Text of the multi-media show
An un-edited translation!
by Jacob Holdt
for CARE and DANIDA
TEXT SLIDES (55 seconds):
Produced for CARE and DANIDA who gave me absolute creative freedom. CARE is the world's largest private aid organization and DANIDA is the Danish International Development Agency.
Even though I speak no Spanish and did not want to let it influence my racism work, I accepted CARE's invitation after I found out that the project was a continuation of my work in the USA: poverty, underdevelopment and a social group in a psychologically closed system. Here it was also a matter of exploring a, for whites, surprisingly unknown territory.
And, more importantly: the project will continue for several years which will make it possible for me not just superficially and passively to use my camera in cynical exploitation of the pain and suffering, but to make it a necessary tool in active participation in the long-term work of changing the conditions.
This preliminary version of the show is the result of a 3-week introductory trip where I had no possibility of establishing deeper relationships with people. As the Danish part of CARE's project had not yet been started, this draft primarily deals with my own meeting with this incredible country.
For Bolivia is indeed the most grandiose and beautiful country I have ever seen.
Bolivia is the most Indian country in South America.
60% of the population are Aymara or Quechua Indians, and 35% are mestizos.
For 300 years the Aymaras were the aboriginal population of Bolivia and had a highly developed civilization.
In the 1400s they were incorporated in the Inca Empire, which let them keep their own culture.
Today's Quechuas are descendants of the Incas.
Bolivia is about the size of England, France and Germany put together.
It is divided into 3 completely different areas:
The Altiplano, which is a plateau at 13.000 feet, where the majority of the population lives, the extensive mountain valleys and the Amazon lowlands.
MUSIC (3:40 min)
Following in the footsteps of the Incas is not easy.
As soon as you step out on the 4-mile-long runway, which is the world's longest because of the thin air at 13.000 feet, you have problems breathing, your head hurts and your heart is pounding.
The history of Bolivia seems melodramatic, because it appears unlikely that any one country should be exposed to such an endless number of problems.
The Aymara Indians, the original population, were incorporated into the Inca Empire in the 1400s.
Just as incomprehensible as the highly developed civilization of the Incas is the European genocide ?of? 12 mio. Incas, who in 30 years were reduced to 200.000 - yes, incomprehensible as the fact that this is hardly mentioned in Danish textbooks.
Not until today - 500 years later - is the population figure of the former Inca Empire again as high.
Even to this day, the peasants celebrate the popular heroes who were executed by the Spaniards during the age long resistance, and see the white part of Bolivia's population as "strangers".
A lot in the culture are relics of the Incas: their adobe houses, costumes, pagan rituals, mythology and not least the panpipe music.
Never have I been to a country where so many people play music.
In every peasant home I saw their characteristic string and wind instruments - especially the somber zampona flutes which gives the Altiplano music its heavy coloring.
Music from La Pena:
This is Bolivia's flag which is proudly presented on any
The red is the blood of the heroes who fought against the Spaniards, the yellow the minerals of the Altiplano which lead to the death of millions, and the green the forests in the lowlands and the hope for a future in this area which has not yet been colonized. These colors were seen time and again in the lupine fields of the Altiplano.
The more fascinated I became with this incredible people, the more I fell in love with their flag.
But these are Bolivia's true colors, the striped cloth in which the peasants carry everything.
For the visitor, the country's serious problems may easily drown in an ocean of dazzling colors, catchy music and overwhelmingly beautiful scenery.
I thought I knew quite a bit about Bolivia, but soon found out that I simply had some very stereotypical ideas of scowling Altiplano Indians with their dark bowlers, which they were forced to wear by the Spaniards, and the women's two long braids tied together by woolen threads and the 18-20 layers of skirts which make them look overweight.
That this typical Aymara dress has come to represent Bolivia in the rest of the world, is due to the fact that very few foreigners travel on the impassable roads outside of La Paz.
In fact, every single region has its own characteristic costume. The peasants are able to tell just by looking at the men's caps and ponchos or the women's hats, skirts and shawls from which region they come. And - possibly because of my own somewhat strange look - I rarely had any problems bringing out smiles.....
Another thing we know from Bolivia is Lake Titicaca with the elegant rush boats.
This lake, which is the highest in the world, is extremely beautiful, but I never did see any of the rush boats.
This was where the original Aymara cultures flourished before the Incas, and this was where the Incas maintained that their civilization was born - even though Inca philosophers later doubted the allegation that these children of the sun, just like the sun itself, were born in Lake Titicaca.
