Wanderlust #2: Sunday in Cochabamba

This blog post originally appeared on the Dean Rusk Wanderlust blog in January 2012.

Sunday in Cochabamba — Hayden Higgins

This morning I woke up early and headed down south to Lomapampa. I wasn’t able to fall asleep for quite a while last night—not normal for me. I woke up around 7:30, early for me, and was out of the house by 8. I hopped a trufi-taxi to the Hipermax. Trufis are like bus-taxis. They are smaller than an American minivan, but they’re hollowed out on the inside, with bench-style seating, so that up to ten people can fit in one. It only costs 1.70 bolivianos—about a quarter, I guess.

I got to the Hipermax and decided to buy some snacks, but it failed me. I tried to find the mani confit, or candied peanuts, that I had bought at bus stops in Bolivia before, but couldn’t find them, so I settled for some almonds. I was going to buy a tin of candy for Don Miguel, my informant in Lomapampa, but it turned out to cost 75 Bs—kind of a ridiculous price, I thought, even in America, so I turned them down. After that I waited for a while to catch the X10 micro (a micro is a bus, usually looking like a short school bus, but painted ridiculous combinations of red, white, blue, and yellow).

After about ten minutes an X10 finally came. I asked the driver as I gave him his 2 Bs whether the bus was going to Lomapampa. He said yes, so I stayed on—but after a while another guy corrected him, and it came to light that there were two X10 bus routes, one called K10 and one called K9 (K for kilometer). I needed K9. The driver promised to show me an X10/K9 bus when we passed one. He turned out to be a really talkative guy. He told me that he had been here during the water war, and that the streets were filled with people; he said Evo was terrible for Bolivia, and that Bolivia wouldn’t develop until Evo was gone; that Bolivia was full of drunks (I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was one of them);asked me if I thought Obama would win; we discussed his experiences trying to immigrate to America (he had been arrested once, and thrown out another time, and he called the coyotes—men who lead immigrants across the border illegally—‘crazy’) and his four years in Spain (he claimed you can just step off the plane without any legal trouble). He also implored me to find a nice cholita (indigenous) girl, though he used perhaps less savory terms.

Finally he showed me which bus to switch to, and I hopped out (after he wrote his name down for me, and I promised to get silpancho—a local dish—with him next time I was in Bolivia). Eventually I arrived in Lomapampa.

For context, Lomapampa is a barrio to the far south of the city center—so far, in fact, that it was the last stop on the bus route. I had volunteered there for eight weeks during the prior July and August, helping to build a community center and teaching kids how to play basketball. During that time I came to know Don Miguel some. Don Miguel is the dirigente of the barrio—its elected president, more or less. He is really a larger-than-life character, and it always seems like everyone in the barrio and around that area knows him. When I was designing my thesis, I thought that Lomapampa—which is not covered by SEMAPA, the municipal water company, nor does it have a water committee—would be a good example to use. When I got here, I called Don Miguel, and asked if I could visit.

When I got out of the bus, I was a little disoriented. Partially this was because, unlike when I came before (during the dry Bolivian winter), the hills were actually green this time around. After a minute or so I realized I was almost exactly where I had always been dropped off, albeit with twenty other companions. As I strode through the empty, dusty streets to talk to Don Miguel, I realized how much I missed the company of all the friends I’d made during the last summer—and yet how fulfilling it was to be here on my own this time around.

I rapped nervously on Don Miguel’s door. I was definitely late—the micros took way longer than I expected. I hoped he wouldn’t care. It didn’t seem like he did. He opened the door and we did the Bolivian handshake—you shake hands, then put your arms on one another’s shoulders, then shake hands again, or something like that. We sat down and got to talking. I wrote down my name for him—he had quite a time pronouncing ‘Higgins’—and explained how I had ended up back in Lomapampa after four months away. I always hope I don’t sound silly or pompous, saying that I want to come and learn about the water situation.

My other main worry, one which stays with me, is that the money I received to do this project was money that could have been allocated in some other way. I’m not a blind acolyte of Singerian utilitarian ethics, but I am very aware of the gravity of their dictates. And so I feel guilty that I have the luxury of coming here for only a week, to study and gain a semblance of an understanding of the water problem here, when the same money might be enough to solve that water problem, at least for a couple people. The only counterargument there can be, I think, is that ultimately this money is doing exactly that: contributing to solving the water problem, albeit in a more long-term way.

I drove back to the center of town with Don Miguel, who is a taxi driver on the side. He asked me about my faith, and, for lack of a better answer, I said Methodist. I was well aware that this was, in some sense, the correct answer. We talked about faith most of the drive back. I told him that I think religion is as important for its questions as for its answers.

Afterwards, I got out near the city center. Recovering a bit of my exploratory spirit, I started walking around, resolved to figure out where I was without asking a taxi driver to take me anywhere. It turned out I was pretty near el Prado and Plaza Colon. I tried to find a café to work in along my usual stretch in that area, but everything was closed—Sunday. I kinda needed to find a bathroom, so I ended up at a place I knew had one, called Brazilian Coffee. I ordered a Paceña, mostly to have an excuse to use their bathroom. It probably took me thirty minutes to drink that beer. I was totally spent—gastado—by the sun and the walking, and took my time recovering. Eventually I got out, explored the open-air market a little bit, and decided to walk home. I had nothing else on my schedule for the day, so why not?

It was a decently far walk, and I’d never tried this particular walk during my first go-round here. It turned out to be pretty easy. No robbers, no close calls crossing the street, no angry dogs—just a call center I used on the way back that basically robbed me, charging rates eight times as high as any other ones I’d used.

The whole time I hadn’t had a watch on, and I had no idea what time it was. I kind of figured it was two or so, but when I finally walked in my gate, I was surprised to see the family just sitting down to lunch—one o’clock it was. It was nice to be timeless for a while though, to just drift along. I just read an essay about Balzac, how he loved to lose himself in crowds—someone had said of him that he was the person who most knew how human he was and was most afraid of it in himself, and yet loved it the most in others. I don’t know how that relates to me, it was just something interesting I read.

I have an interview lined up for tomorrow, but more importantly, it will be the week again, and that means offices will be open again. I’m hoping for responses from several places willl be fruitful. Then on Tuesday I’m headed back to Lomapampa. Don Miguel says we’ll have lunch and I can do some interviews, and he can tell me more about the Bible.

-Hayden Higgins ’12


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