(This series was originally written in email form during the summer of 2009. Here it is finally in blog format.)
Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 4:00pm
Every week in Bolivia goes by faster and faster. It seems like we arrived yesterday as a group of gringos that didn’t know what a trufi was, and already we only have two weeks left of our internships. I`m trying to make the most of my time at Pro Mujer, running around trying to get everything together for the Marketing Plan before I leave. Good news is that, after a week of trying to establish contact, I finally talked to the wife of the man from whom we are going to buy the amplification system. Turns out that he sold the amplifier and the speakers we wanted. But don`t worry, he`ll find us some new ones by 4pm next week Thursday. Two weeks to achieve what I could do at Best Buy in a hour? Sounds about right for Bolivia. At least by now I’ve memorized how to get to his stand in La Cancha, the biggest market in South America: past the copiers, but before the sewing machines and men`s briefs section, right at Chicken Kingdom until the street t-bones, then take a left. I can also tell you how to get to the live poultry, cake, whiskey, or black magic sections (the latter of which is filled with dehydrated llama fetuses used for indigenous rituals).
Part of the Marketing Plan is a promotional radio campaign in the rural as well as urban areas of Cochabamba to spread the word about Pro Mujer and our micro credit opportunities. I`ve visited some radio stations to get quotes for how much airtime costs, and now I am researching which radio programs our clients listen to. I figured that the best way to discover the radio tastes of our target market was to survey our current clients. I designed a survey inquiring as to the frequency that they listen to certain programs. But when I went survey a few urban communal associations, most of the clients said that they only watch TV. Hmmmm…. Maybe the rural populations will have more distinct taste in radio programs. Or maybe, as one client told me “Nobody listens to radio anymore´´. Ok then.
One thing that is very noticeable about the Bolivian people is how generous they are. It is the poorest country in South America, but I’ve never seen people who are more willing to give of themselves and share what they have with others. My host parents not only put up with my shenanigans, but they’ve also basically raised the nine-year old son of the woman who used to work in their house. They feed him and cloth him, he spends every day after school with them, and he spends every weekend at the house with the family. I was surprised to find out that the `grandson´ listed on the host family form was actually not related, just incorporated out of generosity. My fellow Pro Mujer employees are just as caring. When the supervisors learned that the employee of the month “gets nothing except a certificate of recognition´´ they all offered to pay for a dinner for her and her husband out of their own pockets. And I’ve never seen a people more willing to help the homeless and needy. By far and large, everybody looks out for each other in Bolivia. A friend of mine accidentally left her ATM card in the machine at the bus station in La Paz, and a woman ran after us to return it. Now that`s something you don`t see every day.
Last weekend we went to the Chapare region of Bolivia, between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. It was 110% different from the Bolivia I’ve seen thus far. It was only at 600 ft of altitude, instead of 9,000, so the air was easier to breathe. And we were in the rain forest, so the air also had this amazing green tinge to it. We hiked through a couple different national parks, and saw some crazy animals: crocodiles, and monkeys, blood sucking bats, and tarantula webs. The colorful vegetation was a sight for sore eyes, since we only see dust and smog here in the Central Valley. And it even rained one day, something none of us had experienced here in Bolivia. It was strange to be cold and wet in the rain forest, as I had always assumed it`d be steamy hot, but it was unforgettable. We even went to an obstacle course and swung on these giant swings made out of rope and two by fours hung about 10 meters in the air. Come to think of it, I`m not really sure that was such a safe idea, but it sure took my breath away!
I`m going to sign off. Tomorrow we are off on our mid-term trip with FSD. We`re going to a place called Toro Toro, and all I know about it is that they told me to bring a head lamp and a swimsuit. Sounds like an adventure. I`ll let you all know how it goes.
Hope all is well. We`ll be seeing each other soon enough.