Noche de bodas

Noche de bodas, translated wedding night, is a song written by Joaquin Sabina and my favourite version is performed together with Chavela Vargas. The lyrics are the best toast ever, so here it is, my Christmas wishes for all of you and my wishes for myself and my darling Gus.

Noche de Bodas (J. Sabina)

Que el maquillaje no apague tu risa, que el equipaje no lastre tus alas, que el calendario no venga con prisas, que el diccionario detenga las balas.Que las persianas corrijan la aurora, que gane el quiero la guerra del puedo, que los que esperan no cuenten las horas, que los que matan se mueran de miedo.

Que el fin del mundo te pille bailando, que el escenario me tiña las canas, que nunca sepas ni cómo, ni cuándo, ni ciento volando, ni ayer ni mañana.

Que el corazón no se pase de moda, que los otoños te doren la piel, que cada noche sea noche de bodas, que no se ponga la luna de miel.
Que todas las noches sean noches de boda, que todas las lunas sean lunas de miel.

Que las verdades no tengan complejos, que las mentiras parezcan mentira, que no te den la razón los espejos, que te aproveche mirar lo que miras.

Que no se ocupe de tí el desamparo, que cada cena sea tu última cena, que ser valiente no salga tan caro, que ser cobarde no valga la pena.

Que no te compren por menos de nada, que no te vendan amor sin espinas, que no te duerman con cuentos de hadas, que no te cierren el bar de la esquina.

Que el corazón no se pase de moda, que los otoños te doren la piel, que cada noche sea noche de bodas, que no se ponga la luna de miel.
Que todas las noches sean noches de boda, que todas las lunas sean lunas de miel.

Wedding night (J. Sabina)

For the make-up not to cover your smile, for the luggage not to burden your wings, for the calendar to not come in a hurry, for the dictionary to stop bulletsFor the blinds to correct dawn, for the I want to win the war of I can, for those waiting to not be counting the hours, for the ones that kill to die of fright.

For the end of the world to find you dancing, for the stage to cover my gray hairs, for you to never know how or when, not yesterday nor tomorrow.

For the heart not to become out of fashion,for the autumns to golden your skin, for every night to be a wedding night, for the honey moon never to set. For every night to be a wedding night, for every moon to be a honey moon.

For the truths not to have complexes, for the lies to look like lies, for the mirrors not to agree with you, for you to like to see what you see.

For helplessness not to be bothered with you, that every supper be your last supper, that being brave wouldn’t come at high cost, that being a coward wouldn’t be worth it.

For you not to be bought for less than nothing, for you not to be sold love without thorns, for you not to be rocked to sleep with fairy tales. for the bar in your corner not to close down.

For the heart not to become out of fashion, for the autumns to golden your skin, for every night to be a wedding night, for the honey moon never to set. For every night to be a wedding night, for every moon to be a honey moon.

Yesterday we celebrated our wedding anniversary. 8 years married, almost 14 years together (!!!). I feel happy. We where together, wrapping presents, listening to some music after a really nice ready made Chinese meal. No fuzz, no stress, the boys happily in bed. It may sound trivial and simple, but it was precious to me.

We realised we do miss our family, and home (Bolivia) is starting to call for us, in a very soft, back of the head kind of voice, and it dawned on me. This little life, it is now and it is fleeting . It will never come back. My boys will be five next year, maybe we’ll save some money to fly to Bolivia for the Holidays and then next Christmas in London they’ll be 6.

It was a very appropriate kind of mood at home, and it made me cherish what we have and be grateful for our health. It made me realise how much more i love my husband than i ever thought possible and what a good thing we did getting married. There is  kind of certainty -even though nothing is guaranteed- that i have someone to rely on, who has invested in the same dreams as me and is keen to have a happy life, lived by sort of the same principles.. There is such a value in that.

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How did my mum do this!

