Day 3. 13th Jan 2015
This morning, I went to the Teleferico with Myles and Joe. We were flowed by some friendly street dogs. Myles said that they look like "proper dogs"....they´re such mongrels that they are the most efficient and sensibly shaped dogs you can get. I agree, all dogs should be mongrels, all that breeding nonsense is inhumane. Yeah, they look cool and have useful skills, but they also get all sorts of genetic diseases because they are products of a small gene pool!
Street wise dogs! They know how to cross the road.
On the green line of "Mi Teleferico". I love it. It connects the generally poorer El Alto with the wealthier Zona Sur. The majority of El Alto´s population are the indeginous Aymara people - "indios" - who previously tended to be poorer, and in Zona Sur there are more people classed as "blancos" or "mixtos" who are generally more wealthy. It would have previously taken hours to travel from El Alto to Zona Sur (across La Paz) but on the cable car it is about 45 mins (I think, I haven´t yet travelled the full length of it).
Its a shame, but not unsurprising, to learn that there has historically been a divide between majority indeginous peoples and the mixed and white population in Bolivia. Of course it was the Spanish collonisers and their decendents who had the most wealth, and the Aymara, Quechua and other indeginous people who suffered racial discrimination (like in North America, Australia & NZ, Israel, the Western Chinese provinces, and plenty of other places).
President Evo Morales, the first American president of indeginous decent, has made it illegal to discriminate against the indeginous people, and now there is a growing class of more well off and empowered indegionus people. The teleferico has allowed the poorer people of El Alto access to the fancy middle class mall in the south (obviously I think the Mall is horrible....but I guess if I was Bolivian I´d see it as a modern, interesting, international, sophisticated, North American style place; and it provides jobs too). This has caused some people (probably an angry minority) to get annoyed that their fancy, middle-class bit of sophistication is now being invaded by dirty, unsophisticated, uneducated poor people. But the prejudice isn´t one sided. I´m told that the indegionus people are racist against the people of white and mixed discent, and some of them now have the power to act on their racism and negatively discriminate! In conclusion, all racisim is totally frustrating and unwelcome in the world, and even putting people into racial groups and social classes (which even I do) is a lot of unhelpful, arbitrary nonsense.
To me, the teleferico is a great idea, because it´s a sustainable and energy-efficient way to get around the city (although I haven´t looked at the maths), and because it allows the ´poor´ and ´rich´areas to mix. But the criticisms are thus:
1. Pres. Morales spend all that money on this shiny, andvery visible, infrastructure project that will win a lot of votes, but the average Bolivian still doesn´t have access to decent state health care (apparently, you have to go private if you want to live, and that´s very expensive). Similar with the schools, so I´m told.
2. You can see into people´s yards and houses. Especially in the rich district. There is a modernist glass and concrete mansion whose occupants had to put curtains on all of their enormous floor to roof windows, because you could see through the whole house from the teleferico. I know it must have been awful for that family, but on the whole, I´m with benefiting the majority at the exense of a few wealthy people´s abundance of natural light, view and privacy. Because they have that house I assume that they must generally be lucky in life and live comfortably, so a bit of bad luck which meant they had to always have the curtains down in their house isn´t going to do them too much harm.
Hey, what do I know? I am speculating based on only snippets of information! Make your own minds up.
This day we went on a city tour with the Bolivian volunteers in our group. It was good fun. They thought it would be funny to see us feed the pigeons. It was.
Cultural day & ´treasure hunt´ in the city! It was a race to arrive at different places, do challenges and get back to the office. My team came last actually, haha! This was a super fun day.
Had a kind of a date (but not quite, just kind of a few mates at a viewpoint really) with a beautiful young woman UK volunteer! I felt a bit like, "oh what should I say, I need to get her to talk" which is the sort of thing I might think on a date, so that´s why I say it was kind of a date. But she might disagree, who knows! And there were actually 4 of us. OK, I am using wishful thinking to stretch the definition of date. Hmmm I don´t think I should include this bit in the blog, what if she reads it!!! Or any other women for that matter. But all you lads out there will find it funny I hope.
