I got sick the next day that theory was thrown out the window. So the next theory was the climate.

Well we got a list of our sites and I can at least tell you my two favorites. We are supposed to pick two of our favorites out of 10 choices. When looking at them I was looking for 1) lower elevation or just not too high 2) Nursery work and reforestation 3) lots of greenery. The first one and definitely my favorite is in Omereque it is still in the Department of Cochabamba. It is at 1690 meters. It has a temporal river and they grow tomatoes, anise, peanuts, citric fruits and vegetables. If I get this one I would be working with the municipality and two mothers groups. I would start a small nursery; promote reforestation and some environmental education in the schools. My second choice is a little more remote. There is only electricity for 3 hours a day, but has similar activities that I want to do. It is relatively low and has a river. I would be working with a Danish NGO.

22 October 2000

Up in Tunari National Park.

Another photo from Tunari National Park.

Lake Near Cochabamba

Tech week was awesome!!! Our group really works well with each other and we did accomplish a lot and saw some of the poorest areas in Bolivia but the most beautiful culture there is. I think it helped to get out of Coch cause that was when all the complaining was happening.... I have no complaints though all is good. I did not get sick from the altitude either and hiked up a little mountain that was 13,600 feet (there are some really pretty mountain flowers too) I was out of breath but it was worth it with the view and everything!!!

Kristina's Training Group.

Late November 2000.

It turns out that for some reason this little Providence (group of communities) about 4000 people never got into growing Cherimoya However the town just 15-20 miles (its questionable cause a bus takes 45 minutes to get there but they go no more then 30 miles per hour) away grows tons. And the old guy in town that I get lots of info from (and I have been around only a week) told me all these places near my town that grow a bunch of different varieties some with lots of seeds and others with little or very few seeds and very big. I guess this fact is true for other products as well like it was an unconscious decision not to compete with other communities so each community specializes in a particular product but they do have a lot of redundant products. It looks like in informal talking that many are interested in growing some Cherimoya trees since I have been writing up the proposal (in Spanish with lots of help)for a vivero that they want, to help with reforestation of the area, cause there are a lot of bare hills. Many are curious to see how they would do.

Mid December 2000

Tech Week Finally we had our tech week. This week was pushed back a week and training was extended. This week actually turned out a lot of fun and our group got along great. Sunday morning we left at 8am and started heading to northern Potosi. Which if you drove it straight its about 5 hours (and if it was paved 3 hours…. funny thing about Bolivia they have computers and internet but they don't have too many paved roads and communities still don't have electricity (they run the computers on motors)(which I am charging my laptop on one now!!)) However that morning we took our time. We needed to pick up some trees from a vivero (tree nursery). This experience gave us a taste of what we might be dealing with in the future. We were supposed to arrive at the vivero about 10am so we had time to stop in a town near the vivero and wander the market and buy some fruit for the ride up. We arrived at the vivero on time of course but no one was there to meet us. The trees were already purchase so it was matter of getting a key and opening the gate and load the trees into the ambulance (Land cruiser). We waited a bit and then Pepe went to find out what happen. It turns out the caretaker of the vivero decided that the night before he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him and of course to celebrate her saying yes (I guess the same result would be if she said no) He drank all night and was still drinking when Pepe finally found him. And it was still tricky to get the keys from him because he wanted to share in his joy and wanted Pepe and another employee of the vivero to drink with him. Eventually they got the key (probably with out drinking any sketchy Chicha drink). That basically took about two hours. While we were waiting we were devising ways to get into the vivero and hand the trees over. We are told that this would be something we will encounter often. Drinking is definitely a big thing here and while in the US you are respected if you refuse to drink while here you better have a good excuse or they think you're insulting them. Usually you just avoid situations (such as weddings) or use the excuse that you are on Malaria medication (even though I asked the doctor if you can drink while on it and he said it was fine but the common belief is that its not fine).

Potosi We finally headed up to Potosi; the road is pretty steep and tough to deal with. I got carsick going up and round all the switchbacks. Though the views were awesome and very typical of what you would find on our Web page. We arrived in our first town San Pedro de Buena Vista. This is where Kiki is a volunteer who is in Bolivia 22 (same as Susan and Matt). She is also a MI student from Florida International University. Her Pueblo is about 1000 residents, (this varies during the year because of migration) they have no electricity and when they do its only on motor. While we were their the motor was broken.

We were fed a huge dinner upon our arrival which is different because there seems to be varying traditions of eating. For example my host family our biggest meal of the day was lunch and just bread and tea for dinner and breakfast. While in other families they have just have soup for lunch and a huge dinner. In this town we had a huge lunch and dinner (I was still trying to get used to just the huge lunch, though there were plenty of hungry boys that were more then willing eat what food I had left). Of course one thing was not missing from our meals was Potatoes! You do not go without potatoes no matter what. And they are not very creative about making different dishes either. However there is an exception they make these little miniature pasties things but spicier and more delicious.

