Sunday, August 08, 2010

My pet names in Quechua

Here are the list of petnames my host family calls me in the house:

Wawachay -My little baby- This is especially used when I'm hungry.

Juk'ucha-Rat. This is used when I don't finish my food.

Munay Sipas--Pretty young girl. This is used when I finish my food.

Yunk'u--Kiss ass or suck up. This is used when I am trying to convince Doña Petra to give me something I want.

Umasapa--Big head. This is used when I'm rude. So I hear this one very often.

Huch'uy sikiyoq kanki--You have a small ass. This is said arbitrarily to me at any hour of day. I still don't know why.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Collection of my favourite quotes

1. When my mother landed in Bolivia I took her straight home. Doña Petra was thrilled to meet her. She asked me jokingly in Quechua if now that my mother was here I was going to drink breast milk instead of eating her cooking. The word for "teta" (breast) in Quechua is chuchhuy.
My mother said out loud [in English], "oh wow that word sounds like "chupi-chupi."
Everyone in the room gasped.
I replied, "No Mommy. That's big vagina."
My mother's first words in Quechua were "chupi-chupi-- big vagina". Well done Mommy! You might want to keep that to yourself though next time.
Doña Petra interjected "Y bien lo ha dicho también." [And she said it so well too].

2. My mother starts removing items of clothing at the dinner table. Doña Petra asks, "¿Tienes calor? Como vienes de Jamaica, pensaba que ibas a tener mucho frío acá en Cochabamba. [Are you hot? Since you're coming from Jamaica I thought you would be very cold here in Cochabamba]
My mother replies, "No, no. Solo es la menopausia" [No, no. That's just menopause].

3. One of the students that lived with my host family five years ago came to the house with his Peruvian girlfriend to visit. They hadn't seen him in forever. His girlfriend was not as easy on the eyes as he was and her personality was not as memorable as his is. (I know: euphemism to the rescue). My host mother Doña Petra said that she waited for him to come at 5am and then: " Pero cuando salió con la chica [but when he came out of the car with his girlfriend] (insert LOUD GASP here)....AYYYYYYY [Shaking her head] Quieta me he quedado. [I was speechless]"
You don't know how hard it is for my host mother to be speechless.
When my mother saw her she said, "Danielle, I wonder if she obeah him?" [I wonder if she has used witchcraft to get him.]

Later on when they had the goodbye party for him. My host mother was completely drunk and she said to him sadly, "Te quiero. Pero ayyyy! (Shaking her head) La mejor ha comido la perra". [I love you. But AYYYY! (Shaking her head) The best meat has been eaten by the female dog.]
In case you miss the reference here, the best meat is him and the female dog is the girlfriend.
Say it with me:WOW!
Hmm Do you think she was a hit with the family?

Favourite quote: La mejor carne...(Shaking head) la ha comido la perra. (The best meat has been eaten by the female dog).

Evo and the Water Wars in Cochabamba

As my time in Bolivia comes to a close, I wish to chronicle some of the criticisms of the Evo Morales MAS government I have heard in my conversations with Bolivians and to also outline some of the problems surrounding the social movements in Cochabamba particularly as it relates to the water wars. My arguments below are in no way based on extensive research; they are simply detailing my own observations and the critiques of the Bolivians I live and study with, Ph.D students from abroad studying politics and the water wars in Bolivia, former revolutionaries who have been tortured in the 70s and 80s as well as Bolivian feminists and Marxists. All of these people politically identify on the left.

Outside Bolivia, Evo Morales is idealised by those on the left for his socialist, anti-imperialist rhetoric and his celebration of Andean culture and way of life. However, many of the Quechua people living in the Barrio have criticised him for his co-optation of Andean discourse and values as a political strategy. According to them, he blends much of Quechua and Aymara philosophy in ways that dangerously conflate contrasting and complex principles of Andean culture. Suddenly diverse indigenous practices and philosophies have been collapsed as one Andean culture/way of life in the public political discourse. Moreover, while he adopts Andean philosophy --particularly PachaMamaism/Love of Mother Earth-- in his political platform, he simultaneously panders to the business groups seeking to extract and exploit the natural resources and labour of indigenous communities. The exploitation of Bolivia's natural resources to capitalist ends are completely incompatible with the principles of Pacha Mamaism. In fact, the very indigenous people who voted for Evo have come out in numbers across the Andes against his attempts to extract the country's natural resources and displace thousands of indigenous people in the last few months.

