Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why I Like Living in Zona Sur

When Joel and I returned to Cochabamba from Carmen Pampa nearly two years ago, we decided that the least expensive housing option was a two-bedroom house in the South Zone (Zona Sur) of Cochabamba. I recall my first exposure to the South Zone when we missioners were cabbing out to Laguna Alalay, to work towards getting our visas. As the cab took us closer to the South Zone, it was like going into another world. The buildings resembled a movie set from a wild west town--no pavement, few windows in the buildings, and dust everywhere. The red-orange bricks were stacked up like children's legos.

Now, the South Zone is my home, and as I walk my dog in the neighborhood, I take note of the spots of beauty around me, the flowers someone planted outside their house walls, the trees that spring up here, that flower in shades of lavender, gold, red and orange.

Everyone's house is behind a protective wall, but some larger homes rise up to five stories--it is not true that the South Zone is home to the poor  alone. We have homes ranging from hovels to mansions with leaded beveled-glass windows and wooden-inlaid doors. Sometimes the house's windows are the last touches to be made to the house, but when they are finally paid for and placed inside the walls, they may be stained glass of intricate design.

Avenues have been paved. At the left is a picture of Guayacon Avenue fifteen months ago before the road was paved. Guayacon is a long road that goes to the mountain separating our neighborhood from Sacaba, where Joel and I teach in the prison Abra. Someday there will be a tunnel between the two towns, saving a lot of time and gasoline for motorists.

The next photo looks west and was taken today, after Guayacon has been paved, two new stoplights hanging strategically in the busy intersections.

On Guayacon, the median of the road is now a long storm drain, so that the run-off water in the rainy season can be captured and used later in the city during the dry season. There is so much water in the rainy season that washes down the streets and sometimes comes into our houses. The reservoir for the city water is many miles away, near the town of Tarata, and our own lagoon is dying as In his blogs, Joel has remarked on the year-long paving project in our neighborhood. It has taken a while, but  in the past month, even the longest algae and reeds fill up the water basin. Many people are worried about this, and our taxi drivers say that work is being done to restore the lagoon to its former ecological balance.

One of the entry points for water passing into the storm drain
 on Guayacon Avenue.
Last night when I was coming home, a taxi driver began complaining about how the officials within the districts of Cochabamba pocketed the funds made available to them for municipal works. I pointed out that in our neighborhood, a new social center was being constructed, not to mention the new street lighting that was installed, making it safer to walk at night (not that I do this).

His response was similar to my own: we live in the former neighborhood of Evo Morales, and this neighborhood has indeed become a model for the poor neighborhoods in the city. For the past year, the city workers have transformed rock and dirt into beautiful green spaces, with flower beds lined with thorny plants that discourage the invasion of dogs. I couldn't believe that the little sprigs of grass on the desolate vacant lots  could grow into lush green spaces. If you build it, they will come: families with small children come out to enjoy the swing sets and monkey gyms. And with every park there is a large threatening sign warning that anyone who throws trash on the ground will incur a multa, or fine.

As for easy living, we have a tienda down the street where we can step out to buy bread, milk, butter, sugar, flour, raw peanuts, and eggs--not to mention laundry detergent, sponges, dish detergent, bleach, and toilet paper. Just a couple of houses down the street we have a butcher shop, where we can also buy vegetables and spices for soup. Across the street is the hairstylist, pedicurist, manicurist, and vendor of large bottles of cold Coca Cola.  I have had my hair cut there, but mostly go for pedicures, as well as for conversation.  The owner fills me in on everything going on in Bolivia from politics to the breaking news. Her daughter takes English classes at my house on Saturdays, and is in the process of finishing up her law degree.

Claudia feeds our Cocker, Blondie, when we
are away on trips. Claudia is about to
complete her law degree.
I can buy vegetables from some fairly large shops if I go to Guayacan, two streets down, where we also have a good medical clinic and pharmacy. Just a little farther if one turns left on Guayacan to Los Angeles, we have the La Salette Church, the big one. The smaller chapel where we attend Mass on Sundays is in the other direction.

We live in Barrio Magisterio, which was originally blocks of land bought by and for teachers. Our street is called Colibri, which means hummingbird. Yes, we have a lot of hummingbirds in our yard. The neighborhood next to ours, close to the lagoon, is called Exaltación. It has its own chapel called Exaltación.