The Indians still revere the lake and, to my surprise, still worship the sun - here swimming at 13.000 feet, where the sun will burn you in no time.
Soon I understood the significance of the bowler hat. But a few minutes after sunset I almost got lost here in a raging blizzard.
This is just one example of how Bolivia is the country of surprising contrasts.
I also had to do away with another preconceived idea. All my life I have seen Bolivia as the hotbed of superficial revolutions. It has the world record in changing presidents, which they have done almost once a year, and almost as many military coups - always white men over the heads of the population.
So, all of a sudden, having to see Bolivia as a democracy is a psychological leap a little like the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But election propaganda on every wall in the country bear witness that, after 3 elections, popular participation is on the rise - even though the strange alliances between leftwing generals and rightwing communists must alienate the Indian peasant population.
Here we are at an electoral meeting with the conservative party headed by a former military dictator.
Nonetheless, I experienced widespread political participation among the Indians - not least among the women.
It was a hunger strike by mineworkers' wives that lead to the fall of the last military dictatorship.
But the military still seems to lurk in the background.
March music and
It was a pleasure to see the enthusiasm with which the Bolivians are now using their newly-won democracy.
Almost daily there were demonstrations - often against US intervention.
When I photographed this demonstration I was the only Yankee present. All of a sudden the crown turned against me with threatening fists and rhythmical shouts "Gringo, Gringo".
For a minute there, I feared that they would also string me up in the tree.
Luckily, they had the same wonderfully gentle nature that I had met in the population everywhere. Nowhere in the country did I ever feel threatened.
The political violence and petty crime haunting other Latin American countries, have not yet reached Bolivia, maybe because it is too underdeveloped, but this makes the country a paradise for tourists. Even when I was arrested by secret police for having taken these demonstration pictures, the interrogation took place in a friendly atmosphere.
The paramilitary police had not quite gotten used to the democratic rules and hoped to persuade me to give them copies so they could identify the demonstrators.
It is surprising that there is democracy in Bolivia.
It is the poorest country in South America and it is getting poorer every day.
For years the income has fallen by 5% a year, even though the country could have been rich with its enormous mineral deposits.
It was the huge silver mountains in this town, Potosi, which brought the Spaniards to the country 500 years ago. This is the highest town in the world and used to be the biggest in the world - bigger than London and Paris.
I naturally wanted to see the place from where Europe's enormous wealth originates, and despite many warnings I went down into the mines.
But that day will be chiseled in my memory forever.
First the slow climb up the hill in the mineworkers' truck, which was constantly on the verge of overturning.
My fear grew during hours of waiting while the mineworkers stuffed their mouths with coca leaves to chew up their courage.
They work night and day to make enough money for their families, so spending 2 hours chewing up their courage says something about the risk involved.
For while the mining industry did formerly account for 3/4 of Bolivia's income, the world price on tin hit a rock bottom in 1986, and the mines went bankrupt. The mineworkers, who couldn't get other work, have tried to continue on their own - and this hasn't made their work any less dangerous.
Where the mine companies invested in safety equipment?, shoring and pneumatic drills, it is now up to the individual mineworker who works on his own using 400-year-old methods.
There is not the time nor the money for shores, so every worker randomly drills galleries so narrow that he can hardly squeeze himself through. Every man owns the tin vein that he finds.
It was with deep awe that I entered the galleries where 8 million Indians and African slaves died.
The Spaniards forced them to work 4 months at the time without letting them out.
7 out of 10 never came out again. The shores they put up 400 years ago still remain in the upper, cooler layers of the mine, where I could almost stand up.
Later I had to crawl on all four.
It is impossible to describe this awful experience. Even outside the mine I could hardly walk the last 50 yards up to the shaft because of lack of oxygen here at 15.000 feet.
But having to crawl hundreds of yards in pitch-darkness with less and less oxygen, through icy water and strong winds up above and 110 degrees Fahrenheit of stifling heat further below, was like descending into Dante's inferno.
Already on the second story I almost gave up.
The dangerous chemicals, the siliciferous dust, which gives the miners a painful death, arsenic gasses, acetylene fumes and other confined by-products of explosions and combustion quickly destroy your idea of showing solidarity with the mineworkers with your own body and soul.
I dropped the carbide lamp when I was burnt by the flame. And I could not see anything anyhow since chemicals made my eyes smart like hydrochloric acid.
These pictures are taken blindly just by aiming at the sound.
At the bottom my courage deserted me completely when the mineworkers told me that if I passed out, I would never get out as they could only carry 40 pounds.
When I tried to photograph this worker, I knocked a rock down over him which almost killed him.