How did people manage? what i actually mean is: how did mums manage to do all this and not get lost in translation in the past?. Is it actually possible to be a mum that is on top of things at home, has happy kids, a good relationship with her partner (who of course helps out and is involved), in a household with two working parents, on a city where you have no family to help out. IS IT POSSIBLE? Because to me, it oh so often feels like it’s not. And every happy time i get to find another part-time working mum i find that we can laugh and complain and secretly feel relieved that we are not alone in this (so this means i officially don’t think mums on full time jobs with kids can.. but that’s me and i’m known for make rush pre-judgements)

So the question then is, how did my mum do it? and of course the answer is different for everyone. In my Latin-American-Dutch case the answer i came up with is: she didn’t. My mum is GREAT, she is a sociologist who was first a journalist and learned Spanish and moved to Bolivia because she fell in love with my dad (who was also a sociologist), yes the story is super romantic, maybe I’ll tell you more one day.

I always considered my mum super brave for having leapt to the unknown like that: a new continent, a new language, a new culture.. But for her it must also have been exciting and surprising. She and my dad worked together on projects to do with development and other important issues, so that must have been rewarding. They lived in a house they build adjacent to my grandparent’s, on land that was owned by them.

I know from the stories that they carried me with them on their field trips into the mountain villages, and i remember dad taking me to nursery sometimes. But then i also remember always having someone taking care of me (and the house). First there was Balbina, a cholita that helped out with the cleaning and cooking at home, i was apparently very close to her and she always wanted to carry me in a swaddle like cholitas do with their own babies, my mum would tell her not to as to discourage me from wanting to be held all the time. Then there was Lidia, who was always whistling and quite playful, she was very young, too young we found out when she finally confessed to have lied about her age when starting to work with us. We loved her like a sister, my sister and me, and she would put the record straight telling us off: “you’re crazy if you think i’m going to put up with you like your mum does!”. Also since forever there was Sonia, a lady that came once a week to do the ironing, she had countless children, her youngest came as a surprise when she was over 50 i think!. When i started school a very special lady came into my life: Alicia, she was there to be with us and encourage us to do our homework until mum and dad where free. We also had a gardener come once a week.

I’m not sharing this to make my mum feel awkward, or because i wanted to show how spoiled i was as a kid.. my point is, even if i wasn’t living in one of the most expensive places on Earth, where the cost of living takes in average over 60% of household income and where childcare for twins is more expensive than the salary of anyone i know, and where it would be more likely for you to meet all of your favourite Hollywood stars hanging out in your local pub before you could make a decent living on a minimum wage (don’t miss interpret this please, i do love living here, the museums, the parks, to me it’s worth it).. Even if i went back to my home country (Bolivia) things couldn’t be the same.. and that is a good thing.

It shouldn’t be allowed to have such a gap between the lowest and the highest income that it would allow a whole class to live comfortably served by another who is always struggling to get by, just because the jobs they do are considered inferior. I am very proud of the changes happening in Bolivia that move away from that situation, like raising the minimum wage, compulsory health insurance and pension for homeworkers and strengthening the law to protect them from abuse.

To me it is funny, but not haha funny, how things in the UK seem in some ways so similar. But then actually a bit worse, because as a Latin-American i am always very aware of the inequalities, when faced with them, but i found that most people here aren’t when the inequalities don’t affect them directly.

In the UK over 2 million children are considered to live in poverty, it appears to be most common for people to earn less than the living wage, and therefore to be on benefits, so basically most people earn too little and are subsidized by the government to be able to just about make it, so they can comfortably go back to work to keep on earning nothing… In Bolivia there are no benefits, there is no safety net, so people have to make it and therefore are very hardworking.. I think this is an argument the UK government made for removing benefits: get people into HAVING to work mode (which i get, but seriously?)..

Strange but true, i think some things are a bit worse here.. No offence meant.

Posted in Latin American issues, My Latin American Women, Other worldly issues, Poverty, This Latin-American woman | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’m just a girl

Ok, this is a subject i’ve long been thinking on how to tackle, and i’m not sure i’ll ever know what the best way is, so i’ll just start and see where it leads..

