I met Lydia at the writing workshop. She is a Quechua lady with a frank smile and jet black eyes. She is learning to repeat the letters of the alphabet in a grid notebook that Nelsy, a therapist, has lent her. She is trying to remember and reproduce the sounds of each consonant, over and over again. Every time she manages to pronounce the whole alphabet, her eyes glow with satisfaction.  In her bag she hides another little notebook in which she writes down everything she has learned during the day, probably to go over it again at night.

I picture her at sunset, when all the patients go to sleep. Some of them would spend their time grooming their hair or resting. She would be on her bed, with her little notebook, repeating each new letter to herself.

Lydia only speaks Quechua. I tried to ask her some questions about her family and her history but we couldn’t understand each other very well. I went to find Professor Gonzalo, who was raised bilingual (Quechua-Spanish), to help me translate our conversation.

Gonzalo asked Lydia about her family. She has five children, who currently live in La Paz and are taken care of by their father. Lydia hasn’t seen her kids in a very long time. The oldest, Julio César, is a grown up and already has a daughter. Because she does’t have the phone number of any of her children, she has no way to reach them. We don’t know if they are aware of her being in the hospital. Lydia didn’t have a good relationship with her husband, he was violent.

I noticed she’s not wearing a pollera (traditional skirt) as most Quechua women do. The teacher asked her why and she replied that she left her skirt and 1,400 Bolivians to a cousin before her last admission three years ago.

Her dream is to work and earn enough money to build herself a little house where her children could come visit.

Lydia works in the laundry room of a nearby hospital belonging to the same religious order as the psychiatric hospital every afternoon. Thanks to an agreement, some patients can go out and work at this other hospital for a couple of hours a day. This activity is considered part of the therapy and they are given an “economic incentive” for their work.

The managers are very happy with Lydia. They say she is very punctual and responsible, and always stays to finish her work.

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