Secondly, while Evo enjoys overwhelming support of much of the indigenous working class, many middle class Quechuas like my host family feel alienated by him and feel that he only represents and governs for indigenous people of a certain class. The difficulty however, I have had with their argument is that it is often filled with clear classist underpinnings. They support another indigenous candidate Felix Patzi who is middle-class, fully educated, published and and juxtapose him with Evo who they feel is a "poor, ignorant campesino". I am suspicious of their claims that Evo is just "not educated enough" nor does he speak Spanish "well enough" to be president. These arguments emerge out of a colonialist paradigm and linguistic hegemony that declare Spanish as the language of the "civilised" and the "superior". Needless to say I am somewhat skeptical about the intention of the argument itself. However, I will concede that Evo is forced to carry a burden of representation that fixes indigenous people as belonging to a certain class--the campesino class-- and erases the fact that there are indeed middle-class, educated, indigenous people.

Another point of interest is the water wars and the state of social movements in Bolivia under Evo's ruling party. In the international scene the water wars in Cochabamba have been praised as a moment of triumph for the will of the people. However, from what I am seeing on the ground and through my conversation with Anna a ph.d student from Whales studying the water wars in Cochabamba, I have come to see a completely different picture. First of all, people in Zona Norte have full and complete access to running, clean water. People in the Zona Sur do not. The MAS government has sanctioned the social movement fighting for water wars but members of that movement are forced to go to at least three meetings a week. Failure to attend these meeting will result in a fine of 10 bolivianos. This fine is also extended to those who fail to attend the rallies and protest whose images we see proudly being displayed in the local and international media. I am not kidding. To what extent are these people voluntarily protesting if they will be fined for not showing up? If this is not a clear example of co-optation of social movements by Evo's government, I don't know what is.Instead of licensing the movement itself, forcing people to fight for the right to access to running water and fining them if they do not show up, why doesn't MAS just give the people from Zona Sur the access to running water that has already been granted to the people living in Zona Norte? Why not just set up the same/similar mechanisms that are in place in Zona Norte in the Zona Sur? Anna has explained that the difficulty is building the infrastructure to reach the Zona Sur as its geographical layout is very different from the Zona Norte. While the umbrella group has done a good job of getting funding from Europe and has provided access to some parts of the Zona Sur, there is still a lot more work to be done. Moreover, the most marginalised groups of people still do not have access to running water.

Also while the water wars stopped those in power from making the changes they wanted to make, none of the people in authority at SEMAPA controlling water distribution for Cochabamba was fired or replaced. With the same authorities in power and no new policy put in place, no real structural change has actually taken place concerning the water problem in Cochabamba. It is the communities who have been forced to unite and to figure out how to get access to running water in their barrios on their own. I don't know what has come out of these alternatives but I have often seen people in Plaza Colón stealing water from the fountains with buckets when the police aren't looking. Needless to say, the problem is far from solved and the war definitely has not been won. Something more needs to be done on the structural level.

These are just critiques from my small observations and anecdotal evidence from the people I have spent much of my time with Bolivia. I do not know how much of what they say is true. However I will say that there needs to be a more critical approach to Evo Morales and the MAS government from those of us on the left outside of Bolivia. There is certainly a lack of real critical engagement on our part and a romanticisation of Latin America's first indigenous president. Such romanticisation prevents us from critically engaging in/with the struggle for equality in Bolivia and ultimately from working in solidarity with those on the front lines.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I needed an extension of my visa to stay in Bolivia so I went to immigration. A guy from Holland was standing in front of me in the line. The immigration officer asked him, "¿Cuántos años tienes? [How old are you?]

