Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bingo and Babies

After a visit to the gym, I treated myself with a stop at the local spa. With only a month left in Bolivia, I wanted to take advantage of the luxury while in a country where I can afford it.

From there, I went downtown to the 24th of September Club, on the central square. There, a non-profit was holding a bingo event to raise money to help children with Down’s Syndrome. I went with three colleagues. A card valid for six games of bingo and a raffle cost $20. That’s quite a bit to some of my colleagues, so we each shared a card, contributing $10 each.

The event was organized well and attracted several hundred people. They sat on white plastic chairs at white plastic tables, amidst tall wooden columns and under a shimmering crystal chandelier. The prizes, donated by local merchants, were good – trips to Brazil and Buenos Aires, a bicycle, a stove, jewelry. No one at our table won anything though.

I soon became bored with the monotonous bingo process. I thought back to the bingo games I played as a child, at my grandmother’s country club. I remembered the excitement my brother and I felt, the way we’d hold our breath when we needed only one more number, the frustration when someone else called out bingo just before we had it. I remembered the joy of winning small prizes - $10, $20. And I remember when my brother won what seemed like the jackpot at the time - $70. Wow, he was lucky, and rich.

Bingo is a nice game in that anyone can play it – from the children, to the elderly – and one always has the hope that they hold out a chance of winning.

The people in attendance – mainly upper class families, some of whom had children with Down’s Syndrome – seemed excited by the event and participated with vigor. I was impressed with the quality of the organization and I think it was successful in raising a good amount of money for the organization.

My colleague Lorena told me that integration for people with Down’s Syndrome is difficult in Bolivia, that while they are capable of working, many employers aren’t willing to give them the opportunity. She told me some parents pay employers to give their children the opportunity to work, to contribute something meaningful.

From there we all went to a café in the popular Montsenor district. In the blocks heading away from the giant Christ statue, the streets are filled with one café after another, as well as a selection of great restaurants – Italian, Mexican, duck, frozen yogurt. About 20 colleagues got together to celebrate the baby showers of two women, both named Claudia, and due in August and September respectively.

I was really curious to see what a Bolivian shower is like. The fact that they refer to it as a “baby shower,” in English, made me think it was probably imported from the States. For much of the time, it wasn’t much different from any other gathering of friends at a café, except that two of the attendees were visibly pregnant. Both males and females came, they ordered coffee, tea and snacks, and chatted amongst themselves.

At one point they presented congratulatory cards to the two women, which everyone had signed. And they presented them each with an attractive green baby carrier, purchased through a collection. There wasn’t too much planned or personalized about it – no games, no stories, no pictures.

Toward the end, the Claudia who is due in September made the rounds around the tables with a gold chain. She swung it over the palm of both men and women to predict the number and sex of the children that person would have in the future. After raising and lowering the chain toward the palm three times, she let it move of its own accord. If the chain swung up and down, it would be a boy, if it swung in a circle, it would be a girl, if it didn’t move, there wouldn’t be any children.

My colleague Maria was upset, because when she’d had it done the previous day, it hadn’t moved at all over her right palm.

“I’m never going to be a mother!” the 29-year-old, currently without a boyfriend, lamented. “Try my left hand,” she insisted.

There, she received the answer that she’d have one girl. They explained that since Maria is left-handed, her energy came only from her left hand.

When they did it to me, they told me I’d have a boy, then a girl. The third time it didn’t move, which meant two biological children would be it. I told them I’d get back to them in several months to let them know how accurate their predictions were. But they seemed to believe pretty strongly.

Only my German colleague, Helen, refused to be tested – either not believing in the game passed down by Bolivian grandmothers, or not wanting her reproductive future to be made public knowledge.

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