Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Advice for being a Need Greater in Sucre Bolivia

Before coming to Bolivia, we looked at tons of other Need Greater blogs and that helped us so much. So we thought we would pass on the torch and try to help others with what we've learned with our little bit of experience. We are constantly walking around talking about what we would tell other need greaters that we knew were coming to serve in Sucre. So here are some of the things we came up with.

Advice for before you come:

  • Write the Bolivian Branch (obviously) and do it as early as possible. It took us about 6 weeks to hear back from them the first time. BUT they won't give you specific information (at least in our experience). They will give you a lot of homework and research to do to see if you are really ready for it. You can write back and ask more information about where to go if you would like. What worked best for us was to ask around for people who knew people down here and then to get in touch with them. We contacted a sister who used to be here for a year and she gave us an elder's information and that's how we chose Sucre. So word of mouth might work better after you get in touch with the branch. 
  • Choosing which city to serve in... There really is a need just about anywhere. Know what you can handle before choosing a city. Can you do really high altitudes without getting sick? Then Oruro (12k ft), Potosi (13.4k ft), and La Paz (12k ft) are probably where you want to start out. As far as safety goes, La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Cochabamba are known as the more dangerous cities. In general it is just drug related things and robberies. One need greater that lives in our building started out in Santa Cruz and on her first day of wandering the city she saw a young man shot dead in the plaza. She then decided to pack up and move. Not saying that will happen to you, but if you are a single sister alone in Bolivia like her, take it into consideration. Santa Cruz is also ungodly hot, humid, and lots of mosquitoes. Sucre is known for being more 'tranquilo' in that you feel relatively safe wandering around alone in most parts. The only danger is if they catch you stealing something- then they bury you alive. Pretty mild climate-not humid and the temperature averages in the 60-70s. (Keep in mind our experience is being here February-April) The whole Chuquisaca departamento (state) has a highest ratio of publishers to population. If you want to serve in the middle of no where with an isolated group of like 6 people, they are probably under the territory of a bigger city. So you probably want to visit the big city first (stay with witnesses or a hostel) and that congregation and then you can buy your bus ticket out there. Most congregations average about 2 Elders and many of them are need greaters. 
  • Don't worry too much about the tourist visa. They were super relaxed and not by the book when we came and got one in the airport. They barely even looked at our papers. Just make sure you have your stuff together and they'll stamp your passport and let you in. (It also helps if they think you are pretty)
    • If getting a visa for longer- have fun with that. We have seen a few other need greaters stressing out about it and running around a lot. When you do go to the offices to get it taken care of- bring a Bolivian brother or sister. They will really mess around with you if you are just a foreigner all alone but will be much more helpful if an actual Bolivian is there with you
  • Get the rabies vaccine. We talked with a doctor for a long time before we came about all the vaccines we were going to get. She skipped rabies because she couldn't see any scenario where we would need it. WRONG. Your congregation will have many barrios in it and the farther you get from the center of the city the meaner the dogs get. People are bit by dogs in the ministry all the time. They may not be rabid but I am sure that after you get bit by a dog here you would like to feel safe in knowing you already had the shot to protect yourself. Plus there is always the nasty rumor that here the horse version of the vaccine is way cheaper so they often give it instead. 
  • Things to pack... Think like you are going camping. 
    • Clothing: A warm jacket, a scarf, and boots. If you are lucky to go out in service in the barrios in the rain or after the rain, it will be very muddy and probably smell like urine (everything smells like that after the rain). Do you really want that on your uncovered feet?? No. Also a reason to not bring super long skirts. Service for us starts at 7:30am because the 'salida' or service meeting is about a mile away. It is cold here at that time. It is usually kinda chilly at any time that the sun isn't out. So some warmer layers are a good idea. Before coming we pictured ourselves doing our laundry by hand so we didn't pack anything that would stretch. But we stayed in town and we don't have a private place to do laundry so we just take it down the street to have it cleaned. Here there are lavandarias everywhere. For us they will way it, say it weighs 2 kilos, they will charge 20 bolivianos (usually less because we go there regularly) and it can be back to you by the time you are done with service. Bring a few good pair of walking shoes for service that you aren't attached to. We will not be bringing ours back to the states with us, they are trashed. Also when selecting your shoes remember that very rarely the surface you are walking on will be flat- even if it is a sidewalk. Buying shoes here is like $25-$30 (for the cheap ones) and they really aren't good quality and are sometimes used. Buying clothes here is possible but keep in mind that these Bolivian women are perfectly tiny and that describes their clothes as well. Bring a hat because your head will burn in the sun even if the temperature isn't that hot. 
