Sunday, October 13, 2013

Everyday Bolivia

Some mornings when I least expect it I am woken up by the Bolivian 'call to prayer' - Pa-pa-ya, piñaaaaaa, pla-ta-nooooooo. A coffee coloured man selling yellow, orange and green fruit from a cart along my street. His voice stretches the words in deep nasal bellows that make the words sound foreign and almost incomprehensible.

On my way to work I walk past the university students, mostly my height, my skin colour, my hair colour. In contrast to my sun dresses and statement necklaces and feather earrings their uniform, despite the heat, is defiantly jeans and t-shirts. The girls have their proud manes of hair and the boys wear their short cuts styled according to their chosen 'look'. They stare at me back, noting the confusing combination of my coquettish show of legs and the boyish hair.

The micro is always interesting. It is a bus about half the size of the ones at home but twice as fun, owing largely to its red chinese-new year style paint job and interior poster pastiches of Che, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and random half naked American pop stars. I open the window despite the influx of car exhaust and dust and watch as the nicely lawned, if unevenly paved, Cochabamba centre becomes a little less trim the more kilometres we pass by on Avenida Blanco Galindo.

Cholitas hurry on with their babies on their back or toddlers in a vice-like grip in their hands, their colourful swags filled with goods they'll be selling that day. Yesterday the seat in front of me was graffiti'd with the words 'Evo Morales, Indio Culo' - referencing Bolivia's president 'Evo Morales - Indian/Indigenous Ass'. The micro music is never a varied selection and usually consists of my children's favourite songs with lyrics entirely inappropriate for six year olds. This makes up my everyday.

The first few months I was here I held an ambivalent curiosity towards my host city and country. I was interested in losing myself in it, escaping into the surface of a place and floating ignorantly on top as so many ex patriates do - and at once I had an almost ubiquitous feeling that I should be seeking out the heart of not only the city, the country but this continent. This continent of guerilla warfare and puppet governments, mythical revolutionaries and everyday coups, of poets turned presidential candidates and extensive pre-spanish empires that still baffle historians.

My everyday life has been my kindergarten education on Bolivia. I snatch glimpses into the poverty that skirts at the edge of La Cancha - the giant open air market that sells everything from baby chickens to hard drives. I furrow my brows with failed understanding when I hear comments from Bolivians I work with and have met who drop lines like 'There are too many indigenous people in Bolivia' and 'Before Evo Bolivia was completely united as a country'. I steal instagram shots of the political graffiti, laugh at the homage of Che Guevera in the main Plaza and follow the recent protest of mainly indigenous Bolivians through the main streets of Cochabamba.

As a foreigner in any country there are many puzzles you could choose to figure out. Some only arrive at familiarity - a favourite cafe frequented on weekends, a vendor of strawberries where you have planted your loyalty. Yet there are always other more complicated puzzles to make sense of, ones whose shapes and patterns might not be apparent at first; kaleidoscopes whose rainbow colours serve to distract from the harsh angles and warring pieces of society, of history, of politics, of race and class that signify something more than a beautiful escape for a foreigner if they were willing to see more than the surface.

Four and a half months into my stay here and I am finally begin to scratch, to dig, to see what I was perhaps too busy enjoying myself to care about initially. This remarkable city that brought down a transnational company, this country whose president so cheekily and sincerely gives the finger to the USA, and this continent that breathes heavily and fiery in a way that I can't believe I have only just begun to pay attention to. 

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