sounds like a hard worker. dunno why it merited a news story though. i guess its just a human interest community piece.
Saturday, September 09, 2006 — Time: 12:28:21 AM EST
McGrew’s Bolivian adventure
By TEREZ HOWARD, Community Editor
Bolivia broadened her outlook on life as well as strengthened her reliance on God.
Weirton native Alison McGrew resided in La Paz, Bolivia, from 1994-96 to experience life on her own as a missionary and encounter a different culture. She, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was introduced to Spanish at Weir High School, where she took four years of the language with Senor Amelio Saggio.
After high school, she lived in Spain for six months with a missionary couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I went to Spain and learned how to understand a lot, but not how to talk,” the now Steubenville resident said.
The Spaniards spoke too quickly for McGrew to catch their words and were not patient with her limited speaking abilities.
Therefore, she saved her money and traveled to Bolivia, where her friend, Jennifer Hahne, also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, already dwelled.
“She would write me letters and be like if you want to come visit me, you can,” the now 34-year-old said.
That visit turned into McGrew’s two-year stay, while Hahne, Pittsburgh, Pa., native, stayed in Bolivia for five to six years. Although McGrew did not work secularly while there, the two, as members of the Centro congregation, taught the Bible to natives in Spanish.
McGrew said, “I tried to live like a missionary. So I tried to spend 140 hours per month” in the field ministry, a term used for the organization’s preaching and teaching work being accomplished in more than 200 lands around the globe.
McGrew already was a pioneer, meaning she volunteered 90 hours per month in the ministry. Twelve people studied the Bible with her, “and that’s how you learned to speak.”
She noticed the Spanish spoken in Bolivia contained more American words than in Spain, as well as Native American words.
“When I first moved there, this guy told me I spoke like hot potato. When I left, they said (my accent) was like a deaf person could read my lips.”
Not only did McGrew polish her Spanish skills, but even attended a sign language congregation for a time in Bolivia, but found it difficult juggling both languages.
She said Bolivians appreciated that she and Hahne left their homes, learned their language and approached them to teach the Bible.
People were humble about learning the Bible, McGrew said.
The Native American culture also was prevalent in the South American country, where she preached.
“They were a very quiet and reserved people.”
McGrew lived near the market and took this as an opportunity to preach. She and Hahne would lean over business people’s wares to speak to them in the market, which was frequented by tourists.
“I think they thought we were tourists,” although the two passed the locals daily.
In the market, she remembers seeing men make money by carrying items, such as a large bookcase and a dead pig, on their backs.
“They would carry anything.”
She also recalled a major difference in transportation. La Paz lacked bridges over various bodies of water, and a bus would be floated across the sea on a boat; then, the travelers would ride the boat and board the bus on the other side.
But McGrew mostly walked to where she needed to go. Since she did not have a job in Bolivia, she tried to live off $150 per month, buying only locally made, rather than American, merchandise.
“You don’t buy spaghetti. They don’t eat Italian. You just buy the noodles they make... You don’t do it American. You do it Bolivian.”
McGrew explained one boliviano equaled 20 cents in U.S. currency; however, she tried to look at the one boliviano as $1. So she could stay as long as possible and not run out of money, she often tried to get bargains.
“I can’t believe I’m haggling over 20 cents,” she said, remembering how she made her money stretch.
McGrew continued, “I always bought food out every single day and still lived on $150.”
A lunch meal would consist of salad or vegetable, soup, meat, potatoes, rice and maybe another vegetable. She would eat the soup at lunchtime and save the rest for dinner.
“It always ended up averaging out to be about a dollar a day.”
Because of La Paz’s altitude at more than 11,000 feet, Bolivians had to use less sugar and baking soda in their desserts.
“The desserts were the worst thing in the whole wide world.... Their sweets were never sweet. They were just kind-of dry,” McGrew said.
One way Bolivians adjusted to the high altitude was by drinking tea with coca leaves, the plant from which cocaine is extracted, the leaves slowing a person’s heart rate. In its natural form, the leaves were not damaging to one’s health; however, Bolivians sold the plants to Americans who used it as a drug.
“I learned what it was like to be a minority,” McGrew said. “People would be staring all the time, and I wouldn’t know if they were like, ‘She looks different’ or ‘I hate Americans.’”
At the time, Bolivians felt a hatred toward Americans because Americans were trying to stop cocaine sales. While the countries’ relationship was tempestuous, Bolivia’s physical climate remained mild.
“It never really got warm. In the summertime, it would rain,” McGrew said.
The winters were cold but sunny with no rain or snow.
“It was kind-of like the same all the time.”
Although she returned to Weirton for a couple of months during the summer of 1995 to work and save more money, McGrew’s family missed her.
“They were sad. They wanted me to stay home. But it was their own fault,” McGrew joked. “They introduced me to missionaries.”
Her parents, Adrian and Carol Ricca, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Weirton congregation, acquainted her with Jehovah’s Witness missionaries Bernard Ruiz, who volunteered in Spain but has since died, and Mary Jean DiCarlo-Birdsong, who ministered in Paraguay and Romania and now serves the Spanish and Romanian populations in St. Petersburg, Fla., with her husband. Both missionaries are from Weirton.
McGrew currently serves the Steubenville congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a pioneer, which now requires 70 hours per month, a duty she’s accomplished 13 years. Her husband, Eric McGrew, Steubenville’s presiding overseer, supports her volunteer work.
Her Bolivian experience presently aids a now fluent Spanish-speaking woman in preaching to the Spanish community in Steubenville, thus thoroughly reaching all with Bible messages.
Terez Howard can be contacted at [email protected].