The day I fell in love with Bolivia

Last Sunday, I fell in love. In the giddy, heart-full, utterly astonishing way that it seems like it happens, I suddenly found myself totally enamored.

I went to La Paz last weekend, planning to leave early Sunday morning to visit a town called Sorata way up in the mountains. I was looking forward to a break after a long, hectic week capped off by coming down with a miserable cold, and I couldn’t wait to get up into the beautiful mountain country that’s called “The Land of Eternal Spring.” When I went to the bus stop, though, I learned that there were no buses leaving. In fact, there was absolutely no traffic at all, in the whole city, because it was the “Día del Peatón,” the day of the pedestrian. It’s a day that’s celebrated in La Paz and Cochabamba, and it was simply lovely – like Open Streets in Minneapolis, but throughout the entire capital city of nearly a million people.

ImageImageImageFor an entire day, no buses, taxes, or cars are allowed on the roads. The highways leading into and out of the city are blocked; only ambulances, police cars, and airport taxis are permitted to drive. People come out into the streets. It was absolutely incredible. The main thoroughfare in La Paz was full of games, music, food, and vendors of absolutely everything. Different local organizations set up different areas. There was a whole set of tiny easels with paper and paints for tiny children; there were people jump roping and playing Twister and hopscotch.

ImageImageImageI sat in a park and read for a while, near what’s usually the busiest, traffic-jammiest intersection in the city, and people were biking and skateboarding and playing soccer. And that’s when waves of love started rolling over me. I have never been anywhere else where an entire major city would shut down traffic for a day. It was so amazing to feel what the city is like when it’s just being its human self – you could hear people’s voices and laughter, instead of honking horns and growling engines, and the whole city felt more peaceful and calm. The pace was a human pace instead of a mechanical industrial pace, and it just felt so good, and so beautiful, and so right.

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ImageImageI made other connections with local community organizations as I wandered throughout the city. The zebras were out in full force, of course. I found an awesome feminist group called Mujeres Creando, and I am very excited to get to know them better. They seem like a really, really cool group of women, and the work that they’re doing in Bolivia is really interesting. I also met a documentary filmmaker who makes films about human trafficking and violence against women in Latin America.

It was one of those days where things come together, and I loved it. It reminded me of how much possibility there is, and how much hope. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been missing that feeling, and it feels good to find it again. As the news fills with reports of violence, greed, suffering, and war, it was refreshing and inspiring to see a city set aside even just one day for such a positive event, so affirming of humanity and of life. I traveled to Sorata the next day, still full of joy and awe. Despite a persistent cold and the regular challenges of day-to-day life, the feeling has stayed with me this week, as I’ve taught my classes, cooked meals, and attended a vigil for peace in Syria. It’s a feeling of openness and potential, and above all a deep sense of love.

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