Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Partying bolivia Style!

I haven’t written in a while, not the least because I’ve been busy getting to know how to have fun here in Bolivia (and I’ve been working hard too, I swear!)
This past weekend I was in the city of Cochabamba for a teachers’ workshop on creating and interpreting evaluations. Now, the workshops weren’t terribly party-like but the after-hours festivities were a good break from the constant work. And it turns out that Cochabamba has a fairly good nightlife!
One evening I went out with the education team I’m working with. We found ourselves at a bar, enjoying the wide range of cocktails available here (just about anything can be imported for a price!) We ended up playing a dice game called “cacho,” which is best described as something between yahtzee and poker.

I picked it up by the second game and look forward to teaching it to folks when I get back to the states. A basic description is that each person keeps track of their score on something that looks like a tic-tac-toe board (see below) and each game lasts ten rounds. After you roll the dice using the leather cup (and everyone has their own unique style of doing so) you can choose to reroll some or all of the dice once to try to improve the outcome. After you are done rolling, you count the best score you can. If you can’t score in any of the spots, you have to choose to put an X in one of the boxes. Ones are referred to as “balas,” fours are referred to as “cuadras,” a straight is called an “escala,” and a full house (2 of a kind with 3 of a kind) is simply called a “full.” If you turn your cup over when you roll your dice and say “boteo,” that means you can turn one die over and use it’s opposite side if you want to. And of course, you can turn it into a gambling game!
My second night out in Cochabamba I was on my own, taking an extra night to stay in the city after the workshop was over in order to enjoy the warm valley climate for as long as I could. While partaking in a delicious Huari (by far the best of Bolivian beers) and a plate of spaghetti, I met a guy just a couple of years younger than me. He was selling handmade bracelets to pay for his room at an “alojamiento” (a very basic hotel) while figuring out his next move, having come from his native Ireland to travel through South America when he ran out of money in Cochabamba.
I could tell from his accent that his first language was English, so I figured he had to be suffering for lack of beer (especially if he was European or Australian.) We ended up hanging out until the wee hours of morning, both of us glad to have someone with whom we could speak English for a while. Turned out there was an Irish bar not far from where I was staying, so there we were in an Irish bar, drinking Bolivian beer, watching a Flamenco group, and chatting with a couple of Frenchmen who are working in Bolivia for a water sanitation program. This big ol’ world can really come together for a good time!
Previous to my adventures in Cochabamba, I found myself dancing the night away at the graduation party for one of the office interns here in Oruro. I was introduced not just to dancing in the Bolivian style (fairly simple steps thankfully!) but also to a Bolivian liquor called Singani, which tastes fairly lovely when mixed with 7Up.
An undergraduate graduation is a big deal here, as it takes a lot of years and a lot of financial sacrifice. Plus it holds the promise of a securely middle class, upwardly mobile future. Systems engineering, as the IT program is called here, is a really popular major, as it is something desperately needed for development and promises good employment. The graduate’s parents were so proud they cried, and the graduate cried too. I’ve never thought of a graduation party as a sentimental thing, but then again, getting an education was never an enormous challenge in my life, not like it is here. It reminded me that the work I do is important, helping to make sure that kids are prepared to take on the educational challenges that come up for them in their lives, despite the challenges they face.
And I thought I was just going out for the dancing and the alcohol!

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