(This series was originally written in email form during the summer of 2009. Here it is finally in blog format.)
Last week Tuesday South America celebrated the Festival of San Juan. Now I have no idea who San Juan was, or what he did to become a saint. But I do know that his holiday is celebrated with a lot of meat and fire. My Bolivian host family had a lady come to the house and make anticucho, or cow´s heart skewers topped off with potatoes on the grill. Three grilled hearts were more than enough for the ten of us, and we ended up eating the leftover skewers for dinner the next day as well. Fireworks and bonfires are banned within the Cochabamba city limits, but we had dozens of packages of sparklers that the nine-year old went crazy for. Not everyone in the city saw the anti-bonfire demonstration by the ecological police (as I serendipitously did at the town square), so the whole valley was filled with smoke the next day as a result of the festivities.
One of the coordinators for the Foundation for Sustainable Development threw a San Juan party on his patio for all the interns. We stayed up all night drinking Bolivian wine (of questionable quality) and dancing like the bunch of gringos that we are. We also enjoyed steaming hot cups of tiger´s milk (hot milk with alcohol and coconut flakes) and a variety of sausages. A good time was had by all.
In contrast to the festive atmosphere of San Juan, the swine flu has become an ever-present issue in Cochabamba, and Bolivia as a whole. When I arrived a month ago there were no cases in the country. Last week there were 24 reported cases in Bolivia, and this week, there are 24 cases in the city of Cochabamba alone. One of the first people in Cocha to fall sick with what we call Gripe A was a trufi driver (see previous post about trufis) that got so scared in quarantine that he ran away from the hospital. No one knows where he is or how he´s doing, but we all hope that he hasn´t returned to work.
It´s becoming quite normal here to see people wearing surgical masks out in public, but most people simply let them hang around their necks, so I´m not sure how well that´s going to protect them. There are actually two government propaganda campaigns in place to prevent the spread of Gripe A. The first is a hand washing campaign, very sensible, and great for the NGO that one of my friends interns at, because it´s a soap factory. The other campaign is against the hugging\check kissing\hand shaking\back slapping greetings that are second nature in Bolivian culture. There are posters that tell you to waive instead of kiss people hello. I actually stole one as a souvenir. Pretty sure no one was paying attention to it anyways.
The director of Human Resources for all of Pro Mujer Bolivia visited the Cochabamba region last week. My partner intern and I made a presentation to him about the Non-Monetary Incentives Plan that we are working on for the regional HR department. It was slightly nerve-wracking to make a presentation to the National HR Director, the Regional Director, and the National Director of all of Pro Mujer. Kind of like the Model UN and Spanish class all rolled into one, but I actually had to sound like I knew what I was talking about. They seem to think that the project will complement the new Monetary Incentives Plan that is being implemented at the national level. This coming weekend we will introduce the program to all the employees at a quarterly regional meeting and announce the first employees of the month.
I took off for the weekend to the town of Sucre with my friend, another Pro Mujer intern. We took the night bus along very poorly paved cliff hugging roads for about ten hours to get there, but it was totally worth it. The town is charming, if a bit more touristy than Cochabamba. The whitewashed colonial architecture has been preserved in this mountain town that remains the seat of the Bolivian Judiciary (the rest of the national government now resides in La Paz). The town square was the center of all the action, with people selling fresh squeezed juice and balloon animals, shoe shine boys, couples on benches, and children climbing all over the statue of Bolivia´s national hero and namesake, Simon Bolivar.
We stayed at a hostel recommended by a friend, and spent the weekend discovering the city. The Museum of Indigenous Art was full of textiles from the indigenous groups located around Sucre. We met a taxi driver that was also a history teacher, and a group of Argentines on a road trip. We even went to see some preserved dinosaur footprints. Breakfast included what are probably South America´s biggest cappuccino, and the afternoons were spent at a café atop a hill overlooking the city. It was so peaceful to not have an agenda. Due to the inefficiencies of Bolivian transportation, we ended up spending an extra day in Sucre and missing work on Monday. We found a park with a miniature Eiffel tower, and sat for a few hours reading on a bench (a novel in Spanish!). Overall, a beautiful tranquil town, and I couldn´t be happier to have spent the weekend getting to know it.