The Romantic Viewpoint
Outside the office in the late morning
Lots of the volunteers started going to the clinic with altitude sickness of other things! This is when we started dropping like flies. One lovely fella from South Wales had a mysterious leg infection, and his roommate (who I´ve already mentioned) had appendixitis! They live in my district, Bolognia. Eveyone in our district has been ill and in the clinic except my roomate, Joe.
Today I ate Salteneas (pasties) for lunch with my team. My host family told me on Friday when I was ill "oh, salteneas, oh no!!" cos apparently they can make you ill (if eaten after midday).
The team and I went to meet the Childfund Bolivia coordinator. On the way back my teammate Kendall and I bumped into my host mum and two of my host brothers, so we got a lift home with them.
Day 6, Friday 16th Jan 2015
Had a very inspiring and interesting talk from an Oxford educated Bolivian Jounralist who spoke English with a perfect English accent. He taught us about hunting for a good story, and using that for your blog, and using yourself as one of the characters. I am certainly one of the characters in my blog, but he did say that simply writting a daily journal of what you´ve done isn´t going to get you noticed. So, I need a story! He said that you could get interviews with seemly hard to get people if you are confident and ask in a certain way. Today I decided I would interview Evo Morales.
At lunch time I met some local people in the Plaza Espana. The first was the shoe shiner who came up and started doing my shoes, although I didn´t ask him too. He asked for "diez dollares" which was nonsense. I gave him 10Bs. Then the street-seller lady on her break said "solo es 1 Boliviano" and she said he was a bad man, and God would judge him. She told me to take care. She said it was the Puruvians who were the badly behaved ones that rob you (hahaha, people, eh!). And we conversed in Spanish, and I got the gist of it more or less!! My Spanish is coming on well.
On the telifrico, got sick into a bag. After arriving home, went to the clinic. Had a painful injection into my backside. We get very good treatment with out Health Insurance paid for by the UK government. Thanks everyone.
Day 7, Saturday
Dance practice with my Bolivian family and the volunteers who live nearby with my host father´s mother and sister. Everyone is out of hospital!
I felt better, so I went with the others to the city centre and we walked through a super cool veg market!!
We met some of the other volunteers by Iglise San Fransisco. We were brousing touristy shops and I ended up buying a nice alpaca hoodie for 100BS (ten quid...probably should have bargained that one down a bit). Had a spot of lunch. Only rice for me, sadly, to help my recovering stomach.
After lunch I got out my guitar, of course, and played "VOLARE, OH OH" (the Gypsy Kings version).
Dead stuffed llama
We met a friendly world-trotting Hungarian and played music with him, loudly, with the help of Myles on drums and Ellie on maracas, and everyone else on backing vocals (but I think it was mainly me singing, in Spanish and Welsh). He sells bracelettes, charms and things like that on the street. And he had just started learning to play the charango. I will get one of them for sure.
In the evening, myslef and the Bolognia crew met our host families and went shopping for costume´s to hire for our performance the following day.
It took ages but we had a good laugh. I ended up playing my guitar on the street again and we all sang "Valerie" by the Zuttons. We went for dinner in the megacentre, and my poor host family had to cope with me winging about it (not badly winging, but I did mention a few times that I´m not keen on eating junk food in overpriced mall-type places). Hey, the food was fine, and we had a lot of fun!
Day 8, Sunday, the family induction day
A really fun day where we met all the other host families, ate nice food, chatted, filled in a few forms, heard some important lectures and saw performances from each family. The best bit for me, of course, was when we did our dance! After we´d repeated the only two steps we´s learnt for about half the song, I decided we should branch out and improvise a bit, so we got into a circle, and I signalled to Myles to throw his hat in the air. He thought I meant "dance in the middle" so he did a bit of freestyle in the centre of the circle. Then I threw my hat to him and we all started throwing hats. I guess some people thought it was all planned. Man, that was a tiring dance at such high altitude!!
