September 9th

I’m home! And the first thing I did when I got to Miami, other than run like mad for my next flight, was enjoy a large cup of soft serve yogurt (without worrying about the dairy source) and three fluff magazines (Us Weekly, Oprah, Real Simple. No more Us Weekly for me. I don‚Äôt care that Jessica Simpson got dumped by John Mayer. What a waste of my money.) Then I sat myself in front of Wolf Blitzer for a few moments of the CNN scroll before being herded on to the next air bus. Ms. USA, I know I bash you from time to time, but the truth is, I love you. Your customer service; your kindness toward providing me clean drinking water, from the tap, for free; your racial diversity; your religious diversity; your sexual equality that allows me to wear shorts without being a deviant. How I’ve missed thee, land that I love.

Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador are three countries smashed together geographically, like children in the back of a station wagon on family vacation who simply cannot wait to get out and tell you exactly how they are different from each other. When you study their faces, you see they are more alike than they’d like to admit. However, their interests and talents vary.
My favorite: Bolivia. Granted, I spent the most time in this country and I made true friendships with my coworkers, but I think any budget traveler just passing through would appreciate the country’s friendliness, cleanliness and ease of travel. I started my adventures with a volunteer surgical team from the US that was providing free surgeries to those in outlying regions. I got to sit in and help. The first stop was Entre Rios, a rural farming community four hours from Tarija, Bolivia, in the southern portion of the country. People in this area grow potatoes (said to be natively from Bolivia. They have more than 200 varieties in most major markets), corn, beans, peanuts and of course, the popular coca leaf.

boy, yellow shirt, Entre Rios drive

It is always the children I fall in love with. They are curious, friendly and sweet. This little boy lived in a small thatch roof home off a dirt road between Tarija and Entre Rios, Bolivia. His father is a rock carver. While the people I was traveling with stopped to admire the father’s artistry, I passed out candy to his children.

Woman, Entre Rios, waiting for surgery

Isn’t she beautiful? Her hat and wool shawl are typical clothing for indigenous women in Bolivia. She was at the hospital waiting to see if we could provide her with a hernia repair. We did. I have all my stories mixed up at this point, but most of the patients walked for more than 12 hours, in pain I cannot imagine, to seek out care.

trying to play doctorita, entre rios

The doctors at the hospital kept calling me “Doctorcita” and I didn’t correct them. It sounds nice and trying to explain “public health practitioner” in my native language is difficult enough. Here I am doing an initial interview with a couple seeking care. The woman had several hernias she needed repaired, including one from a c-section more than 20 years prior.

woman selling veggies -- love of Bolivia, Entre Rios

I enjoy finding and photographing the food markets when I travel. While the fruits and vegetables are typically the same regardless of where I visit — I chalk this up to proximity to the equator, ease of growth and globalization — the people are not. How great is this woman, with her long gray braids?

me and the peeps in front of the hospital

Several of the volunteer medical team, hanging out in front of the hospital. Do you see that little boy wedged between me and Patrick? He was filthy and kept coughing on me, but wouldn’t let me go. I wanted to give him a bath and put some vapo-rub on his chest. Alas, a peppermint was all I had to offer.

Thanks again for all of your support of my travels. I have had a wonderful month and am so happy to be home. I’ll be posting photos in bits for the next few weeks, including many happy shots of Polaroid Project and the Bolivian Bolsita project recipients. Off to catch up on all your blogs now!


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26 Responses

  1. Oh Kel, I am writing this literally with tears welling up in my eyes. What beautiful and moving photos. God bless you for your courage and hard work!

  2. Welcome home! I enjoyed reading about your travel experiences you posted along the way. Your efforts to help people touch my heart.

  3. Wow…this is just so moving. I can’t imagine experiencing something like this first hand. I’m so glad I have you to live vicariously through! 🙂 Welcome home. I hope you enjoy a bagle & a swim today!

  4. Welcome home! No matter what is going on in Ms. America, there is no other country in the world that I would rather live…with all of our luxuries, freedoms and priviledges. I’ve enjoyed reading about your adventures and seeing the photos. What a satisfying job you have!

