A few friends have written saying "So what are you actually doing? I don’t think I have quite followed that". Obviously my waffling hasn’t quite conveyed life here so for the record I thought I would write about a "typical day" based on the last week.
My combination of different events this week makes it more of an action-packed day than an average day… still it gives a flavour I hope.
8.02am The alarm goes off and the struggle begins between my desire to stay tucked up warm in bed or face the cold flat. It’s a struggle that continues in the shower. It gets down to between 0 and 2 degrees here as we are in the midst of winter, although in El Alto just 20 minutes away at the top of the valley it is sometimes -7, in a city where almost nobody has heating.
The sound of a brass band practicing for one of the almost weekly festivals and processions helps me get going. I open the curtains to look out over the city – its skyscrapers jostling for space, on the corner a boy cleaning a man’s shoes as he talks on his mobile phone, the backdrop of the steep-sided valley covered in houses.
9.12am Fortified by a strong coffee, I head to work (sometimes with my flatmate Ceci, although she tends to get up earlier than me). I live just one block from the main city centre plaza, so am soon in a bedlam of people making their way to work, students regaling their night exploits to friends as they head to lectures, a line of stallholders selling fresh orange juice, others with a wierd mix of goods such as tights and batteries, bowler hatted women carrying unfeasibly vast baskets of salteñas (a kind of Bolivian cornish pastry).
The scene is overlooked by a giant David Beckham on a billboard brandishing a bottle of pepsi. I pluck up courage and dash across the road dodging the beeping minibuses touting for customers.
9.20am Suitably the manicness dies away as I pass the yoga centre which I head to once a week. A poster for a Zen Meditation workshop is gradually peeling away from the walls. I work in Sopocachi, a middle class district which explains why you can find a vegetarian restaurant, lots of wholefood shops and trendy bars that wouldn’t look out of place in London.
A dreadlocked man smiles sweetly and says "Buen Dia" in a very camp way; Cecilia laughs. I obviously haven’t lost my ability to pick up gay men, although I wish the same tactic of just walking along would work with the gorgeous lass who saunters past as I arrive at the office.
9.25am ¿Que dices? (literally what are you saying but something like what’s new?) says Tatiana huddled up against the electric fire as I enter the office. The answer I have learnt is "Aqui, no mas" (literally, here no more). I head up dodging various builders painting the walls.
I greet Jenny (who is cataloguing Walter Solon’s artistic work, the man who set up the Foundation) and enter the office which I share with Miguel, a prolific writer and self-declared trotskyist. El Gato (the cat) who looks after audiovisual stuff enters the room in his shades usually greeting us as "comandantes" in a strange accent.
11.53am I manage to finish reading my emails. Spanish language emails especially those dealing with "special safeguard mechanisms" in WTO negotiations tend to slow me down a bit. I chat with Miguel about something political and his tendency to overwork. Like a few people in the Fundacion, he has about 3 jobs doing press work and articles for the Fundacion as well as writing for various left-ish papers.
I work on an article about a workshop in April that put forward proposals developed by indigenous groups, campesinos, unions and other groups which would enshrine a fair trading system within Bolivia’s new constitution. I send an email with ideas for a new website design to Pablo, my boss who is currently in Geneva.
1.38pm I head out to grab some lunch, usually some salteñas which I munch in a park with views of Mount Illimani. It’s hot and I have to move to the shade as I feel myself burning. Next to me is a stone dedicated to Jose Carlos with the words of a letter to his mother telling her that sometimes we have to act for justice even if it means the risk of death. Below is a date of his disappearance in 1978 after being tortured by police in Santa Cruz. Jose Carlos is the son of Walter Solon and the brother of my boss, Pablo Solon. They are still fighting to find out the truth of what happened to him.
3.22pm Anita walks in and says "Hi Geoff…I mean, sorry Nick." I smile and wonder if she is having an affair with Geoff. Anita is a radio journalist who speaks the whole time like she is on the radio, which is good for me as I can understand her very well. She works on alternatives, particularly related to free trade.
4.50pm I pop into the building next door (the Simon Patiño centre) and talk to Vicky Allyon who chain-smokes as we chat. She has set up a meeting tomorrow with an eclectic mix of hip-hoppers, rock musicians, journalists and poets in El Alto to talk about their perspectives on the struggle for nationalisation and how they use different forms of culture to express their views on the situation in Bolivia. I am meeting them to put together an article for a youth magazine in the UK, Bulbmag.
6.34pm It’s mate-cito time. I head to the kitchen for a coca tea with colleagues, who crack lots of jokes that I usually don’t understand. When I do get the jokes, I laugh extra-loud to make up for it. I head back to the flat as it starts to get dark, picking up some vegetables in a market, and head back along another route wondering why one street has so many photocopy shops. I cook a curry making the most of all my new kitchen equipment that I have bought at stalls full of batteries and tights.
9.04pm. I head to meet Miguel in a trendy Sopocachi bar. It has a micro-brewery that does an English bitter which I had promised to introduce to Miguel. I am a little late, but he arrives later (not an uncommon experience here). I feel slightly guilty as he tells me what a yuppy place it is and how too many middle class Bolivians are ashamed of their own culture and try to imitate Europe. But he likes the beer.
10.50pm To compensate for our yuppy excesses, and after calling his missus to say he will be late, he takes me to the "Drop of water" in a more dodgy part of town. I have to admit it is much better, even though when I ask for water they turn out only to have beer.
We enter a buzzing bar covered with wiphala flags. A series of tables with bowls of coca leaves surround a dance floor on which various couples are dancing "cuecas" a dance which involves lots of waving handkerchiefs whilst hopping about.
An octotona (traditional Andean music) group comes on with a stomping but typically dissonant tune. We bump into Jorge, an activist who I have met several times who runs a course for leaders in various social movements that looks in depth at various big issues facing Bolivia – nationalisation of gas, autonomy, constituent assembly and the upcoming elections.
1.30am My brain has reached spanish saturation point. Suddenly the words turn into a vague noisy blur, so I excuse myself and get a taxi home. I drink a gallon of water before curling up to sleep.