It never ceases to amaze me that the only times that I ever lose anything is exactly when I need the thing the most, or at least that I think that I need it the most.
I made it out of Asuncion today, after yesterday’s delay, and I flew to La Paz, Bolivia. The plane route went from Asuncion, to Cochabamba, to Santa Cruz, where I had to switch planes in order to fly to La Paz. After I passed through immigration and got my luggage in Santa Cruz, I did a check of all my things. It was then that I realized that I was missing my fleece jacket. I had carried the jacket outside of my bags so that I could wear it when I landed in Bolivia. For the entire flight to Santa Cruz, the jacket was stored in the overhead bin of the plane, above my seat. When I left the plane, it remained in the overhead bin. By the time I realized this and asked a representative of TAM airlines, the plane had closed its doors, and was on its way back to Asuncion.
It is late winter here in La Paz, and just a bit cold. Conveniently, I probably won’t have a need the jacket again after I leave La Paz. It is only useful to me here, where I lost it. I was really upset about the whole thing, and it took me a while to calm down as I worked with the very unhelpful TAM representative to fill out a form to get my jacket back. We’ll see if TAM makes good on their promise of getting the jacket to me.
My welcome to Bolivia wasn’t very positive, and neither is the reputation of Bolivia for that matter.
Bolivia is a landlocked country. I have often heard about the struggling poor that live in Bolivia, which made me assume that it would be a less developed than Paraguay, a similarly land-locked country. Poverty is poverty, so I don’t want to start a comparative analysis of which country is worse off, but I was surprised when I came to La Paz. The city is a relatively well developed, beautiful urban landscape, which begins from a high plateau, and descends into a valley, overlooking gorgeous mountain ranges (attracting many backpackers/tourists.)
The air is thin here, something I was warned about, but paid no heed. The city is at 3600 meters above sea level, which means oxygen is a little harder to force into one’s body through normal breathing (that is for those of us who normally breathe at sea level). For this reason, the pharmacies sell pills for visitors like me, to help accelerate oxygen into the blood stream.
I have opted not to take these pills, which has left me frustrated in my own stupidity. As I lay awake, typing in the middle of the night, I am gritting my teeth over the conundrum that has developed. It is cold here, as I have already established. To keep warm in my bed, I need to use the heavy blankets provided by my host family, but the heavy blankets press against my body with just enough weight to make it difficult to breathe since I have to breathe more frequently, and more deeply, at this high of an altitude. This keeps me awake. When I remove the blankets so that I can breathe better, it is too cold to sleep. It is difficult to find the right balance.
Which reminds me of my conversation with Marcello, my host, this evening.
“We have such enormous potential in this country, but we can’t seem to find the right balance.” Marcelo, tells me we sipped coffee in a downtown café. He is busy describing to me what Bolivia is like.
It is a country with enormous diversity, both in its landscape and its people. Bolivia has majestic mountains, fertile forests, valleys, and plains. It is rich in minerals, fresh water, and natural resources. Its people are unified by the Spanish language, but it also has twenty-three different languages still in use within the different indigenous groups that make up the national population. The differences are relatively well respected by the various groups. So many things are in place for Bolivia to succeed, but somehow, it hasn’t found the balance yet.
Simple things are strong indicators such as the number of people who use the street as a trash can, the number of stray dogs digging through trash bins, and the degree to which people complain about corruption found in the police and politics.
I reply to Marcelo’s observation, “Sometimes it just takes people knowing that they can do better before they change. People have to understand that things can actually be different before they are willing to change inefficient systems.”
As I think back over the day, I realize that I should probably listen to myself a little more often. Some things are out of our control, such as losing a jacket. There is very little I can do to change the situation, and yet I practically want to tear down the door of the CEO of TAM to get my jacket back. What for? What good can it do me now? I have to live with the problem.
But some things are within our control, while we stubbornly suffer with the consequences rather than actually doing something to change the situation. Right now, I could go downstairs, find the all-night pharmacy, take the oxygen pills, and be able to breathe normally. Instead I sit here suffering, either too cold to sleep, or covered in heavy blankets, unable to breathe.
It seems to me that the reason Bolivia, and every other country in the world, has so many problems, and even myself, is because of our pride. We waste enormous amounts of energy on problems that we can’t do anything about. On the other hand, things for which we can actually do something, we’re not willing to listen to the conversations which illuminate the way to solve our problems.
Finally in Bolivia, after a day of flight delays, I remain… with my pride… awake… and cold, wondering, “What’s wrong with the world.”
Exactly the same thing that’s wrong with me.