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Day in the Life: Development Worker in Bolivia

Drivers in La Paz make the Fast and the Furious seem like Driving Miss Daisy. Izabela Wlodarczyk

Sleeping is for when you're between overseas placements. 

7:15 AM

Wake up: nearly every day is sunny. Isn’t it great to be alive? The birds are chirp...zzzzzzz

8:00 AM 

Run out of the house and attempt to grab one of 20 mini buses hurtling in my general direction. Squint to read signs indicating direction and hail the mini bus. (It’s really a van with enough seating for. . .well, in Canada it would seat eight, but here it seats 15, with two people up front with the driver.)

We ride up the mountain. I pray that the brakes work and that this driver values my life, while I look out the window and pretend that I am a completely sane foreigner with no fears of impending death.

8:30 AM 

Start work at the technical institute where I am supposed to evaluate marketing strategies and suggest corrective measures. I spend the day reading strategies, coming up with website design ideas and trying to figure out a schedule. I sip coca leaf tea and try to ignore the melody that plays every five minutes, all day, every day from some store across the street. Consider going to the vendor and breaking amplifier. Sip tea. This melody will haunt me until old age and this vendor will never know my suffering. Glare out window. Sip. Tea.


Eat three-course lunch with my co-workers who are all slim despite the large portions they eat for breakfast lunch and dinner. Just...how? Maybe because the food is fresh and the vegetables actually taste like vegetables? Not sure, I’m no scientist. Anyway, a co-worker tells me that they have to eat this much because they talk a lot and therefore need more energy. I laugh and agree because, hmm—I talk a lot too! Clearly, this rule in my new country must be followed. . .with copious amounts of dessert. I will work off the calories on the steep sidewalks.

Employees in the lunch room all ask me questions about cold Canadian weather, what kind of food we eat and how big my family is. Canadian weather, food and family are topics that never fail, no matter the country.

1:30 PM

Leave the mountain by either cable car or mini bus to get to my second campus location. Even in heavy traffic, the cars are moving—making five lanes where there should only be three. Unless there is some kind of demonstration (okay, there is one almost daily), going from one side of the city to another is relatively quick. A journey that would take closer to two hours on the 401 in Toronto during rush hour takes about 30 minutes here in La Paz. (Faster if your driver is determined to make every green light and even faster if he doesn’t mind nearly running people over.)

2:00 PM

At the second campus location, I am evaluating the operational and institutional strength of our partner. I decide to create an interview form and get ready to interview colleagues about what part of their jobs and areas of the campus they think could benefit from some new changes. It’s a good way to get insight, make people feel included as well as connect with colleagues. I make some notes and observe the operation of the centre. Luckily, there is no haunting melody playing outside of this location. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t hear it sometimes.

4:00 PM

I decided to take a graphic design course at my institute to learn something new and meet some local students. This course runs three hours from Monday to Thursday for the next seven weeks. (Because sleeping is what you do between overseas placements.)

7:00 PM

I rush out of class and speed walk uphill to get home for my Spanish language lesson. I manage to avoid a heart attack brought on by speed walking in a high altitude city by. . .wait, not fully sure I avoided it, actually.

7:30 PM

Spanish lesson with the loveliest of language teachers. I make her Earl Grey tea and she makes me conjugate verbs. It’s a win-win. Sort of.

8:30 PM

My day can finally begin. Where are we going? Let’s go out! We are alive and life is precious!

8:31 PM

Zzzzzzzzzzz. Sorry. . .right, we are alive. . .

8:35 PM

My roommate and I go to a local spot for food and drink with varying amounts of both depending on the kind of day each one of us has had.

11:00 PM

Come home and light incense to ward off evil spirits, just like the witch at the market instructed me to. Lucky coincidence is that incense also helps with the weird smell that my roommate says comes from the ghost that lives in our apartment. (Have I mentioned how much I like my roommate? She’s, uh, interesting.)

Finally get to bed, wondering if seven more months of this schedule will kill me or just make me stronger.

The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Cuso International.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Izabela Wlodarczyk

After obtaining degrees in human rights and international project management, Izabela Wlodarczyk has worked in Australia, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico and Bolivia in various roles, including as a consultant and editor. 

Website: https://www.facebook.com/travelwithinvitaveritas/

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