Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 6, 2002

The Bolivians are coming!

The excitement is building in our house. The Bolivians are coming! Both our daughters are straightening their rooms - and without being asked. I've been clearing out clutter inside the house and planting flowers to add more color outside.

So who are these foreigners and why will they be spending the next two months with us? Well, they really aren't very foreign. My sister and her two daughters are coming from Bolivia just as they have almost every summer since the girls were born.

Gaila's oldest daughter, Gabriela, is two and a half years younger than Mariya, but they both are quiet and get along well. Her youngest, Larisa, is only two months older than Katie and they are anything but quiet. They, too, are a good match. Once they start talking, everyone else might as well just make up their minds to listen.

When the girls were little, they caught fireflies and roly-polys, put on fashion shows, prepared special "dinners" (mostly desserts), read our fortunes and made tents in the living room. Now, they shop, swim, talk, and go to the library, the zoo and the movies. In past summers, we also have traveled to Pennsylvania and Colorado for family reunions and to California to visit aunts and uncles and to spend time in Disneyland and on the beach. It usually takes me all fall just to sort my summer pictures.

One of my all-time favorite photos is from 1993. Eight-month-old Katie is struggling to get away while 7-year-old Mariya is holding her and has a strained smile. She appears to be thinking, "Just take the picture!" Four and a half-year-old Gabriela is shyly looking away, and 10-month-old Larisa has her hands to her mouth.

But it isn't just our girls who are close. Gaila and I are only 16 months apart in age and although we are different in some ways, in many regards we are almost like what I'd imagine twins to be. We did 4-H projects, worked in the garden and had slumber parties together as kids, we lived in Ford Hall together as K-State students, and we both decided Latin America would be a fun place to explore. I lived in Latin America for about four and a half years and Gaila visited me in Ecuador and Costa Rica. Then she began her own adventure in Bolivia in 1983. We both found husbands in Latin America, but our choices caused our paths to diverge a bit. Humberto is a Bolivian lawyer in La Paz, the capital city. Jerome was from Wichita, but we met in Costa Rica where he was a Peace Corps member.

Although it's difficult to be so far away from each other, our summers together are the stuff memories are made of. The only summer Gaila missed coming was 1992, when we were both pregnant. We joked that all we would have done would have been to sit around and feel hot and fat together. She, her husband and the two girls came for Christmas that year, though.

She also came home twice in two different years to help me through some difficult times - once when Jerome was in the hospital and right before he died in 1986 and another time when I was seriously ill in 1997.

There almost was a third time. Art and I decided on a New Year's Eve 1988 wedding. But when we broke the news to Gaila during her annual visit that spring, she informed us that she was pregnant and wouldn't be able to come. We moved the date up to the summer, telling people that we had to get married early because my sister was pregnant!

Last summer's big event was our nephew's wedding in Dallas. As usual, I took pictures of everything and everyone. One was of our four girls. In that picture, taken eight years after the one in 1993, the girls are dressed in different shades of lilac or blue with their hair tied back and tendrils framing their faces. It makes me a bit sad wondering where the years in between have gone and what the girls might remember about these summers with their cousins.

But sadness is for another day. For now, "The Bolivians are coming!"

Katie and Mariya with their Bolivian cousins Gabriela and Larisa in summer 1993.

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