    • Umbrella or umbrellas. The sister's here use them any time the sun comes out. It will make a difference in the heat. It also does rain periodically and you have to walk everywhere you go so having an umbrella then helps to. You can also use it to knock on doors (they rarely use their hands to knock on a door). And to beat away dogs- if the dog starts charging you can open it up and use it as a shield  Not only does it scare the dog but you can also keep a couple feet between you and it. Also the quality of the umbrellas aren't that great so if you leave it behind with a brother or sister they will love you forever.
    • Spices for cooking. The store isn't always consistent with the spices it provides, and even if it has it, it may be the powdered version. The food is pretty bland here because they like it that way. They also say things are 'picante' and they really aren't. If you cook yourself (safer) you may want to bring little ingredients that you doubt are here. (even their salt and pepper are a little different). We have a pressure cooker to cook with and we LOVE it. Because of the elevation here it is really hard to cook rice and pasta without them turning out burnt or mushy. If you like coffee, bring your own and also a french press. Also we haven't seen baking powder in the stores so if you like to bake, take it along just in case. 
    • Sunscreen. You will burn on the cold days when the sun peeks its head out for just a little while.  Don't forget to put it on your feet!!
    • Any girly beauty product that you use regularly. Makeup, makeup remover, shaving cream, chapstick, tampons, moisturizer, etc. They do have some things occasionally but they will be faaaaar more expensive, especially if it is a safe brand you recognize. Also if you paint your nails don't bring red. We were told any other color is fine  but red is associated with women with "bad lifestyles."
    • A water bottle. You can't drink the water here. But it is super rude if someone offers you something at a door and you say no. They don't care if you are a gringo and can possibly get seriously ill from whatever liquid they want to give you. A water bottle is a way to avoid that awkardness 'Oh I am so sorry I already have something to drink right here!!' 
    • Scissors, a lighter, a candle, can opener, bottle opener, tape, one really good cooking knife. Random little things that even if your house does come furnished, it wont have those things. And those little things really put you in a pickle when you figure out you dont have it.  If you are from the States-- they use metric! So maybe a little set of plastic measuring cups or else get good at converting after you go shopping for whatever they measure their food with (still dont know)
    • Mosquito repelent and something to put on the mosquito bites. 
Advice for while you are here:
  • Spend as much time as possible with the Bolivian brothers and sisters. There will no doubt be other need greaters who are amazing people and will possibly speak your language. This will be good for you for a while but either you will speak any language other than Spanish or whatever Spanish you do learn from them may have an accent or just be phrased differently than what the Bolivians would use. The brothers and sisters from Sucre speak a very clear, accent-less Spanish. (Santa Cruz Spanish is super hard to understand BTW) Give them permission early on to correct you when you misspeak. This will help you sooo much. They will also teach you the little phrases they use that householders will understand. Sometimes other need greaters can be a little critical of one another, especially when it comes to the language but the Bolivian brothers and sisters will be thrilled that you came here in general and are trying your hardest. 
  • Be in charge of your own ministry. When you get calls make sure you are positive of how to get back (often there are no numbers on houses or street names) and come back to do it. There will not be a special group that goes out and does calls. Here they often wait until the next time they work the territory to do their calls. If you are a need greater you don't have that kind of time. Plus the people here will read what you left them relatively quickly after receiving it. We like to try to get to our studies twice a week- once on Mondays when no one else in the country goes out in the morning and again when we are doing door to door in a territory that is relatively close. 
