Morada Qasa, Bolivia – November, 2014
I came to Morada Qasa to run a library for local children. I was told that it was close to Sucre. It was, technically. While it was less than 100 miles away, it was a three hour ride due to the hilly roads and old vans being used. Having friends my age or visiting Sucre on work nights was out of the question My daily routine became exploring in the mornings, working in the afternoons, and reading at night. My host family was less than friendly, although their granddaughter was the coolest 8-year-old in the world.
The town was like something out of a spaghetti western. The roads were either dirt or cobblestone, with cars nowhere to be scene. Houses were tanned from a combination of sand and the sun. Outdoor lighting was nowhere to be found. And the traditional outfit for women was the same as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name getup.
Hot water was rare. Toilets didn’t feature a water reservoir, you instead flushed them by filling up a bucket from the kitchen and pouring it in the toilet.There were two markets, both run out of living rooms, neither with refrigeration. Internet was out of the question, though high school seniors were given a laptop that accessed 3G coverage. Predictably, President Evo Morales had his face etched into the cover of each laptop. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in town, so I spent my mornings exploring.
There were two main routes I took. The first would be to head east on the main road and into the mountains. There were abandoned clay brick houses and majestic views of the area.
The other was west, towards Sucre and 30 minutes from nearby Corroro. Corroro was another small village and contained the area’s high school, while Morada Qasa contained the area’s elementary school. Like Morada Qasa, Corroro is an agricultural community. The problem with their statuses as agricultural communities is that rainfall is scarce, winters are cold, and the soil is rocky: A perfect microcosm of Bolivia’s economy.
After Bolivia declared war on Chile in the 19th century and subsequently lost, Chile claimed Bolivia’s coastline. Bolivia now has no ocean access, while its territory in the east is sealed from international trade by impenetrable rain forest and its territory in the west is sealed by the Andes mountains. To make matters worse, most of the climate is either too hot or too high in elevation to reliably farm. Without better options, many regions still stuck with agriculture.
Dry, rocky fields are cultivated throughout Corroro while sheep and cows are herded through the villages’ streets. One day a bull escaped from its pen and ran through the middle of the street. A boy yelled at me to stop it, so I did my best linebacker impression and stood in the middle of the road, feet ready and shoulders squared on the bull. The bull ran right by me and took a left onto the next street. As the boy yelled at me, a giggling teenage girl went after the bull. She came back five minutes later with it and they both gave me the village idiot treatment.
Just past Corroro came a handful of canyons. Tall and winding, you get the impression that you’re stuck in a maze.
After the morning exploring came work. I worked in a library for the children in the area, essentially running an after school program. Many of the parents were illiterate or spoke little Spanish (most in the area were indigenous and Quechua was the traditional language), so my goal was to get kids interested in reading. This usually meant cutting a deal with the children that they could draw, play guitar, or color after we read a story together. We also had individual toothbrushes for each student and a requirement that they had to wash their hands and brush their teeth before coming inside, as many did not have toothbrushes at home and weren’t taught the value of washing their hands.
After work came dinner with the family, an episode of a popular soap opera, and reading. Usually.
On lucky afternoons, there were cultural celebrations too. My favorite was the celebration of Santa Isabella, the local saint. Bands and dancing groups from around the region marched through the streets and into the main square in Corroro, turning the quiet farming town into a vibrant festival filled with singing and dancing.
Another highlight was the elementary school’s presentation day, where the children presented their end of year projects. These ranged from arranging dinosaur toys on a slab of cardboard to a complex hydrography map of South America. My favorite was the girl who made a clay stove and clay bread for her stove. The project itself was pretty rough, but she looked so proud of it that it was impossible not to be happy for her. The teachers congregated at the back and offered me an orange drink. It was apparently vodka spiked with Fanta. I now understood why the teachers were so entertained by toy dinosaurs.
One of my last days there was for the high school graduation. As many of the parents never finished high school and many of the children would not attend college, it was a big deal. The women I worked with at the library was the valedictorian and gave a speech at commencement, where she learned that she would have a full-ride scholarship at the university in Sucre.
I went to several parties thrown by the families of graduating students that night, eating and dancing through my last night in Morada Qasa.