Many of the mineworkers were disappointed that I hadn't brought them enough dynamite, which is sold all over town.
I didn't manage to get out before the explosions, and it was indeed a shaking experience to sit buried in a pocket deep underground and feel everything around me explode not knowing if a drilling had come too close.
While the dust settled, we had what is called a lunch-break in Europe - but here it was just coca leaves to soothe the hunger and the pain.
Acidiferous tears gushed out of me when they told me how they had all lost a father, an uncle or brothers down there, and knew that it was just a question of time before they would die themselves.
Savia Anino: "El Minero"
Gloomy days in subterranean
nights of tragedy.
Faded hopes and disillusion
are felt in my soul.
Such is my life now
because I am a miner.
As a miner who gives my whole
existence to my country
I will suffer more in my life.
My great tragedy will end
a long ways from here,
I was predestined to live
Therefore I beg God to let me die a good mineworker.
Above ground they believe
in a God in the heavens,
but down here the Devil reigns.
He owns the minerals, which they take from him. That is why he takes their lives.
To mitigate his anger
they call him uncle, and give
him lit cigarettes,
coca leaves and alcohol
in his mouth.
After the revolution in 1952 which was prompted by militant mineworkers, the government built houses for the workers with the money which the tin profiteers had previously invested in Europe.
Now they are becoming dilapidated and only mountains of slag remind the children of the huge amounts of silver and tin which was taken to Europe without them or Bolivia getting anything out of it.
The few children, who are so lucky as to have grandparents, have to watch them demonstrate to claim their right to a pension.
A fruitless begging, for the government has no money. After the large debt crises in the 80s, it is no longer minerals but money that flows in a steady stream to the rich world.
After the collapse of the mining industry an increasing number of people are depending on what they can grow on their land.
And many of the mineworkers have gone down to the coca fields.
For coca seems to be the only third world product that we, in the rich countries, are willing to pay a reasonable price for.
It is difficult to imagine from these beautifully laid out? coca fields in the jungle the great suffering caused by cocaine in the USA. The black ghettoes are on the verge of total disintegration as a result of crack and drug-related crime.
Even though there are no other jobs for ghetto youths than selling cocaine, the US government has launched a regular war against the victims instead of social reforms.
The same war has been launched by the US against coca producers in Latin America.
With promises to help the country, they have forced Bolivia, against the wish of the population, to use the military against these poor coca peasants.
It is not very hard to imagine the feelings aroused in a population which has formerly seen the military gunning down hundreds of mineworkers headed by women and children in order to supply the rich countries with cheap minerals.
Not one of the Bolivians I met feel that the US has any right to put an end to the only success they've ever had with the free market-forces which the USA has always tried to teach them.
If the North Americans are so unhappy that they want to destroy themselves with the coca which Bolivians have grown for centuries as a sacred plant and chew on any social occasion, it's their own problem.
Although I've lost several friends in the USA as a result of cocaine, I tend to agree with the Bolivians.
You cannot take everything from a country and then blame it for wanting to survive.
And as long as we Europeans protect our own farmers and thereby make it impossible for Bolivia's peasants to sell their far cheaper products, we also have to put up with being flooded by cocaine.
The cocaine can just about yield the profit that their food production cannot give.
With the support of the entire population and with their eyes and ears directed towards the US special troops, it was extremely difficult to take these pictures.
Everywhere in the stiflingly humid coca fields, the peasants would run away when I came climbing down the mountain slopes.
With my gringo look, they thought I was an agent or a press photographer who would make the soldiers aware of their existence.
But supplied with papers from CARE, who enjoys tremendous respect all over the country, and through my friendship with this educated picker who could read to the others and show them my passport, I succeeded in gaining the confidence of these wonderful pickers.
Even 4-year-old children had been trained to run away from the field at the slightest suspicion of visitors.
And I suppose that it is a tragedy that 50.000 hardworking peasants on this end as well as hundreds of thousands young people in the US ghettoes are criminalized in their desperate attempt to survive in a world that has brutally marginalized them.
Without access to the see, Bolivia has never had any industry.
Therefore farming is now the only chance of survival.
But the majority of the peasants have been relegated to subsistence farming.
Many places the soil is so poor that nothing can grow.
In the mining area of Potosi people can no longer make a living from digging for stones and now have to live from stones???. Survival is conditional on the sparse grass between the stones for lamas and sheep. The stone houses can barely be made out between the rocks and I never figured out how they keep warm in the almost arctic night frosts in this area.
No other region fascinated me as much with its total denial of human existence.
