Most of the time things just happen here. I've learned not to attach myself to my expectations for a day or week and simply experience what comes my way here. While in one sense it can be frustrating not knowing what to plan for, in another sense it is freeing to not have to make a plan in the first place. This makes intentionality difficult but it also makes taking the opportunities that spontaneously arise easier. Here are some little opportunities that have come along in the last month that don't necessarily have an overarching theme, but are a dose of memories of life here in Rurrenabaque.

What would we do without the hospitality of the tiny store across the street. We certainly keep them in business with our appetite for hard-earned snacks.

Was that sound a crying child, a fight between toddlers, someone calling my name, or just the parrot that lives in the backyard?

Everyday I walk by children dangling from pencil-sized branches 30 feet in the air, gasp, and then remember it is not possible to keep them out of this tree and that no one's gotten hurt yet.

Spare Room Spent

Occasionally I go into town with some of the other volunteers on days other than our day off to use the internet for fundraising. Often we can catch a ride with someone else who's driving the van and save on taxi money. On one of these occasions, me and a couple of the American volunteers were coming back from town with one of the director's older daughters in the driver's seat and Zoe, a student volunteer from Argentina, in the passenger's seat. When we stopped for a quick drink on the way back, Zoe mentioned we should reshuffle and make room for an extra person. After a few minutes of fruitlessly trying to guess who it might be amongst ourselves, we had to ask.

"So who is it that we're picking up?"

"Oh, some guy I think."


"But who is it?"

"Actually, I don't know. Melissa just said we needed to pick him up in town. I think he's from Santa Cruz?"


"....So, do you know why he's here?"

"Not really. Melissa just said he would be staying with us but she's not really sure what his deal is."

At our next stop, we flipped up the back seat, threw the guy's luggage in the back, and squeezed in our extra passenger. He introduced himself as Jayson from Santa Cruz who would be staying for a week. While informative, this information was not necessarily enlightening. Eventually, I resigned myself to the seclusion of the back seat, the demanding throb between my ears, the audible static of the open window, and the parallax of jagged jungle mountains and fields scrolling past.

After unfolding myself out of the car back at the house, I was prepared to say ciao to this new but temporary acquaintance and see him perhaps, say, five more times in passing around campus. When he didn't get back in the van after letting us out, and when Zoe helpfully unloaded his belongings on our doorstep, my aching brain slowly shifted gears from indifference to mild alarm. I didn't even need to count the number of living spaces on campus to realize the only place he could possibly be squeezed in would be the extra empty storage room in our house.

After the other volunteers and Carlo helped to clean the spare room and I braved the rabid-bat-ridden attic of the Harding house to search for an extra mattress and bug net, the total stranger and our new roommate was humbly situated in our home (which I failed to recognize at the time that I myself am a guest in). After several lines of cordial questioning from various volunteers throughout the afternoon, we've gathered that he's here to visit friends (or family?) in Rurrenabaque and knew of Familia Feliz through a friend of a friend at church. He'll allegedly only be staying for a week, is a senior in high school, and doesn't speak a word of English. At least I pray he doesn't since we've definitely had some private conversations in front of him in English.

The next morning I was proudly sitting at the kitchen table early enough to read before breakfast when he emerged from the room and sat down for a conversation. I forced myself to replace the twinge of irritation at the interruption with the realization that it might be a little hypocritical to be rude to someone so I could read about the Apostle Paul's cultural sensitivity and grace. So instead I struggled through a conversation in Spanish.

We also felt like we had crossed a threshold of success when Jayson expressed confused shock and horror at the flood of bugs that enters our house at night when the lights are on and at the tarantula scurrying around the kitchen in comparison to our general indifference. We realized we had become more accustomed to the insect population of Familia Feliz than Jayson, a native Bolivian but a resident of the bug-free, arid Santa Cruz.

In conclusion, Jayson has turned out to be quite amicable and an easy guest, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to practice my conversational Spanish since most of my vocabulary revolves around telling students what to do. I hope to become better friends as I learn my conjugations and expand my vocabulary.

An example of Zoro's unshakable adherence to his tradition of wearing his church clothes for the totality of Sabbath no matter the conditions.

Disaster Strikes (It Was Us)

Saturday night the volunteers were yet again responsible for cooking for the Harding house. A gas shortage in the region meant no stove fuel, which meant cooking over a fire. I learned that I do not like cooking over a fire all day. The fire pits are expertly designed to inject smoke directly into your eyes constantly. But we spent the day laughing about it and coming up with last-minute food ideas.

