I am loving the culture here and the importance of family. I have been struck by how close families are and how my host family took me in as their own child. They didn’t have to be so kind and understanding, but they have gone above and beyond the call to be my host parents.
I love the speakers we have heard so far. They have given me a lot of insight on how much oppression there is in Bolivia and where we are currently living in Cochabamba. Water is something I have always had access to throughout my entire life. Being here in Bolivia makes me realize how I have taken water for granted. Something so important to maintain life is scarce here. It makes me so sad for the people of Cochabamba because they shouldn’t have to be without clean water. It doesn’t seem like the government is doing much about it, and that doesn’t make sense to me!
Today was a very long day. I decided after classes this morning I was going to do some exploring on my own. My first stop was a little Mayan Shop on Heroinas. I spent some time there looking at various items and decided on a new bag to carry my notebooks in. Back on the other side of the street I spent some time just standing and observing. On my right was an Aymara woman in the typical garb (skirt, bowler hat, two long braids) selling sunglasses. To my left there was a group of about 12 high school students dressed in uniforms playing with expensive looking cell phones.
It was hard to be inconspicuous and just observe. I moved back towards the school, bought a Coke and some papas fritas and settled on a bench. A bench littered with wrappers and fruit peels. The little plaza was quite lovely – save for the garbage. That sort of summed up my thoughts on Cochabamba – I was surrounded by so much potential beauty and so much poverty at once. That theme plays out through most everything our group has done. Concentrating on the problems of Bolivia’s past, present, and future has made me feel somewhat small and helpless. At times I feel I want to join all the causes (knowing that’s ridiculous).
Saturday, May 11
First we went to a Coca market in a city about 30 minutes away from here. It was in a huge hangar looking building, but there weren’t very many people in it. They had huge bags full of Coca leaves and people would come and buy amounts in weight. We then stopped at a fruit market; I bought some oranges-25 for 10b (bolivianos-the local currency). I also bought a pineapple for my family. The fruit was delish. It was so good! And cheap! We then continued back to Chapare for lunch at a really good restaurant we ate at last night. Then the most interesting part…We went to a park where they rescue monkeys- capuchin and spider monkeys. Our tour guide led the way as all of us began the 30 minute walk to the top of the mountain. We had previously been warned of an unfriendly capuchin monkey with no tail. Low and behold, the first monkey we run into is the capuchin monkey with no tail… At first he jumps on Sarah (probably the worst person in the group to jump on), who freaks out and luckily the monkey just jumps off her. Our tour guide, a rather large and goofy fellow, starts towards Sarah and so the monkey proceeds to bite his leg, then attack him sort of (I, think, it was all kinda a blur). I was standing on the top landing where all of this was happening with Alex and Evan. After the monkey bit our tour guide, he [the tour guide] started backing up behind me, and the monkey sat on the ground angrily picking up and throwing rocks onto the ground. We all somehow managed to walk away slowly, without further injury. After that excitement, we came back to the hotel and went for a swim. Then I went exploring around the town with Austin, Blake, Travis and Kurtis. The town is really cute and quaint and seems a lot nicer than Cochabamba…! There was a little park, which had recycling in it!
Who would have thought that such a little leaf could have such an impact?
I find the health benefits of coca very interesting and am excited to try to find more research on the topic. I also wonder if I could find any of these products in the States. It’s a shame that the perception is that coca is all bad because of cocaine, but this simply isn’t true. As a farmer’s grandchild, I also find it intriguing that the use of pesticides is an issue with this crop, even as it is grown in such remote regions by indigenous people. The main reason they are used is that there are restrictions on how much land you can produce coca on. I can understand that farmers want to maximize profit, but it seems to me that this is taking away significantly from the benefits and history of coca. I wonder if those using pesticides are doing so out of pure economic need. Another question I still had was whether or not the farmers themselves know when their crops are being used for drug production? This would weigh heavy on my conscious if that were the case. It is a shame that the pesticides are causing deleterious side effects on humans, which had not previously been seen with raw coca use. Getting to chew coca was an experience in itself and I’m glad for the opportunity. I’m also glad that we got to visit the Chapare before listening to this talk so that we had a background on the subject. Although I will not be seeking out the coca leaf to chew in the States, I think it is great that it is starting to become popular in New York for the health benefits to Americans and for the economic benefits of Bolivia.
- Kayla Smeltzer