It’s no secret i’m thinking a lot about what makes me a Latin American woman, i mean, what bits come from having been born and raised in a specific culture, and which ones have to do with being just a girl, with a conscience and an attitude.

I grew up very very confused, my parents where teaching me all this things, you know, values and ethics and that sort of thing that one teaches their children, and time and time again i realized that i was pretty much alone (that’s how it felt) in my awareness of how one should act towards others. In kindergarten there was the “light haired” girl that openly discriminated towards the girl with the darkest skin and less fancy dress in the class. She (for no apparent reason) and me (for not agreeing to hand in my lunch), were often sitting next to each other looking at the whole group playing together happily, where were the teachers? did they realize the kind of discrimination that was going on?

My school class was very clearly separated in groups, girls played wit girls and boys with boys, but i remember there where groups amongst the girls: the well dressed -always commenting on my bad choices of clothing- very good students, all of them fair skinned for Bolivian terms; the not such good students but also pretty and sort of white; and the rest, with different characteristics, but surprisingly to me, all with the same sort of tanned skin. they were probably also divided in groups, but never mixing much with the groups i seemed to belong to.

So from my experience i know that Bolivian society is very aware of the differences in genetic background, even inside the same social class (in our case, middle-upper i guess, as it was a private school).. And then we are also very aware of geographic provenance: a family that is from the “city” will have more status than one which just recently arrived, or just one generation in.. So even if you are white-ish, but come from a rural background you’re bound to have less status. Then there is also the difference in wealth. So to mix and match, if you have money and are white, even though your dad is in jail for being a drugs lord, people might be keen on hanging out with you. If you are a brown-ish successful entrepreneur from a small town you are considered a new-rich and in the city you’ll have no status, you may become a very successful uneducated politician, but the middle classes will not like you.

So naturally, the worst case scenario is a poor, brown-ish, living in the city but coming from a village single woman, or a child with such a mum -or a child with no mum, but lets not get there because that is just heartbreaking-. I don’t want to make this a hard to read post, but some truths should be repeatedly told for people not to think that thing s are fine just because they always were like this.

If you are a girl from a poor family, or a girl that came to the city to help out with the cost of living back home, chances are you’ll be unhappy, you’ll be exploited and you’ll end up a single mum. Along the way you are likely to be seduced by man who have no intention of staying with you, they find you an easy pray because you are not “street wise”. You are also not wise as for contraception methods or STD’s and that is very appealing for some man. If you have and keep your child you are likely to suffer even worse abuse, as you can’t just leave the job, just because your being groped: how will you feed your children?

It’s not strange that women choose to stay in abusive relationships, some how that is safer than being on your own.. And then man have such control over women that it becomes a normal thing that woman are physically abused for not complying with their partners wishes, and i don’t mean sexually only, anything becomes a power test.

Here’s a collection of unacceptable experiences from girls i crossed paths with (+myself)

To be groped by strangers on the street; to be groped by your partner in front of friends; to be cheated on repeatedly, to be asked to accept it; to be hit be a male friend; to be hit by a drunk partner ; to be hit by a sober partner; to be raped by a stranger; to be raped by your husband; to be kicked by your husband while pregnant, then raped and then asked to accept to be cheated upon; to have your child abducted from you by your abusive partner; to have an abusive partner threaten to take his life if you don’t take him back; to be outcast by your family for not accepting to be cheated on; to be locked up by your partner to prevent you from running away, to have to leave your children behind in order to be physically be able to leave and hope to be able to return to collect them; to have your children taken from you because your refuse to remain in an abusive relationship..

And no, i am not a social worker, these things have happened to me and people i know personally, all of us Latin-American. But this is happening everywhere.. The impunity that seems to be a perk of being wealthy, the general need for social status, the struggles faced by being a single parent -especially if there is no social security in place-, the pressure from society and some religions to abide to certain “rules”, and the want to keep the power in male hands drives people to do and accept outrageous things..