By the time dinner rolled around, we were trying to make fried rice, and I was left in charge of boiling the rice while everyone went to worship. I don't know what happened, I must have blacked out, but the rice managed to become a monstrous amalgamation of crunchy uncooked grains and soggy mushy porridge over the blindingly smoky fire. When the others got back we spent a hot minute deciding if we had time to just scrap the whole thing and start over. We made the grave error of continuing with the fried rice plan.

What resulted was most definitely the worst thing I've ever eaten, possibly ever. And I drank half a cup of hot chocolate made from powder that turned out to be full of tiny beetles and not clumps of undissolved chocolate the other week. The fried rice was burned, undercooked, soggy, and raw all at the same time. The vegetables were hastily mixed in. The eggs were unevenly distributed and only vaguely egg-flavoured. We would have felt more immoral feeding it to children if we hadn't been so beside ourselves with amusement at our rock-bottom failure.

The next day was Sunday and all of us separately decided to make atonement fried rice as substitute house parents for our respective houses. It all turned out great and we pray the children forget the Saturday night incident.

Fried Rice Incident Aftermath Response Team

This guy reminds me at least four times every time I see him that my Adam's apple is hideously oversized. He calls me Teacher Manzana. (PC Maddy)

Katie-Jane introduced us to the phrase "that tarantula is so cute!"

Dinner and a Show

Monday we found out that the mayor of Rurrenabaque (or maybe Beni?) was coming on Wednesday on an invite from Melissa to show them the good qualities of the school before we are inspected by the Department of Education. We spent Monday practicing a ceremony where each house got up to sing a song. We thought it blatantly ironic that we were going to be impressing the government with our ability, of all things, to sing. Bless their hearts but things children are infinitely more concerned with volume than melody. It is impossible to follow a melody when these guys are belting it out. Needlessly to say we were a little concerned, since we needed to teach a year's worth of choir in a day and some change.

After practicing Tuesday and Wednesday, they arrived. The ceremony went really well and the mayor seemed to be impressed and see the good in our mission. If anyone noticed Nicoles flat screaming they were distracted by the Leones adorable waving-around of paper fish right after. "Peces, peces, muchos peces" will be stuck in our head for weeks thanks to their adorable performance that took hours of practice. We are still praying for the outcome of the inspection but we're grateful for the support of the mayor. After the ceremony where we marched in and sang the national anthem, the officials stopped by each house for a snack, and the kids were perfectly thrilled with cake for lunch.

Salvador came under the impression that keeping a bandage with antibiotic on his infected wound would make it worse for some reason. After picking at the wound and swimming in the creek for a week, Sierra discovered a horribly infected undermining infection. Thankfully Sierra and Emilianne were prepared for surgery. I think Salvador hopefully learned his lesson about following the doctor's orders.


Last Sunday was a particularly long house-parenting day because of a gas shortage and many other strange factors. I had been all over campus doing random tasks: (ineffectively) chopping wood for the Harding's kitchen fire, taking the boys to the creek, cooking with Zoro, holding babies, motivating teens to play volleyball, and briefly monitoring the families who had come to visit their children, nieces, or nephews, making sure no one got kidnapped or given cocaine leaves as a present.

By the end of the day Zoro and I were sweltering in the kitchen, watching the flame of the last of our hoarded stove fuel sputter out under the dinner for the Guerreros while they watched a movie on my laptop. An absolute cloud of insects was swirling overhead around the light, and with every sweaty slap of my neck my longing for a cold, reviving shower grew. Then God fixed the light-attracting-the-bugs problem by turning off the electricity.

I quickly turned off my computer before the screen was completely engulfed in exoskeletons. We sat for a moment in slumped silence. The boys scampered off to sit silently in dark corners for a moment of unsupervised silence. I could do little but admire the irony of my desire for a shower throughout the day only for it to be snatched away right at the end.

I knew selfish disappointment wasn't the answer, but I sure wasn't feeling particularly grateful for the situation. With electronic screens rendered unsafe by the swarms, I realized there was nothing to do but go and sit outside and hope for a breeze. I found a handful of the boys already outside admiring the spectacle revealed by the darkness.

It was a beautiful moment to bask under the stars and be grateful together for the chance to do something we couldn't do any other time together. Even though I didn't know any of the words to explain photography, they wanted to participate and enjoy the moment together.

Then the house parents came back, and then the lights turned back on, and the moment was over. God knew that I needed the power outage to be forced to slow down and appreciate the moment, and He knew just how long to make it so I could still get a shower and not have a mental breakdown putting my filthy unwashed body into bed.

Marble King

Papa Zoro

Monkey Boy

Bug (PC Emilianne)