Moments, Cosas and Watermelon Smiles in Chimoré, Bolivia

 

I am red and hot and smelly. I yank my large backpack off the back of the taxi motorcycle and look up to see my first glimpse of the Casimiro Huanca Quechua Indigenous University. The gates are large and iron, artfully screening the bricked academic buildings and a horizon trimmed by feathers of treetops.

Just then, I hear Evelyn call my name from beneath the purple hue of her umbrella.   I have only met Evelyn once before, but immediately my body huffs in deep relief. Her smile already seems familiar. We begin to walk to her room, and I find my first glance at the town of Chimoré. We chatter and tread along the reddish rocky path while passing a series of houses huddled in the greenery. Between my profuse sweating, thick American accent and wiggly hand gestures, I probably seem crazed. But Evelyn embodies patience, handing me rosy smiles of watermelon to help ease my hunger. The stickiness becomes the first residue of not merely a moment- but an experience.

I chose to come to the university because I was entranced by its view on education. In the wake of centuries of colonization under the Spanish Empire, decades of violent oppression under US-funded dictatorships and years spent enduring Reagan’s horrifically cruel War on Drugs, Bolivia is now beginning to recuperate its indigenous knowledge, culture and identity. The three indigenous universities were established as centers of community learning. They offer coursework in indigenous languages and offer practical majors that will encourage students from rural areas to return to their communities in order to enact projects of change for both people and the environment. I have spent my whole life huddled in a desperate love affair with education, so I decided to fall in love once again at the university. Evelyn, a professor at the university, will be my mentor and advisor during my time learning here.

After a mindless afternoon spent unpacking and daydreaming, Evelyn organizes a group of fellow professors to go out to dinner with us. I know this seems like something simple- a flash of a few smiles and the extension of a few friendly invites- but for me, it was a lightning strike. Evelyn flashed this small plan and all of a sudden, I was no longer facing those motorcycle taxis and those orange juice stands and those mosquitos and those plastic-chaired restaurants alone. We get fish, licking the bones clean.

~   After my first day spent at the U, my mental capacity has fizzled. I realize I spoiled myself a bit in Cochabamba (sneaking all those little affairs with the English language with my peers in various city spaces). At the U, I only speak Spanish, and I am already stretching. I sit on Evelyn’s bed, again relishing in gratitude that she has let me barge into her world for just a moment. Evelyn is letting me stay with her for the night. I have just met Evelyn, but I begin to recognize the softness in her eyes as an innate victory of compassion. We are talking about capitalism. I am vulnerable as I share my questions of my identity. I come from places I no longer recognize. And while the vulnerability rocks me, I also feel strong and happy and relieved as she lets me fill the air with these secrets. She shares her story too, and we become learners together. We fall silent for a moment. Then, Evelyn extends the last sliver of conversation: ¿si tuvieras que dejar todas tus cosas para conseguir tus sueños, lo harías?   Here, the most poignant of inspirations.

~   Eventually, I face my last day with Evelyn. Over the short three weeks, Evelyn filled so many different roles in my life. She was my advisor// late-night ice cream trips became the bridge to our excitement, as my project finally seemed to be going somewhere. She was my teacher// I danced shamelessly giggling the lyrics “I like to move it, move it” in front of her slightly concerned class of students. And she became my friend// that first morning she left for work and pulled an extra blanket over me, leaving me so warm in the yellowness of dawn.   So therefore, it is only appropriate that our last day together adopts so many small ways to remedy the World’s pain through friendship. We go swimming in the river, facing fears and diving deep. We take taxi rides out of open trunks and let our feet sprawl out over the accelerating highway. We have a not so good lunch, but we get two ice creams to make up for it. We tour and lose our breath in her aunt’s field of tealeaves. We play volleyball in confident heat. We fall asleep on the ride home.   And then we go to bed and turn off the lights, dejando todas las cosas para nuestros sueños.

 

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