Monday, September 04, 2006

Tomacuri Potosi

View Photos:
Freezing in the Altiplano
by Collin Whelley

I have been in the Altiplano for the past 48 hours. It has freezing cold nights and hot sun dried days. We are working in a village named Tomacuri off any sort of map in North Potosi. Its location is approximately 18 degrees south, 65 degrees west; at an altitude of 13.5 thousand feet. My eyes have been hurting me for the past two days due to the accumulation of dust clouds and dust delves rolling through our work area spitting who knows what everywhere. Or perhaps the pain is due to the quantities of caffeine and coca aiding that struggle to keep me vertical and awake. The nights, as I said, are freezing and I freeze along with them. Last night I woke up Mike in a sleep deprived confusion to tell him “Mike I can’t feel my face!” However, those who know me will agree that at times I enjoy this kind of struggle. My paint spattered hands are beat from the cold wind and my clumsy hammer. But again, all my scars give me something to brag about. Through all the attributes of this land that cause it to be hard, harsh and demanding, spawns one of the most intriguing places and people that I have ever witnessed.

There is something so “far away” about this place. Being here is like being in an old story that my grandfather would have told me sitting on his knee when I was young and impressionable. There is music, simple dances, and traditional hats that look almost like those worn in Charlie Chaplain’s era. The traditional garb contains many layers and colors that are area specific to a rejoin or small pueblo. Scattered sparsely throughout the town people stand in doorways looking at me like I’m a “gringo.” They have weathered faces, bare and cracked feet and brown and missing teeth. Having no forests the people can only cook with field grass and llama dung. I tell you it gives the bread we eat a….different flavor. What was once so far away in our countries historical past, lives daily in this place.

This is the exact sort of community that excited Mike and myself so much about the Bolivia project. This is the Bolivia that I had read about and anticipated. The people of this town are proof to me that complications resulting from indoor air pollution is the fourth leading cause of death in the so called “developing world.” ( by the way, I can’t stand any phrise beginning with “developing!” lets just say countries that aren’t filthy rich, or countries that have been ritually screwed over from the historical exploration period all the way up including free trade agreements….sorry had to vent there!)

Walking from place to place, my feet crunch and scrape the wind torn ground. The sky seldom sees clouds mirroring the bleakness beneath it. Nothing grows in this tundra, but sharp blades of grass and mountains. Every thing is brown, but as the sun raises a plethora of different shades appear making a more stereotypical scenic attraction. But some of the most beautiful sights to see at this altitude are the night’s stars. The Milky Way looks milky and the South American moon wanes into a crescent from the top down. I don’t recognize constellations here so like a song sung by jack Johnson I am forced to make my own.

The daily music comes from a band of one drummer and several woodwinds. They play the same song over and over and each time with more pride. This is their gift because they have literally nothing else. This fact in turn makes there gift worth so much more. The people are the hardest working that I have come across and there is no fear in anyone that this will be a successful course.

With all the excitement of this new place and the evident success of this course I find my self very physically and mentally drained and ready to relax. But relaxing will come later. Children gathered in traditional costumes ready to dance and sing songs that they made for us as a thank you present. Some children have walked six hours to this little town. As I have come to understand this is a weekly journey for them as they attend school here during the week and return home to their families in the mountains for the weekend. In the most rural places n Bolivia going to school is sometimes impossible and most never making it past the 8th year. The current Bolivian president Evo Morales never did. The children stay with host mothers who cook for them and are compensated for there work and expenses by the areas education services. This creates more jobs for the women of the community and more opportunities for all the children who are lucky enough to participate.

The festival began and Tessa from GTZ was the first to be asked to dance. Soon we were all fighting to keep up in hysterical laughter as it must have looked like we all had two left feet. Mike was crypt walking like a west-coast gangster and I couldn’t bring my self to look at him long or I would have surly fallen over with laughter. Chris was squealing as he only does which gives him the nickname “EL HYENA”. I would get so excited before the big jump and turn move, I would inevitably see how high and long I could stay in the air, over rotating and loosing any sort of rhythm. I could be mistaken but I swear this dance rivaled Beethoven’s Ninth symphony for length. Only the laughter from the crowd kept us going as each one of us, our new friends Kara and Tessa, Chris, Mike, Ruth, and my self, prayed to anyone and anything to please let there be more oxygen.

The next song and dance was written by a school Girl who could not have been more than 14 years old. This song thanked Cedesol, GTZ, Sobre La Roca, and last but not least the “Gringitos” or little white dudes from the states. Ruth, the strongest women that I have ever met, wept. Everything that she had been working for and everything she has been through and goes through on a daily basis seemed to be justified in a simple song sung by a beautiful teenager. But this song spoke volumes on how important the solar cooker is to them. The girl sang about smoke filling the house and hurting the lungs and eyes of the family. If she understands the health benefits of solar cookers then our message is getting through.

I will sorely miss this entire trip. The twenty minutes Mike, Chris and I road on top of the Bus. Yes Mom, on top! I will miss the time when the bus broke down and Mike, Chris, Ruth, the bus driver and I slept on the freezing bus floor. I will miss the time when we were all so grumpy, well mostly just Mike, telling me “I’m not going to look at you” because I was the only one with too much energy at 6 in the morning. I will miss the people we made happy, seeing Ruth’s tears and the strong sense of purpose that resulted from them. I will even miss the bread cooked flaming poop because it was so fun to joke about. Much good has come and will come from this experience. I can hardly wait until my sister’s child is old enough to sit on my knee and be impressed by uncle Marve’s2 tale about the time he couldn’t feel his face.

End Notes

1: A Germen NGO who is Cedisol’s and Sobre La Rocas new partner as Mike and I rap up our last two months of work. It is SO nice to know that the Ruth and Dave will have funding enough to work fast after our project money is spent.

2: Marvin stems from the Name Collin…that’s me….if one was to replace all consonants but the “n” with “r’s” and slowly move towards Marvin. Collin- Carrin—Rarrin---Marrin ---Marvin. And no this is not weird to me, Faahble Rerar did it, or Michael Vehar I guess!


Blogger Rich Benton said...

Collin, mon frere,
Quite a wonderful account...I can almost taste the bread ! You sound like you are ringing every ounce of value and meaning from your encounters.I can only say that it's an enormous advantage for Bolivia and it's people to experience YOU in all your glory ! We're looking forward to your return, and to following your next adventures.
Love, Rich Benton

7:06 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home