Monday, 22 June 2009

The palm-reading masseuse

And so it was, that after 200 bus hours it was finally deemed necessary for some spinal relief. Such a decision happily coincided with a trip to Coroico, a quiet town nestled between green hills and just a whisper away from La Paz.

Asking amongst the locals, Juan's name came up as the man who can. Said masseuse appeared promptly at our breakfast table the next morning, and the date was set.

The appointed hour arrived, and we found ourselves a world away from the insence-infused and pillow-filled palace of our collective imagination. Instead, an old matress filled a hot room, where whitewash walls screamed for a second coat. Casting all expectations aside, therefore, we began.

Hands were soon cast aside in favour for leathery soles, and oily feet worked their way across my back. I remaining in silent surprise whilst a foot pushed inquisitively against my hip, a move only previously utilised to check whether a street-dog really was dead.

The hip-prodding promptly progressed into foot-slapping, and was accompanied by the first of Juan's 'readings'. He sensed trouble in my mind, and delved further through my tense muscles to a previously unknown childhood trauma (I still wonder). Digging fingers into my wrists he beamed with the gleeful delight of a masochist as I whinced in sudden pain; this was inevitably deemed a clear sign of my aforementioned trauma, and Juan produced a knowing smile.

Thus an hour passed in the anonymous room, during which my mental state was transformed into a haze of haphazard predictions. Yet my muscles protested of their neglect, and were soon yearning for the soft seat of another night bus.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Waiting Room

A rusty taxi speeds down cobbled streets and empties it's contents under a street lamp. Two tourists are bundled through the glass door in painful panic, and white robes usher the newcomers into the waiting room.

A familiar smell of cleanliness and chemicals fills the air, and patients settle down dazed and distant. Friends and relatives tap their feet and exchange worried glances, whilst in the corner, a little girl plays with her favourite toy, oblivious to her sterile surroundings.

Playful posters instruct on everything from tissue disposal to hand washing, and the wall clock ticks another slow second.

Unpronounceable names are called, and a theatrical performance begins, whereby mime translates days of sleepness nights and experiments with backpackers' pills. Kind smiles and patience brings a diagnosis and a drip, and promise for morning health. Bodily fluids are placed in universal plastic pots, and the waiting begins once more.

Dawn brings anxious butterflies to the hospital, until another white coat brings a piece of white paper. Ushered back to the consultation room, the doctor translates a foreign medical langauge into a second foreign language. Grappling for understanding, it soon transpires that the words they waited for were the same.

Clutching scribbles of advice and a handful of prescriptions, they head to the pharmacy, for orange potions and white powders to cure the indefineable illness. And soon stepping back out of the medical world, they head back to Bolivia.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Foreigners in Filadelphia

With the smoke still rising from the ashes of Europe, fearful families sailed for South America. Following whispers from distant Paraguay, they found their safe haven amongst fellow Mennonites, who had already fled Soviet persecution.

They built sleepy streets under a baking sun, and sixty years later still continue to greet each other in low German. But whilst the vastness of the Chaco has kept save a threatened communty, such self-imposed isolation has bred a hostile suspicion towards The Other.

Here lies a cruel irony, as the mennonites prospered amongst thousands of welcoming indigenous people, who now clean their houses and cook their dinners. Despite relying on this interdependent relationship for decades, the indigenous population are still deemed entirely untrustworthy; some groups are in fact too lazy to be employed at all.

Such knowledge taints a stroll down the dusty streets of Filadelphia, which soon begins to bear an uncanny resemblance to Harper Lee's Maycomb. Blues eyes and pale skin disguised our identity for a moment, although inquisitive gazes soon turned to frowns on realising that we were not infact visitors from the German homeland.

Rejected entirely, we sought our escape, and failed; the elderly ticket seller merely mumbling of her dislike of foreigners. Third time lucky, and we clutched our golden tickets which would take us across the border, and towards post-1945 tolerance.