And yet, the scattered shepherds were living proof that the impossible can be done.
I fell in love with the children all over Bolivia, but these shabby, colorful herds children touched me deeply.
This 5-year-old girl told me that every day, from sunrise to sundown, she herds a large flock of sheep all by herself.
Everywhere in Potosi these children of the rocks ran to the road when, maybe twice a day, a car went by.
From early childhood they had learned that a quarter or a piece of bread meant the difference between a meal or going to bed hungry. This band comes from here and directly call themselves "Norte de Potosi".
The woman with eyes like the imploring, hopeful children's eyes I saw, sings of living without money in a child's voice almost like the children's squeaky, almost shrillingly desperate voices which went right through me.
Music (Norte de Potosi):
Further north, on the Altiplano where the shallow lakes are teeming with flamingoes, it is not quite so barren.
Here, on the treeless, barren plateau is where the majority of Bolivia's Indian peasants are found in small, closed peasants' communities. The communities are 100% Indian, and it seems incredible that almost everyone marries within the village, since every village has only a few hundred inhabitants.
For thousands of years all land was common property, and since almost everybody in the village is related to each other, it is still very common that the families are assigned land according to their needs.
I had heard a lot about how impenetrable and hostile these small, collective villages are to strangers as a result of centuries of white oppression, but several times, on festive occasions, I succeeded in getting invited to their common meals. With their strong resistance against being exploited photographically, they are the most difficult people in the world to photograph.
Even at great distances they ducked behind the sheep at the mere sight of a camera.
Not without humor, though. It took me 2 hours to photograph this girl, as she kept hiding behind the wall to tease me.
The women's colorful, bulging skirts literally made me feel like a skirt-teaser with my camera.
But the women also radiate a peculiar strength.
The Aymara women often beat their husbands, the men told me, while the men almost never hit them back.
The men's attitude to the women maybe has to do with the fact that children on the Altiplano are nursed till they are 3 or 4, which creates extremely strong bonds between mother and child.
With their reluctant nature, a lot like their cold, windy tundra surroundings, it was so much greater an experience to get a glimpse of their deeper human kindness.
For no kindness should be able to survive in these surroundings, where everybody has to toil in order to make an existence for themselves out of the more or less exhausted land.
In many poor countries, people work in bare feet, but in this freezing rain the expression of suffering and impoverishment on their faces seemed to increase the higher I got.
One in every three children die before they reach the age of five, and young people look very old.
In this village, CARE has financed the water supply, which has improved the hygiene so much that the infant mortality rate has decreased by 50%.
This CARE-manager told me how the Indians themselves dug down the water pipes from the well up in the mountains. The project cost CARE less than 1.000 dollars but it has already saved many lives.
If there were more money, CARE could make similar projects in many other villages.
Bolivians are so used to see their children die that they resign themselves to their fate, because they live with death so close.
Especially diarrhea is the cause of death for many children, and now people are being warned against cholera everywhere.
All over the world I have found that emaciated dogs are a sign that also the people are starving.
In Bolivia the host of hungry dogs bear witness to the conditions of human beings.
In other Third world countries I saw hospitals full of undernourished children.
In Bolivia the hospitals look like empty factory buildings with broken windows.
There is no money for them any longer with the cuts that the international banks demand.
Children wander the direct way to the grave without consulting the hospital.
Funerals are solemn but not sad.
For Bolivians death is no stranger.
Old people are a rarity.
Life expectancy is less than 50 years, so it is not difficult for them to imagine their fate.
Like Seneca they constantly face death. Their consciousness of their being mortal resembles that of the middle ages: Death is a chance occurrence, an inscrutable part of a universe forever beyond their comprehension.
It is only necessary to learn to accept it. And they have. The renaissance concept of a world full of joy is one that they do not understand. Life must be endured, and death therefore arouses no fear. Death brings peace.
The Aymaras only adopted those aspects of Christianity that they found attractive.
In that way a popular Catholicism of an exceptional richness has arisen.
While, outwardly, they worship the Christian gods, they continue to worship the gods of their forefathers. The world, as the Aymaras see it, is not a happy place.
It is full of demons who steal children, ruin their crops, kill their animals and drive people crazy.
A god of peace and love stands no chance against such adversaries.
You are better off putting your faith in the magic that served your forefathers so well.
The urban population, on the other hand, seems more influenced by the Roman-Catholic church.
Parade with music:
On the Altiplano, the Indian peasants get less and less land as the population grows.
Many of them only have a few exhausted rows of potatoes left and are forced into the cities.
