My Bolivian step parents

It was a terrible day, I’d been in the medical centre all day after sleeping very little. Received treatment for five hours for moderate altitude sickness and felt rather emotional about it all.  Had to miss an island trip and was on my own. Whilst I had some contact with friends and family, I needed a hug.  The two hearing doctors in the medical centre were rather surprised to see me blubbering when they were assessing me and telling me I lacked sufficient oxygen. To my astonishment they gave me a hug and some tissues.  I spent 5 hours getting my oxygen levels improved and made it to my bus to
La Paz from Copacabana.

Fortunately I’d had some contact with Charlie who lives in La Paz and is known as one of its strong leaders in the local deaf community.  Charlie had confirmed only a couple of days ago that I’d be staying at his family home with his parents.  I asked him if his family could sign. He smiled, telling me they were all sordo (deaf).  I returned the smile and told him about my family – 8 generations of deaf people if you don’t know.  I felt there was an angel watching over me somewhat.

The bus trip took ages, but we watched a subtitled film (subtitled in English for the first time! For the past few weeks of bus trips they were in spoken English and Spanish captions annoyingly) and whilst it was one of those cheap DVD copies, “There’s Something About Mary” gave me enough distraction from my emotional day and I laughed at the antics in the film all the way to La Paz.  I was surprised when at about 8pm we had to get off to get on a boat whilst the bus got on a huge pull-thing, and got on again on the other side of a lake/river.

We arrived into La Paz, it had been raining that evening but stopped.  I wrapped up warm.  The guide was very helpful in putting me into a taxi and telling the driver the address.  We got to the road of the Goytias, and searched high and low for door number 383.  The ascending order of evens and odds didn’t make sense, and I was very tired. Down the hill of this road an elderly guy with a great mane of grey hair was hovering, and my taxi driver approached him. Just watching his hand move to say he was sordo put a smile on my face.  I felt like I’d reached home in a way. It was Charlie’s father – I got my stuff and walked to greet him and he was very warm.  He took me upstairs to their huge flat.  There was so much barking, 3 beautiful dogs related to each other in different ways; 2 are half-sisters, one is the mother of only one of the sisters.

I was quickly introduced to the rest of the family, with the typical affectionate hug/kiss with each individual.  I kind of collapsed at their invitation to sit on their numerous sofas.  They have 7 sofas! They all enquired after me, having seen a photo of me earlier from Charlie when I was in the medical centre looking somewhat like a Antony Hopkins  in Silence of the Lambs with those tubes. Norma, the mother, got all motherly with me, giving advice, telling me what I needed to do.  Isabel, the sister, chatted to me for quite a while asking me questions about my plans etc.  Charlie was busy settling back from college, he attends every evening after working in the day. And Roberto was busying himself with various fixtures to prepare my room, reminding me of my Dad – he was setting up a lampshade for me.

I was rather surprised by the amount of American Sign Language used by them, this is historical both in Bolivia but also because they have family in America and have lived in America for 5years.  Time goes quickly and whilst we have a lot to learn about each other, my eye lids were drooping, and I could see they were also wanting to go to bed too.  It was midnight, we all retired quickly. 

As I went to my bed and got ready, I found this rather huge lump in my sheets, I was a little puzzled, only to find a hot water bottle.  It was the most sweetest “Motherly” thing to have happened to me since leaving the UK. I felt snug, cared for, worried for and I started to think of my parents who were rather worried about me given my medical experience today. I sent them a photo of my cosy bed and also the apartment and the family.  I knew they were fast asleep but I knew Dad would wake in the middle of the night and see this which will help them feel much more reassured.

The next morning Charlie and his partner went to work.  I woke feeling really snug and homely.  I sat at the breakfast table with continental breakfast given to me by Roberto. The coffee was surprisingly instant, I was expecting Bolivian coffee which is stronger.  Roberto and I chatted about some of his life experiences, and then my parents called via facetime – the wifi was finally so good.  The introductions with my deaf parents and my Bolivian step deaf parents got underway nicely.  My parents were so relieved.  The conversations continued as per deaf culture, talking about Deaf chess, Manchester United, deaf families, our shared history in having Spanish ancestry.  It was just so nice to have a morning like this, after quite a few weeks in Peru waking quite lonely and trying to mix with other travellers with not much success.  A classic “You have to be deaf to understand”.

Norma joins us and we get talking about my health and the four of them have this immediate understanding between them, that I needed to improve and that I needed to rest more. I feel like a care package has been agreed!

