Yesterday there were nation-wide strikes in Bolivia. The people took to the streets to protest the president¬¥s plan to remove the current supreme court and replace the justices with those he finds more agreeable.
In six major cities across Bolivia, including Cochabamba where I am staying, no cars were allowed on the street. Businesses closed up tight and people filled the small plazas with their placards and voices. For the most part, it was a peaceful day. My coworkers and I didn¬¥t know what to do with ourselves for the day. We could¬¥t work comfortably, nor did we want to join the march. (We are decidedly politically neutral until we set foot in Miami tomorrow morning. They we can chat about our opinions all we want; in the meantime, it makes sense to keep our mouths shut.)
Seeing a giant Jesus statue on a hill in the distance, I asked our Bolivian counterpart if perhaps we could go for a hike during this nonsense. She thought it was a great idea. Two hours later, I was pouring sweat, looking at my chest thinking I may actually see my heart jumping, and praying to reach the top. We climbed to 10,000 feet, more than 1,000 of it this ¬¥¬¥hill¬¥¬¥ with stairs perilously winding up one face. It felt incredible to reach the top and feel my heart calm. The view was eerie. The city below appeared vacant; many Bolivians decided to stay inside and let youth run the protests. It wasn¬¥t until the dynamite started going off in one part of the city that we decided we¬¥d better high tail it back to the hotel.
(A funny side note: when I asked if the pounding noise was gun shots, my Bolivian friend looked at me and laughed. ¬¥¬¥Of course not! It is only dynamite. We have lots of dynamite in Bolivia.¬¥¬¥ Much better than gun shots silly American, her laughter said. What do you think we are?)
We¬¥d made it almost back to the hotel when the anti-protest marchers walked past us. I will never forget the line of indigenous women, with flowing pleated skirts, swollen, worn feet stuffed in leather sandals, felt bolero hats perched just so on their heads, long black braids winding down their backs and babies tied in brightly woven aguayos resting mid-spine. The walked to show their discontent at not being able to work for the day. They are the nation¬¥s poorest population and a day without pay means hunger. These Andeans are pro-Evo. He is a ¬¥¬¥native¬¥¬¥ after all.
When I got back to the hotel, I opened my window to listen to the commotion in the square below. The indigenous people played flutes. The police wailed their sirens. The pro-democracy folk screamed into bull horns.
Flute vs. dynamite. I looked up at the Jesus statue on the hill in the distance, who perched from this position could see this craziness better than anyone and whispered to myself, ¬¥¬¥Peace, please.¬¥¬¥