This is what pushed me to finally write this post, and i love the song that comes next

Posted in Latin American issues, Other Latin American Women, Other worldly issues, This Latin-American woman | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

the good, the bad and the ugly

I have been physically separated from my laptop for longer than a month because it was holiday time, so no nursery for my boys, and it was summer time, so the perfect excuse to postpone ones own ambitions and interests in the pursue of quality time together as a family. My in-laws visited from Bolivia and we had a lovely time together. It sounds nice and simple, but it wasn’t. The visit was, but the process to get them here wasn’t.

The problem is: my in-laws are completely and utterly, fully Bolivian.. meaning that is the only passport they have, unlike me (I have dual nationality, and therefore two different passports). So they have to ask for a visa to come and visit us in the UK, fair enough, I think it is a good thing, people should require a visa to visit Bolivia too, it makes sense to keep track of who is coming in and out of your sovereign territory. They spend around 300£ in all the paperwork necessary, like translated birth certificates, and marriage certificates, and bank statements, and documents showing their ownership of properties, plus documents explaining their complete income and so forth. Lot’s of paperwork all translated by an officially appointed translator who charged 15£ per page. They had to travel to a different city for the appointments and had to have the tickets to the UK bought even though they weren’t guaranteed the visa, because it helps if they can actually see that you have a return ticket even if you don’t get to actually go to the UK.

None of this was new to us, we have had to apply for this kind of thing for my hubby different times before he and I started residing in the UK, and before that, every time any Bolivian family member wanted to visit someone in Holland.

The first time I realized there are good passports and bad passports was the only time I traveled to The Netherlands through the US. This was prior to 9/11. I, traveling as a Dutch was allowed to go out of the airport if I wanted, but my dad (Bolivian) was escorted to a holding room, where he was allowed to stay until our flight to the Netherlands departed, 9 hours later. I refused to separate from him, and as I was a minor, they let us both into the room. After 3 or four hours it became evident that water and sneakers would not suffice for the young Dutch girl, so in an effort to be nice to me, escort was arranged for us to go eat something together.

My dad had in the past refused a Dutch passport, when offered one during his university years. He studied in a Dutch city called Tilburg, there he was part of student movements and worked with refugees and my mum -who had just finished studying journalism- interviewed him, that’s how they met. He refused it because he was proud of where he came from. Years later he told me it had been silly and naive to have done that, as much as we love being Bolivian, it doesn’t open any doors for you, he said to me once, and it can actually make things more difficult. This was once when I refused to travel with my red (Dutch) passport because it shouldn’t matter where you come from! (I was a child)

More recently, namely yesterday, I have been faced with the ugliness of this subject once more, as, after 5 months of being without passports because a renewal of my husband’s residence was due, we received the paperwork back with a letter explaining the application wasn’t successful. It states in the next line that he doesn’t need to leave the country. So.. is he a resident? is he not? I called the number on the letter to ask advice on what we needed to do next, as my children and I all have the right to be here, we have the good kind of passports (Dutch), and he has been the provider ever since we became a family!

I was explained politely that I should probably seek legal advice, but that the number I had called was for the enforcement of repatriation.. Which was probably unlikely for us, as he is actually entitled to be in the UK due to his marriage to me, the Dutch.

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The good father

I was looking for a decent picture of myself to put on tweeter (yes, I joined in..) when I opened the folder with pictures of my dad. I have a folder with loads of great pictures of him, even from when he was a little child.. I never realised it’s actually unusual to have your dad’s childhoods pics at hand, in you laptop, until people at his funeral asked surprised how we got them to Holland in time. He had them back at home in Bolivia, together with all our family pics, which I had scanned a couple of years earlier to have nice pictures at a previous family funeral, that of his sister, who also passed away after a long and awful battle with breast cancer.