After some more facetime chats with other concerned friends, I ask to accompany Roberto to the local supermarket to get items for lunch.  I was intrigued by the area, I wanted to see what was around.  We chatted the entire journey, about 10mins walk, and fell over several gaps in the pavement! In the supermarket Roberto tells me instantly what he loves drinking in the alcohol aisle, some Bolivian drink that I think is a type of vodka.  Whilst he is packing up some vegetables I sneak back to the aisle and get a bottle for him.

Roberto is a kind guy, he has met so many deaf people from all over the world.  His house, like my parents, has had visitors from so many different countries. He is a bit of a comedian and makes me laugh quite a few times.  I think he senses how I am feeling, like a lamb returned to its flock.  We return to their apartment which I’ve already started calling home. Norma is amused about the bottle I’ve bought, she is also intrigued about the muesli and milk I’ve purchased – just really miss cereal!

Whilst Norma focuses on cooking lunch, I relax on one of the seven sofas with their 3 dogs.  It is nice to look ahead to travel plans, read other blogs about where people have been in Bolivia and get some ideas.  I share some of these with Roberto who has an avalanche of advice and has been to plenty places.  It is also clear the Goytias have friends all over South America which is helpful.

Charlie and his partner return for lunch and we all get talking away, conversing about so many things.  Charlie and I share names of people we know and realise just how small this world is.  He went to primary school in Gallaudet with Nyle De Marco! I show him photo of Nyle at my #pervebench – it was a hoot!

Later on Charlie and I go into town and have a coffee followed with sorting my Bolivian phone number out temporarily.  His partner works in the phone shop, a huge perk!

We return back to the apartment for high tea and then Charlie gets ready for college.  I had already decided to stay in with his parents.  I needed to rest a lot more.

As soon as we were sat on the sofa it was clear to me I wasn’t going to catch any shut eye. Both my Bolivian deaf step parents, Norma and Roberto were right next to me, as well as 3 hyperactive dogs.  The conversation turned from Roberto telling me about his 5 sisters, his parents and how his Mum died when he was only 14yrs.  The animation, expression, detail and the pace was just so typical deaf culture.  I listened actively and then somewhat passively.  He had plenty to say, so much detail.

Norma then approaches me, you see her light blue cardigan around her affectionate self, she always has her phone next to her to chat with her deaf sister and friends.  She turns to me and asks me how I knew I was gay and what my coming out experience was.  This was so unexpected but it was good that she felt she could ask.  We talked a long time.  She summarised a lot of what I told her to Roberto, and then Roberto goes off on a long tangent about his experiences of meeting gay deaf people all over South America and when they were living in Gallaudet.  It was quite amusing, I felt like both of them were telling me indirectly that it was totally fine with them, that they understood and didn’t care. I was both touched and reassured.

Both Norma and Roberto were born in Bolivia.  They travelled South America for their honeymoon after getting married in Bolivia, wanting to enrich their minds, find work and see what opportunity was out there.  They found themselves in Venzuela and wanting to stay longer, learning so much after years of poor education. Norma was hungry for information.

Roberto’s sisters are a funny mix. 3 deaf, 3  hearing. The eldest hearing one had always objected to deaf people and sign language, thinking they should learn to speak.  She later moved to America, and only whilst living there did she meet other positive Deaf adults and suddenly realised that her dear deaf brother and sister had rights, a culture, a language.  She flew home and begged for forgiveness. Everything has been good since.

The evening stretches out with lots of conversations and memories. I feel so welcomed into the family unit with their stories, the cultural laughs and experiences.  My brain is feeling rather tight with the intake of so much information using International and American sign language.  By 11pm I am zonked and head to bed.

Today I was out most of the day alone, exploring the city.  I come back to find that my laundry had been done, and also to receive an immediate stream of advice related to my health.  I’d had quite a bit of diahorrea today.  Norma gets the yoghurt tub from the fridge and wags her finger at me saying I needed to avoid all contact with milk.  Roberto joins the act and brings some dry food for me alongside some maize-related warm food to help my symptoms.  They are just so caring and wise from years of parental experience. They also know I’m feeling somewhat vulnerable and need parenting/mothering whatever you call it.

The hot water bottle’s already being made up without me asking.

I truly am blessed to have them as my step parents for the duration of my stay in La Paz.

Post note: Its Sunday evening and I have just had arepas (white corn with cheese) , nibbles, white chocolate (yes, I bought those!!) and drinks with Norma and Roberto and their children.  Its a typical family evening. Isabel has just translated my blog draft to the family to check they are happy with it.  A couple amendments and I have their blessing. I am also delighted to be staying here an extra 4 nights whoop whoop!


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