Current Events and Other Happenings in the Heart of South America

Flowers en la cancha
A small portion of Mercado La Cancha that I pass on my way to school.

It’s now been a week since I moved in with my host family and began classes in Cochabamba! Much has changed in this short time both for me and Bolivia as a whole. With that, I want to take a moment to touch on what’s been going on in the heart of South America.

1. A high level government minister was murdered in the La Paz Department

2. Yesterday was national Día del Peatón, one of the 3 annual days when all traffic is replaced by bicycles and pedestrians, so that’s cool. :)

3. Bolivia remains gripped in a severe drought, not so cool. :(

First off, last week’s assassination shook Bolivia to the core. Not only was it uncharacteristic of the country (which possesses the 2nd lowest crime rate in Latin America), but its brutality was appalling. Essentially, this was the culmination of days of standoffs between striking miners and the government about 6 hours west of where I am. The violence in that region prompted the U.S. Embassy to issue an email alert. I’ve otherwise remained unaffected.

Before I go any further, I should point out that Bolivia is arguably the strike/protest capitol of the world. Nonviolent strikes, demonstrations, roadblocks, and marches are weekly occurrences and can be prompted by ANYTHING. Last year, Cochabamba was thrown into a headache of blockades and demonstrations after one of the major TV stations transferred the 6-10 PM time slot from Los Simpsones to a Bolivian reality show called Calle 7. Yes, that’s right. Bolivians took to the streets with megaphones in defense of the Simpsons.

More major conflicts in the past have resulted in roadblocks on 98% of highways in the country, effectively paralyzing the economy. The recent miner strikes in Western Bolivia have similarly put a highway under siege. Rarely do such demonstrations turn violent, and never in the last few decades has a government minister been murdered. The lecturer for my Bolivian history class last week was actually the predecessor to the government minister. According to him, the conflict between the state mining corporation and independent mining cooperatives is isolated, so I won’t be getting evacuated from Bolivia anytime soon.

Despite that downer, classes have begun and I’m loving my host family! While the tension in La Paz hasn’t affected us, the drought here has. You know it’s bad when the Catholic Church starts handing out prayer cards for rain. Last week, my family ran out of water for a whole day. Residents of other parts of the city have been compelled to purchase contaminated water from the government since it’s the only option left. Then again, even the regular tap water is supposedly so contaminated that I’m not supposed to brush my teeth with it. The truth: I don’t follow that rule and have been healthy as a horse.

First day of school
First day of school for first Hawkeye to study abroad in Bolivia!

My family as a whole in Cocha is awesome, with five kids/young adults in the house and something always going on. I don’t know what I’d do without them. I 10/10 recommend getting a host family when you go abroad—there’s no better way to learn the language. They also are great experts of the at times horrifying maze that is the Cochabamba transit system. After five days of being guided by my mom, I can finally make it to my university and back home on my own. Not only that, but they’re great guides in general. Some of the best places they’ve taken me have included:

  • La Cancha, a MASSIVE open air market where you can buy everything from Papayas (11 cents) and pirated K-Pop CDs (5 for $1.30) to indigenous religion and witchcraft supplies.
  • The Museum of Natural History, where I learned that tarantulas do indeed live in Cochabamba
  • A college visit with my sister to a law school where I stumbled (and more generally, face-planted) my way through a Bolivian mock trial competition

Mock trial judges
The "judges" of the surprise mock trial competition I competed in. My host sister is at the bottom left.

All in all, it’s been a great week. I’ll fill in some more of the details of my class schedule and how I’m liking all my classes next week.

Word of the Week (WoW)

Estafa: (noun):

1. Scam, fraud, swindle, or rip-off

Why It’s Important

Scam artists in Bolivia are good at their work. SO very good. Aside from the fact that I’ve never seen a DVD in this country that wasn’t pirated, or that there’s a local restaurant called “TGI Tuesdays: Coffe [sic] and Restaurant” and a Chipotle that most definitely is NOT a Chipotle, the most iconic estafa story came from my study abroad program director during orientation.

A number of years back, a girl on this very program fell deeply in love with a Chilean living in Bolivia. So deep was her love that she contacted the program director to report that she couldn’t finish her independent research project (sighs, NEXT).

Anyways, the Chilean “boyfriend” kept getting “robbed.” First it was his car with all of his clothes inside. His girlfriend readily agreed to buy him new clothes, which are fairly inexpensive in Bolivia. Then it was his computer, which is NOT cheap in Bolivia. Nevertheless, she bought him a new one.

When the program finally ended, he asked her to join him for a trip to Chile so she could meet his parents. But there was a catch: he was in a bit of an economic slump and asked if she could cover the cost of the plane ticket until he earned enough to pay her back. You already know what she did. A couple hours later, they landed in Santiago and he excused himself to the bathroom. And never came back. Honestly, truly. As in, he left her waiting in an airport terminal for hours wondering where he’d gone until the truth hit.

I can only hope this all happened before the days of Facebook and that he was at least very attractive. In that case, I can’t blame her too much. But still…

Chau-chau for now!! In the meantime, enjoy this video I took shortly after my taxi broke down and stranded me in rural Bolivia for a couple hours (more details to come in my next post).


My study abroad program did a “drop” in rural Cochabamba Department, but my taxi broke down in a dry river bed and I had to make some new friends.

 

*Alex Bare is studying International Relations and minoring in Spanish at the University of Iowa. The Walcott, Iowa, native is spending his semester in Bolivia, with a focus on Multiculturalism, Globalization and Social Change.

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

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