My dad was born (1946) and raised in what was then a very small city in Bolivia (just a couple of paved roads) and after primary he went to a secondary school run by dutch Augustine priests; he was an outstanding student and this gave him the opportunity to travel to Holland and study there (with a lot of economic sacrifices from his family). He stayed with a dutch family that took him in, learned the language and decided to follow social studies instead of engineering, which was the expected course of action. He studied Sociology, made some good friends and worked supporting political refugees, this probably was of some use when his sister was apprehended in Bolivia during a military coupe, after spending some horrible time in prison she was exiled to Holland and lived there the rest of her life there.

He met my mum and they became an item. He convinced her to study Sociology at the university -she was a newly graduated journalist- and I still fail to completely understand how he got her to swap culture, language and continent. She went from living in a small post war family farm by the border with Belgium as a little child, to a catholic boarding school, to journalism school, to university, to Bolivia: unknown developing country which she made sure to visit on her own and in where against all sound local advice she traveled around -still on her own- before taking the big leap. My dad and mum moved back to be close to my dad’s family because my grandfathers health had deteriorated. There build a home, attached to the fatherly house. He started teaching for the Sociology department at the local state university and together with my mum they opened a consultancy, CIPLADE: Centro de Investigacion para Planificacion y Desarrollo (Research Centre for Planning and Development)

My dad was a great man, super intelligent, super sensitive and a dreamer. But I didn’t realise the extent of how sensitive he was, or how he was a dreamer because I think I met him a bit too late. I know form the pictures that he was super happy and proud to be a dad. I know form what he told me that he used to have good friends with whom he could hold long conversations/discussions about the great issues in the world. And I know he was very proud of some of his university students, specially some very interesting girls. I know he enjoyed life because he was always making plans to travel somewhere together. I know he was  dreamer because he and mum bought a piece of land with ruins of a farm on it, that they fell in love with. They always wanted to go there, spend the night and work on it, even when it meant to sleep in one room, the four of us, sometimes no light, sometimes no water..

But when I actually experienced my dad more consciously I always felt he was a bit disappointed. I failed to understand why, but he didn’t seem really happy, more like “content with a hint of sad”. He was cheerful sometimes but it never lasted long, when he met friends on the street they where people I had seen once or twice before, never really close. With time and in retrospective, and with my own awareness just starting to catch up, I feel I can understand his sadness better..

He was well read, honest, not into politics or religion, very objective, hard working and straightforward. This is a combination that didn’t bring him much joy in life.

When doing consultancies he got first hand experience with the dark side of politics. As  a lover of debate he didn’t find quite the contender in his native country, he always seemed to get into arguments, politics was the topic most times, and how the leftist movements had been unsuccessful and hypocritical so far -most friends had been of left affinity, and some were actively into politics-. At home he had a difficult relationship with his brother who considered him alienated and foreign, he didn’t approve his “modern” ways or those of his wife -who was working and always had an opinion-. My mum told me that dad stopped going out with friends in the early years of their return because they didn’t feel comfortable with her coming along and he didn’t feel comfortable with her having to stay home.

He graduated from one of the best secondary schools in Bolivia, a kind of cradle for the best performing professionals, back then a boys-only school; when I was born he started lobbying for girls to be allowed in and for the dutch support to remain to help new bright students to have a chance of studying abroad. He was baffled by the opposition he found to both ideas. Why, he would ask, do people who have clearly benefited from these programs not want younger generations to profit from it as well?. The issue with the girls was worse, even friends with daughters opposed the idea of letting girls in because they’d “lower” the educational level, either by needing extra support or by distracting the boys.

It is amazing that I was raised believing I could do or be anything. To believe that hard work, not politics, will get you where you want to be. I never felt being a girl could get in the way of getting where you want to be or doing what you want to do. I grew up hoping to find a guy that treats me nice and loves me for who I am, without the feeling I had to be, act or look a certain way to get there. I am aware now that I am lucky to have been raised the way I was, and that not everyone is that lucky. Girls everywhere grow up thinking really poorly about them selves.. Taking any chance that comes their way when it comes to choosing a partner and never really looking towards their own needs or wants. Eager to please, to be accepted. Seeking for reassurance of their own value through other people’s eyes.