But the country is 25 times the size of Denmark and has land enough for its 7 million inhabitants. Often I drove for long stretches without seeing any people.
Some places, there is only a few hours' drive from the windy tundra on the Altiplano to the tropical rainforest in the lowlands which covers about 70% of the country and is almost devoid of people.
The distress on the Altiplano keeps forcing more people down here, but often the land can only sustain them very briefly.
It looks fertile enough, so why not cut down the forest and cultivate the land.
On a mountain slope I met Manuel who was clearing the forest.
It was so steep that I kept sliding backwards and had to use lianas and twining plants to pull myself up.
Only dire need would make anyone try to cultivate this land, so I knew that he was desperate.
He told me that he would grow flowers for the rich city people. First he would cut down the forest and then burn it during the dry season.
When I said to him that without the roots of the trees to detain the water, it would be washed down, he answered that he realized that he could only cultivate this land for five years before all the soil and nutrients were washed away.
But he had no choice if he wanted to survive.
Later on, he would move deeper into the rainforest.
Everywhere on the lower mountainsides I saw how Bolivia's luxuriant rainforest is cut down and burnt in that kind of slash-and-burn farming.
On the most hopelessly steep places corn fields are now growing in the middle of the rapidly disappearing forests.
Corn fields which are only fields for a few years before everything is washed away and no forest will ever grow there again.
The smoke from the slash-and-burn farms reveals where the crime is about to happen, a crime not just against the future of Bolivia but against the future of all of mankind because of the greenhouse effect. If the development continues at this rate, there will be no more rainforests in the world in a few years, and these vast areas will slowly transform into deserts.
The catastrophical effects of this in terms of climate and people is depressing enough, but when you travel in the fertile eco-systems of the rainforests with more species of plants and animals than in the rest of the world, its rapid disappearance hits you with a particular sadness.
Rainforest sounds with music:
In the giant mountain-valleys stretching miles from the Altiplano down to the jungle, one fifth of Bolivia's peasants has got land in a very steep and rocky terrain.
But as it rains very little, the peasant becomes totally dependent on the whims of the weather.
It may rain three years and the not the next two, and when the drought comes there is no help to get. His social security is therefore to own a flock of animals that he can fall back on.
It seems like a good idea and sheep and goats are indeed jumping around merrily adding color to the landscape.
Yes, color, because the colors of the landscape may quickly change to Bolivia's national colors: from green over yellow to red.
When the rain fails to come, the goats over-graze the slopes. And when the grass disappears, they eat the trees.
Without the roots of the grass or the trees, the soil dries up and the erosion of the red soil begins. At the same time, the peasants have been using the wood for cooking.
Without the trees to detain the water like a giant sponge preventing the soil from drying up completely, its ability to absorb the rainwater disappears. The rain runs down the surface instead of sinking down, and it washes away mould and sand when it finally comes.
This peasant, Gregorio, told me about his personal tragedy. He has lived in Sillani all his life, but 30 years ago everything began to change.
There used to be a lot of trees, but he cut them down to get firewood and more farmland. But today the land is not at all productive any more. The yield is low and the crops get diseases.
- I cannot provide enough food for a family of 10 children. The 5 eldest have gone to the city to survive and the five youngest are leaving soon. It is the same everywhere around here. Sillani will deteriorate and our land disappear.
Gregorio is sitting telling us about his tragedy in the pitiful lunar landscape that he has created. His tragedy is not just the tragedy of his family, but is rapidly becoming the tragedy of the third world - or rather of the whole world.
Day by day, hour by hour huge areas of the fertile soil in the third world is being washed into the rivers and the sea irrevocably changing large parts of our productive planet - the only one that we will ever be given - into barren deserts and lunar landscapes.
Dramatic music and erosion pictures.
From a distance we can lament the destruction of the rainforest and the transformation of large parts of our planet into lunar landscapes. We can easily work up the entire emotional register in tearful campaigns to save and buy the rainforest from the human criminals who are trying to destroy it. But what is the alternative for the people who, like Manuel and Gregorio, are forced to participate in these crimes out of need and the wish to survive.
Louis Rico: "Coplas de la Sequia"
Up there in the
With its skyscrapers and snow-covered mountains the capital!! La Paz is a beautiful sight for the tourist, but for the peasant who is forced to settle in the slum areas on the mountain sides, the view is easily blurred by the constant struggle for daily survival.
75% of Bolivia's population are unemployed or underemployed. The children often have to collect garbage to survive.
Because of the cold, the slum areas look better than many other places in the third world, but water and sanitation are also lacking here.
