Luis Moncayo (Latin American Studies) worked with the Centro de Estudios Bolivianos Multidisciplinarios (CEBEM) in La Paz, researching the obstacles and opportunities for re-introducing native grains into the food consumption of Aymara children in the city of El Alto.
This is a letter he wrote home about living in La Paz:
July 16, 2009
Hello guyz and girlz!
I hope life is great. Writing to you guyz has been on my to do list for so long, not that I think you are a chore, but I´ve been a bit disconnected from everything, work here has kept me outside most of the aspects of my regular life. So here is an update from my side of the world.
First I tell you that these couple of months have truly changed my life. Living in the middle of this inconceivable geography at an altitude of almost 4000m, everything has been really intense in the most beautiful way. Imagine, extremely high mountains and in the center there are thousands of buildings that extend all the way to the top, it´s the most fascinating view of a city that I have ever seen. It´s been only a few months here but I feel so blessed, there is a sense of mysticism that impregnates everything in the city.
Being here has made me realize that moments of big political change bring joy but also big disappointment, although there is change to an anti-neoliberal rhetoric, it´s another thing to make the rhetoric a reality in the ground, so tensions and polarization in society seem to be increasing. Here there is direct challenge to the status quo that has kept the majorities excluded for centuries, this challenge is made mostly politically through placing the concept of decolonization on every government initiative. However, the impact of this is unknown and there is uncertainty as to whether this form of governing is really leading us to a more integrated and a better society. People´s discontent with the lack of improvement in their living standards is evident as manifestations, blockades and protests continue to happen all the time. What is visible is the reestablishment of a sense of dignity to the people, specially to the indigenous people, who now have the self esteem to voice their demands and to ask to be part of Bolivia, but not just as labor force in the agricultural fields, in the mines or as domestic servants, but to be part of Bolivia as ministers, high executives of government companies, and as presidents.
Like in any revolution, some people will be very happy and some will not. This has brought huge divisions, an incendiary rhetoric and new forms of exclusion. People stop listening to each other and actions are not guided by a genuine desire of improvement, but by clientilism, corruption and ideological affiliations aligned with a reality that does not belong to this world but to the stratosphere. There is a historical opportunity to change this place and the structures that reproduce poverty and the deep inequalities, but it seems that the greed for power and decisions that are solely guided by ideology are blinding those who can really make the change happen.
Being here has been an incredible learning experience. There are always protests and manifestations, streets full of political graffiti, free educational workshops being run for free at all times on themes such as decolonization, racism, revitalization of the Aymara and Quechua language and culture, the construction of a culture of peace, women, gay and environmental issues. The discussion about all these issues and so much more, for example, the need to integrate education on emotional intelligence at all levels of government and society, is so vibrant in all public and private spaces like street signs, in the posters, with the taxi drivers, in public workshops and on the dinner table. I can´t tell you how much I had missed this vibrant life.
I have meet some incredible people, many Bolivian ex uwc students working on human rights and their friends. I live in an apartment with one of them at a great location in La Paz. Conversations have been so enriching and so far have given me so much perspective about the country at this historical times. Something that is so exciting for me about La Paz is the music scene, there are Andean dances and life music happening every night at the hundreds of little bars. I´ve been doing standup comedy at a place that gathers storytellers (cuenta cuentos) and of course partying on the weekends.
Work is extremely exciting! I am working in El Alto, which is a huge city attached to La Paz on the top of the mountain. I´m working with and NGO on a project that promotes health and nutritional security in the 10 biggest elementary and post secondary schools in El Alto. Every minute working there has been about learning and being part of an effort with a clear impact in changing a hard reality where 39% of the students in these schools suffer from chronic malnutrition. I work with a team of social workers, nutritionists, dentists, educators and psychologists. When I get home after work, I dedicate time to advance on my thesis research, which I hope will lead to some interesting results.
I can´t tell you in words how much in love I’ve felt for this place, my co-workers and the kids in the schools.
O my god, I wrote too much. I´m working here until the end of August, I will go to visit my family in Colombia for a few days and then I will be back to Vancouver. I will be extremely happy to see you all when I get back. I hope you are having fun and I wish you all the best.
ps: I wanted to send some pictures but someone stole my camara with all the pics inside during the celebrations of the Aymaran new year a couple of weeks ago 😦