  • Have a cute presentation for children and use it. Get familiar with the Listen to God brochures and always have one on your person. 
  • Talk to everyone you come across. For us it takes ages to get to the service meeting (we always walk because the micros are super packed in the morning because everyone is going to work and school) so we hand out tracts as we go along. To get to some barrios you take micros out (coming into town they are packed but going out is fine) and while you are sitting there talk to the people on the bus. They are always super nice and were probably already staring at you wondering why you are going out to the barrio- so tell them! We have been able to witness to people in shops, stands on the street, people sitting in the park, waitresses, nail technicians, taxi drivers, security guards, and everybody else. 
  • Do you like dogs? We've mentioned this a little already but let's talk about it more. They are EVERYWHERE. Some are nice, some are not. If a dog is really giving you trouble, you can bang your Bible like a drum and try to yell at it (like an angry 'Shooo!'). If that doesnt work, reach down to the ground like you are grabbing a rock and pretend to throw it at them. Usually that works the best, the locals hit dogs with rocks constantly so they are spooked by it. If the dog persists, get a rock and throw it in it's general direction. Have your umbrella ready if the dog isn't afraid. At this point we usually hide behind brothers and make them take the door. The brothers and sisters generally know best and try to follow their lead. If you are too scared they will totally take it for you. We have seen brothers and sisters bit, so continue to use common sense. 
  • Try to figure out the bus system. It can cost 1 boliviano if you are student age and 1.5 for everyone else. They do not make circuits! And not all buses with the same letter or number go to the same place! When you need to get somewhere too far to walk, ask around. People always know what bus goes where. Be sure to ask where to catch it and what direction it should be going in. If you really aren't sure, when about to get on the bus ask the driver if he is going to your destination. Some buses that go way out only come around every hour or so (but not on an actual time schedule, that would make too much sense) so you may have to wait. Once you get on, hold on to something, they don't really come to complete stops and will continue to move while you are walking on. When you are on the bus there aren't stops so to get off you have to scream at the driver ( things like "parada" "pare aqui" "a la esquina" "bajamos" etc.).
  • There are a good number of beggers around the city center. It is really up to you what you want to do about it. The worst ones are the ones with small children who come up to you and grab you and they wont let go until you give them something. We try to have little candies on us to give to those children. They are thrilled by it and run away. 
  • Say goodbye to good cheese, sour cream, and berries. They just don't have them. 
  • If you go to a restaurant it is cheaper to ask for whatever the lunch special is. It is a ton of food for not very much money. 
  • Everyone will tell you to not drink the water and don't eat off the streets (they mean street vendors but it makes me happy to make it sound like they are implying you are a dog). But especially don't eat the pizzas they sell on the corner. Although they are adorable we've seen the places where they put them together and it is scary.
  • If you get sick (don't worry you will) just hop over to one of the zillion pharmacies, tell them your symptoms, and they will sell you some pills. Super easy. No doctor needed. (there are actual doctors too and to visit them is relatively cheap, but for the small stuff just see the pharmacist.)
  • Try to take notes at meeting- it will help keep your mind from drifting which happens a lot if Spanish isn't your first language. Also work on answering, it is a good example to everyone else if you are working so hard to answer like a 6 year old whereas they can speak the language and could easily comment too. 
  • Get used to feeling like a 6 year old. Mostly with the language but the feeling pops up at other times too. 
  • This is a third world country and get things done they insist on protesting everything and anything. You'll definitely run across protests and should probably turn around and avoid them. Don't worry the loud noises are just fireworks but steer clear nonetheless.
  • Bring personal study items in your language. Most of the time you are so focused on the language you could skip focusing on your spirituality 
  • If you are planning to do touristy stuff around the country, do it as early as possible. Eventually you will have lots of studies and won't want to leave them earlier than necessary. 
  • These people love to dance 
  • Be prepared to be very disappointed by the food. I can't talk about this enough. Don't think 'it will be like Mexican food all the time!' like I did because. They do not use much rice, beans, tortillas, or cheese. 
    • Their corn/maiz is crazy and I haven't met many need greaters who like it. 
