As many of you have probably noticed, there had been no new posts from the time we left Colombia until now here in Argentina.Well, a substantially large country called Bolivia is landlocked between these two countries. I don’t know why, if the fact that they are landlocked has anything to do with it or not, but the relatively modern phenomenon called “internet” has not reached Bolivia. Because it was extremely hard to find good internet, it was impossible to blog, but my fingers had to keep moving. So, I bought a journal, one with neon pink, green blue and red stripes across the cover and cheap thin paper on the inside. (Trying to capture the essence of Bolivia through the essence of a journal.) I find myself wanting to journal in cooler climates, in ones where I can cuddle a cup of hot coffee and spill my observations and thoughts. And that’s just what I did. Rather than dully explaining what each day consisted of, I’ll copy certain exerts that I think show some of the shinning jems of Bolivian life and land.
Saturday November 12, 2011- La Paz
“The people here are amazingly unique in appearance. I have nver seen such a combinations of races and ethnicities in one face. Men and women alike, are captivating. Their skin is the color of a smoking pot of mole, a liquid made of rich dark chocolate and Mexican chiles. As if each face was a grandmother’s recipe, they give hints of their life secret ingredients through their cautious eyes. Frozen, chilled, chapped, burnt and warmed by the sun’s intense rays, their skin wears its memories as wrinkles adorned on foreheads, cheeks, chins and necks. I am sure that there are many more visual memories but are invisible to the public eye, hidden beneath layers upon layers of cloth.
The women to me are the most interesting to observe, as I’m sure I am to them as well, tall, blonde and such pale skin. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and coincidingly, it has the largest indegenous population. As an outsider, its impossible for me to understand centuries of tradition and culture without becoming Bolivian myself-and that is not about to happen. Years of ancestrial cutlure has been passed down through mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. I am sure despite the modern world and its technology, certain aspects of tradition have been unpenetratable.
One of these visual clues are hats. Something so simple can carry on a living characteristic of a people’s culture. Women, not men, wear tall, round, and felted bowler hats. Barely situated securely atop the woman’s head, it looks as though the hat itself is struggling to stay on. Hugging just the crown of her head, the hat stays loyal to its owner and never lets her leave home without it. Its small curled-up brim provides a minimal amount of shade for the woman’s face but just enough to block the sun from her eyes. The bowler hat has become a necessity to these women because of their environment’s high altitudes and vulnerability to damaging sun exposure. To me, the bowler hat is a perfect example of how I do not understand Bolivian culture. The hat barely stays on, provides minimal shade, and is quite funny looking. Yet, not a single indigenous lady leaves her house without one. It was born into their culture many years ago and still manages to “hold-on” no matter how hard foreign influences storm the country.”
Tuesday November 15, 2011-Copacabana
“What is amazing about the countryside does not actually reside in the land, but in the relationship that it has with the sky. Every horizon harshly clashes, pinching the space where land and air kiss. The sky is such a pure, unpolluted rich color that deceives you into thinking that its touchable and tangible. Every time you reach for it empty handed you remain to sit and stare at its purity. When the lake is in view, it mimics the sky, but produces a much deeper and darker blue. Its the kind of blue that first your eyes get lost in, and then your soul falls in. Before you know it, an hour has been stolen from you and all you are left with is a longing whose origins and destinations are a mystery. It must be the diamond shatters sprinkled over the lake’s surface that lure you in and then the sapphire depths hold you there, utterly captured.
Scattered around the lapping waved shore, small and humble villages worship the lake. The lake is the heartbeat of its entire territory; it gives life and laughter in so many tangible forms. Where the people understand or acknowledge it, the lake is their ever-supporting god who provides them with everything they need. More obvious beneficiaries of the lake’s powers are the fisherman, who daily draw life from the water and give it to their village. Vendors and restaurant owners sell to those who are drawn to the lake with cameras strapped to their necks and hands. Even the beggers who tie rags around their wastes and legs gather pity from the wealthy tourists who ignorantly leave half-eaten meals for the trash. Everyone feels the lake running through their veins.”
Friday November 25, 2011-Sucre
“Happy Black Friday!” Its so strange to be in a [lace where absolutely no one celebrates or even recognizes one of the most popular holidays in the States. I didn’t even see another American besides Tolan to wish a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday. Tolan and I tried our best to make it special by going out to a nicer dinner. It was actually the first time that we didn’t cook dinner since arriving in Sucre last Sunday. It was a nice evening but I still felt weird eating chili and peanut satay instead of all the turkey and fixings…
On Wednesday night we had a pretty bad scare. Tolan started feeling sick around late afternoon and within an hour he got the chills, high fever and vomiting. He was shaking and sweating violently and feeling worse by the second. I packed a backpack with the medicine that Tolan had taken, toilet paper, water, and an energy bar. I didnt really know what we were in for, going to the hospital, so I was trying to think of everything. I got Tolan dressed and we walked down the street to the emergency clinic. He was pale white, breathing unevenly and heavily, scaring every bit of security out of me.
The doorman at the clinic made us pay the US$2 fee before we could enter the building but then showed us a bench to sit on. We sat down and I held him with as much love and assurance that I could muster at the moment… An hour, a shot, $5 and a prescription later, we were walking back, arm in arm, to our hostel…The whole experience was horrible and extremely frightening. God was so faithful and never let go of our hands. What are the chances that a 24-hour emergency clinic was 50 meters from our hostel?”
Saturday November 26, 2011-Sucre
“After a little while, the man (Pedro) who had previously played music outside, came into the cafe where we sat playing chess. We talked with him for a good long hour. He was curious about the States and was especially curious about the number of “Washingtons.” It turns out that he is a widowed father of six and is struggling to keep his children in school. He expressed his parental concerns about his older daughters, shared his religious views of the Pachamama and complained about doctor bills. He was proud of his dark skin and for being an Indian but explained that we are all the same because all of our blood runs red. He was very proud to be a Bolivian and angry that so many nations had exploited his country into poverty. Although never stepping foot outside of his country, he knows that it is the prettiest and the best. Talking with him was a blessing and an amazing opportunity. We exchanged emails, numbers and addresses. He got our parents home phone number so he could call and say hello. He was adorable and so innocently naive and wise all at the same time.”