Yesterday morning I was reading Saint-Exupéry's parable about two gardeners. Having lived and worked together for many years, the two became separated when one of them went on a long journey which took him to distant cities and towns. After many years the stay-at-home received a letter from his friend. The letter, which had been forwarded from country to country before it reached him, said: "This morning I pruned my rose trees" - and that was all. Saint-Exupéry goes on to describe how the gardener who had stayed at home struggled over the next three years to compose a reply that he was satisified with... "From now on he took to spending whole days in his room, jotting down phrases, crossing them out, starting again, sticking out his tongue the whole, like a schoolboy poring over his lesson-book. He knew he had something important to say, and somehow he must transport himself ... to his absent friend. For he had to build a bridge over the sundering gulf and communing with the friend who was his other self, across Space and Time, make known to him his love. Thus a day came when, blushing, he came to me and showed his answer, hoping to glimpse on my face a reflection of the joy that would light up his recipient, and to test on me the power of his message. And when I read it, I saw these words, written in a careful yet unskilled hand - earnest as a prayer coming from the heart, yet how simple, how humble! - This morning I, too, pruned my roses.
I liked that.
Yesterday evening I was in a minibus in Cochabamba on my to visit the Corazon Grande (Big Heart) girl's home, with Siw, a Finnish lady who has been living here in Bolivia's third-largest city for the past sixteen years. Four year old Rosita, on her way home from school with us, kept kissing my stubble before yelling at all the other girls how it hurt. We passed a large cemetery on the way with elaborate old tombs. "Those are the tombs of the rich people", one girl told me. "No", Rosita countered, "those are the tombs of the dead people!".
Later Siw told me that there are approximately seventy children's homes in Cochabamba, a horrific number given that the city's population is less than a million inhabitants. In Corazon Grande, the nineteen girls between the ages of four and fifteen, have for various reasons been removed from their families and placed in the home. Many have experienced sexual abuse. Rosita's father was convicted of attempted murder and imprisoned after trying to kill her. Recently he committed suicide. Another girl's sibling was murdered by her mentally ill mother. More horrific and tragic stories continued. The girls all appear so happy and enthusiastic and yet as Siw noted, beneath that they are also dealing with the scars of the past.
I had first heard about Corazon Grande through Norwegian cyclist, Rune Monstad, in Cameroon last year. He had begun his cycling trip here in Cochabamba and was raising money for the Bolivian Family, a Norwegian NGO that supports Corazon Grande and other children's homes here in Bolivia. More recently I had contacted Siw and asked if there was anything I could do when I was in Cochabamba. Almost all the staff are women and they are anxious for the girls to have contact with men, so I'm just going to hang out, play games, teach English, give geography lessons and work on my basketball skills for the next couple of weeks. The garden also needs some maintenance and Siw asked if I had any idea how to prune rose bushes. Thanks to google I now have a fair idea.
Trip distance: 31,221 km