I stayed well within my character and got out my guitar after lunch (I got it out after the midmorning snack too). I pretended to be a local musician called Pedri and played a Puruvian and a Bolivian song. Then we went outside and did spanish Kareoke with a whole host of polular latin billboard hits from yesteryear!
Now finally we start the work that I was sent here to do! Induction and settling in was important and fun, but we´re actually here to help International Service carry out its mission of building a better world by "capacity building" i.e. empowering people with various social projects. Sustainable development.
Of course before we could really get into it there were some flippin´ risk assessments to fill in, and a fun icebreaker where we all got to tell a brief version of our life story. And we met out new Bolivian team member!
There was a public holiday coming up on Thursday, and we had Friday off because of the family induction day on Sunday, so we all arranged to go to the salt flats. That meant two days of work, Tuesday and Wednesday, then off for a three day tour of Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding deserts, mountains, lagoons and flamingos. I will do a post about this at some point. But I assure you that now we are in week 3 and the projects are taking shape.
My group (3 of us from the Childhood and Youth Empowerment project) will have part one of our musical puppet show about nutrition and sport for 4-6 yr olds ready in time to perfrom it this coming Monday in our centre, Las Lomas. And we have all 5 lessons planned out for the 4-6, 8-12 and 15-18 yr olds. We aim to work towards a sports day and teach them about nutrition and healthy living along the way, with a lot of songs and games.
As well as designing and delivering these classes (the others are doing the same for two more centres), we must try to package our lessons and previous lessons into easily repeatable material that can be delivered yearly by the permenant staff.
So lots to be getting on with! My next blog entry will be for the official Int.Service page, and it will be about a topic rather than just "what I did". Maybe I'll interview Evo (not realistic) or go to La Paz's mosque and find out about the small Muslim community here (could be done). Or maybe I'll just write about our puppet show. Good night from La Paz!
Thanks for reading,
Liam 29/01/2015, 12.23a.m
All views are the views of the author, not of ICS or International Service. This is a personal blog and has not been accredited or supported by ICS or International Service. All photos are by Liam Rickard except the photos of him, which were taken from facebook.
The 11th cohort of International Citizen Service volunteers arrives in El Alto, a city which is connected to the capitol of Bolivia, La Paz. We had arrived in Santa Cruz after a long-haul overnight flight from Madrid.
El Alto looks completely different to La Paz. It is completely flat. There are many shaby and unfinished buildings, and it seemed quiet (it was a Sunday morning). We were met at the airport by the head of the ICS programme at Servicio International Britanico and one of the Bolivian volunteers.
We stopped to look at the view and I picked up a 20 Boliviano note from the floor! (about 2quid)
We arrived at the office, met everyone, had coca tea, then were met by our host families. Joe and I went by car with our host mother to her home in Bolognia. There we met the rest of the family; her husband, their three sons, 17, 12 and 5, and their 2 dogs and 2 cats. We all went round the corner for dinner in our host father´s mother´s house where our fellow volunteers, Lloyd, Myles, Jules and Taylor live. We met cousins, aunties and uncles. The food was good too. Pasta, rice, potatos, some new root veg, plantain, chicken and a small amount of veg. The qunatity of veg in meals has since gone up. It was low at the start because the host families had been told we should avoid fruit and veg for the first 2 weeks. Despite following all the advice, I still got ill in the first week and was in the clinic on Friday! Most of the other volunteers got ill too. My roommate Joe is the only volunteer in Bolognia, our little area, not to get ill! Our mate Myles got appendixitis of all things and was in the clinic for 3 days!!!
But I´m jumping ahead...
Day 2, Monday
We were accompanied to the office by two local volunteers, Adri and Alijandro who live in our district. Minibus to the Amarillo Teleferico on Obrajes 1 (MI TELEFERICO is the name of La Paz´s BRAND NEW CABLE CAR!!). Then a 5 min hop up the hill, skipping lots of winding roads, over buildings, past an army barracks all the way to the office, which is literaly across the road from the teleferico stop. The young women who work on the teleferico are gorgeous! And everyone is so friendly (sorry for commenting on women´s looks, I guess that could be taken as derogatory, but I don´t mean to be).
