The last time I sat down to write was our last day in the jungle. I woke up to the sounds of birds and to the howler monkeys in the distance. The heat of the day and the humid air, even though it was 6am, was already starting to make my clothes stick to me like a second skin. The sounds of the forest penetrated the day more and more even though their climax was near so that the respective animals could rest during the hottest part of the day.
We have travelled from the jungle of Peru to the heights of the Bolivian altiplano. Here we experience a very different kind of awakening that surrounds us with the prominent peaks of Huayna Potosí, Illimani, Illampu, Mururata, and Condoriri. In Ciudad Satélite, a neighborhood of the city of El Alto, the instructors sleep on the last floor of the Theater company called Teatro Trono. We close the curtains just before nightfall to retain the heat of the blazing alteño sun if it decides to come out during the day and we wake in the morning to light pouring in through the skylights; the neighborhood dogs and church bells punctuate the crisp morning air.
We are in Teatro Trono, living and sharing with a community of artists, destined and passionate to create street art with the purpose of awakening the masses from their sometimes deep and ignorant slumber. A dreamstate that can be characterized by the inability to see the reality of things because hundreds of years of colonial rule have blinded their senses. This process of awakening to a reality that we can readily improve on begins by stripping away the ideas and practices of a repressive colony, of which we carry in our very veins more than any bolivian. This process of decolonization starts with each of us individually and so we begin to decolonize our bodies and minds–a practice that Iván is slowly, patiently, and creatively teaching us. These days we have been practicing this particular philosophy and trying to mold better forms of who we are and what we might want to become.
Iván, director of Teatro Trono, and who has taken the role of a fellow Dragon’s instructor these couple of weeks we are in El Alto and then trekking in the Cordillera Real, is always inspiring to listen to and to learn from. He has graciously shared his story with us of the founding of the theater. One day, almost forty years ago, he took seven youth living off of the streets to his house, and he has never looked back. Iván’s own father fought with the second guerrilla of Che Guevera but died in the intent of liberating the country. Iván had thought about being a guerrillero but instead founded a guerrilla army of artists, ready to change and mold the hearts and minds of a people who have already suffered more violence and repression than we from the Global North who have many times laid this heavy hand, can ever imagine.
Yesterday, our dragons group had the privilege of seeing a small play called “Hijos de la Mina” or Children of the Mine. It was a participatory play in which we played the indigenous communities who, when the Spanish arrived, were forced to give up their dress, their farming customs, their connection with the Pachamama, in essence–their livelihoods–to work in the mines of Cerro Rico in Potosí, the biggest mine in Bolivia, and which gave raise to the capitalist empire we still take part in today. More than 8 million people died in the mines of Cerro Potosí, and people continue to die to this day in the over 30 mines that are still active in this mountain that now resembles a round of swiss cheese, not to mention the other mines that dot the country of Bolivia with glints of silver, tin, lithium and more. Bolivia, solely on the map for it’s richness in raw resources that private foreign companies mine day in and day out, seems to be giving much and receiving little in return.
When many of the mines were shut down in the 1980s because of a decrease in demand for tin and other raw materials, people came to El Alto to seek their fortune. Ex-miners and ex-campesinos or farmers now make up the nearly 1 million inhabitants of a shanty-town founded in 1985 that has now exploded with growth. On Thursday we went to the mercado 16 de julio, the biggest in Bolivia, and where 85% of the economy of this city comes from–people selling their wares. People trying their hand at selling something, anything, to make a living. It makes me think twice about what it means to be a productive citizen. Do we need to buy in order to make the economy go round, or do we need to create a system in which we all buy less and proctect Mother Nature, Pachamama, much more?
Decolonizing our bodies might be the first step, but then our actions must go hand-in-hand with our newly found moves. Neoliberalism, or capitalism, an idea introduced to the Global South by the North, has not made people in Bolivia richer, in fact it has made people poorer and much more dependent on foreign companies and countries to survive. How can we, as citizens of the most powerful countries of the world (in our group, Australia, the United States, Holland, and Mexico are represented) help rebuild a country and a land we have only participated in the destruction of? We have only just arrived in Bolivia so we will have plenty of time to mull this question over. Hopefully we’ll not only learn about harsh realities but creative solutions (like the creation of Teatro Trono) as we continue our journey in the land of Bolivia–beautiful, bold, and full of stories of pride and resistance.
Saludos y abrazos,
Raquel and the Instructor team
P.s. We will be trekking in the Cordillera Real from Tuesday morning until Saturday afternoon. We will be in touch with the office via satellite phone and will let you know when we return.