jueves, 1 de octubre de 2015

A welcome from our new director

This month I’d like to introduce myself as a new member of the i.e. team. As I enter my third month as Executive Director, I feel lucky to lead this dynamic institute powered by qualified, experienced and well-trained teachers and further bolstered by a handful of friendly, resourceful and gifted administrators.  At the moment, we have Spanish teachers, English teachers, Aymara teachers, Quechua teachers and Dutch teachers on staff. This talented group impacts students way beyond La Paz thanks to our online classes.

I arrived in La Paz last December and immediately heard of the Institute as the place to go to learn Spanish. I signed up, sat on the comfortable couch and looked around.  Students from around the world were learning to communicate in new ways. I saw a group of 18 year old Germans on their first  experience abroad. I chatted with a 60 year American volunteer still dusty from an afternoon of work. Also, through closed doors, I heard Bolivians learning English. By February, I was a full-time student and by June 1, my portenhol (a blend of Portuguese and Spanish because I started as a Portuguese speaker) had almost completely converted to Spanish. On my study breaks, I explored our neighborhood of Sopocachi with its lovely park, many coffee shops, tasty food options and plenty of hills where I could get a little exercise. 

The opportunity to lead the Institute unfolded through conversations between my Spanish classes. My work experience as a Director of Study Abroad combined with my years as an international development professional complements the exciting and burgeoning opportunities the Institute will face in the near future. 

As Director, I continue to be amazed at the diversity of students who pass through our doors and sit in our classrooms. We’ve had groups of international volunteers from Japan and Korea, study abroad students from Norway and travelers from Holland hoping to gain experience and skills during their gap year. 

During this time many individual students have studied with us as well. Although it’s difficult to describe a typical i.e. student, they do have some qualities in common. The students I’ve chatted with are bold and adventurous - they’re willing to wade deep into the waters beyond their comfort zone. There’s also a palpable respect for culture and a desire to tap into it through language. As an example, one of our long term students is researching (for her Phd) how indigenous women understand their legal rights as women and as members of an indigenous group. The project involves enormous amounts of listening. When she arrived here a year ago, she thought she’d bitten off more than she could chew as her Spanish was basic. After several months as a full time i.e. student, she developed the skills and confidence needed to conduct her research. “For me”, she said, “Learning Spanish at the Institute was essential for me to be able to build rapport and understand the perspectives of the women I interview.” 

Another student came to i.e. to learn survival Spanish as he biked across South America. However, once his classes started, he didn’t want to leave La Paz and yearned for a level of Spanish beyond the basic. Eventually, he did leave and biked for five months across Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. After only a couple months back home in Alaska, he decided to return to i.e. and explore more of La Paz. He told me, as we conversed in Spanish, “I think I’ll have to go back home in November but then again I really love La Paz - I may stay an extra couple of weeks.” 

I hope you too can join the i.e. family. If you don´t happen to find yourself in La Paz, how about learning with us online? I’m sure you’ll understand why our students choose ie . Or, if you fancy trying out life on the other side of the desk, why not train to be an English teacher with our accredited TEFL course or look into one of our internship opportunities.  In the meantime, check out our website and feel free to email us any questions you may have. 

I hope to see you soon and hear your story.

Mansir Petrie

jueves, 10 de septiembre de 2015

Places and rituals

August: Month of Pachamama

No doubt when we travel, we dream of visiting different and almost magical places that are out of the ordinary; We seek adventure, traditions and new customs;  We want to meet new people, and face challenges of climate and infrastructure and create new memories through the awakening of our senses.

Bolivia is mystical, exotic and modern. It is a place where there is always something to see, visit and do. Places have exotic names such as ‘The Death Road’, ‘The Witches Market’, ‘Laguna Colorada’ etc, and there a multitude of holidays and festivals throughout the year. If there happens to be a month with no special day, then it is up to commercial enterprises to create a new one. Holidays range from the more common celebrations such as Christmas and New Year, to some more popular Latin America ones such as the ‘Day of the Dead’, ‘All Saints’, ‘Carnival´. Due to the cultural symbiosis that we have, there is always a good cause for celebration, such as in August which is the month of Pachamama.

Pachamama is the goddess of the Earth. According to the yatiris or wise Aymaras, August is regarded as the period of the Laqan pajxi (month of the open mouth), because it is the time when Pachamama opens her mouth to receive offerings.  The Andean cosmovision teaches us that everything has a soul, that everything lives, and goes on living after death.  This is not only true of people but of tools and utensils, and of the land and the hills. The offering given to Pachamama (Mother Earth) is called Koa and is made up of sweets, koa (a ceremonial plant), coloured wood, untu (camelid fat), "mysteries" or symbols from kallawaya and aymaran culture, coca leaves, as well as a sullus or llama foetus.   They are offered to Pachamama as a symbol of appreciation for the agricultural production in rural areas, and to the prosperity of business, health and family in cities.

Pachamama is the highest divinity of the Andean people, because, in addition to providing protection, she alludes to fertility, abundance, femininity, generosity, and the maturity of crops. The term Pachamama translates as ‘Mother Earth’ - Pacha is a Quechua and Aymaran word which means Earth, Mara translate as cosmos, universe, time, and space, and Mama means Mother.