    • Everyone will tell you not to eat the 'red sauce' that they have on the table at all restaurants. It is basically a tomato salsa but depending on the restaurant they dont wash the tomatoes first so you can get food poisoning. If you really trust the restaurant, go for it. 
  •  Wander around the city. Go to the parks and the center and the market. You will have fun wandering and may even come across something you want. 
  • Buy jewelry off the street. Earrings for 5 Bolivianos? Yes please
  • Get some Bolivianita. It will be the cheapest you will ever find it here in Bolivia
  • Go up to the Recoleta when it is time to buy souvenirs. It is generally cheaper compared to the shops by the Mercado Central. 
  • Speaking of the markets, unless you are looking for some really specific fruit, it is really the same price as the supermercados. And they will usually up the price because of your skin color. 
  • Ladies you will be whistled at every time you leave the house. The creepiest is when men pass you and whisper in your ear. There really isn't much you can do about it. 
  • Don't forget to disinfect your dishes, fruits, and veggies. We use bleach or vinegar. 
  • Try to buy glass bottles of soda in little tiendas. They usually require you to drink it there and give back the bottle but it is only 1.2 Bolivianos whereas a plastic bottle is 5. 
  • Public urination is everywhere. As is breastfeeding. Not a lot of shame in that department.
  • Just because your apartment says it comes with hot water doesn't mean it does. It will be like someone is brushing their teeth and then washing their hands, constantly. 
  • Learn the phrase 'it's good for Bolivia', it will help a lot 
Places to Go in Sucre aka restaurants that didn't kill us
  • El Paso de los Abuelos- on Bustillos. Good empanadas with chicken or beef. They even have them to go if you want (not super common)
  • Damasco- not far from the cener on Bolivar. Has good burgers for Bolivia (actually serves BBQ sauce which is rare as well) and also has a frozen yogurt place associated with it next door. 
  • Concord Trekkers- Just up the street from Damasco on Bolivar. Great strong cappuccinos. 
  • Cafe Amsterdam- Bolivar as well. Really nice lady owns it and speaks English if you need. Their food is good and they have good drinks too. They play movies some nights or a soccer game during the day
  • Napoli Pizzeria- on Anciento Arce a block from the center. Surprisingly good fire oven pizza. 
  • KulturCafe- on Avaroa. Run by Germans and decently priced. 
  • Vieja Bodega-off the center. Has a four course Bolivian meal for 25 Bs and it's pretty safe and delicious if you want a Bolivian style lunch.
  • Abis Cafe- in the center has decent coffee, treats, and crepes. 
  • Joy Ride Cafe- just off the center. It is pretty pricey for us, but they do have good regular coffee, hashbrowns, and actually make pancakes if you get desperate for an american breakfast. 
  • Eat Saltenas! The Patio by the mercado central is good, about 6 bolivianos each though. There is a cute hole in the wall up above the Surena factory on Uyuni. It is painted red and has an add for coca cola on it. Super tiny but sure yummy and safe. Usually it is a family of 3 working and they are super nice. About 4 bolivianos each. 
  • Florin- on Boliviar is good and has a lot of internatial choices. Good drink choices too. 
  • La Patisserie- right off the center on Audencia. Run by a frenchman and has AMAZING desserts. There is a round strawberry cheesecake thing (you are welcome for the description) that is so amazing. Overall cheesecake is terrible in Bolivia but this guy is brilliant. 
  • There is a pastelria right where Colon and Uyuni meet past the Facultad de Medicina (or by the Plaza Deisel) that is super good. One lady is working there all the time. Good apple pie and doughnuts.
  • Frozz- on Junin by the post office. A little pricey but they have a coffee/ice cream/soft-serve thing that is so amazing. 
  • Above the supermercado SAS there is a food court and a movie theater. Also a little expensive for a food court but a lot of choices in one place. 

Feel free to ask us questions! 


  1. Excellent! This should be very useful for other need-greaters!

  2. Wow, looks like you have some really good advice here. We use that little water bottle "trick" here too. Keep up the good work over there!

    A Missionary's Life

  3. Hello! I love your blog! I am sister serving in the Dominican Republic. I've been here for 1 1/2 years and I love it! It truly is amazing to stand back and watch Jehovah's hand the moment you put all your trust in Him. Soon my residency visa will expire, and I am deciding if I should renew or sample another assignment. Do you have any info on visas and legal requirements for Bolivia? I work online, so I will not need to work in the country. Any info is appreciated :) Keep up the great work!

    Esalen Rubianes

  4. Hello! This is great info, thanks for sharing! We're a family from Argentina (husband, 4-yr old and me) and we'd like to test the waters for a while in Bolivia. Is there any email address I can write to you with some questions? I couldn't find any way to reach you... Mine is dc.deramo at gmail dot com. Thanks!