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. We´ve 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. I´ve 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---don´t 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 I´ve 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. I´m slightly anxious about my ability to converse in Spanish but we shall see. I´m 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. I´m glad you´re 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 i´ll start looking around because some tix i heard you get cheaper in country. Since I haven´t been to a lot of the cities in Bolivia yet, I don´t 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 I´m 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. I´m so excited about Oruro, everyone is telling us how much fun we´re going to have and how we´ve never seen so much dancers, and such hard partying. ... I´ll 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 I´ve 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, I´m 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 don´t know when we´ll 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 doesn´t 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