 I was quite a rebel growing up, always looking for an argument and a chance to prove my dad and mum were wrong and imperfect, a most annoying side effect of raising independent thinkers, my dad would say.. He also shared some sour truths:

The first half of your life your parents hold you back, the second half it is your kids

When you have kids you’ll know how frustrating an painful it can be to be a parent: your kid will be running at a 100 miles per hour, straight into a cliff, you’ll know this, but there’ll be nothing you can do. You’ll hold your breath, hope she stops on time or survives the fall, and then be there to gather the pieces.

What is happiness? we only seem to ask this question in its absence, when you’re happy you don’t know it.. You just are.

I love you dad..

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Madre soltera / Single Mother

Durante una conversación con una amiga española me llamó la atención un comentario suyo. Ambas vivimos en el mismo barrio en las afueras de Londres y tenemos en común la guardería a la que asisten nuestros hijos, el idioma que hablamos y nuestra intención de criarlos bilingües.

Hablábamos de la dificultad de mantener una vida armoniosa en la casa cuando tienes niños pequeños y ambos padres trabajan, de lo duro que es a veces lidiar con la necesidades de los pequeños y las propias y las de nuestras parejas; y como en este corto tiempo de ser mamás (nuestros hijos tienen menos de 4 años) se nos hizo evidente que mantener un matrimonio y una familia feliz es mucho más difícil de lo que pensábamos.

El comentario que se quedó con migo fue más bien una pregunta: ¿Cómo es que casi todos los latinoamericanos que he conocido aquí provienen de una familia con una madre soltera? Lo he pensado mucho y obviamente mis conjeturas derivan de mi propia experiencia y observaciones.

En Bolivia la familia es muy importante y sin importar la clase social, grupo étnico o estatus, lo ideal es casarse (anunciar formalmente ante la sociedad el deseo consensual de un hombre y  una mujer de formar una familia) antes de tener hijos. Las familias son unidas y el control social es fuerte y esto forma parte vital del funcionamiento de nuestra sociedad pues no existe seguro médico universal ni seguridad laboral, y en general tenemos poca fe en la “ley y justicia”.

Existen muchas clases de pobres, pero los más pobres son los que no cuentan con una red de seguridad social. Son familias que se han desplazado de su territorio original alejándose de sus familiares y amigos, por elección o necesidad -provenientes del campo, decidieron migrar a la ciudad en búsqueda de trabajo asalariado-. El trabajo que encuentran es generalmente mal remunerado y las horas muy largas, muchas veces es necesario que ambos padres trabajen y los niños quedan desatendidos. Estas son familias muy vulnerables y en estos casos no es poco común que después de un tiempo el padre abandone a la familia. La vida familiar se vuelve muy dura pues la madre se ve forzada a mantener a toda la familia sola.

Recuerdo una conversación que tuve una vez con un niño que limpiaba y cuidaba autos parqueados. Le pregunté porque no estaba en su casa haciendo tareas para la escuela. Me respondió que ya las había hecho y prefería ayudar a su mamá que si no tendría que trabajar un turno extra durante la noche y que a sus hermanitos les daba miedo quedarse solos en la noche. Me contó también que cada vez era más difícil conseguir trabajo porque hombres grandes empezaban a competir con los niños: “ellos son malos y viciosos, ni se fijan de los autos y todo lo gastan en bebida”, continuó diciendo: “¿Porque no se buscan un trabajo de adultos? Ellos pueden hacer de todo, nosotros niños solo podemos hacer esto, vender dulces y lustrar zapatos”. Me comentó que estaban tratando de organizar un sindicato de niños trabajadores de la calle para defender sus fuentes de ingreso.

