Timbs for my hooligans.
Everyone that loves Bolivia is inclined to mention its resounding richness in the arts. Traditional music and dance, oil paintings, open air theater, opportunity for exquisite photography, even the biorhythms of la madre tierra (mother earth) quite figuratively shimmer in an unearthly contrast to the daily struggles of Bolivian life. See, this Bolivian life is a bipolar fiasco of el mal y el bien (bad and good.) And, straight up, I feel weird about it.
Ain’t no clean and shiny streets in El Alto.
After dropping our American friend Jennifer off at the airport, Lauren and I were quickly back to our old, bad habits: wandering the streets like band of juvenile delinquents. We drink mini-cups of cappuccinos and relish in Contemporary Art Museums like it ain’t no thang. But the truth is, the hidden beauty in this main street staple, this building of creative expression, is the accuracy of its suffering. I promised myself (and probs Logz) that I would refrain from dressing this blog in chains of angst and black nail polish, but when was the last time I upheld such a promise?
Contemporary Art Museum Hall
You know, life here is hard. For the most part, people are poor and have no options. Women don’t have rights; coca farmers have to storm the streets and light things on fire underneath their rainbow flags, just to be noticed. Yet, dreams don’t die and almost 50 years later, this is still the country of Che Guevara. Here, we dream of freedom.
Coca Farmers Marching…like Pride, only more bombs.
Lighting things on fire down on the Prado.
Peaceful protest campers. Been here for several, several months.
Lauren and I joke about the measured calmness of the protesters. Though they burn and bomb, the flatness and patience of their movements are, actually, almost frightening. We muse that passersby exchange congratulations and favors: “Excellent work with that last smoke bomb, think I could get the recipe? I’m marching with the teachers next week. Oh, you’re on vacation next week? Maybe I could get it to march with the Quechans the week after?” Everyone is in struggle. We all got needs.
Another group of protesters under my window. These ones were the police. They had big guns.
But this also, partly, explains how I’m received here. We all know that a lot of people hate Americans because we’re in many instances, well, assholes. However, Lauren pointed out that many people also hate Americans because of the limitless opportunities of our birth. How can a woman, a victim of domestic violence, of poverty, of malnutrition and absolute desperation not hate a bright-eyed, bushy haired girl of immeasurable prospect and relatively few obstacles? How can I not hate her?
Woman earning her daily bread.
I’m getting it wrong, though, and I know it. The point of experiences like this is not to fall into shades of gray (NOT bestselling book-style) and give up on world savior. It’s to find your small part and rock dat ish. Where I’m getting scared is that I don’t know what part that is for me. If not a grandiose dream of equality, I don’t know what I want.
At the Contemporary Art Museum, there was a room full of paintings and sculptures of indigenous populations. There was also one picture that has resonated so fiercely within me that I’m now questioning my own identity and the purpose of the human condition. I should have sought the name of the artist, because he or she will from this day forth, be pivotal in my development.
Mt. Illimani chillin’ like a villain.
The painting was simple, abstract. It was the outline of Mt. Illimani, a constant guardian of La Paz and a beautiful and startling backdrop. But etched within the strong boundaries of such a fearsome presence, was the outline of an Aymara woman. So what about this has shaken my core? Simply that I recognized what this painting sought to share.
Aymara woman unknowingly walking into the foreground of her precious watch mountain.
4 weeks ago I would have seen an amorphous shape hidden within a pretty mountain. Now I see the backbreaking weight of a life toted in canvas, the struggle of a woman’s whole world subsisting on simple, though beautiful, craftsmanship and an intergenerational memory of culture. I see the cold, the tradition, the lack of dentistry, the cruelty, the entrapment of poverty. I see the desperation of a harsh, harsh world that I will never know.
Aymara woman and kiddo.
When we think about developing countries, we often think about the lack of warm showers, the worms, mayyyybe, even the lack of education. But what about the lack of hope? In Public Health we throw faceless words like self efficacy and independence into models. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? I can get on a TACA flight tomorrow and run away. I can change the channel when starving, brown eyed babies stare at me and ask for as little as $1 a day. I can get an MPH and then change my mind and get an MBA. I can. I can. I can.
But what I can’t do is give these people what I have. We can’t throw money at the issue and watch it go away. We can’t sponsor a child and expect the economy of La Paz to turn around for his or her children. We can’t go to Cancun and understand the ways of Mexico. We can’t read books and study theories and expect that to change health seeking behavior. We can’t treat all populations and people the same. We can’t make quick changes or 2 year rotations and expect the world to be a better place forever. We need systems, we need resources, we need sustainability, accountability, and operational compatibility.
Not that I think books/theory are all bad, of course…
So what can we do? I wish I knew, and maybe, this summer, I’ll find out a bit more. I want to find my marching group, the cause I feel as deeply as that painting. Yep, this is an incredibly tall order and won’t come all at once. But hopefully, (and ideally in addition to well-designed educational materials and a verified survey) this summer will help orient me in a general direction. We shall see, no ve?