In Bolivia, one of the most common forms of transportation is the trufi, or taxi. Bolivian trufis resemble vans, in which you normally wouldn’t accept rides from strangers in the United States. Trufis push the limits of their capacity with three and sometimes four or five rows of seats and a low ceiling. I was made for trufis. While some of my taller classmates sit uncomfortably on trufi rides, counting the seconds until we reach our destination, my short stature gives me the advantage of happily accepting any seat in the trufi. As I sit comfortably in the trufi, I enjoy the view and the exhilaration while the trufi driver defies physics to see how fast he can go without crashing, reminding me of the roller coasters I so loved as an adolescent.
The only thing that elevates a trufi ride is listening to music. I’m unstoppable when GOLD by BROCKHAMPTON comes on during a trufi ride. Catch me in the backseat mouthing all the words when Dom McLennon’s says:
“I just skip on the beat like I’m Pee-Wee Herman
Hands up for all my sermons
My wheel’s turnin’, now I’m more efficient than ever
I feel like Ratatouille when I’m whipping that cheddar.”
When I’m feeling especially sociable, I take my headphones out and passively wait for someone else to initiate a conversation with me. Luckily, some trufi drivers engage me directly despite my timidity. Maria, for example, drove the Dragons in her trufi to visit service sites, and between visits, we all went to the park to relax. I was sitting on a bench and reading, and she asked if she could sit with me. I can’t really remember how the conversation escalated to this, but she asked me if I believed in God. Knowing that Bolivia is a predominantly Catholic country and conversations about religion can be divisive, I nervously replied that I did, but she still wasn’t satisfied.
“Where is He?” she asked me.
At this point, I was still unsure whether she was religious, agnostic, or atheist, and I was certainly uncertain about the prospect of this conversation.
I told her that God was in the grass, and in the sky, and in me, and in her.
“Eso,” she responded.
And the conversation ended like that. I’m still not sure whether she is religious or spiritual, or just curious, but what I learned and took comfort in is that no matter the answer I gave, instead of judging me, she was eager to engage me with a friendly, open spirit.
My conversation with Maria wasn’t the only time I found myself surprised to be engaged in sensitive discussions with strangers on trufis. Twice, I was in crisis when lost on trufis. On both occasions, my perceptive trufi drivers sensed my apprehension from my quivering foreign accent (not difficult to detect), and they were kind to speak with me, making more comfortable and confident that they would get me to my destination.
Once, I took the wrong 120 trufi because apparently there are two different types of 120 trufis. When the driver reached the end of his route, and I was the lone rider on the trufi, he turned to me and asked, “Where do you want to go?” I explained to him I wanted to go to Tiquipaya, so he took me on the regular route and told me where I could catch the correct 120 trufi.
Enroute, without asking me where I was from, he asked, “Why does the U.S. want to colonize Mars?”
“Because we’re looking for new planets to destroy,” I said.
He thought my answer was funny, which prompted him to ask me his follow up question: “What is progress?” I couldn’t think how to best respond in Spanish because it’s difficult enough to describe my answer in English, but I stammered out a convoluted answer about how progress is a paradox.
“Yeah, but what is progress?” he asked, smiling.
When I conceded that I couldn’t describe it, he told me, “Progress is improving the world so our future generations may lead better lives than we did, but that progress cannot come at the expense of the planet.”
Humans have a knack for surprising you. I think that trufi drivers, who spend all day toting around a diverse bunch of people, have a special perspective and understanding that all humans have something interesting to offer, and that we cannot even begin to understand the perspectives and stories people carry with them until we engage them. I feel so grateful that trufi drivers and many Bolivians have engaged me, a young woman from a country that has consistently extended its reach into their homeland to engineer a Bolivia that satisfies the United States’ world-view. By all rights, Bolivians have just cause to resent my presence in their homeland, but apparently, they don’t. Imagine if we accepted immigrants and foreign travelers in the U.S. with the same open arms with which Bolivian people welcome my fellow dragons and I. Or imagine if we were able to distinguish between pawns and kings, between people and countries. Maybe then we can unpack the epics, ballads, and novels that are on the tip of our neighbor’s tongue.