The Dutchman replied, "Tengo 27 anos." 'Años' in Spanish is years but 'ano' is anus. He had said, "I have 27 anuses."

The immigration officer smiled and replied dryly, "Ah ¿sí? ¿Tantos tienes!? ¿Y en dónde los guardas? Sabes qué, no se lo voy a contar a nadie. No te preocupes." [Really? so many! And where do you keep them? You know what, I am not going to tell anyone. Don't worry!]

The Dutchman looked on in confusion.

Oh the beauty of learning a language!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Uyuni: No baby llamas

I spent the last four days in Uyuni. It is impossible to visit Bolivia without seeing its most famous attraction: El Salar de Uyuni--one of the 25 wonders of the world. Since the trip is only done in groups of six over a span of three to four days, I decided to gather a bunch of my school-mates to go. Before leaving Cochabamba, I received ample warning from the my Bolivian friends, teachers, administrators and my host family that Uyuni is deathly cold, that we were going there in the dead of winter and in the midst of a rare cold-front in South America.
I therefore took precautions and packed my heaviest winter clothes. Rebecca, Kenedy, Alexandra and I took the bus to Oruro. In Oruro we were able to snatch the last four available seats on the train to Uyuni. It took us a day to get there. We had to meet Manuel and Patrizia there so we were staying an extra night in the town of Uyuni.

When we arrived there, I was wearing a spaghetti-strap top, two long-sleeve undershirts, a turtle-neck sweater, my jacket, scarf, gloves, my hat, long-johns, fleece socks and sneakers. Our travel agent David was waiting for us at the train station. He asked how I was feeling, whether it was too cold or not and explained that he had booked a hotel with internal heat (a luxury in Uyuni) for our first night. He spoke Quechua so I was able to practice with him. I told him that I was fine because although I was from the Caribbean, I had gone to college in upstate New York and was amply prepared for the winter. But before I could even finish my sentence, I felt something inside my jacket.

Something that was penetrating my various layers of clothing and entering my lungs.

It was a gush that happened so quickly. In only about 2 seconds, it was in and out of my body.

I finally figured out that it was a strange, silent, piercing wind entering my body. And my mouth was moving but no sound was coming from my being.

Because when that wind touched me, I immediately lost something






that I am


trying desperately to claw back!!

David took one look at my face and he quickly took me to the hotel.

Our first night in the hotel was an absolute disaster because the heat just wasn't working. We slept in most of our clothes and since the hotel was still under construction and our room had just been painted, we were inhaling a strong stench of paint throughout the night. I was feeling sick to my stomach and I threw up in the morning. We decided immediately to check into another hotel. We checked into a place that provides heating by lighting up a small container of gas in your room. The problem is that this gas is unsafe because it emits carbon monoxide as it heats your room. Consequently, they only use it to warm your room for about half-an-hour at night and then take it out. Tourists who have left it on in their rooms throughout the night have been found dead in the morning so we had to be careful. I was sure to take a very long shower in steaming hot water in preparation for our trip to the Salar the next morning since I knew it would be even colder. We woke up early and left Uyuni for the salar in a land-cruiser. There were 6 of us packed in the back with the chofer-guía (chauffeur-guide) Saúl, and the cook, Zulma sitting in the front.

Day 1
We arrived at the salar through Colchani. The salar was absolutely incredible. It is just miles of endless nothing. It is you, the blue sky and miles of white salt. We went to the island Isla Incahuasi in the middle of the salt planes that is home to humongous cactus and hiked to the very top to take pictures. It was incredible even though there was a strong wind blowing. Then we visited caves, watched the sun set before heading to our little hotel in a tiny village near the salar. The rooms were built of salt. The walls were made of salt and we were walking on piles of salt on the floor. Its amenities were very basic: a bed with 4 blankets on top and a small table. There was also a communal bathroom with a shower with hot water. It was just too cold to bathe. Electricity came on for around 2 hours so we could charge our cameras but spent the rest of the night in total darkness. As the sun went down, a deathly cold started to seep in. I went to sleep in three shirts, my fleece, long-johns, fleece pants and three pairs of fleece socks. I slept inside my sleeping bag under the four blankets on the bed but my face was freezing. I placed the jeans I would wear the next day under the four blankets so it would be warm when I had to put it on in the morning. I eventually managed to stop shivering as my body warmed but I couldn't sleep. Then we all got up at 4 am to leave for the desert and the coloured lagoons.

