What Would You Like to Find Out in a Sequel to The Gift of El Tio?

Fuze just received this amazing update from Karen Gans, co-author of the stunning memoir, The Gift of El Tio. The world has indeed become a very small place.

Karen: Our readers will remember mention of Cornelio, (pictured at left with co-author Larry Buchanan,) in our epilogue, a young man from the village of San Cristobal, whose childhood dream was to come to the United States.  Cornelio did come and live with us in 2007.  Initially, he was awed by the materialism (“Your home is like a hotel,” he said of our modest house.), the efficiency (“That machine will pave this street in a week?  Not three months?”), and the comforts (“This washing machine, I don’t have to do anything?  I can leave?  The people at home have raw, red skin from washing in ice cold water.”)  For the first two years, Cornelio talked about a green card, and when he was accepted into our small university, he chose to study nursing for that purpose alone.

However, Cornelio soon saw the problems of living in the United States.  Materialism, efficiency, and comfort were not enough for him and he chose to study his junior year in Thailand.  Asian culture had fascinated him from the time he was a boy and had watched martial arts movies on the only TV in the village, running off of an electric generator.

Cornelio’s diligence and motivation paid off and he went on to attain a master’s degree from a university in England.  We were not surprised to learn that upon completion of this degree, he headed back to Thailand.  Though we’d often asked ourselves whether we’d done Cornelio a favor yanking him from his culture and country, this recent letter of his resolved our doubts.

Dear Karen and Larry,

As the cool air comes in, and the sun beams dancing on the rooftop, and the birds sing and dance, I write to you a few lines highlighting my life in Thailand and plans.  First off, all is well with me here in Chiang Mai. The place where I live and study, has a small fitness centre. So I do exercise quite often and do some swimming from time. And sometimes, my friends and I go to the mountains to enjoy the splendid vistas and pleasant weather and to eat delicious northern food Mai.  I have been busy these days with studies and doing voluntary work and still trying to get a job. Three months ago, I started taking Thai classes at Payap University, so that I can read, write and speak the language well. I have classes every morning from Monday to Friday. Classes are very intensive. Lately, we have been doing a lot of reading and writing in Thai (it is very tiring). A lot of homework everyday. By the time I get back home in the afternoon, I am ready to drop.  

Besides being occupied with Thai, I have been doing lots of reading regarding education and development (also reading philosophy).  I have been reading about current Bolivian education issues.  It is interesting to read how Bolivia is trying to adopt a new philosophy, which is ” el vivir bien” or living well as the base for understanding development.  This new form of thinking is shaping the economic, educational, politic, and social spheres. It is controversial though as it is quite radical and spiritual and grounded in ancestral practices. 

Getting a teaching job (in a university) be it in Thailand or in any other country could be hard as one needs a PhD and many years of teaching and research experience in one’s field.  The other day, I have spoken with Ricardo, (a Bolivian professional friend),  regarding jobs within the Bolivian government. And he told me that the only way to explore job opportunities in the Bolivian government was by being there in La Paz for a least a few weeks as online job application does not exist yet in the country. In addition, the education sector is very disorganised and in a state of flux at the moment with the current president. He said that to get a job there it was important to have recommendations and contacts (friends in the government). 

Well, at the end of next month, I will receive news from the Hong Kong Institute of Education regarding my application (for a fellowship) to do a PhD study. Now, I do not know whether I will get the fellowship or not as it is very competitive. I may get an offer to study there though.

You both know what my hopes and dreams are and I have not changed them. I am still thinking of working for the Ministry of Education and contribute to appropriate policy design for education and development that will further innovation and creativity in the country. Education has changed my life for the better. I would like to see children in Bolivia have a greater access to a good quality education, so that they can gain skills and knowledge which will allow them to to better understand and be part of this ever changing world.  By the way, I am still thinking of writing my story. Now I am thinking, what would the audience of The Gift of El Tio like to know from me?

Best wishes,

Your friend


The next email from Cornelio had this addition:

Last month, I spoke with Maria and asked whether villagers were still growing quinoa and potatoes. She told me that recently, most people in the village had begun to grow only quinoa because of high export demand. Now, all the ‘pampas’ and mountains are covered by quinoa fields.   She said it is so lovely there–warm weather, blue skies, campos verdes and lots of rain! The mountains and canyons look so colorful because of the rain and quinoa fields.


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