Wanderlust #0: Suspended in Air

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

Suspended in Air — Hayden Higgins

Today is a day that doesn’t happen.

How could it? I never really woke up. At 3:40AM I got out of bed, yes; and at 4AM I got into a car, yes; and at 6AM my plane from SFO took off, yes. But how could you call this a day?

I’ve been in Miami International Airport for three or four hours already. I’m not really sure. I did read today that scientists have come up with a so-called ‘time cloak,’ and I feel like it’s possible the device is being tested on me right now. The time cloak sends light on one side at a faster-than-light-speed, and on the other side at a slower-than-light-speed, and somehow that makes an event between them disappear.

Right now I’m in the middle of two similarly opposing speeds of being: on the one hand, I’m on my way from my home in Danville, California to Cochabamba, Bolivia, taking advantage of airborne speed of modernity (and, via the internet, the electric speed of post-modernity). But on the other hand I’m stuck here, in a chair, tethered to my bags and to the wall socket that’s providing this laptop with power.

Maybe the real tension is between the fact that I’ve been able to connect with Bolivia, and friends all over the world, simultaneously, from the laptop I carry with me in my backpack. This is postmodernity: location is irrelevant, speed is nonexistent (because the condition of postmodernity is simultaneity, not greater and greater speed). And yet I’m housed right now in a temple of modernity, the airport, a great pulsing organ that is designed to optimally ingest people and spit them back out as quickly as possible.

In any case, I’m ‘suspended in air,’ and not just because I’m hanging halfway between my origin and my destination. It’s also because I don’t totally know what’s awaiting me: I’ve done my best to line up some contacts, develop a plan of attack, etc. But there’s only so much I’ve been able to do, and a lot of it will have to come together while I’m down there. On a more macro scale, I’m in limbo about my future after Davidson: this is my last semester as an undergraduate, and I have no idea what comes next.

For now, though, I’m an anthropology student trying to learn as much as I can about the situation of water politics in Cochabamba, Bolivia. A quick rundown:

  • Cochabamba was the site of a famous protest, called the “Water War,” in which a popular social movement rejected the government’s proposal that the water supply of the city be administrated by a multinational corporation (which would have raised rates)
  • In the wake of the War, which was successful, a number of autonomous ‘water committees’ were formed in the poor southern zone of the committee, with aspirations of cooperatives that would serve as exemplars of a new ‘water democracy,’ signified by citizen involvement
  • In 2009, the Bolivian government passed a new Constitution, including a human right to potable water
  • Today, however, despite the success of the Water War and the implementation of the water committee model, half of Cochabamba is without reliable water supply, and the situation is not much better than it was ten years ago.

Tonight I’ll fly to Santa Cruz, Bolivia (overnight, yikes!) and then on to Cochabamba. From Cochabamba I hope to start getting in direct contact with people, and my fieldwork –mostly interviews–will commence shortly thereafter. Hopefully I can post again tomorrow, probably from Casablanca, my favorite downtown Cochabamba café.

All the best from Miami,

Hayden Higgins ’12

Other Notes:

  • It’s unreasonably cold in here.
  • There is a severe shortage of power outlets.
  • I just started reading a wonderful book called Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel, recommended to me by none other than Dr. Maggie McCarthy. Strangely enough, it begins with the narrator’s plane flight to South America (Quito, in his case).
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