The concept of Pachamama is directly related to agrarian wealth, as the economy of the native people is based largely on agricultural production. However, a large part of the urban population maintains that their customs and beliefs are still valid in modern society. These beliefs have undergone some changes though,  in order to exist alongside the Catholic faith and in some ceremonies, Pachamama worship is even done through the Virgin Mary.

In Andean culture, Pachamama is the protective goddess of all material goods and, at the same time, master of the spiritual universe. Thus, she symbolizes the human being in its entirety. As a result, those who believe in her must maintain a relationship of balance and reciprocity. 

De lugares y rituales: Agosto mes de la Pachamama

Bolivia mística, exótica y moderna. El lugar donde siempre hay algo que ver, visitar y hacer. Los lugares están revestidos con nombres exóticos, como ¨Camino de la muerte¨ ¨Mercado de las brujas¨ Laguna colorada¨ etc.  También sus diferentes actividades y celebraciones, nos transportan al mundo de lo místico y debido a la simbiosis cultural que tenemos siempre hay un buen motivo de  celebración, Agosto fue Mes de la Pachamama

Pachamana diosa de la tierra. Según los yatiris o sabios aymaras agosto es considerado como el periodo del Laqan pajxi (mes de la boca abierta), porque es el tiempo cuando la Pachamama abre su boca para recibir las ofrendas.

La cosmovisión andina nos enseña que todo tiene alma, todo vive; creyendo que no sólo las personas viven después de la muerte: las herramientas, los utensilios de casa, el suelo que se pisa, los cerros pequeños o grandes tienen ánima, están vivos y hay que estimarlos; siendo por ello que se preparan ofrendas. El ritual a la Pachamama  y la ofrenda se llama Koa que contiene dulces, koa (planta ceremonial), lana de colores, untu (grasa de camélido), “misterios” o simbología de la cultura kallawaya y aymara, mixtura y hojas de coca, además de los sullus o fetos de llama es entregada a la Pachamama como un símbolo de agradecimiento por la producción agrícola en el área rural y por la prosperidad de los negocios, la salud y la familia en las ciudades.

El término Pachamama se traduce al castellano como Madre Tierra, puesto que pacha es una palabra Quechua - Aymara y mara que en español significa tierra, cosmos, universo, tiempo, espacio y mama quiere decir madre.

El concepto de Pachamama guarda una directa relación con la riqueza agraria, ya que la economía de los pueblos originarios se basa en la producción agrícola. No obstante, una gran parte de la población urbana mantiene sus costumbres, creencias y mantienen vigencia en la sociedad moderna. Sin embargo sufrieron algunas alteraciones, al sincretizarse con la fe católica. Incluso, en algunas ceremonias, se adora a la Pachamama a través de la Virgen María.

Esta simbiosis se puede ver claramente en el cuadro “La Virgen del Cerro”, donde se observa que la Madre Tierra, representada por el cerro, además de ser la falda de la Virgen María queda por encima de la misma. 

Igualmente, en las reuniones sociales, es muy habitual que la Pachamama reciba los primeros tragos de cerveza, ya que los creyentes antes de llevarse el primer sorbo a la boca, dejan caer unos chorros sobre la tierra, a modo de agradecer y alimentar a la Pachamama.

En la cultura andina, la Pachama es la diosa protectora de todos los bienes materiales y, a la vez, domina el universo de lo espiritual. Por ello, simboliza al entorno del ser humano en su totalidad. En consecuencia, los que creen en ella deben mantener una relación de equilibrio y reciprocidad con la misma.

viernes, 26 de junio de 2015

Gran Poder

The festival of Gran Poder is the clearest representation of multiculturalism in Bolivia.At 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 30th, the first fraternity (folkloric group) enters and the government headquarters initiates the party, with 65 fraternities showing their faith, gratitude and culture along the way. One of the most important reasons for this celebration is to worship and show devotion to the Lord Jesus del Gran Poder. This festival is one of the ways in which we celebrate what it means to be Andean.

The streets are filled with people and vendors of all kinds selling food, beer as well as other traders seeking the ability to sell their products more freely. The audience is diverse, with large families moving hurriedly from one place to another in search of a space, carrying even the smallest children.  Overall, Gran Poder is a cathartic experience where the community comes together with nature, affirming its willingness to ensure the survival of the Andean heritage.

The start of the Gran Poder is a religious holiday which is expressed through dance and rhythms from different regions.  Each and every one of the dances represents a region of the country, and all of these carry a story behind them. There are countless colors, masks, costumes, and decorations which can be seen in the moves of the fraternities, not to mention the spectacle of the bands. The vibrant sound of their instruments makes the people and the dancers feel the vibrant notes of Bolivian folkloric music.

The origin of the Fiesta del Gran Poder dates far back to December 8, 1663 when they founded the Convent of the Conception Mothers.  Since its creation this celebration has undergone some changes and incorporated new dances and fraternities.  In the 30s and 40s there was an integration of native bands from Los Yungas, with drumbeats which worshipped the image of the Lord Jesus del Gran Poder. Having become a departmental event in 1952, there were departmental Paceña dance festivals at the stadium, where the idea of a more organised event was realised, drawing together the various cultural ideas.  The new version of Gran Poder 2015 seeks to achieve the title of Intangible Heritage from UNESCO.