2003-01-17 - 5:13 p.m.
I got to La Paz on Sunday, the first time I've travelled alone since leaving Cuenca, almost eight weeks ago. La Paz is a big city, which I like, because there are movie theaters and museums and it's easy to feel invisible here - especially as I feel naked without the Swiss boy by my side. But everyone looks like they have a purpose, while I wander around aimlessly, trying to assign some order to my life. * * * * *
I saw the marchers on my first day wandering around the city, near Plaza San Francisco.
There weren't that many of them - mostly old people, the campesinos in traditional dress - and I watched for a while, at the old women on their knees in the middle of the street, tears streaming down their faces.
I saw them again, a few days later. There were more of them this time, marching down the street. I read the word "jubilados" on one of the signs - I knew that meant retired people, but I didn't know why they were marching. When you only know bits and pieces of a language, every story is one that is halfway told.
I asked the shoeshine boy (who stubbornly insisted on shining my shoes, even though I was wearing my hiking boots), why they were marching.
"The government won't give them their money."
* * * * *
"They march every day?"
"Si, todos los dias."
I started buying the paper in the morning, and reading it over breakfast. I bought it originally for the movie listings - later, I decided it was a good idea to try and translate some of the news articles. Before I left Copacabana for La Paz, someone had told me the roads might be closed. I thought it was some kind of transport strike, but after reading the paper, realized that wasn't it. The cocaleros, the farmers who grow coca plants, were angry at the government, and were blockading the roads. I wasn't quite sure where, though - once again, I was only comprehending part of the story. * * * * *
I had dinner the other night with Bess and Jamie (and their three kids) - they're friends of my housemate Susanne, from way back. When I called Bess up, she invited me over to dinner right away, and I immediately felt like one of the family. Jamie got home from work late, but sat in front of the news with me, explaining what was happening. The jubilados are marching every day in La Paz - and more have been coming in every day from the countryside. The night before, the government had gone to some town outside of La Paz, where many were gathering, and forced some to board buses back to their hometowns. Two of the buses crashed that night, and eleven people died. The situation with the cocaleros isn't related to the situation with the jubilados, but I suppose it isn't making things much better. The cocaleros are angry with the government as well, and have been blockading the roads - I know they're blockading the road from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, but I'm not sure if they're blockading other roads, or just threatening to if the government doesn't speak with them. The worst part is from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz. Some days, the buses run, and some days they don't, and it's getting awfully hard to find out any information at all. Jamie advised me to wait it out - that things will clear up completely, or else the whole country will shut down. The government has been holding meeting with both the cocaleros and the jubilados over the last couple of days. If things don't clear up soon, I can always fly to Cochabamba, or to Sucre. So now, I just wait it out. And see if I can find someone to translate the evening news for me.