  5. Welcome home! I’ve really enjoyed reading about your trip.

  6. Hi Kelli!
    Glad to hear that you’re back. This post was so wonderful, and I can’t wait to read your back posts about your travels. So, so wonderful.

  7. Yay! You’re back!! So glad to hear you’re back safe and sound. 🙂

  8. Comparing three countries to restless kids in the back of a stationwagon? Awesome analogy. You’ve really got a talent with the pen (keyboard?).

    Great pics, too. Hope you’re resting up and welcome back!

  9. Welcome back! Isn’t it always fun to see what you appreciate after being out of the country? It was the free flowing (cold) tap water that I missed the most in Russia, along with our adorable western toilets.

    Did you get to go to the floating islands when you were in Lake Titicaca? Those fascinate me.

    I can’t wait to see more of your photos, I have loved all of them so far! 🙂

  10. HOla Kelli!!!! welcome back!!!! me alegra que hayas vuelto, ya te extra√±aba!!! linda experiencia…

    Debo confesar que tampoco conzco la diferencia entre la “doctorcita” y ‚Äúpublic health practitioner‚Äù… ups!

    un abrazo de bienvenida

  11. Welcome back! Glad to hear you had such a wonderful trip. Thanks for doing what many of us want to but are unable to do out in the world. I’m enjoying living vicariously through you!

    Looking forward to more photos!

  12. Welcome home~I’m glad your home safe and sound with tons of memories and pictures of your grand adventure. I have really enjoyed reading your posts and can’t wait to hear more and see more as you post your photos. As the previous post said, “I’m enjoying living vicariously through you!” I dido that!

  13. kelli….bless you and your team….it is wonderful that there are good people who reach out….and with that such gifts one receives back, in the form of smiles, beauty, and love…..welcome home.

  14. As always, you’re ridiculously touching and inspiring. I have to echo what everyone else said and say, thank GOD there are people like you out there. You do all of the things that the rest of us only think about, but leave to someone else. We worry about things, and you actually get up and do something about them. Your family must be so proud!

  15. Hi kelli it’s Julia, just to let you know I’ve put your blog on my side bar, hope that’s ok? Glad your home safe.

  16. welcome home!!!!

  17. Welcome home!!!! It has been so fun reading about your South American adventures. I have a dear friend who served his church mission in Ecuador and I still love to hear his stories:)

  18. Awesome photos! i love your description of the countries as three kids smushed together in the back of a car! wonderful allusion! and that woman was gorgeous. she should be a model. AND, you said the S-word. Shawl! whenever i go to Mexico I’m always searching for rebozos, but rarely find them. but, i’m going to the wrong parts of mexico: cozumel and tijuana. so glad you’re home. thanks for a tempting snack of photos. bring on the main course. and, can i have a hint at what dessert you’re serving?

  19. Welcome back to the land of the free and the home of depraved! We missed you!

  20. Welcome home! The US of A is a great land, isn’t it. I learned to appreciate it all the more after living away from it for 4 1/2 years. And yea for shorts!

    How gratifying to be making a difference in the lives of these people. Well done. I look forward to hearing more.

    Cheers! Lori

  21. Holy crap I’m 21st on this list to comment. Everyone is so happy to have you home!! The stories during your trip and this recap have me beaming. You’re doing incredible things, including giving us all a rare and realistic peak into another area of the world we might not experience otherwise. Thank you, Donk, for being our eyes and hearts in a foreign land.

    Also, for coming home safe so that I can come visit you this weekend. Woo!

  22. So glad your home!! Loved all of your blog entries while you were away…thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  23. Kelli- I admire so much the work you do. The pictures are so beautiful and humbling. God bless you in everything you do 🙂

  24. Love, love, loved the articles about your travels. Takes my breath away. You are so fortunate to have this opportunity, I’m sure you feel that you brought back far more than you left.

  25. Google is the best search engine

  26. I was born Entre Rios (Tarija-Bolvia)I live in Buenos Aires Argentina, thank you for visit my village, bye bye.