So whilst spending over a month in Bolivia, there are many cultural differences that I would like to share with you:
- There are dogs everywhere, it's very much like Asia, but in general the dogs look much healthier. They still make a lot of bloody noise at night though!
- Not only are the dogs annoying the morning, but the trucks selling gas tanks are too! A truck drives around the city selling gas to home owners ridiculously early in the morning (about 6am) and they way they notify the house owners that they are outside is by ringing a bell constantly! This also happens with buses driving from one village to another, as the driver sounds the horn when he drives past houses or through a village to inform the locals that the bus is there. It sure can get rather annoying!
- Talking about drivers, the drivers here are crazy; taxi drivers, micro drivers, the whole lot! They are all so dangerous considering the street around here are small with many pedestrians, they race around the city 100 miles an hour simply beeping their horns for you to get out the way, or just before they pass a cross roads to alert other drivers to stop or watch out for them. I don't really know the rules of the road, or even if they have any rules, but it seems to me that if you beep first when entering a cross roads, then you have right of way. I'm not quite sure how it works, but I haven't yet seen a crash which is extremely surprising. Nor do I see dead dogs on the road, which I would also expect to see around here. One time as I was getting onto a Micro (essentially a mini bus for 24 people that drives around the city) the driver started driving away before I had even properly stepped on. And then I attempted to stagger my way down the aisle to find a seat and before I could sit down, the driver braked so hard I ended up sitting on top of a poor innocent girl who was minding her own business. Now if everyone on the micro wasn't already staring at me because I was a 'greengo', I sure had got their attention by this point. With a red face, I managed to pull myself up and plonk myself onto another seat (yes it was an empty seat this time!) I had to sincerely apologise to this girl who really didn't look too happy with me, but eventually I managed to get an acceptance smile from her. I don't know how the ladies with children manage to jump on these dangerous vehicles!
- No push-chairs...yep, the ladies around here are not lazy like us, the children are carried around on their mothers backs simply using a big blanket (a very colourful one saying that.) It can't be good for their backs, they end up hunching over when they walk, I do feel bad for them. I have never seen a man carry a baby around either, it is always the woman...that brings me onto another point, men...
- Well well well, the men. To be honest there really is not much to say here because they do nothing. They expect the woman to cook, clean, carry their babies, serve them dinner and probably tuck them in at night too. The men just go to work, return home to a cooked dinner and then go to bed. They see themselves as too 'macho' do help their wives. I saw that this weekend when I went to Maria's home town which I will write about later.
- Some ladies are very traditionally dressed...they have very long hear which is always tied back in 2 plaits, a big sun protecting hat, an apron-style overall which makes them look like they are always cooking or working in the market, a long skirt and long socks. In each city, the number of pleats and layers to the skirt varies as well as the style of hat. Also, some women in certain cities are known to be very beautiful. It is simply a style of dress that they have been used to wearing when growing up and therefore are proud to maintain this style. It is comfortable for them so why change?! You usually see them selling food in the markets or on the streets selling popcorn, nuts, chocolate, sweets and even pizza from portable pizza ovens (the ladies just have packet pizzas ready to heat up for you!) For the majority of younger Bolivians, times are changing and therefore their style of dress is very similar to us. One thing I have noticed which I find very boring, is that they all have really long hair with no style. People are more interesting with different hair styles and it almost makes you stand out from others, so I'm not sure why they don't experiment a little more - they have the type of hair which will look good in many different styles...such thick and healthy looking hair, I am rather jealous!
- So it really isn't normal to live with friends, or house share here. People just live with their families. Some people just rent a room without kitchen facilities or a living room and simply eat in the market or in the streets for cheap. The renting system is quite strange here too, as they pay upfront a certain amount, lets say 3000 dollars a year, but at the end of the contract they get all 3000 dollars back. They do have to pay for bills separately and the house owner will have gained a bit of interest from the bank, but how odd, to literally be living somewhere for free?!