Many people in the slums only survive because they still own a little piece of land in the country - maybe 2 rows of potatoes that can keep them alive.
It is extremely traumatic to change identity from peasant to town culture, and most of them cling fanatically to their roots in the village communities and refuse to give up their Indian culture on the terms of the Spanish-speaking culture.
As the business community of Bolivia, the Indian women are responsible for most of the country's trade. And, yet, it is not their business sense, however impressive it is, as much as their attitude that makes one lose one's courage-heart as a white person.
They look upon the world with a detached undisturbedness-calm and not only seem indifferent to one's presence, but even seem to repress it. The most difficult in involving them in trade is to get their attention.
The trade history of mankind shows few examples of such a carefree attitude - with the possible exception of the well-known sluggishness of the Soviet citizens... which could lead to the conclusion that the Bolivian population feels locked in a similar closed, psychological system.
With such a stoic meekness towards one's own poverty in the middle of the city's luxury, there are only very few beggars and almost no crime.
But poverty has many faces and one of them is seen in the city's amusement park, where the most popular attraction for the children is to try a tricycle or to see old-fashioned moving pictures in a box?
As almost all the rich whites have Indian maids, the pride of the peasant culture is easily transformed into racial degradation in the city.
Bolivians love singing and dancing, but when the light-skinned children of the upper-class, who are the few with education and a secure future, are dancing carelessly down the streets, their catching joy reminds the sitting Indian saleswomen struggling to survive of their own inferiority.
Music and Students' Dance:
Bolivia has its great revolution in 1952, which gave the Indians land and the right to vote. But financial and cultural power is still in the hands of the whites, who do not have the great Inca civilizations as their model, but rather England, France and Spain. Therefore racism has not disappeared.
The Indians are still considered stupid, cruel and shifty.
Such an attitude among the influential whites is of course internalized by the Indians.
As the Indians say: when enough people think bad about you, you begin to think that they are right.
But the whites do not even live up to the white standards that are worshipped everywhere.
Not least in the pictures that I saw in restaurants and homes everywhere next to images of Christ showed this. White women, white children, even white animals-pets and gulls. When everybody, to this degree, has internalized such an oppressing image of themselves that nobody has the energy to fight this sexism and racism, it shows that the country has a very profound sense of its own inferiority.
A defeated people in a psychologically closed system. The strong nationalism seems to be a desperate attempt to create a national identity in a country without mutual confidence and respect between the different segments of the population.
Even though it has been a hundred years since the access to the sea and half the country was lost, they still maintain a navy in illusory expectation that they will again become a seafaring nation.
The loss is eagerly discussed with typical Bolivian predilection for finding scapegoats and with extremely solemn and serious wreath-laying ceremonies in the attempt to convince themselves that this was the root of all today's problems.
National Anthem and school....
The school-children eagerly walk many kilometers to school, but a million children in this country with a population like Denmark's never go to school, and even though most people speak an Indian language the educational system is Spanish ethnocentric.?
1/5 of the funds for education is spent on universities for the few children of the white upper-class.
90% of the pupils in the countryside have no books and often have to sit in the mud - if they are lucky enough to have a teacher.
For the World Bank has demanded such heavy cuts that a teacher's salary is now below subsistence minimum.
That most people in the countryside are illiterate is not surprising. Not when you know that the children get only 57% of the calories they need. This reduces their learning capacity and it is no wonder that, in many regions, they seem defeated, frightened, withdrawn and without hope:
SAD CHILDREN and sad music:
Bolivia's problems may seem overwhelming and the stamina of its people was the only thing that kept me from sinking into a depression. It seemed to me to take so little to create a sustainable existence above subsistence level.
In order to see the projects run by CARE, I traveled thousands of kilometers around the country. Getting around in this country was a project in itself and now I understood why travelers in Latin America have completely neglected Bolivia.
If it hadn't been for Toyota Landcruisers I would never have made it though the deep mud holes.
All Bolivia's domestic animals appear to live on the roads and weren't always prepared to stop their meal until their ears were pulled.
Without a fuel gauge on the jeep, it was nerve-wracking to try to find a peasant who sold gas, and gas stations were about as frequent as in Siberia.
Sometimes I would be stuck for hours while people were digging away the landslides that were constantly threatening to smash the jeep from above.
My worst drive was on this road where there was a perpendicular fall of one kilometer and only rarely room to pass oncoming cars which turned the corners at breakneck speed often with drunk drivers.
Word has it that there is a worse road in the country Bhutan, but I seriously doubt it.
