21 October, Last day in Bolivia
I keep waking up at 5am and then find myself thinking and not sleeping. Ho hum. Oh well what can you do? Rebecca’s mum came in to me at 8am to say goodbye. She brought to me sweet potato and chicken. I chose to eat it as it is a gift, even though I am vegetarian. The gift was one of love, so I can’t say no. She is a lovely Bolivian mum, very traditional. She said to me to ‘salute your mama’, she was sending her regards to my mum. What a beautiful thing to say. Rebecca said to me she works every day making hamburgers, starting at 8.30am and finishing at 9pm. What a long day, I am sure she doesn’t make much. Apparently her husband nearly died last year and they had to spend $20,000 to save him. I was astounded. So they must be struggling, health care is not free. They are beautiful people, when I asked for a photo of mama she then woke up papa and the two of them put on their hats and sat in the lounge room waiting for me to come in.
Rebecca and I lugged my case to Bolivia Quaker Education Centre. I looked at La Paz for the last time. The taxi came down the mountain from Alto and I was able to see the magnificent mountains overshadowing this large city. We wound down through the two story homes and saw the people crossing the road. Lots of children out they are going to school at 1pm, I am told they finish at 5pm. Not sure how their parents work when they are home in the morning, but I guess they take them with them. No childcare here. I looked at the greese monkeys (mechanics) fixing cars on the road side. They have small workshops. Cars, people and buildings, very busy. It is a thriving city that has grown very quickly in 20 years, most of the people are illiterate and globalization is creeping in to all aspects of life. You look at the young people they dress in western clothes, you look at the parents and they are traditional. That is the reality I sense. The change is happening in the young. This is where consumerism is taking hold.
I spent the afternoon there organizing photo’s. Rebecca and Ruben took me to the station. They were very helpful to me. The manager of Quakers in Bolivia spent some time speaking to me of their operation. I talked about the importance of following the heart and acting when you feel moved. I felt inspired to share when I saw a homeless lady outside the office. I see a lot of homeless people, many older women. This woman would be around my age in her 40’s and she was lying against the wall with her mouth open. People just walk past as they have decided they can’t help the problem. I asked why don’t Quakers give a scholarship to a homeless person. the scholarships are for Quakers, I wondered how do we break down the barriers of them and us. He said they train Quakers and they help their communities. I also suggested they get onto Facebook with AVP (Alternatives to Violence) and swap case studies what works and what doesn’t.
I tried to go to the prison to watch a facilitation but the Wardens wouldn’t let me in as I am a foreigner. That was a shame as I wanted to observe the conditions. The prison was is the middle of La Paz. I wondered about the prisoners aware of the people bustling around outside and they are inside. I also wondered of prison warden violence, I think they need AVP, many controlling persons who like to dominate like to work in prisons. You will find in the ranks ex army, police and security people engaged in prison work. I find the concept of prison as a punishment works against my belief that we can learn to be better people through modeling. I think jail just reinforces more negativity as they are punished and that lowers self esteem and exposes them to others who also have anger or emotional issues. I also think there would be very nice people in there too, caught up in some crime. It always makes me shudder when I look at the huge walls and the thought of being locked up. I go with Byron Katie’s idea that we have to learn to love the offender, the terrorist, those we hate, we must find the love for the person and at the same time not condone the violence. This is what is the real transformation, reform is simply learning not to do it again, it not learning a higher way. Love actually heals, it is not a fluffy statement. The world is still unaware of the power of love as a motivation for creating societies worth living in.
Rebecca and Ruben returned to the office and I admired Rebecca’s pottery necklace, which turns out to be a whistle with three Bolivian women painted on it. She gave it to me. Ruben said Rebecca bought you a gift. How sweet, I really felt I will treasure it. I feel much love for both of them and will miss them.
We packed all my gear up and headed to the bus station to find the Pan American bus. Apparently the busline booking agent was supposed to get me a room in Hostel Villian to stay at. She tells us at the station she couldn’t get it, it doesn’t exist. Actually it does exist as I saw it when I got to Villazon. She was supposed to have a guy Jose meet me (didn’t turn up). So there is your customer service. I would love to put her in Australia all on her own, that is how you build empathy. Anyway, I got on the bus and to my shock realized there is no toilet (Bano). This is a 19 hour trip. I shuddered as it is my time of the month. How do women cope with this? Men have no idea of the hassle. I have been on so many buses where they don’t stop for three hours. No concept of women’s needs that is for sure. Guys can wip it out and relieve themselves, not so easy for women. Anyway, no choice I am on the bus and it is pouring with rain.
