Our group is one and a half weeks into our month-long homestay in Cochabamba Bolivia. For most of us, this is the most challenging part of the semester. We are learning how to better communicate in spanish. We are learning to embrace the frustrating moments when we can´t find the words to express what we mean. We are learning to love: peeling potatoes, long walks to class, spontaneous downpours, cold showers, befriending suspicious dogs, stuffed t.ru.fi.* rides, and purifying all of our water.
Something that is hard to miss here is the difference in the concept of time. If I tell my homestay mom that I will be home at 6:30 and I am home at 6:40, she asks me why I´m late. If I say I´ll be home by el ocaso, or sundown, then I can be home anytime from five to seven without questioning. This is to say that if you say a specific time, you´re implying that time is important. If you leave the time flexible, that is totally okay if not prefered. In fact, most people prefer not to make too many plans. The first day we got here I asked my family what the plans were for the following day and they looked confused and insulted. It is a place of ¨go with the flow.¨ This originates from the ideas of the indigenous Andean culture in which the future does not exist. Time is cyclical instead of linear so anything in the future has, in a sense, already happend. When we learned about this T.S. Eliot´s poem ¨Four Quartets¨came to mind. Specifically one section: ¨At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshness;/ Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,/ But neither arrest nor movement.¨ One morning when my homestay mom was leaving the house she asked me to turn off the stove for her. I asked when and she said, ¨Whenever it´s done.¨In the pot on the stove was a huge pot of food for the ten dogs that we have. I think it was a mix of chicken, beets, potatoes, and rice. At home in the US I would set a timer and turn the stove off when the alarm went off. Instead I sat there curiously poking the chicken until it felt right. Not until this experience did I realize how dependent I am on time in the US. My walk to class here is thirty minutes. If I had to walk thirty minutes at home, chances are I would try to get an Uber. Intrestingly, this walk I do four times a day has become one of my favorite parts of this homestay. Time here is slowed, valued, and at the same time unimportant. As T.S. Eliot explains profoundly, the only place to be is always in the moment, at the ¨still point.¨
*t.ru.fi stands for taxi con ruta fija, or fixed route taxi