Day 2
As we headed towards the Atacama desert, our car started shutting on and off. We had to stop in a village so that Saúl could fix it. He fixed it in about two hours. Then as we drove along towards the border of Chile and Bolivia, the wind from the desert started picking up. It got stronger and stronger and stronger. It was hard to stand outside because it was so windy. Our guide told us that we couldn't go to the Laguna Verde (The green lake) because the little rocks from the wind would hit the windshield and break it. The weather was just too bad. The further we went into the desert was the higher above ground we went. So it was windier and colder. Before we knew it we were at 4,800 mts above sea-level entering the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. By now the wind had transformed into a sandstorm. The back windows of the land-cruiser couldn't close properly and so we were doused with sand and gushes of wind as we drove along. We finally arrived at a small hostel in the middle of nowhere. The hostels' windows were not strong enough either and so the sand would enter the hostel with every gush of wind. It was difficult to breathe at times. Our guide said he doubted we would be able to go to see the Laguna Colorada but we insisted on trying since it was only fifteen minutes away. When we arrived the lake was frozen.
As I watched the icy wind hovering over the lake from inside the jeep, I turned to Rebecca, handed her my camera and said: "Leave me behind. Go forth without me!" Because it was at that moment, that I accepted my limitations as a Caribbean national.

We went back to the hostel. It was getting dark and before we knew it, it was 15 degrees centigrade below 0. I slept in every single item of clothing I had in my bag: 4 undershirts, a turtleneck sweater, gloves, my hat, my fleece, four pairs of socks, long-johns, fleece pants, a sleeping bag, four blankets. Saúl offered us hot water bags to put at our feet in our sleeping bag so our feet wouldn't freeze. I grabbed mine.

Manuel asked the guide if he by any chance had a small llama that he could also have to put inside the sleeping bag. He was dead serious. When Saúl handed him the hotwater bag, he literally was like, "Uhm...I'll have a llama with that. Yeah I'ld like to supersize my hotwater bag. A baby llama to go please?....No baby llamas?........Ok. Alexandra, do you by any chance have an application on your Iphone that produces furry baby llamas you can put in your sleeping bag? No? Ok"

Other tourists groups put their beds together so they could huddle together for the night. I almost joined them. It was so cold, I was willing to sleep with a stranger just for warmth!!

Anyway I went to bed. I was shivering.

And then the unthinkable happened.

It was around 3am. The sandstorm was at its most powerful. Gushes of sand were entering the hostel.

And I had to pee.

It was in that moment that I knew I had a life-changing decision ahead of me.

I am 25 years old but I asked myself, would it really be that bad if I wet myself at this age? What about the danger of exposing my private part under these circumstances? I mean I would be required to remove several items of clothing to pee. And with all that wind entering??? At 25 degrees centigrade below 0??? Why risk it? Was it really worth risking my most vulnerable, prized possession?

But then I thought, all of my clothes would smell. The sleeping bag would smell. We would all be crammed in the car together for the next few days. I wouldn't have a change of clothes because I was already wearing everything. But it would only be one day and I may never see some of these people again? I mean what happens in Bolivia stays in Bolivia right? Wait but I go to school with a few of them. Everytime they would see me we would have an unspoken awkwardness. But no one would have to know. Oh wait, Rebecca goes to NYU with me and we may have class together in the fall. Damn it!

It was the decisive moment of my silent internal debate. So I mustered all the courage of my 108- pound body and went to the bathroom.

And you know what?

Some things are just better left unsaid...