In the inner turns of the gulches, the right wheel track had often been totally washed away.
While my Indian hitch-hikers, although used to roughing it, declined and got out of the jeep, I had to drive it with one wheel hanging in the air above the abyss ready to throw myself out if the jeep skidded.
Here, a truck was smashed against the mountainside like an airplane and 20 passengers were killed.
One night we were woken up at around 2 a.m. by people asking for help when this truck had fallen down into a river.
The next morning the river was red with the blood of the three people killed. Bolivian drivers often drive with only one hand on the steering wheel in order to be able to make the sign of the cross with the other one every time they pass one of the numerous crosses where people have been killed. Crosses popularly called Bolivian warning signs because they were the only road signs in the country.
Travel books recommend tourists to close their eyes if they get a lift in Bolivia .... a piece of good advice if it wasn't for the magnificent view...
During journeys in Africa it made me extremely pessimistic to watch aid projects. With the foreign experts living in luxurious surroundings, in the minds of the population they become a continuation of the master-slave relationship of colonial times depriving people of their dignity and killing their initiative, which leads to further dependence.
Therefore I was very pleased to find that CARE almost exclusively use native workers who instruct the peasants how they themselves can carry out the projects.
This is done with great enthusiasm.
In this extremely dry, southern region, it was so eroded and arid that I could not, even in my wildest dreams, imagine how people could live there.
And then, suddenly, I was standing in front of these peasants who proudly showed me how they had dug an irrigation system from a reservoir on the mountain down to their terraced fields.
The terraces hinders erosion of the mountain slopes and thanks to the irrigation, they could now harvest 2 crops a year, which each yielded much more.
This gave them enough, not just to subsist, but also to sell their surplus in the cities, which benefits everybody because Bolivia then does not have to spend her scanty resources importing food. One of the peasants who wasn't participating in the project, despairingly showed us his corn field which had been spoiled by worms and disease while the CARE-peasants' fields right next to it were abounding in corn.
Now that the peasants were no longer so dependent on the whims of the weather, they did not have to keep large flocks of goats as a safety net, and this put and end to overgrazing and erosion.
Actually, CARE was already working to reforest the area. Large areas were closed off from the goats, and very gently they tried to save the eroded landscaped - first by planting out cactuses with small banks to detain the water. Later, the peasants plant trees. This woman told us, that the women are responsible for this nursery, which produced 2500 trees a year. The trees are planted out by the men and every family must plant 100 trees.
The more trees planted, the more humidity will come back to the soil. This means more water in the river all year round and this helps the families further down the valley, who have also be taught by CARE and have united to build an irrigation system.
The peasant Geronimo told us that he had been taught by CARE to plant apple and peach trees between beans and corn on his 3 HA of land. They shade and quickly prevents the soil from drying out, and they can be sold on the market.
The group has also been taught to make compost so they can save the money for fertilizers.
The education that these united peasants are now getting from CARE was often the only schooling they had ever had, but I soon came to realize, that, if we are to save the planet from certain disaster, it may be more important than any schooling they could have had.
Music: "Todo Cambia"
Up on the Altiplano where the land is exhausted and overpopulated CARE has given the peasants credits to improve the land.
To pay off the credits for their own land, together they cultivate this large potato field continuing the Inca traditions for joint-communal property.
It was a strangely, quiet experience to see them working together, 45 men shrouded in clouds, rain and cold here on the roof of the world - the highest workplace in the world.
The Altiplano Indians were the first peasants in the world to grow the potato more than 4000 years ago.
If they had not, this area would have had no history.
As corn cannot grow at this altitude, the first settlers would never have survived if they had not had the potato to eat.
The Altiplano would have been abandoned and the great civilizations both before and during the Incas would not have existed.
And Europe, without access to Bolivia's almost inexhaustible silver mines and slave workers would not have been quite so rich.
While Europe got a considerable push forward, things are not what they used to be for the Incas.???
When we had to leave them here in the pelting rain, unable to get their potato truck out of the mud, it felt as if we left them in the lurch one more time.
Music and driving pictures:
For days we drove through the area where DANIDA, the Danish International Development Agency, now wants to help CARE finance similar projects. The area is about the size of Denmark and stretches from the highest mountain valleys to the Amazon jungle.
The young Fermin is one of the peasants who, by slashing and burning, has cultivated a part of the rainforest and now grows corn on 2 HA of land on the steep slopes.
Every cleared area can be cultivated for 3-4 years before the soil is exhausted and washed away by erosion.