Monday: After a good night sleep, we worked in a Vivero (tree nursery). We basically helped improved its infrastructure since it had been pretty much ignored. It turns out that they started this project several years ago and now it seems there is no enthusiasm for it. So we helped with water drainage, since the beds tend to flood whenever it rains. We transferred seedlings to bags. We also developed a ditch to hold water since water usually only comes during the rainy season and so the water can be better managed and used to water other areas of the vivero and when there is no rain. In the afternoon we actually went out to another community bringing with us trees. Though this community was not far from San Pedro it was still a bit remote and we had to drive across a riverbed for a while to get there. We worked with the mothers club to plant trees along the banks of the river and also we planted trees in the school. The extra trees were given to the children and mothers. This community spoke almost thoroughly Quechua and very little Spanish. They had the most beautiful outfits; they were very bright and colorful. The women worked really hard helping us plant and protect the small trees. They got rocks and acacia branches to use to cover the tree seedlings. We planted a total of 250 trees and about that much was given to the community for them to plant themselves.

Wednesday: This day we went to the schools to do presentations on various subjects to a group of students between the ages of 14-20. My group (Melissa and Jimmy) did a little play about soil erosion and afterwards we had a discussion with the students. It went really well and Pepe and Ken liked it a lot and wanted us to present again in the other classroom. After lunch we left San Pedro to go to Sacani, which is about 2 hours away. One the way we stopped at Toracari the site where Jimmy was going to be at for 2 years. This site is probably the most extreme site in terms of being far away, remote and no electricity but they just got a phone. We stopped there a while. This town is one of the oldest towns in the area and had an old cathedral to help date it. After that we went to Sacani, just in time for a wedding celebration that was going on. When we got there we met several drunken villagers. Weddings in Bolivia often last at least 3 days if not more and of course there is a lot of drinking. This village is much higher then San Pedro and it is the highest Peace Corps site in the world (right now). It is very obvious that it is very poor and remote and there is a lot of migration that seems to be occurring. Though there is a lot of traditional Quechua culture left and we got to see it the three days that we were there.

Because it is such a remote area we had to bring our own food and cook it ourselves; which this is not such a bad thing because we got to choose the food that we would prefer to eat rather then strange Bolivian food. We did have a 20-year-old woman help us prepare our food and actually more wash the dishes because this American cooking was a little strange for her. She usually declined our offers to have some of the food that we all made and preferred her own stuff that she made. At 20 she had a little son and looked like she should be thirty just by the way she carried herself. (We were all feeling a little old since the youngest in our group is 22).

Site Description My site is in town called Las Carreras.

Las Carreras

The Plaza.

It is northwest of the City of Tarija. It is the department of the Chuquisaca but on the very border of the department of Tarija. It is also in the southern most provinces of Chuquisaca. There seems to be confusion in the La Paz office of the Peace Corps where I am actually located because all my mail is sent to Sucre, which is 10-12 hours away, compared to 3 hours away from Tarija. They even have me listed on the emergency Plan group in Sucre (I am not traveling that far in an emergency!!!) There are two theories of the confusion: One: they just don't have any concept of geography or two: everyone who claims Tarija their regional city gets to fly everywhere since we are so faraway. So they were hoping that Sucre would be my office so they don't have pay for all my flights to and from anywhere I have to go to. Anyway it is just about 120 km from the city of Tarija and depending on the bus it takes from 3 hours to 4. Its all dirt road. Though it is a beautiful ride because Tarija is in a valley so we drive up the mountains through several valleys to my valley. Just as you get into my valley you drive through a canyon like geographical area. The mountains are very red with very little vegetation mostly bushes and shrubs. It is very dry, but in the rainy season it so far it looks like it will rain every night until March so right now it is a bit wet. There is some cactus too. Just before my village there is a river that is very seasonal so when I first visit it was very dry.

The Little Seasonal River.

Right now it is pretty high so that the buses and trucks have to use the bridge on the other side of town to cross over. The bridge is questionable if it will last the season with so many heavy vehicles crossing it everyday.

The road between Las Carreras and Tarija. Wine is big in this community and much of the wealth is dependent on the grapes grown every year. There seems to be several wealthier (relatively) farmers because of the wine business. The wine is pretty good too!! Though there appears to be a lot of migration and the many of the wives of the farmers who got wealthy off wine decided that living in Tarija would be much better then living out here so one sees many elderly men between the ages of 60-80 living in their houses alone and their wives and children preferring to live in the cities. Many of these older men have help that farm their land and take care of their houses. They usually give the orders on how to run their farms and the rest the day unfortunately they drink their own wine until they are beyond drunk. There definitely seems to be an alcohol problem here as with the rest of the country. The rest of the population is relatively young. There are plenty of children and I believe their parents are the ones working on the land of these elderly men.

