Note: My sister Jessica participated in a study abroad program in Bolivia the spring semester of 2002.
She relayed her experiences by email.

A R C H I V E

Jessica in Bolivia #1: desda Bolivia

 

Sat, 02 Feb 2002

Mi familia---

I arrived in Bolivia two nights ago after a plane cancellation in Miami. We are 
staying in the most beautiful hotel in Cochabamba, it is very European, pretty 
courtyards. Weve spent the past two days exploring the city and learning about 
cultural differences. Last night we participated in a ritual that involved 
offering potatos, grains and religious tiles to the Pachamama, the mother Earth 
of the Andes, to have her grant us a good semester. 

I have to be back to our hotel at 4pm to discuss our findings this afternoon. I 
will write more very soon but i have two minutes to walk 5 blocks so i must 
run. 

todo mi amor
Jessica

Jessica in Bolivia #2: toda mi amor desde Bolivia

 

Sat, 02 Feb 2002

Hola todos!

I have been in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the past two days. There is so much too 
see it has been a little hard to take it all in. Cochabamba is unlike any city 
I have ever seen. The majority of people in Latin America are mestizos, a mix 
of indigenous and European descent but in Bolivia, the majority are of 
indigenous descent but the buildings, parks, restaurants and advertisements are 
reminders of the foreign influence in the country for the majority of its 
recent history. There are many Spanish-style colonial building as well as 
advertisements for American soda on every street corner and billboard. Ive 
never seen so much soda consumed in my life. There are faded ads for Pepsi, 
Coke and Sprite painted on the street and all the buildings. 

Right now, we are staying in the most beautiful hotel in all of Cochabamba with 
a fabulous courtyard and European style paintings, windows and delicious 
Bolivian food (surprise, surprise).

The city is full of life, political struggle and differences. There are so many 
people out on the street and the parks are a true gathering place. Kids are out 
all hours of the day, selling goods and playing, it is hard to tell how many go 
to school. 

Here are a couple of observations to give you a better feel for the city...
Fruit, Cocaleros, Water Balloons and Dogs---

Fruit--

There are fabulous carts of fruit on almost every street corner, grapefruit, 
mangoes, papaya, bananas (for fried plantain) and many other fruits that i have 
yet to identify. Almost more interesting than the fruit is the women who are 
selling them. Urban indigenous women, many who came to the city after the 
eradication of coca and the fall of the mines, sell fruit all day long in their 
traditional indigenous dress (Mom--all dressed exactly like the pictures we 
saw). usually with a colorful woven blanket tied around their back (despite the 
heat). In the blanket is either a baby or products to sell. Usually in tow is a 
toddler, sometimes holding a fruit basket for his-her mother. 

Things are incredibly cheap here. I bought a newspaper for $.15, we took a cab 
across town for $.70 and had a full meal for a $1.20

Cocaleros---

There are protests and demonstrations by the Cocaleros (the union for coca 
growers) right now. MOM---dont worry, they are nowhere near us. The political 
situations are very complicated. A leader of the Cocaleros, Evo Morales, who 
was also a Bolivian congressman, was kicked out of Congress 9 days ago on bogus 
counts of corruption and new laws that further affect the livelihood of the 
thousands of Cocaleros were passed three weeks ago and the effect has been an 
eruption of protest by teh Cocaleros nad their supporters. 

Water Balloons--

All of Bolivia is preparing for one of their biggest festivals, Carnaval, which 
is a week long festival, but mostly next weekend. Cochambabinos, especially 
kids and teenage boys, have a strange obsession with water. During the past 
day, we have been the targets of many water balloons. The city is preparing for 
Carnaval and one of the festivities is water balloon fights. On the way to this 
cyber cafe, we saw boys on every corner holding water balloons, we went the 
longway around La Plaza Colon but we were still hit by 5 and 6 year old kids, 
and they have good arms. The worst is when the water balloons come out of 2nd 
and 3rd story windows without warning. These kids must have been practicing 
because they barely miss their target. 

Dogs---

One of the strangest things Ive found in Bolivia, is their dogs are not pets 
but are all strays. There are dogs wandering around everywhere, and we often 
hear in the middle of the night dog fights. Most of the time they ignore you 
but occassionally one will start following you around and will walk right into 
open doors to restaurants and stores. 

Tonight, we meet our families. My family consists a single mother, college 
professor, her mother and her two sons, a 25 year old studying medicine and a 
23yr old studying law. Im slightly anxious about my ability to converse in 
Spanish but we shall see. 

Im anxious to explore the city more and life as a Cochambino.

Love to you all and please share your life with me across the distance. 

My address here is:

Jessica Melia
c/o Patricia Parra, SIT
Casilla 5869
Cochabamba, BOLIVIA

Todo mi amor,
Jess

Jessica in Bolivia #3: travel plans and trip to a village

 

Fri, Feb 8, 2002

Hey Luke---

Your e-mail made me so happy. Im glad youre down for this trip. I think you, 
me and Mom will have a lot of fun together. Write me back with the price of the 
Lima, Peru ticket and ill start looking around because some tix i heard you 
get cheaper in country. 

Since I havent been to a lot of the cities in Bolivia yet, I dont know 
exactly what I want you guys to see but I for one def. want to go to Macchu 
Pichu which is really close to Cuzco, Peru. But I will start asking around, I 
would love for you to meet the family Im staying with in Cochabamba and see 
this city too. La Cancha, the huge market supposedly goes for at least 20 
blocks and sells everything imaginable and would love for you to see the 
indigenous Quechua speaking people of this city. 

