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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

A sense of belonging

There are very few things that I know feel right for me. The first time I went in the water, I knew it was right for me. When I really, seriously like a boy, I know it’s right. When I first toured Bates (the college I´ll be attending next year), I knew it was the right school for me. I get a feeling in my body that tells me, “this fits. You have a sense of belonging here.” I have this exact feeling here in Bolivia. There is something about this country, and everyplace within it we have been so far, that speaks to me. I feel empowered to be myself, yet vulnerable with my feelings. I feel free and rid of obsessive thought, yet thoughtful and reflective. I feel curious in where I am and where I am going, yet present in the moment. I feel like myself, my true self.

I have been asking almost everyone I meet here to talk to me about the political past, present, and future. Sometimes, I don’t even have to ask, people just volunteer information about the government, past wars, the history of the indigenous. The people here are constantly offering information about Bolivia’s painful and corrupt past. As someone who hopes to study politics in college, I become alive and full of questions whenever I hear stories about Banzer, Che, Evo, and so many other prominent figures in Bolivian history.  The people who live here have been scarred. Many have lived through 18 years of dictators, watched people they know and love be taken away by military government and to this day have no idea what happened to them. They have lived through modern day economic colonialism from power house countries like the US. They have lived through wars over basic human needs like water and gas. Some have lived, and continue to live in extreme poverty. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, yet the people here refuse to be ignored. In a play we watched during our first week in Bolivia, the line that stuck with me the most was, “El Alto: siempre a sus pies, nunca a sus rodillas.” This translates to,”El Alto: always on it´s feet, never on it´s knees.” One of the first facts Ivan (the director of Teatro Trono) told us about Bolivia was,”Bolivia is constantly in a state of rebellion.” The people here have a fire lit under their feet and life pulsing through their veins that can be seen from a mile away.

There is also a strong sense of community and identity in every place we visit. The people here are tight knit, yet I have never felt excluded or cut out from the communities I enter. People are curious about me and my life in California. They want to get to know Zoe, they want to be friendly and welcoming. They are candid with the questions I ask and patient if I don’t ask the questions in perfect Spanish. In the markets if you go up to a stall and ask for, let´s say, two bags of raisins and the vendor only has one, they will turn to their neighbor and ask for a bag of raisins. The other vendor will happily pass the raisins to their friend. If you are walking down the street and see an acquaintance, they will stop and greet you with a warm, embracing hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a friendly, “¡Hola! ¿Que tal? ¿Como estas?” This is extremely different from the “each for their own” culture I have grown up with in the US. It is also extremely different from the cut throat, capitalist culture I am also used to in the US. I am in awe of every place I go and every person I meet in Bolivia. I hope the inner peace and energy I feel here can come back home with me. If not, it’s just an excuse to come back!

Until next time,

Zoe