- They have over 32 different languages in Bolivia. People who live in small villages have their own dialect and can't understand Spanish. In some schools, they teach Quechua as well as English. Not only do they have different languages, but the Spanish accent in each city varies too and some locals have even told me that they can't understand people who live in other parts of the country (honestly, what chance do I have now!!)
- Relationships are interesting here...I have spoken to several Europeans who have a Bolivian partner and hence have ended up living in Sucre for several years. They have all said to me that people here do not really have a 'close bond' like we have in Europe. They find it hard to make any kind of connection with people here, even with their partners' families. They have said that they are glad they are living in a town where there are tourists so they can have good meaningful conversations. My teacher also said that it is quite typical for people to make plans but end up cancelling because they are just too tired and can't be bothered, but instead of telling their friend this, they have to make up an excuse so their friend doesn't get angry. Gosh, is doesn't sound good does it! So it seems to me like everyone is happily friends and kind to each other, but it doesn't really mean anything, and they don't really know each other as individuals. They say that some families can't even trust each other and will steal from their own brothers and sisters. I think I would feel so lonely if I lived a life like that. It sure makes me appreciate the close connection I have with my family and friends - so thanks guys, I miss you all!!!
...a few more things
They have tons of little newsagents along every street, but you can never walk into the shop itself because they are blocked by these kind of prison bars, so you actually have to stand outside and ask the shop keeper for specific items. I guess it's good way to force you to learn the items in Spanish!
Ok so also the bread here is VILE...every piece of bread I have tried has been stale...but to the locals, clearly eating stale bread is the done thing here...as that is all they seem to eat every breakfast and lunch and probably dinner too along with every other carb food you can imagine! So in one dish we can have bread, rice, potatoes and pasta...yumyum. Honestly, how they don't see that as a strange thing to do, or more to the point, a very unhealthy thing to do, I just don't know. I can see why some people here are rather overweight, eating the amount of carbohydrates per day as one should be eating in one month! But I must admit my "mejor hermana/best sister" (she says she feels too old if we call her mum and give her that one, she is only 29 after all so we are not that far behind her) well, she does cook pretty damn good meals for us despite the fact that it usually does involve too many carbs. The dishes usually involve pasta, or rice and sometimes both, with one type of meat (thank goodness that's not doubled too) and chopped up vegetables in a spicy sauce. Her cooking has been great and she has been kind cooking for us many times since I arrived in the house on 16th October.
Michelle (Irish girl who is also living in the house) and I decided to cook Maria pancakes for dinner with ham and cheese. Oh I forgot to mention the cheeses here are pretty bog standard too, nice flavour but there really is not much variety to choose from. Given that it is a third world country, I shouldn't really be complaining. So yes since I moved into the house I have not really eaten out but I think I had a fair amount of time to explore the many restaurants in the city which are tasty and have a good variety of food to choose from mainly due to the fact that many people from Italy and Holland have ended up finding a Bolivian lover here and hence have stayed in Sucre and set up a cafe or restaurant.
It's dangerous for food lovers to stay in Sucre for a long time because the food is so good and also so cheap. In a Bolivian restaurant you can find 3 or 4 course dinner for as cheap as 13 Bolivianos, which is just over £1. So as you can imagine that's where the locals go and its good food too. For the other restaurants that have been setup mainly for the tourists that pass through the town or for the more upper-class families with a little more money, you are looking at spending 25-45 Bolivianos (£2.50- £4.50) for a good main course. Some of the best restaurants we have discovered here are Florin, Abis cafe (you can get a delicious steak for £45) and a secret Italian restaurant that is actually the owners house, so customers have to ring a bell to enter and then eat in the dining room...cute idea hey!
So as you can imagine it's a pretty tough life eating all this incredible cheap food for under £5 and trying to keep a respectable belly size! Thank goodness my professor in the Spanish school showed me where I could find a gym close to my house (it's called Megatlon, and costs 25 bolivianos per day or 100 per week, but it is a brand new premier fitness club - ah, home sweet home.) Since then I have been working hard trying to run off some of these many calories I have acquired over the past few months! It also feels great to be doing something I would be doing back home, I just feel a little more at home, it's nice