The stage was aflame with the swirl of red and orange skirts, flared pant legs, and silky, shimmery blouses. Twelve feet stomped rapidly on the stage floor to the beat of the Bolivian folk music, and out in the Utah high school auditorium there were happy whistles, claps, and shouts of “ah-ree-va,” which the young Bolivians insisted on as audience participation. There were six performers: four young men and two young women. They had come to Utah as part of a “partner’s program” between Bolivia and Utah—they came as a cultural exchange group after winning the National Folk Music Contest from among thousands of Bolivian entries.
It didn’t just happen that they were all Mormons; it was because of the Church that they met and organized their group. They were all members of the La Paz Ninth Branch, La Paz Second District in the Bolivia La Paz Mission. As branch members they began singing and dancing together at youth activity night. As they began to stir interest in their performances, they called themselves Rama Nueve—Branch Nine.
It was in February of 1976 that they came to Salt Lake City to be the guests of Dave and Chris Boyd. The Boyds did not speak Spanish nor did the Bolivians speak English when they first arrived in Utah. Chris said, “It’s close to a miracle how we have been able to communicate. We’ve been able to work with the time schedules, solve medical problems, and enjoy each other’s company.
They learned English quickly and after only a few months could understand much of what was being said around them. When they played for school children throughout the Salt Lake Valley, they would ask them in English to clap or answer their musical questions in certain parts of the songs. They learned easily to say “Thank you,” “I’m very happy to be here,” and “My name is _____. What is yours?” They also learned to say “I’m hungry!”
They were most homesick for Bolivian food. Chris said that they would graciously eat anything she cooked for them. But they are used to food that has no chemical additives in it, and when they began eating American food, they had a hard time adjusting to it. In Bolivia they eat a lot of vegetables but insist on cooking them. Many Americans eat raw vegetables; Rama Nueve calls it rabbit food.
They make most of their own instruments. The flutist makes his flutes from cane stock. The bell tones he can make are pure and clear and seem even richer than those from flutes of silver. One of the instruments they use is the charango. It is made from an armadillo-type animal, a tatú. The shell is used as the back or sound part of the instrument.
All of the young Bolivians are exciting, accomplished musicians, but not one of them can read printed music. They began playing instruments by ear at a young age. “Many of the youth have a great desire to learn to read music but don’t have access to teachers who know the skills,” Chris said.
They brought seven different costumes with them from South America. They explained that there are 40 or 50 regional costumes in Bolivia. These costumes grew out of early uniforms worn by the Bolivians when they were required by European occupants to wear certain clothes as marks of identification.
When asked what it is like to have six Bolivian youths move in, Chris said: “It is like having brothers and sisters move into your home for a few months. I will really miss them when they’re gone. Their tempo of life has affected my way of living. I’ve had to learn to relax. But on the other hand, their tempo has changed too. They are so busy right now that they hardly have time to watch the sunset.”
During the time they weren’t singing at concerts or benefits of some kind, they were catching up on their sleep or writing letters home. One of the favorite things they learned while they were in Utah was how to roller skate. “It’s a sport we don’t have in La Paz.” It may well be introduced upon their return. They have also learned to swim and dive. Chris said that anything they enter into they do with their whole soul. They have taught others the Bolivian folk dances and want very much to learn how to dance in the American fashion.
From the first week they arrived in Utah they wanted to be involved in a family home evening at least once a week. So, on Monday nights they were invited into homes all over the Salt Lake Valley and enjoyed American family home evenings. But on Sunday nights they decided to get together and take turns giving the lesson to their own group. They made popcorn and usually ended the evening singing LDS hymns in Spanish.
They like Utah and its people. The thing they noticed most was the layout of the Utah communities where most of the streets run directly east and west or north and south. “In Bolivia,” Luis said, “the telephone books are full of street names—no numbers. A taxi driver knows how to get to any address. Some streets wind up into the mountains, and it’s really easy for a stranger to get lost. Here, you just figure out the numbering system, and you can find your way around. It’s so organized. I like that.”
On May 26, 1976, Rodolfo Villalba left Salt Lake City to return home to Bolivia as a full-time missionary for the Church. “My heart is full of beautiful things I want to share with my people,” he said. After his mission he wants to come back to Utah and Brigham Young University; then he will return again to Bolivia to become a productive member of his community.
Rodolfo Murilla also returned to Bolivia at the end of May—there was a rumor that he had someone special waiting for him. The other four, Raul, Luis, Elizabeth, and Lidia, stayed in the U.S. to attend Brigham Young University. They are serious about becoming good representatives of Bolivia. After their education, they all say they want to go back to help their homeland. Lidia wants to study sociology. Luis wants to go into some technical field. Raul feels that it is a great opportunity, “one in a lifetime, to study in another country. And to do it in the Church university is really something!” His father is not a member but wants the best opportunities for his son. Raul is the oldest of the children in his family, and his father wants him to set a good example for his younger brothers and sisters.
When asked what was the greatest experience they had while they were traveling, they immediately replied, “Meeting President Kimball.” On April 26 in the Church Office Building, the group was introduced to President Kimball. They spent time speaking with him through an interpreter. “It was the highlight of my life,” said Elizabeth. “I’ll remember that over everything else. It was a privilege and a humbling honor.”
Each of the youth has a vibrant testimony of the gospel and is aware every moment of the need to be a good example of Church membership. Every concert they gave while in Utah was closed by singing the simple song “I Am a Child of God.” They sang it first in Spanish and then in English. They said it was how they could bear their testimony so that everyone could understand.