The neighborhoods have anniversaries every year, celebrating their origins, kind of like birthdays, which Bolivians love to celebrate. I attended both celebrations of both neighborhoods. First, Magisterio had an anniversary. We received a communicado on our front door, which informed us that we had to clean our sidewalks and streets before the big day. We also were to march in the parade, as well as being present for the neighborhood party. On the Sunday when the big party took place in our cancha, basically the large soccer court with attendant bleachers and a pavilion over it, we all gathered for Mass before the dancing, food, and other celebrating.

The Mass was not perfect. The sound system functioned only sporadically. The presider, a former La Salette priest who had once been a beloved priest in the neighborhood, read page after page of his homily, but no one could hear him. When Mass was over, he began  talking again ex tempore about politics. All of us were inclined to be respectful of this well-intended priest, but when we had finally been released from his homily, and then Mass was over, we actually did want to go on to other things. It might have been different if we could have heard what he was saying, though.
When the current priest came in his SUV to pick up the older man, the party got under way. As is usual in Bolivia, the neighbors had been practicing their dances for a few weeks and were ready to perform. I took a few video clips of the children dancing.

Later, when the spectators began dancing too, I was invited to dance. Seeing that there were many older people out on the dance floor, I consented. I had a bit of trouble catching on to the dance steps, but little by little, I got the rhythm.

Weeks later, after my neighborhood birthday party, I discovered that the Exaltación barrio was having its own birthday celebration, in the same week that our neighborhood church was celebrating its own anniversary. I was determined to be a responsible church member, so I went to a large circle of women gathered at the back of church after the service and volunteered to be a working member of the group. As it turned out, I was volunteering to be a Tinku dancer. Because I never understand schedules here and never get it right when people tell me what is going on, I did not know that I would be performing the Tinku at both the anniversary of the barrio Exultación and at the Talent Show that was part of the tridium of the La Salette anniversary.

Be that as it may, I spent many hours practicing the Tinku, wishing that I had had a personal trainer, but in the end, I was no worse than anyone else in the dance troupe. The Maryknoll sisters and volunteers (the sisters' house is next door to the church, and the short-term missioners live behind them, just a block and a half from our house). We learned the Tinku from the teen-aged girls in the parish, who made the dance seem modern. The rest of us, Maryknolls, one Franciscan, and the middle-aged moms of the parish, worked pretty hard at this. The Bolivianas, admittedly, were excellent dancers, and were very patient with those of us who were at best mediocre.

I have pictures of us in our costumes (trajes). I had a great time dancing--my second time since doing the Moronada in Carmen Pampa.

Maggie (Maryknoll sister) and I were Tinku partners

Living in the South Zone has enriched my mission experience in Cochabamba.  We live out here close to at least three orders of sisters, the Maryknolls, the San Jose Sisters, and the Santissimo Sisters, as well as the La Salette Church. I worked in the apoyo escolar for the first year when I was here, taking an eight-month break, and then going back. I have learned a lot about the ways of the poor while working with the children there. The center has grown. There are at least 25 children attending each session, one in the morning and in the afternoon. With two excellent teachers, one Maryknoll sister from Tanzania, who taught school before she was a Maryknoll, and another teacher who is finishing up her college degree while working. The students can get the personal attention that they may not get at home while doing their homework. They have five computers at their disposal, and lots of educational games. I have mastered card games, and have even been known to win sometimes. This past week, I had a "learn English" table. My theory is that if children started early enough, they could master the language. Why shouldn't the less economically advantaged children be able to speak English as well as the Bolivian children who attend English-only institutions?

Living in a barrio has added a large extra dimension to my work on mission. Sure, I have to take a taxi home at night instead of just walking down the street to my apartment. And I follow the rules that my neighbors follow: be inside the walls of your property after dark, and if you are in the city, use only the neighborhood taxi service, not just any taxi that comes by, including the radio taxis. I also have good neighbors who will feed my dog and cat when I am out of town, and turn my outdoor light on and off every day, while watching my property. The bus comes right by my house every ten minutes (except during March and April, when there are blockades and protests). I can walk around the lagoon, enjoying the pedestrian pathway, and even watch the children play soccer at the Aurora soccer club (Aurora is one of the professional soccer teams in Cochabamba, but I root for Wilsterman, Aurora's rival). I have a different world out here, one that I will miss a lot when I return from mission. I can't help but wonder what it would be like if suburbs in the U.S. had little shops that sold meat, convenience goods, vegetables, and fruits located right in the front rooms of people's houses.

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