They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bolivia 02: a magical world is beating here...

Bolivia 02: a magical world is beating here

By Edgardo Civallero

Even if I have been here before, Bolivia never stops to surprise me. La Paz astonishes me in every corner, in every street. I use to have my breakfast in public markets (there are several in the city's downtown). I usually buy some llauchas or salteñas (varieties of empanadas or little pies, the former with hot cheese inside, the latter with meat of llama, beef or chicken) in little places in the market, where you have to eat standing around a tiny table (this table have a good collection of local spicy sauces for putting inside your empanada). And I realize that everybody (from children going to school to the directors of big banks) is standing around these tables, eating with me. It doesn't matter if you are a peasant or a business-man: everybody is there, having breakfast together, and speaking about the last news, or about the last decisions and activities of the new president, Evo Morales, this man (born in the city of Oruro, and with Aymara origins) who always dress in a simple way and who is currently working hard for his people and his nation. It's wonderful to see that, fortunately –at least, from my point of view– this part of South America is (politically) turning to the left. I think we needed it. And I think that, slowly, it's working well. We'll see the outcome of all this process in some years, but, anyway, we're living an important period of our history as individual countries and as a whole continent.

If you look for "poorness" here, you can find it everywhere around you. But, I am realizing that it depends on your concept of "poorness". I guess that a person living in Stockholm would think that my city, Córdoba, is a dirty and poor place. And I guess that this is the reason because I find "poorness" around me. I have some strong pre-concepts about "poorness" and "development". Anyway, I have to accept that people here lives well. I found people changing money (from Bolivian pesos to Peruvian soles or USA dollars) right in the middle of the street, something impossible in my country without three or four cops around them (carrying heavy weapons, of course). Bolivians told me that insecurity is terrible in this city, but I have been walking in the middle of the night through "dangerous" neighborhoods... and I am here, still alive (and I got some good chicha and jokes by chatting with people). Good luck? Maybe...

People lives well, I said. Ok, there are lots of problems, but I think that Bolivia is in its way to improvement of social and cultural conditions. Bolivian is a worker people by nature. One of the traditional advices in Quechua culture (used also as a greeting all along the Andean world) is Ama suwa, ama llulla, ama qilla ("Don't steal, don't lie, don't be lazy"). It works like the Ten Commandments for Christians, a kind of moral code for everybody. Work is encouraged even in songs. I listened this old traditional one yesterday night, in a peña (popular places where you can drink local spirits and listen/play/dance Bolivian folk music):

Qué lindas son las obreras, trabajando noche y día.
En su telar de esperanzas florece la nueva vida.
Corriendo de amanecida, los delantales volando,
Así comienzan el día. Lo saludan trabajando.
Si supiera que cantando algún alivio te diera
Mi canto dejar quisiera en tus manos de hilandera.

Como las estrellas, hermosas y bellas.
Qué alegres son las obreras, bailemos con ellas.

(How beautiful are the workwomen, working night and day!
In their loom of hopes the new life flourishes.
Running during the dawn, with their flying aprons,
their start their day. They greet it working.
If I'd know that, by singing, I could give you some rest
I'd like to leave my songs in your spinning hands.

They are like starts, beautiful and nice.
How joyful are the workwomen, let's dance with them!)

Work for librarians is hard here: there's a lot to do. For this task, they need a very strong education. And they're obtaining it at the Librarianship School of UMSA (Universidad Mayor de San Andres or Saint Andrew's Major University), here in La Paz, the only one in Bolivia. I have to teach some seminars for the students here, so I am deeply involved in the work of this institution. By reading the contents of the career's courses, I could check that the quality of the education is high, at least compared with some Argentinean levels I know. It's very important to say that they adapt all their knowledge to their social and ethnical situation: courses of Quechua and Aymara languages are taught here, in order to provide future librarians with the necessary tools for working properly in Andean communities, where these languages are widely used. They are a multicultural society, and they respect their traditions very, very much. In fact, if you go to drink some local beer in a pub or a disco, at night, you will find that they listen international music but also traditional Bolivian music. And people dance it as they dance North American rock or Colombian cumbia.

About librarians, they get a technical degree after 3 years of study. With this degree, they are able to work in libraries. But right now, a lot of students are betting for higher degrees: Bachelor (after 4 years) or Licenciada/o (after 5 years and a final thesis). For the time being, there are not Master or Doctorate degrees here, like in my own country. But the education is solid enough as for working in very good conditions.

The student's center at the Librarianship School is amazing. People there is terribly active: they organize all kind of seminars and extra courses, and they are deeply involved in the political life of the University, one of the main focus of independent thought in La Paz. They support other students, they continuously check the work of the teachers, and they have a very well equipped place for developing tasks. It's a good example for other schools all over the continent.

Women are very strong here. Andean (or Latin American?) societies are regarded as specially machist, but I am pleasingly surprised when I found that women are taking a very important role in the ruling of their society, communities and institutions here. Even if they may look shy and silent, they are actually very open-minded and desinhibited, and they have a lot of power inside their families and groups. In the new political order being built right now here, women are taking quite an important place, and that's a very good new in a continent where machism has been a "tradition" for centuries. I am not speaking about feminism: It's about giving everybody the correct role in the social structure, and the same opportunities.

This morning, I sat at the door of a colonial-style church placed in the Old Quarter of the city, and I enjoyed the dawn (orange light dying the snowed Illimani with magical colors... can you imagine it?) while I chatted a little bit with an old woman sat there too, begging for charity. She spoke slowly in Aymara. I understood just a part (I am still not very fluent in Aymara). But I clearly understood when she spoke about her confidence in a new future. I shared with her my breakfast while I thought that a whole country is expecting the same thing: a new, clean future.

And they deserve it. I swear.