The Parent Imperfect’s recent absence has been due to a trip to Bolivia, from which he returned last night. These trips have become a fixture of imperfect parenthood. He tries to keep the longer international voyages to a minimum, but his work occasionally requires them. He continues to talk of taking some or all of the family on one of these trips, but he’s now done 47 trips of 5 days or more since Connie was born, and no member of the family has yet been on a single one of them.
This trip gave the PI a fascinating opportunity to eavesdrop on current events in Bolivia at a very exciting time of change. He had a particular interest in the rights of indigenous groups to the country’s lowland forests, part of the Amazon Basin. The film, “The Mission,” captured something about the early history of contact between indigenous people and outsiders in this region.
As usual, the PI spent much of his time moving from office-to-office, trying to interview people who know about the lowland forests. He hoped to arrange a trip to indigenous communities just a few hours from the city of Santa Cruz, but he ended up staying in the country’s two largest cities, Santa Cruz de la Sierra and La Paz.
Always anxious to avoid hotels, the PI spent the La Paz part of the trip in the home of old friends. He an Liz met M & S when they were all in El Salvador in the early 1990s, but he hadn’t seen either of them in many years. M & S both work with nongovernmental organizations in Bolivia, and they live a lifestyle that is probably similar to what Liz and the PI would live if they were still living in Latin America. They rent a beautiful, comfortable and shockingly uncluttered home in the southern part of La Paz, with two precocious teenage daughters. The daughters attend a bilingual religious high school located less than 100 yards from their home.
Each weekday (and on some weekend days) L, a middle-aged indigenous woman, makes the 90-minute trip on three buses from the nearby community of El Alto to come help the family out with all things domestic. Given the busy schedules of both parents, the entire family lifestyle rests on the cooking, cleaning, laundry and general stability provided by L. Everyone in the household seems to treat L. with a lot of respect, and she appears very happy to have the employment. The fact that she has a regular job that probably pays comparatively well distinguishes L. from a large number of indigenous women in her community. All that said, the PI never became comfortable with the employment of domestic help in El Salvador, If he and Liz moved to La Paz tomorrow, they would most likely try to find someone like L. to help them out. Perhaps the front porch would then smell slightly less like cat spray.
The first day that he was in La Paz, the PI rested a bit in the AM after an overnight flight and then made several calls to confirm afternoon appointments. As he ran around trying to get ready for the taxi that was about to arrive, L. seemed genuinely concerned that he was not planning to eat any of the baked chicken and salad that she had prepared for the family. Remembering what a cultural faux pas (he had already made several in just a few hours) it would be to run out without eating, the PI sat down and did himself a great favor by devouring a delicious lunch much too quickly. He never did ask what spices L. had used on the chicken. In the Andes, (La Paz is at over 13,000 feet) many people eat their more substantial meal at lunch. The altitude slows digestion to the point that eating heavy food in the evening condemns one to insomnia.
As the PI gobbled down his lunch, L. posted herself near the front door to intercept the taxi driver before his touch of the doorbell would roust the PI from his lunch. After ten minutes or so, the PI called to L., ?No ha venido todavía el taxista?
Si…el está aquí, esperando. No hay prisa,” came the response from near the front door.
The PI pulled away from the table, picked up his bag and staggered toward the door (one staggers for the first day at that altitude). L. was at the door to wish him a good afternoon. As timing would have it, that would be the last time he saw L., but he thought of her regularly as he kept noticing the organization and comfort of a household occupied by four people that are probably even busier than the PI and his tribe.
In Santa Cruz, the PI was back where he belonged, under the fluorescent lights and alongside the insects of the standard NGO hotel. Each interview helped him piece together a perspective on one organization’s work on issues of rights to the lowland forests. Santa Cruz, a hotbed of opposition to the government, was alive with street demonstrations against an anti-racism bill passed by Congress. He was to have spent the entire weekend in Santa Cruz, perhaps arranging the trip to San Javier or Concepción that probably he would never again have the chance to make. Ten years ago, he would have risked all to make that trip, but this time he wasn’t ready to spend two more days alone, doing one of two more interviews in an extremely hot and somewhat dangerous city. He paid the airline to move his departure ahead two days and came back yesterday through the mess that is Miami International Airport. LIke so many things, La Chiquitania will have to wait for another day.