Today we went to a rural village some 45 min. outside the city and walked 
around the city. such an interesting mix between farming culture, colonial 
influence and the modernizing world. We went to see a rural school where the 
kids study, cook and clean for themselves, cultivate the food they eat and 
reach a level of education and confidence in their ability to support 
themselves that most indigenous children never reach. Interesting theories 
behind the school structure and the kids were very friendly and eloquent 
(bilingual education in Quecha, their indigenous language, and Spanish). When I 
was leaving a little girl of 9 years old gave me a card that said on the front

Te quiero mucho and a poem in spanish on the inside....so sweet. 

So the bloceos and protests have ended here and the Cocaleros are negotiating 
with the government, so we get to go to Oruro...and the Cocaleros may get their 
demands also. Im so excited about Oruro, everyone is telling us how much fun 
were going to have and how weve never seen so much dancers, and such hard 
partying. 

...

Ill write again with my stories from Oruro....we leave at 4 in the morning....
arggg...

i luv you too...ciao mi hermano!

besos y abrazos

tu hermanita,
Jess

Jessica in Bolivia #4: safe and sound

 

Fri, Feb 21, 2002

Hey all--

Sorry Ive been out of touch recently. This program keeps us busy, with many 
hours of classes, work and much time spent with our Bolivian families. 

Right now, Im writing from the pseduo-capital of Bolivia, Sucre (its the 
official capital but all the govt buildings are in La Paz and La Paz is more 
appropriately the center of Bolivia). 

As most of you have probably heard, there was a huge hail storm and flood in La 
Paz this past Tuesday. We are all, far away and safe but ironically were 
scheduled to be in La Paz on Tuesday thru Saturday of this week. We had to 
reschedule b-c of bloceos bw LA Paz and Tiwanuku & Copacabana. The campesinos 
of this area, the highlands, led by Felipe Quispe have been blocking the roads 
for days now & we dont know when well be able to go to La Paz. So thanks to 
the blockades, we are in Sucre and Potosi instead of La Paz. 

We spent the past two days in Potosi, the highest city in the world, and 
historically the center of Latin America. It was the richest mining city and 
the trading centered around the city. Now, it is still culturally a mining 
city, but much less people work as miners as they did in its height. It is a 
very poor and slighlty depressing city but full of beautiful Cathedrals and 
plazas from the colonial era and a huge pedestrian scene. We spent an hour and 
half in the mines which was challenging physically and emotionally. We marched 
through mud, avoided holes, with our ex-miner guide and his 11 year old 
assistant. The 11 year old was fabulously brave, blocking 50 foot holes for us 
and weaving through us to hold our lanterns for us or our coca and cigarettes, 
which we brought for the workers. He works as a guide twice a day, 7 days a 
week. After emerging from the mines, filthy and exhausted it was hard for us to 
imagine how the miners work in these conditions for so many hours a week and 
see so little of the money brought in by their silver. 

Last night in Potosi, we had a fabulous dinner followed by a very traditional 
band playing music from all the departments of Potosi and all the regions of 
Bolivia. You all would have loved this band, the music was fabulous complete 
with a charango (traditional Bolivian guitar with 5 double strings and one 
single string), flutes and charyangas (type of flute). We danced well into the 
night to the traditional Andean music at an elevation of 14500 feet. Truly 
Amazing!

This afternoon we arrived in Sucre, gorgeous city, just ate at a vegetarian 
restaurant, the lasagna was good but doesnt compare Mom & Mike!

Looking forward to exploring the city more tomorrow before we head back to 
Cochabamba on Saturday. 

The country is struggling to deal with the crisis in La Paz however resources 
are scarce in general, let alone during a natural disaster like their flood. We 
hopefully will be able to make it to La Paz eventually. 

Apologize for the mass e-mail and for all those who have e.mails in my inbox, i 
havent forgoteen and will reply shortly!

love to you all
-Jess

Jessica in Bolivia #5: The Funeral, The Countryside, The Future

 

Sun, March 31, 2002

Luke and Mom,

Hi loves. Yes, the funeral was incredibly different from anything i'd ever seen 
in the States, it was the saddest, quietest two days i'd ever seen. as i told 
mom, they didn't really talk about my grandma at all, the priest came and spoke 
about christ, suffering etc...but not the life of my grandmother, different 
from the funerals i've been to in the states. my mom here is going to wear 
black for a whole month and they are going to have a mass for my grandma this 
Tuesday. 

My group just got back from staying in the country with indigenous campesino 
families for 5 days. It was a very intense experience, wonderful to live with 
my family there. My mother in the country spoke only Quechua as did most of the 
5 kids. The oldest girl, 13, spoke perfect Spanish which made everything a lot 
easier. I shared a bed with my seven year old sister who was a very restless 
sleeper and kept hitting me during the night. The kids had one pair of shoes 
and wore the same clothes for days at a time but had plenty of food and were so 
easily entertained and all their food came from their own land. I picked corn, 
peeled potatoes, ate honey that was freshly retrieved by my father there, 
played games, learned some quechua, their native language and swam in the 
river. The town was beautiful, warm, surrounded by mountains. It was really 
something else, this past week was different from anything i'd ever known. The 
food was fabulous, they had 4 pigs, 1 goat, 15 chickens, dogs and cats. so much 
life in such a small space, reminded me a little of our house growing up, with 
so much love among so many people. really fabulous. 

we have two weeks left of our official program until we all go to our month 
long independent study. i finally decided what i want to study, communities 
organizing against oil exploitation. the effect of the oil companies on the 
communities, their techniques of organizing, and their level of success. over 
the next two weeks i have to decide where in bolivia i want to do this research 
and make some good contacts. 

...

i'll send more info as i get it, i'm so excited for your visit, we're gonna 
have tons of fun. 

i luv you both very much...

...

xoxo
Jess