Monday, August 13, 2007

native daughter

I had my second female taxi driver today, and again, I was surprised. I mentioned my first encounter with a female driver to Maria and she agreed it was rare. However, she said it was more possible than in Santa Cruz.

I asked the young woman driving this evening how long she’d been in the line of work. She said she’d been driving a year and a half and hadn’t had any problems, as she only answered to calls. She said she made more than she could in other types of jobs and she liked the independence.

This afternoon I enjoyed lunch at Maria’s childhood home, where she grew up among four siblings. It’s only the third time I’ve been invited to a private home in Bolivia and I really appreciate such opportunities.

Maria and her family live on the very edge of town (“the last street in Cochabamba”) she said, up the side of one of the mountains. While it sounds far away, it’s only a ten minute ride to the center.

Maria is an intelligent, sophisticated, professional 29-year-old. In Santa Cruz, she lives the life of the upper class. She has her own car, dresses well, doesn’t hesitate to eat at expensive cafes or take taxis when necessary.

So I was surprised when we entered the iron gates into a property that was pleasant, but much simpler than what I’d expected. The living/dining room was almost open air. An open doorway led out to the kitchen and to the yard. Only the bedrooms had doors that could close, but they were all open, making the entire house united with its surroundings. I saw her father open a cabinet with a key and I wondered if they had to lock their belongings because of the lack of privacy.

The kitchen was painted a pleasant sky blue, the living room yellow and green. There were cracks in the ceiling and clothing hung outside on a line, strung alongside a simple wall built of red brick. I could see into one of the bedrooms, where a shelf above a simple bed held a collection of creams and ointments.

Maria shared and still shares a room with her sister Laura. She seemed to be the star of the family. One table had three pictures of her. A professionally taken photo, hanging over the doorway, showed all five children.

Maria’s father had shoulder length brown hair, a warm smile, and walked with a support under one arm. Her mother had similar hair to her husband and kept busy preparing the meal. Both Maria’s parents are proud Cochabambans.

“He always says he’s not a Bolivian, but a Cochabamban,” Maria’s mother said of her husband.

Maria’s older brother, Antonio, joined us for lunch. One year ago he began an advertising company with a partner and is in the process of developing it, focusing on providing quality client care.

Although all five children range in age from university students to early 30s, all but one (a 26-year-old rebellious actress) still live together with their parents.

Over chanca de pollo (the typical Cochabamban chicken soup – with chicken, potato, fava beans, onion and hot sauce), salad, bread and butter, and lasagna, we talked about our visit to the Palacio yesterday.

Everyone in the family seemed to know about Simon Patino, especially Maria’s father and brother. They recounted his life story, as well as the rumor that he’d made a pact with the devil, which allowed him to find mineral resources after everyone else had backed out. Maria’s father reminded us how they lacked modern equipment, and explored the mountains by simply cutting rocks.

Antonio was in the process of reading a book Maria wanted to borrow. It’s called The Return of the Idiot and he told us about the theory. It was written by the son of Vargas Llosa and two other co-authors and is a socio-economic analysis of Chavez, Castro and Morales and the things they are doing in Latin America. It’s a critical analysis and according to the authors, the governments are not based on a political or social idea, but on a personality cult. When the leaders go, so will their systems.

He told us how Chavez criticizes the U.S., but that much of the money he uses for his socialist projects comes from Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. He said that Chavez helped to orchestrate the overthrow of former Bolivian president Goni.

“It’s not cheap to have so many people coming out and protesting,” said Maria’s father. “Their expenses needed to be covered and it was Chavez who financed this.”

Maria left for her flight back to Santa Cruz, dressed in a suit, with her hair neatly styled, her lips colored with lipstick, pulling a small wheeled suitcase behind her. I found it impressive to see this professional young woman emerging from her roots with such confidence. I think her parents have reason to be proud, for raising a close and loyal family, for preparing their children to meet the challenges of a new age successfully, and to move ahead in life.

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