En definitiva hay un grupo grande de madres solteras en Bolivia, posiblemente la mayoría fue abandonada con sus niños al verse el padre enfrentado con un monumental fracaso como proveedor, me reúso a pensar que es mera irresponsabilidad (aunque de eso no falta tampoco). Estas madres sustentan a sus niños como pueden, y al hacerlo forman parte importante de la economía de nuestro país, sin ser debidamente reconocidas ni remuneradas. Al igual que los niños que trabajan en la calle, muchas veces terminan haciendo el trabajo que hombres adultos rechazan.

El ejemplo más claro de esto lo vi una madrugada mientras tomaba el bus regional de La Paz a Cochabamba. La carretera se encontraba en mantenimiento y un ejército de cholitas la  mantenía limpia y húmeda.  Eran las 6 de la mañana en El Alto, la temperatura bajo cero, en una altura en la que cualquier esfuerzo físico resultaría sumamente agotador (más de 4000 metros sobre el nivel del mar).

El paisaje: docenas de polleras coloridas y aguayos cargando wawa’s (bebés) entre nubes de polvo, moviéndose rápidamente de manera intermitente de un lado de la carretera al otro. No vi ningún hombre excepto el que daba la señal de comenzar a mojar nuevamente, sentado en una silla a una distancia prudente para protegerse del polvo.

Es posible que gran parte de latinoamericanos que se animan a probar suerte en un continente desconocido y en un país de idioma diferente hayan pasado tiempos muy duros de pequeños que les hayan dado la fortaleza necesaria para emigrar.

Talking to a Spanish friend a while ago a comment she made got stuck in my head. We both live in the same neighbourhood in the outskirts of London and our children go to the same nursery, we share the language we speak and our wish to raise them bilingual.

We were talking about the difficulty of maintaining a harmonious life at home when you have small children and both parents work. Of how hard it can be sometimes to deal with the needs of the little ones and your own, and those of your partner; and how in the short time we have spent as mums (our kids are all under 4) it has been made evident to us that keeping a happy marriage and a happy family is much harder than we both had thought.

The comment that stayed with me was actually a question: How come most Latin-Americans I’ve met here have been raised by a single mum? I’ve been thinking about it a lot and obviously my conjectures derive from my own observations and experience.

In Bolivia family is very important and without distinction in social class, ethnic group or status, the ideal scenario is to get married (make it publicly known there is a consensual desire of a man and a woman to start a family) before they have children. Families are very close and social control is strong and that is vital for the functioning of our society as there is no universal medical insurance or employment security, and there is little faith in “law and justice”.

There are many kinds of poor, but the poorest are the ones who lack a social security network. They are generally families that have moved from their original location, away from their family and friends, by choice or necessity –they come from rural areas and have migrated to the city in search for a paid job-. The jobs they find are normally badly paid and the hours are very long; a lot of times both parents need to work in order to cover their basic needs and the children are left unattended. These are very vulnerable families and in these cases it is not uncommon for the father to abandon the family after a while. Family life becomes very hard as the mother is forced to maintain her whole family on her own.

I remember a conversation I once had with a child that cleaned cars and guarded them while parked on the street. I asked him why he wasn’t at home doing his school’s homework. He replied that he had already done them and that he’d rather help his mum out, because otherwise she would have to work night shifts as well and his little siblings were afraid to stay home alone at night.  He also told me it was getting harder to get little jobs because grown up men were competing with the children: “they are mean and vicious, they don’t even look after the cars and spend all their money in booze” he continued: “Why don’t they find themselves a grown up job? They could do anything, all us children can do is this, selling candy and polishing shoes”. He told me they were trying to organise a union of children working in the streets to protect their source of income.

There is definitely a large group of single mothers in Bolivia, possibly most of them have been abandoned with their children after the father found himself faced with a monumental failure as provider, I refuse to think that it is mere irresponsibility (even though there is a lot of that going around as well). These mothers support their children in any way they can, and by doing so, they form an important part of our economy, without been properly recognised or compensated. Same as the children working in the street, a lot of times they end up doing the work that adult men reject.

