I am sitting this morning in my new quarters in Cochabamba, after yesterday's long tiring bus ride from LaPaz. I believe the distance may not be that much further than Portland to Bend about 200 miles, but the ride took over eight hours. There was the snarling traffic in the adjacent community of El Alto. Honking collectivos crammed with riders, overloaded trucks and other buses belching out diesel exhaust were gridlocked by intersections supervised by overtaxed, but relaxed, traffic police. The bus wedged its way down a narrow street and stopped at a makeshift second bus station, where more passengers loaded until the bus was completely full. I had expected the bus to be like those I had seen in India, crammed to the roof, but this was actually quite a surprise. It was a comfortable double-decker, with each person having an assigned seat that reclined, and enjoying ample leg room. My red roller carry-on was stowed in the belly of the bus, but I brought my backpack on board,which I stowed under my feet, because I didn't want to be separated from my laptop. The bus had left the main terminal by 8:40 and, by 9:30, it hadn't really made it out of the city limits. Finally heading East, it passed the airport, an industrial area, more housing developments and made it to the open road.
What I had noticed also in Brazil, but especially here in Bolivia, was the vast number of uncompleted projects. Living units stood cold and incomplete, some lacking walls, roofs, windows. rebar sticking up from foundations, like iron weeds. Some units were complete but empty, and covered already with grime. Others were inhabited, but clearly lacking power or any amenities. It was explained to me that the problem with every work project is sustainability. People start with a little money from government grants or donations or loans. It is used up and then there is nothing left to complete the project. It takes years sometimes just to build a little house.
Yet, most of all, along the narrow rutted, but paved highway, I saw dirt, poor people and garbage. I had a somewhat detached feeling about the poor people and dirt. It was the garbage that effected me. I wondered whether my discomfort was a result of my German-American sense of order. The roadway, drainage ditches, creek bottoms, alleys, and empty lots were scattered with large quantities of refuse, especially plastic bottles and bags, paper products,rusting metal and broken building materials. I am sure I will be seeing the same in Africa, probably even worse. I dreaded the thought. I had seen such environmental affrontery already in India but, for some reason on this ride, I was more bothered by it. I guess it disturbed the scenic aspect of the trip. Seeing poor people in colorful clothing in front of quaint mud structures relaxing, or tending animals, or weaving blankets can look anachronistically idyllic. Yet the garbage upset the picture and negatively effected sympathetic thoughts toward the otherwise sad human condition. Instead, I was annoyed by the refuse. It was disgusting, especially when watching people picking through it or dogs and other animals rumaging amidst it. I remembered that there was no Thursday trash service and this ever-present garbage mess was minimal, when compared to the fact most the people have neither indoor plumbing nor clean water. The outhouses in the back, if there are any, are shared by many and the constant issue of people looking for clean water to drink or to bathe is a chore beyond my understanding. I take interesting pictures, but there is really nothing romantic about poverty.
As I was considering these thoughts, the bus window in front of me slid open and a portly man, who has been incessantly and loudly talking on his cellphone, pitched an empty plastic green Sprite bottle out the window. I heard it rap on the pavemment and, in spite of the millions of pieces of trash it joined, I found myself saying audibly, "You asshole." He neither heard me nor probably would have understood me. I discussed these thoughts with the site director, Jean Carla here in Cochabamba. She understood more personally and certainly even deeper than I the complex issues facing her country.
On Monday, I will be putting my first hours at the orphange and will post pictures of my experience next week. I'd love to share the rest of the bus ride before then. Just imagine a big bus on a truck-filled, narrow, windy boulder-strewn road taking 3 1/2hrs to go 60 miles crossing over a 13,ooo foot Andes pass. Must I say more!