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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Why i put my head in the trash and breath in

Our homestay time in Tiquipaya and just recently in Santiago de Okola has exposed to me how we North Americans are so seperated from the basics of life. We clutter our lives with whatever society comes up with for us and we place importance on things that are irrelevent in other lifestyles. There are so many aspects of Bolivian culture that cut through the excess and get to what it means to be alive and be human.

In Santiago de Okola we harvested choclo (corn but better) to later be rewarded with tamale like wraps. We harvested potatoes (so many) with Don Vicente (75 year old, cutest man on earth but was also a machine when it came to harvesting). And these potatoes weren´t perfect, they were of all shapes, sizes, and colors (there being 70 different variations in Santiago de Okola alone). In North American grocery stores you can find only the big, the smooth, and whatever else consumers project that the food should look like and the rest is waste.

I´ve come to love the market culture that has been a main part of our travels around Bolivian cities and villages. When shopping for food for our Cordillera trek, we scavenged through streets (so many streets) that were lined with women selling well, everything, that they had either grown themselves or at least know the person who grew it. And then I think wow! I don´t know a single person who grows their own food to sustain themselves or actually know who supplies my food. And apparentally I also don´t know what the plants look like before they reach my mouth (look up a picture of quinoa, it´s beautiful).

Some more food for thought and body: I´ve eaten meat my whole life and never have once killed a chicken or a cow. When I out of the blue asked my Cochabamba graffiti instructor if he had ever killed a chicken (he thought he misheard me) but his response was something along the lines of: claro que si! How crazy that before this trip I´d eaten meat like nobodies business, but the thought that I was actually killing animals each time rarely had to cross my mind, and the thought of physically doing so was unconsiderably repulsive. But that´s just real life! Or death haha, that we´ve been disconnected from because we´d rather turn away from the unsettling truth.

In my Tiquipaya homestay, my family had trash strewn about their lawn and garden, and I thought it would be a nice gesture to pick some up before the family returned from school. Afterwards I had a bag of trash and a realization that I didn´t know what to do with it. My family puts some of their trash behind their house near the clothing lines, and burns the rest. In the US we put our trash in a trash bag (literally trash haha) then we put it outside the house and wait for it to be whisked away; out of sight, out of mind, am i right. We don´t have to face how disgustingly much we consume and discard on the regular and have the privilege to look down on places that leave trash where it lies (rather than our superior, concentrated globs of trash). In Andean cosmo-vision there is a strong connection to the Pachamama. People recognize that they are forever in debt to the earth, and act accordingly, demonstrating their respect through ceremonies.

My homestay family included grandparents that lived on the same property and many cousins and uncles and aunts that frequented the house for food and after school entertainment (me chasing and capturing kids as a tiburon de tierra and other such games and competitions in which the loser has to put their head near the garbage and breath in (this was made sure of by having to hold your breath for 10 seconds prior)). I could see how the family mentality was based on the belief that they were all in it together. What one person has, everyone has. When their grandma got sick, it was all 8 siblings who came together to contribute to her health costs. Families don´t send their ill and old to live away under the care of others, but stay connected to their other generations in a more circular fashion. They don´t attempt to escape the more unsettling truths of illness and death.

But what defines the act of living?¡¿