Sunday, January 24, 2010

South American dreams

My first visit to a Spanish-speaking country was when I got on a plane by myself at age 18 and flew to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia to be a Rotary exchange student. The year was 1991. I had graduated from high school two months before, and decided to take a gap year before going to the University of Miami. I had applied and deferred a scholarship to participate in the exchange. I was armed with 10 years of Spanish classes, 1 summer at the International Language Village for Spanish in Bemidji, Minnesota (where I bunked in a cabin with a girl from Rancho Santa Fe, California who actually knew Joaquin* Phoenix and his sisters Liberty and Rainbow and his brother River, whom I adored), and a letter from my host family which was accompanied by a shadowy picture of them standing in their backyard. It was tough to make out the individual faces in the picture but one thing was sure. There were a lot of them. I would have four sisters in my new family, two of whom were already married with babies and living in the same family home. When they met me at the airport on August 26 they greeted me with hugs and flowers and I instantly became "la quinta", the fifth daughter. Eighteen years later, my host family and I keep in contact. Two sisters live with their families in the Washington D.C. area and there are cousins here in California where I now live. The experience was half a lifetime ago for me, yet it has shaped every day since. Mostly because after four months of listening so much that my ears physically hurt at the end of the day, I learned Spanish there.

I have visited other Spanish speaking countries since then, including Mexico, Spain, and Costa Rica. I have been back to Bolivia twice, in 1994 and 1997. Now that I am making the effort to speak to my 7 1/2 month old son in Spanish, it is awakening memories and a desire to travel with my family back to Bolivia for a visit. So much has changed there, politically and economically. My husband has traveled to Argentina and Chile and would be game for a trip to Bolivia. I would love to see Argentina, Chile and maybe even Peru. His paternal grandfather, Joe, retired to Costa Rica a few years ago. My husband and I visited the Christmas we got married, in 2006. We plan to bring the baby for Christmas this year. Then we can start planning our South American odyssey. The more authentic language he hears, the better!

*During that time he went by the name Leaf.

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  1. Love this post, Peggy! Your trip to Bolivia sounds like a book idea in embryo. Very descriptive. Would love to know more...Cheryl

  2. One of Maddie's two best friends from when we lived in VA is Bolivian--we have a special affection for the country now, despite never having stepped foot there. Maybe someday! I daydream about traveling with the girls when they get older : )


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