I start to feel for my necklace and have a little cry over the kindness of Rebecca and Ruben, I don’t often cry on parting as I am so use to it, but I felt the connection. Rebecca was so kind, the way she held my arm and made sure I was safe and caring about my needs. She had a great sense of humour also, you don’t need language to laugh together. Ruben was so kind and thoughtful also, he would often go out of his way to make sure I got home safe. It was great to speak to him in English, we had some good conversations about spirituality and clowning. He was a wonderful interpreter. Rebecca and he share an interest in linguistics. They look very sweet together and I think they will be happy. The key is dialogue and sharing the same path.
Anyway the bus rolled on and the traffic was gridlock out of La Paz. I watched with amazement people running into the traffic to get mini buses and wondered if any get hit. The visibility was low and women, children, men whizzed through the traffic. Very dangerous I felt. The bus eventually emerged from La Paz to stop 1 hour later for at least 1 hour. The driver appears to have been getting bottles of water from the stream, so I suspect they didn’t have enough water in the engine. Hmmmm anyway, we rolled on and my concern about toilets remained. I don’t speak Spanish and have no idea when they are going to stop and can’t ask. So no drinking water till we stop. To my surprise the bus stops and a guy comes upstairs and yells out Bano (toilet stop), it turns out the toilet was behind cargo containers, and everyone got out and started squatting or peeing. I laughed, I couldn’t believe it. Wow what an experience. I had to climb a mountain to keep my privacy. The only white girl there. I helped some women get on board as it is quite a first step up onto the bus, hard on older people. There were no internal lights so you couldn’t read as the bus went, I just laughed. I was absolutely freezing, my feet were like ice blocks. Turns out my seat is at the front of the bus and above the stairs above the drivers passenger seat, very drafty. If my bag was pushed under my seat it will fall down the stairs. It has a computer in it and I already dropped it and damaged the screen. So I am really uncomfortable as I have to somehow squeeze it and make sure it doesn’t fall. There were no blankets, thankfully I had some warm pants I put over my trousers and I have a warm hat. The bottom half of my legs were really cold. There was a breeze coming up the stairwell. I didn’t sleep a wink. The guy next to me did share his blanket, that was a relief. People I find are kind. I decided to plug into my Ipod and tuned into Byron Katie and her audio book ‘A Thousand Names For Joy’. This is about learning to live in the moment, accepting it fully as it is where you are meant to be. I found that handy given the delay with the water issue and the cold. I practiced peace in this moment. Yes, it does make a huge difference your mental state. The guy next to me was a Tico (Latino) and he was stomping his feet, resisting reality when the bus had stopped for too long. I just trusted it, I did feel tension, but it would have been worse had I not tuned in and being conscious about peace.
Imagine living your life without any resistance fully accepting everything as a teacher in your life. This is living in reality, not fighting it with should’s and shouldn’t’s, you can’t force the world into your mould, at some level you have to accept what is, is. I still resist but I am noticing it, this is the beginning of inner change. I see western arrogance in myself with my expectations at times and I do have suspicion that people are after my money. I have to drop that and just enjoy the people, which I mostly do, they feel like family now after my experience in La Paz.
The next day the sun came up and I just enjoyed the mountains. It was worth the sleepless night to be in the front of the bus to witness this diverse environment, some parts very dry like Australia, huge mountains that changed constantly. It is a very dynamic landscape. I felt very happy and free.
We stopped for food and I had some vegetarian rice with beans. It was nice. One lady called me a gringo. I said I am an Australian not a gringo (US). I said you can call me skippy, they laughed. I watched the stray dogs come and go. There are many stray dogs in Bolivia, all shapes and sizes, they are a bit timid I think the men are aggressive with them, they shy away from men. I did notice the absence of wildlife, I am waiting to see something wild. I only saw an eagle today and domestic animals – sheep, pigs, goats, cows, donkeys and horses. I wonder about this.
The sky was a beautiful blue with wispy clouds, barely clouds more like white cotton wool stretched across the sky. Unusual cloud formations I felt, I wondered if there were high winds at higher altitudes blowing the clouds into that formation.
It was a lovely drive through the dusty roads, dwarfed by mountains a million miles from home. I love the rough and tumble of life. Not manicured and controlled but wild and woolly is very exciting.
We got into Villazon around 3.30pm. The guy Jose from Portosi buses didn’t turn up and his people directed me to a hotel that was 60 Bolivianos, I only have 60 on me and I need to eat. So had to reject that. The Villazon Hostel was pretty grotty. I ended up walking to the Central Hotel and the owner spoke English, of German extraction. His grandfather came to Bolivia after the 1st World War. I asked him why he chose Bolivia. He didn’t know. It is an old hotel, not clean but I do have two beds, double blankets. The door doesn’t close properly, the public toilet doesn’t flush nor does the cold water work. However, it is 30 bolivianos and it is overnight, I don’t mind. I can get something to eat and get an early night. It will be a big trip tomorrow.
Argentina here I come. Dream big dreams.