Girls in the Plaza.

Riding through town.

I think some of the reasons why many have left is because of the distance to a city, there is hardly any electricity and its dependent on whether the motor is in working order, the streets are not paved or cobbled stone so there is a lot of dust in the dry season. Also the water is system is rather sporadic so at times there is no water either because they turn it off to let the tank fill up because it is too small to handle the population or the case for today is there was so much rain last night that something broke (a pipe) so there is no water currently. (Oh there is plenty in the river right now though)

Dona Ana and Don Jorge This couple seems to have made it there job see that I am okay in town. Dona Ana makes sure I don't wither way and die by making sure I eat enough by making me have tea and bread at her house almost every night. Also when I was sick she made sure I saw the doctor and gave me tea to calm my stomach. Though Dona Ana at times is pretty modern and aware of medical stuff and cooking the food properly and boiling the water etc. She has a daughter in the United States and is a resident. She goes their every year. She just loves the US and wonders why I choose to come down here to work for two years in a dirty dusty and poor country. The town seems great and has welcomed me thoroughly. It is beautiful area. However it is pretty hot so I will have to get used to that. I am told it gets cold in the winter (that is relative of course) I am missing that below freezing weather I get in Rochester or Houghton.

26 January 2001

I am doing better with my site. Instead of waiting around this week I took some things in my own hands and started the vivero. I was waiting for some land and since that was taking forever I decided to start a seed bed in my patio where I live and when land does come through we can transfer the seedlings. The owner of the house was cool about it and wants help and also because I was improving the patio because before we rented it was pretty abandoned so me cleaning and growing something has impressed the owner. Anyway once I took the initiative I got tons of offers for land. ( The alcade is however is amused that I (a female) is digging around in the dirt, most of the time some male comes in and helps out when they see me working) I am getting some help and I think when I start something on the other lands I will get much more help since they cannot still see a female doing man's work. Also I am working more with the Technicos who are really interested in working with the surrounding communities and one has invited me to a get together at a town about 30 km away(still part of Las Carreras) where there will be soccer and food and just listening to some of the grievances they have. So I am excited about that.

I get laughed at doing woman's work because I am considered higher class so cleaning and even picking up my dishes is looked at weirdly and I and often told to sit down and let the girls pick up the dishes. They tell me to hire someone to clean the bathroom and other stuff that I shouldn't have to do this stuff. I actually let some of this occur because there are woman and children that are poor and need the money so I let them one woman(who is probably my age and has three small kids the husband left her for another woman which is soooo common here) wash my clothes(cause I cannot even come close to cleaning my clothes(by hand) to the way she does it!!(whites are so white)) Yeah so I am pretty inefficient in women's work too. I think I do better with the men's work just a little slower.

21 February 2001

MY APCD was pleased with his visit to my site and nominated me to go to a conference in LA PAZ with USAID so I am excited about that. It's next Friday.

My town is on the border of the provinces of Chuquisaca and Tarija and there is a river that nearly never is dry though it gets close. It's called San Juan del Oro and there is a bridge that goes over this river that is the border of the provinces(actually two bridges) A new one was recently done about seven years ago and beautifully with cement and all but with no support. This past sunday night the bridge decided it did not like all these heavy trucks traveling over it so at about midnight it collapsed into two into the river. So not only is the bridge split in half each side is off the bank that it was attached too as well. It was quite site and I have pictures. to build the bridge it cost about 2 million dollars. This is also the major road from La Paz to Tarija so it was a little a bit of a crisis. There is a smaller older bridge that they are letting some of the busses over but its shaky so who knows.

Fallen Bridge.

15 June 2001

Well since being in my town for about 7 months and living somewhat on my own I have learned to do things that I would never really do if I was in the states even if I was living on my own. First thing I have learned to do is knitting. I am a bit awkward with it but I am getting use to it!! I am quite an amusement among the women. I am learning how to make empanadas Here is the recipe:

Empanadas 1 Cup of flour 1 table spoon of lard 2-3 tablespoons of sugar water just to make the dough good to roll Cheese And whatever you want to fill it with

Mix everything except the filling together and roll with whatever you have(a rolling pin if you are lucky) into thin pancake like things. When it is very thin put the cheese or whatever and fold the pancake to enclose the cheese and seal it shut with your fingers. Have a frying pan with as much oil as possible heating up while you make the empanadas. There should be a enough oil for the empanada to swim in. Before putting in the empanada into the pan make sure the oil is very hot. If it is not hot they turn out weird!! The empanada will be ready in about 30 seconds and cheese will have been melted as well!! For taste you can put powdered sugar on top of the hot empanada.

