I arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia exactly one week ago and it’s already been an interesting experience. This city is the third largest in Bolivia, with just under 1 million people and a supposed Mediterranean climate. Every day is sunny and usually reaches 75-80 degrees in the afternoon. Since its winter, the temperature reaches a low of around 40 degrees at night. This makes life quite chilly, given that there is no heating or hot water (except in the shower). Every morning and evening is freezing, including the outdoor classroom where I take Spanish lessons daily from 9-1. Bolivia has surprisingly reminded me of my time in Romania as a Peace Corps Volunteer 10 years ago. Hearing a Latin language being spoken, the stray dogs wandering the streets, observing the large walls and fences lining the streets to protect the privacy of homes, dusty streets and the street vendors hawking fresh food are some of the similarities. However, Bolivia seems to display greater amounts of sunshine and dry climate than Romania. But, the biggest surprise so far has been the lack of heat and hot water.
I’m spending my first 5 weeks in Bolivia in Cochabamba and staying with a host family that has graciously brought me into their home. They have given me a private room in the back of the house with a small private bath and serve 3 meals per day. I’ve chosen to spend these first 5 weeks with a host family because it’s a great way to get immersed in a country’s culture and improve my Spanish skills. Taking Spanish classes 20 hours per week, trying to get to know the city, study Spanish, exercise, get to know my host family and work on my research project is proving to be a difficult balancing act. I was hoping to get in some weekend travel while in Bolivia but I’m starting to sense that meandering up to the sacred Lake Titicaca may be one of only a few excursions while here.
All in all, Bolivians are quite friendly, proud of their country, and share warm smiles. Yet I am finding it is a divisive country, rife with corruption throughout the educational, health and governmental systems, and encountering deep racism between the whites, mestizos (a mix of European and indigenous ethnicity) and the indigenous. While I have not witnessed any of the aforementioned prejudices, it has been through word-of-mouth from Bolivians. I believe this will play an incremental part in my research of the Bolivian government’s educational policies and recent initiatives by the President, Evo Morales, to create greater educational equality for the country.
Next week I’ll be discussing the pros and cons of fair trade, how it ‘unfairly’ discriminates against certain farmers, and present some possible solutions to the inequities of trade. Then, I’ll begin posting definitive information about my preliminary research findings and some of the organizations I’ll be connecting with to get the inside scoop on where Bolivia is steering its educational system and preserving opportunities for future generations.
Thanks in advance for any comments!