Yes, her house slid down the hill and was completely destroyed, along with several hundred other homes in the hilly barrio of Kalapa on the outskirts of La Paz. Unseasonable rains moved the sandy soil and an entire zone was wiped out. Fortunately there were several weeks’ warning and people were able to move their belongings.
Petrona currently lives in a refugee camp, a temporary village of small wooden structures put together by World Vision. The Bolivian government has promised a small parcel of land to each family that lost their home. The “village” is clean and orderly, with a communal well, bathrooms and a meeting place. The neighbors have organized a small city council. Petrona has built a tin lean-to kitchen behind her room and settled in for the duration.
Separated from her husband (also our good friend), Petrona lives alone but keeps in touch with her daughters by cell phone. She has managed to get a clerking job in a sporting goods store in the rich section of the city and spends several hours a day in city buses going to and from her work. She likes being busy. It keeps her mind off her problems.
We embraced, laughed, even shed some joyful tears at our meeting. The hour went by all too quickly. We prayed together before I left, knowing much time would pass before our next meeting.
I’m home again, and it’s Holy Week. I’m thinking a lot about Petrona, about the differences in our situations. And about all the shared experiences that continue to bring us together. But I can’t get it out of my mind that my friend lives in a refugee camp and I in a condominium. What a strange world.
Lord, have mercy on us all.
Terraces where there used to be houses
The camp, bottom right