My other skills that I have learned: I actually painted my two rooms and though I have painted before I never really painted to that extent. I have also learned to plaster my walls. That I have never done before. Hand washing my clothes is still a big deal and whenever I try to do it myself I can never get the stains out, so I mostly leave it to the experts. Learning to cook without a Microwave!!

Kristina at the river. There are two rivers in the area. Río Chico and Río de San Juan del Oro. Rio Chico as it is translated it is a small river coming from the south West. The bigger river is coming from the southeast. The small river flows into the big river so when looking from the hills it looks like just one river at first but if you look beyond where they connect you see the bigger river as well. The road to my town crosses the Rio Chico and for the most part the busses go right through the water and up on the other shore, which is about 100 yds. from the main town. There are some houses that begin and then the plaza is placed just beyond these houses. In this plaza there is several palm trees and Pine trees with benches. Surrounding the plaza is the Church, some houses and the Mayors office. Behind these buildings are hills not too significant but they separate the town and there are houses on the other side of these hills that is part of the town as well. Hiking up these hills is in no way difficult and anyone can do it and you can still get a spectacular view of the valley. You can see the two rivers as well. After the plaza the houses begin again. Just One house up is where I live. It seems that this house was left with no one living in it and the Owner lived in the next town over did not do much with it. Until Fatima my Counterpart convinced him that he should rent our rooms

Main street in Las Carreras.

26 July 2001. SNOW !!!

it is fairly cold like 35 degrees and a very light snow is falling!! I am soo excited since I haven't seen snow in over a year!! okay i won't be sledding or skiing anytime soon.

My father [an RPCV - Peru] came to my site and liked it alot. We hiked alot and saw the area.

So we now do not at all have electricity!! The motor is completely dead!! Victor who is the engineer for the area has been working on getting electricty for 24 hours and he is running into issues and does not seem happy about that.(however there is a small motor in the Mayor's builiding and I can charge the computer on that)

I am here [in Tarija] waiting for my check to come through I was low on money becuase my trip to Argentina [with Susan Fox]. It was nice for my father to come down cuase we went to all the nice resturants and I did not worry about price. We got a really nice meal (the most expensive resturant in Tarija) for under 20 dollars for the two of us!! With really good food. I did have him try the truly awful coffee in my town and he said exactly that. It was the first time I ever saw him put sugar in his coffee. I did shelter him by going to places where there was half way decent coffee. That was only one time!!

15 September 2001

Winter in Las Carreras/Tarija:

Winter here is not so bad as everyone told me, actually they tell me that it has been the coldest winter they have had in a long time. About 4 or 5 times a wind comes from the southern part of Argentina and brings some really cold and humid weather. In Tarija there have been several reports of snow especially in the upper areas. Of course this snow melts as soon as the sun comes out the very next day. There was one really bad wind (these winds are called Sourasos) that came at the end of June. Las Carreras had a temperature as low as 33 degrees F. This lasted about two nights. During the day the temperature will shoot up 20 degrees F within the first half hour of the sun being out. My rooms kept at a chilly 55 degrees F however with 3 blankets. Most of the time I could do without a jacket during the day just a long sleeve shirt and jeans and a sweater to take along. The only issue was that with these adobe buildings, when the sun was out and warming the farmland, the schoolrooms remained chilly. For the most part it was a tolerable winter.


Well when August hit it started to warm up and cloudy days did not mean that another souraso was coming. The clouds were threatening instead to bring some much-needed rain. Now at the beginning of September the days are really hot reaching 90 in the sun. However there are some winds that help cool things down. Also the nights are cool and refreshing. The river is starting to dry up. And my faucet in my house is temperamental and does not want to give me water all the time. August also brought flowers for some of the trees. This was without rain still just warmer weather. And on the last day of August a storm came through and it rained (about 1mm) that was a bit of a surprise for most. Currently for the past two weeks there have many threats of rain and it rained again on Monday September 10, 2001 and currently as I write this it looks like it will rain again. Rain coming is definitely unusual for this time of the year. They also tell me it has been unusually hot. With the winds brought lot of dust being blown around. Also the community members would water the street so that it would minimize the dust. Seeing this I wonder if this water could be put to better use because within an hour or two this no longer works.

I now have a small piece of land to do a seedling bed for the cherimoya seeds. (That cannot be statistically con

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Bolivia; PCVs in the Field - Bolivia



By DougMost on Monday, April 22, 2002 - 6:37 pm: Edit Post

Kristina, I'm trying to reach Peace Corps volunteers in Bolivia around 2000 and 2001. Can you help or email me?

By Dawn Butler ( on Wednesday, July 07, 2004 - 4:53 pm: Edit Post


I really enjoyed reading your Peace Corps stories from Bolivia! I have recently been invited to a program in Bolivia for agribusiness and marketing, so reading this really helps me!

Thanks again!!

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