Well, I've spent the last week backpacking around the south of the country of Bolivia. I went to Tarija, the wine growing region, billed as the highest vineyards in the world; to Sucre, the official capital of the country, called the "white city" for the beautiful all white colonial architecture; Potosi, the highest city in the world that essentially funded the Spanish empire with its silver mines that are still functioning today; and to the Salar de Uyuni, the beautiful world famous salt flats of Bolivia. Interestingly, I basically hit all the spots that my SIT program goes to on off years - the program switches off between two different focuses every semester. The focus for my semester was the conflicts around the TIPNIS indigenous reserve and the road the central government wants to build through it, as well as the Movimento Sem Terra in Brazil. In the off years, the students in the program study the movements around the mines, as well as go to Argentina, passing through the salt flat on their way. As I was talking to my host dad, Alberto, after I got back, he remarked that I have seen and learned about more regions in Bolivia than most Bolivians. In all, I have been to 6 out of 9 departments (sort of like states) in the country. ...continue reading "Hey, now I’m a tourist!: Reverse Culture Shock Without Leaving the Country"
Right now, I am sitting in a sustainable ecolodge that runs completely off of sunlight and local donkey power, on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and largest in Latin America. As I look out my window, my gaze travels across fields and hills that have held the same terraced stone walls since the Incan Empire, then across miles of the perfectly blue water of the lake, to the far golden and indigo rolling shores of the Altiplano, and finally stops at the incredible snow capped peaks of the Cordillera, one arm of the Andes Mountains. The Island of the Sun is simultaneously claimed by Aymara, Quechua, and Incan myths, as well as local Catholic mixtures of those, as the birthplace of gods and humanity. Sitting here, I can understand why; we are so high up and the distances so great around us that the massive dark cloud formations jump across the lake like a stop motion video, creating a constantly changing pattern of rain and shadows and brilliant sunlight on the water-scape.
The program ends the day after tomorrow, after which I will spend ten days travelling around as much of this country as I can, and then I will go home. Since this will be the last post I write about research in Bolivia, I decided to start it the same way as I started my first: full of the descriptors of a travel blog. We are in the evaluation week for the program, and as such our Director, Carmen, decided to send us to el lago for a nice send off. We have all now finished our Independent Study Projects, our papers, and our final presentations in front of the SIT community in La Paz. Last week I accomplished one of the most important and hardest things I have ever done: I wrote 42 pages in a academic Spanish, a language I could barely speak 4 months ago. ...continue reading "Padre Obermaier: Spacialized Conflicts of Power in El Alto"
Two days ago, I gave my ISP presentation proposal in front of the other students in the program, my professors, and other SIT La Paz community members. I am now officially in my Independent Study Project period, living on my own (not actually - still with my host family but with slightly different arrangements), and doing my research. I am researching a priest named Sebastian Obermaier, and his influence and perceptions of him in El Alto. So a lot has happened since my last post! ...continue reading "The Power of One Priest in a Revolutionary Aymara Stronghold"
Since my last post, I have gained so many new understandings of the complexities of Bolivia that, as I read it, I feel almost childish. But I guess that is the point of naïveté. I'm sure the same will be true for my next post as well.
While I haven't started my research, and won't for a while, I have been exploring other research questions and topics, all within the general subject of the relation between Catholicism and revolution in Bolivia. I have been able to do this in the context of what we are studying in the program. So far, we have heard speakers on the Mexican, Cuban, Bolivian, and Venezuelan revolutions. We have dug deep into the history of indigenous to peasant back to indigenous struggle in Bolivia, and the differences between highlands and lowlands, the complex overlap between Aymara and Quechua languages. We just got back from Brazil, where we studied the Landless Workers Movement (MST), a 30 year old movement that occupies unused land for rural peasants, and then establishes communitarian agricultural settlements on the liberated land (also was founded in the context of Liberation Theology!) This week, we are back in Bolivia in Santa Cruz, looking at the movement for autonomy by the landed elites (quite a shock, coming from landless movement in Brazil, who fed us in tents on the side of the road). Spending a few days in uber-rich Santa Cruz by the pool has given me a chance to write this and think more about my potential Independent Study Project topics.
Right now, I am sitting in a hotel that was built in the 1600s, in one of the craziest (and highest) cities in the world, La Paz, Bolivia. In the past 24 hours, I've had about 3 hours sleep, traveled almost 4000 miles, ascended 13,000 feet, walked through a street fair, encountered a huge demonstration, and seen countless amazing political graffiti. This morning after we landed, the sun came up on Mt. Illimani in the distance, and as we drove away, we came up to the edge of the altiplano and looked down more than 5000 feet to the bottom of the city. We all couldn’t keep our mouths shut as we looked upon row after row of colorful houses and shacks clinging to the slopes, descending to the colonial/ modern skyscraper city center below.
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