I hired a driver in Cochabamba to take us out to my Peace Corps site in Rocha Rancho, a Quechua village at 9,000 feet elevation in the Andes. I hadn’t been there in 40 years, and it was my dream to return and take Maria with me.
As a volunteer, I worked on agriculture, potable water and school construction projects. I wanted to visit two school projects that were located across a valley from each other. After 45 years, would they still be standing?
I had other questions, too. I was the only volunteer in the valley. I stayed on the school grounds, where I lived without electricity or running water. Would the houses in the communities where I worked have electricity, running water and glass windows?
I knew that most of the adults I worked with would be dead by now. Even the schoolchildren I knew would be in their 50s.
I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The road to the valley, when I left, was made of dirt and rocks that occasionally turned into a stream bed. Today, it’s cobblestone. Rocha Rancho School and Cala Caja School across the valley were still in use, though showing the ravages of time — like me.
Luckily, classes were in session at both schools, so we were able to meet the teachers and students.
I had put together an album of photos of what the schools had looked like under construction. I also had many photos of schoolchildren. Today, they would be the grandparents of the students.
Electricity and running water had reached both communities.
When I served in Rocha Rancho, I lived in a house built for a Peace Corps couple that preceded me. It was the only house in the village with glass windows, though the school had them. It also had the only corrugated metal roof in town.
When I lived there, all of the houses had spaces for a window, but they were filled with adobe bricks. I always took that as a sign of optimism that one day they would be able to afford glass windows. Today, both glass windows and metal roofs are common.
Of the two, the tin roofs are more important.
The standard roof in Quechua homes was once made by laying down bamboo over a frame. Mud was then piled on top of the bamboo, and crude Spanish-style tiles were set on top of the mud.
There is an insect high in the Andes called the vinchuca bug. It is a blood-sucking insect, looking something like a cockroach, which emerges at night from nooks and crannies to bite people, often near the eye, where blood vessels are close to the surface. To make things worse, the insects often transmit an illness called Chagas. Those afflicted carry the debilitating condition for life.
The unplastered adobe walls inside traditional homes offered many hiding places for insects. If you looked up inside, you would see a mass of bamboo supporting the roof, another great place for insects to hide.
There are two things you can do to eradicate vinchucas. One is to cover the interior walls with plaster. The other is to replace the traditional tile roof with corrugated metal. It’s hot and bright.
I was overjoyed to see the improvements in the lives of the people I served 45 years ago. Maria and I were thrilled by the warm reception we received. And I was reminded of why I fell in love with the people of Bolivia the first time.
A photo essay of Cochabamba and my Peace Corps site can be seen online at http://elmick.zenfolio.com/.
• Mickey McGuire is a retired high school social studies teacher. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.