We had an intense day. Some rather heavy intro stuff about why we´re here and what there is to do. To me Bolivia looked pretty sorted on paper, but there are infact a lot of problems (unsuprisingly, why else would we be here?) I realised that the problems here and elsewhere in the world were mainly the result of human ineptitude. This is not a fact, it´s just how it seems to me. And it´s quite annoying to me to think that if only people were thoughtful and considerate, then the world would be a much better place. We had a cracking lunch of chicken, rice, potato and plantain, then more important training and induction stuff. After leaving the office we went to the Blueberries cafe. I sat outside and sketched with Myles and a beggar came and asked us for money. I said I´d give him money if he´d let me sketch him. He kept trying to look at the sketch, which made it hard. So I asked to photograph him. But as soon as I gave him the money he ran off. Cheeky bugger. I gave him a wopping great 20Bs. (I was still thinging in British money, and I had picked up 20 the other day, so what goes around comes around. He needed it more than me.)
Bolivian smoking outside Blueberries Café
It had gotten late, and the rain caused the teleferico to stop. So we had to find another way home. Raquel and Eric from the office helped us to get the right bus. After waiting for a while for a Bolognia bus I remembered Adri´s instructions that actually a direct bus was rare and we had to change. After I remembered that I managed to lead out group home.
I had five leaving do´s:
1. Sunday 4th at the Blue Bell open mic in Conwy. Absolutely cracking as ever, and many of my North Wales friends came. My guitar was out of tune and the electrics were faulty, but nevertheless, the house band and I gave the audience a little bit of a latin-flavoured pop-rock dance party (Manu Chao, La Bamba, Livin´ La Vida Loca etc).
2. Wednesday, Sessiwn Fach at the Ealges, Penmachno. Great fun as ever, with great people.
The good people behind the Blue Bell, Eagles and Cross Keys open mics all helped me with my fundraising, thank you to all of you, organisers and punters!
3. I set off early on Thursday morning with a big suitcase, medium backpack and guitar, to catch the train to Birmingham (I cheated slightly and got a lift to Junction with my Dad). There, I saw more wonderful friends and we had lunch in a social enterprise vegetarian cafe, the Warehouse Cafe. My brther-from-another-mother Mr G came down from Sheffield too. After lunch, went into a cathedral and then to explore the amazing new library, designed by the Dutch architect Francine Houben (and an excellent team of course). It was really wonderful. My friends and I had loads of exciting ideas about starting social enterprises, hippie/artist world changing commune/organisations/bands....its all a bit messy and unclear in my head to be honest, but I´m going to do it somehow! Birmingham is well and truly on the list of possible places to live after coming back from Bolivia.
4. In the evening I went to see my brother and relatives in Hemel Hempstead. On Friday, my brother and I went to London and met Paul and his sister in Elephant & Castle (you know him, he co-writes and co-fronts the band Timestealers with me). We played music and entertained some people who were having a party in one of the bars in Artworks UK (a kind of artsy retail place for independant businesses made out of shipping containers, its our new London hang-out).
There are a lot of neat conicidences in my life (I guess there are in everyone´s). Thas night, I added one to my theoretical book of coincicences:
The party-goers were mostly doing the "National Citizen Service" which is related to the scheme I´m doing. One of their team leaders had previously been a team leader for International Citizen Service in Bolivia, working with exactly the same charity as me!
5. Rather last minute, I had arranged to meet up with my friends in Madrid. I met them in terminal 1 and we played guitar, sang, danced and chatted. It was a lovely end to a great week. Madrid went on my list of places to go after Bolivia.
Liam Rickard is a musician & illustrator from North Wales, performing multilingual, global-alt-pop, party music and comedy under the name Worldwide Welshman.