La Paz, La Paz…. It has a ring for me now better than New York.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it definitely has something to do with the buzz I get as I descend into the bowl of the city from the altiplano, the little glimpses I get of Illimani between sky-scrapers, the crowded claustrophic intensity of Uyustus market, the political energy that bustles around the Presidential palace, the warmth I feel as I wander into the office, dissecting countries and lives over a Huari beer in a smokey Paceño bar.
But I am fairly sure I will be leaving it behind in March next year to live in a house in a small village outside Cochabamba. Where my views will be of corn fields and muddy tracks, my office a table on a stone floor, and the energy provided by long chats over chicha (fermented maize) in a make-shift bar in a neighbour’s house.
I proudly tell my bewildered friends here: “I am going to become a campesino (farmer).” But what am I saying? I can’t even keep houseplants alive.
The reason, you’ve guessed it is a woman. No, not a cholita with her bowler hat and swirly skirts but a tall loquacious beautiful Californian with a lust for community and a profound longing to turn the world upside down.
Juliette has been out in the village called Tortokawa for the last few months involved with a couple (American and Bolivian) in setting up a cultural centre rooted in the community, which aims to deepen cultural understanding and challenge well-meaning activists’ assumptions. It is quite clear that she is thriving in the community, continually enriched by daily encounters so I felt it was me who should take the steps and try a new life.
I feel very torn about leaving La Paz. How can I leave the “capital” life? It feels like I have only just started scratching the city surface. How will I cope without the comfy anonymity of cities? Yet I also feel that a relationship can not live on night buses alone.
Perhaps also for the first time, I am being conscious of my age, which has put the virtue of independence which I have clung onto, into some perspective. Reading a surprisingly gripping diary (a Christmas must-read!) by a good friend, Andy Cullen on his thoughts and experiences during his partner’s pregnancy has made me reflect on the idea of being a dad. Ifeel it is still early days to think about children in this relationship, but might it not make sense at least at this stage in my life to prioritise relationships?
It also gives me the chance to explore life and experiences that I might never have had. As Juliette points out, in many ways I have continued doing things I used to do in London in another context. Moving to a village might take me out of the political melée but throw me into a different world where it is possible to deepen relationships, see how Andean life unravels in one place, learn about the beauties, complexities and contradictions of village life. To move from the macro to the micro.