- "If nothing is done, our village will go under in 3 or 4 years and we will have to burn another part of the forest, says Fermin. In 10-15 years this forest will have vanished and the land will be destroyed.!
CARE and DANIDA want to participate in saving this rainforest by helping Fermin and the other peasants to stay on the land which they have already cultivated.
This is to be done by teaching and assisting them in building terraces, rotating crops, compostation and storage of the crops.
The coming years, I shall follow Fermin and his family of 4 children and other of the peasants in the area during the construction of the terraces to see how the project
They will be trained in forestry farming?, so they can conserve the forest and at the same time get an income from it by selling to the market.
This will be done by establishing nurseries, planting high-yielding fruit trees, trees for lumber etc. Female participation is given a high priority with special courses for women and establishment of clubs for mothers. They are eager to work with CARE, who has already reduced the infant mortality by building these white toilets. Actually they were built so well that many families moved into the toilets to avoid the dead chagas beetle that lives in the crevices of the houses and in the thatched roofs.
When I found out that a majority of Bolivians carry chagas infection in their blood, I declined spending the night in their thatched houses.
CARE Bolivia also wants this presentation to form part of the education of the peasants and that posters with my pictures are used all over Bolivia to help the population get a more proud view of themselves to counterbalance the oppressive worship of the white world. A positive view of themselves and the ancient Indian traditions is important to bring man in balance with himself and nature again.
And the construction of terraces and collective farming which CARE advocates, does indeed have a striking likeness to the Incas' and Aymaras' ancient collective land-ownership and terrace-making shown in these pictures from the Altiplano. Traditions destroyed during the ruthless colonization by the Europeans and their long landowners' rule.
Out of more selfish motives of saving the rainforest, the atmosphere and the whole planet, we now come cringing back to implore them to abandon the destructive methods we once taught them, and instead go back to those we destroyed for them. But let us not dwell on the past.
We all have an interest in the success of these projects. The globe has become a village where the behavior of every individual influences our common destiny. That the rainforest must be saved is obvious to everybody, but if we don't create a sustainable basis for the people in its vicinity, it can and will not happen.
The sums required to help these people create the necessary basis for existence are so insignificant. And we must find these amounts in our budgets today.
If we don't, the heavy erosion taking place in the third world will force large sections of its populations into our social security system tomorrow - and this may well end up being a permanent situation.
In the meantime we will forever have destroyed out planet.
The slender means I saw CARE use to definitively curb a destructive development and create a basis for existence for whole village - 8.000 dollars one place and 10.000 somewhere else - seem to me so insignificantly little compared with the crucial global effect.
When I saw in Bolivia how little it actually takes, I couldn't help being stricken by the zeal and hope shown by the people I met behind the anonymous label "the third world".
Parting with? Bolivia's children whom I had fallen so in love with, I inevitably had to share their hope for a tomorrow and bring their fearful plea back with me.
Happy children and the song "Manana":
Without hope, we ourselves cannot survive.
Cadena, the Spanish word for chain, is the name of the area in Bolivia that Danida will support to show that the well-being of the peasants is closely linked together with the well-being of nature which, in turn, is linked up with our own well-being. The more we see this connection, the more pleasure we will get out of this co-operation. For development work is not tedious, condescending relief work, but enchanting interaction with the wonderfully Babylonian gift that we have been given. For instance one learns how sophisticated one has become in the production processes, if, in a country where most people cannot afford meat, one orders chicken in a restaurant and first sees it get bought from a peasant woman and then sees how it flaps and cackles when it is being slaughtered before it is served - half cooked, as the cooking time is far too long at this altitude.
And the excitement of watching the brewing of chica, which is made from corn and tastes like an extremely sour yogurt, and then get invited to the parties.
The drink is forced on everybody and it is a deep insult to turn it down, and more vessels keep being carried in.
I succeeded in getting away from this party, but 4 days later, when I passed by again, I was stopped on the road and once more dragged to the party which continued with undiminished vigor..
Here I attended a party in the town that Che Guevara once captured when he was starved, sick and unable to get support from the Indian peasants.
Today CARE has taken the former guerilla area and are getting the eager support of the peasants - and are now even offered a few too many of their chica drinks.
When I wasn't stopped by parties, I was caught in demonstrations, dance and carnival in the streets.
I almost didn't make it to my plane out of the country because I was stuck in carnival traffic.
Development co-operation is a belief in life and man's infinite potential, and I am deeply grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with a people who throws itself into the work of solving our common problems with so overwhelming, colorful and catching a cheerfulness.
(Repetition of musical theme)
Copyright © 1997 American Pictures; All rights reserved.