Day 3

Some of the tourists returned to Uyuni. They decided it just wasn't worth it and they couldn't see some of the sights due to the wind anyway. We went on to the Aguas Termales, we stopped in a few pueblos, passed through another salar and finally arrived back in Uyuni.

We were exhausted. I was the only one who had showered twice in our four day trip. Everyone else hadn't showered for four days straight. Not that they needed to. Its too cold to sweat anyway.
The biggest problem with Uyuni is not just that its cold. It is that at no point in your time there do you experience warmth. In the First and most of the Second world: America, Europe etc, there is heating in buildings so you only experience the cold when you go outside. You also sleep in a warm bed at night. However, in Uyuni, the cold is a penetrating one that goes through everything you're wearing. Saúl and Zulma explained that it was the first time they had experienced a wind like that. We were really in the midst of a bizarre cold front passing through South America. I say that to explain that its not usually as cold as it was when I was there and that we were in an extremely rare moment. But, I still would NOT recommend going to Uyuni in the winter. Its not worth the risk.
Saúl told me that he was so sorry, that this was just an extremely unlucky moment for us to have come to Uyuni. I told him we had as much of a good time as we could. He said that I should come back in about 2 years at the end of winter to see the things I missed.

Now in Quechua there is a form "puni" that allows you to say something emphatically. So if someone asks how you are doing and you want to say, "I am definitely definitely, always, doing extremely incredibly, amazingly well!" you add "puni" and say "walejpuni" So I used that form and replied:

"Sumaq karqa Uyuni chaywanpis MANAPUNI kutisaqchu! "Uyuni was nice and everything, but I will definitely definitely never, ever, forever and ever, for as long as I live (!!!!!!)) return!"

Friday, July 09, 2010

Quote of the week: The Virginity Question

Everyone at my school speaks English. My friend Alexandra from Liechtenstein is always practicing her English with me. We have class at school everyday but we all take a break at the same time and hang out on the patio of the school. In out most recent conversation, I asked her what her sign was. She didn't understand at first. Then I asked her when her birthday was and she told me it was in late August.

So I said, "Oh thats great, then you're a virgo. I'm a virgo too".

She replied, "WHAT? What's a virgo?"

I said, "You know Virgo the virgin!"

Then she said, emphatically, really loudly with all the professors and the administrator standing nearby: "NO I AM NOT VIRGIN! I AM NOTTTT VIRGIN!"

There was dead silence on the patio as everyone looked on in confusion. I said to the Administrator: "Ahh, virgo. She means virgo! Alexandra, at no point was I calling your virginity into question."

To which Alexandra replied: "Oh! But you know, sometimes I wish I was."

Quote of the week: "NO I AM NOT VIRGIN! I AM NOT VIRGIN!"

Alexandra has decided to put that on t-shirts for sale when the program is over.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

New Quechua phrases

So I have learnt a few Quechua words/phrases that are crucial for navigating life in the Andes. I suggest using them yourself in any country. (Please remember that whenever a word includes an apostrophe in its spelling you are required to pronounce the letter before it with a popping/explosive sound.)

1. Q'ara chupa: This is the word used for white person in Quechua. It means a tail without hair. They use it to describe someone who has come with nothing but leaves with everything. Now that I know that word, I have heard several Quechua speakers using it while offering to sell products to white people in the local market. Of course, the tourists are oblivious to this and smile back at them the entire time.

2. Supaypa(q) wachasqa kanki-- It means "you are the child of the devil".When used, it sounds almost like "You Daughter/Son-of-a-b*tch!" I know you find this confusing. I don't mean that it literally sounds like they're speaking English. I'm referring to its equivalent meaning in English. Clarity first!

3. Supay apasqan: "Go to hell!" (I swear no one has said this to me)

4. Ch'oto mat'i siki--"You're a tight ass" or "You have something stuck up your ass!" I have found this phrase to be useful when vendors refuse to give me a discount on products I wish to buy.

5. waqachiy--I've only included this word because I like its translation. They use this word in Quechua as the verb for "to play an instrument". Its literal translation is "to make [others] cry."