I saw the clearest example of this one early morning while riding the regional bus from La Paz to Cochabamba. The road was undergoing maintenance and an army of cholitas was keeping it clean and wet. It was 6 in the morning in El Alto, temperature was below zero and at an altitude in which any physical effort would prove extremely exhausting (over 4000 meters above sea level).

The view: dozens of colourful polleras and aguayos carrying babies amongst clouds of dust, moving quickly in an intermittent pattern from one side of the road to the other. I didn’t’ see any men except the one giving the sign to start sweeping again, sitting in a chair at a safe distance to avoid the dust.

It is possible that a great deal of Latin-Americans that venture to try luck in a new continent and on a country  with a different language have gone through tough times as children that have given them the strength needed to migrate.

Posted in Latin American issues, My Latin American Women, Other Latin American Women, Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mami, cuando crezca puedo ser una Cholita?

Mami, cuando cresca puedo ser una cholita? (Mum, when I grow up, can I be a cholita?)

Recuerdo preguntarle esto a mi mamá en uno de nuestros viajes por el campo en Cochabamba, Departamento de Bolivia en el cual nací y crecí.Ella me sonrió con ternura y contestó: cuando crezcas puedes ser lo que tu quieras! Y yo sonreí contenta, pues el escenario que veía por mi ventana era una de las cosas mas bellas que habia visto..

Debio ser algun día de Noviembre porque era epoca de “wallunkas“, unos enormes columpios que adornan con canastas, aguayos y flores de todos colores.

Las cholitas (jovencitas del campo solteras) vestian sus mejores polleras, grandes, coloridas, brillosas.. Todas andaban sonriendo. Sus blusas blancas con brillantes, sus aretes grandes, sus trenzas negras largas.. algunas con sombrero y todas contentas..

Pasaron los años y me di cuenta de que yo nunca podria ser una cholita. “Solo columpian jovecitas de pollera”, me exlpicaron la primera vez que pregunté si yo podia columpiar la wallunka. “Entonces, si me pongo una pollera, puedo columpiar?” El grupo de jovenes encargados me sonrió con cariño.. No lo dijeron pero ellos, ellas y yo sabiamos la respuesta. No es la pollera que te hace cholita.

Tuve suerte pues al pasar las horas estabamos mas en confianza y un poco mas tarde me dijeron que bueno, pero necesitaria un joven que me empuje.. Yo, super contenta. Mientras wallunkeaba toda la gente me miraba y la mitad se reia un poco avergonzada como quien ve un caballo imitando a una vicuña.

Para mi, uno de los mejores recuerdos universitarios.

I remember asking this to my mum on one of our trips to the country side in Cochabamba, the Bolivian province where I was born and raised.She looked at me with tenderness and laughed a bit while she answered: when you grow up, you can be anything you want! I smiled happily because the scenery I just enjoyed from my window was one of the prettiest things I had seen..

It must have been in November because all the “wallunkas” were up. Huge swings adorned with big woven baskets, colourful aguayos (traditional woven fabrics) and all kind of flowers.

The cholita’s (young single women from the countryside) all wore their best polleras (traditional skirts), big, colourful and shiny.. All walked about with a smile on their face. Their white blouses full of sparkly beads, lovely big earrings and long black braids.. some wore a white hat, all of them happy..

Years went by and I realised I could never be a cholita. “Only young ladies wearing a pollera can swing”, was explained to me the first time I asked if I could swing on the wallunka. “so, if I put on a pollera, can I swing then?” The group of young people in charge smiled at me fondly.. They didn’t say it, but them and I knew the answer. It’s not the pollera that makes you a cholita.

I was lucky because as time went by that evening we became friendlier and they finally agreed to me swinging, but I had to find a young man to push me.. I was super thirlled. Everybody looked at me while I swung the wallunka that evening, half the people there giggling a bit ashamed, like they were seeing a horse trying to impersonate a vicuña (the fancy cousin of a lama)

For me, on of the best memories from uni.

Posted in Other Latin American Women, This Latin-American woman | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments