Equal Footing back in action after hospital detour


by Paul and Nicole, 6/29/08 • Sorry for the long hiatus, but we’ve been living in quasi-subterranean locales for the past week, almost entirely deprived of sunlight and internet. We did have one great day in the sun in Sucre, visiting an impressive museum of indigenous textiles and basking in the higher temperature and lower altitude offered by Sucre, but then I got so sick I had to be hospitalized. It was educational.

This blog is written as its authors work on a new research project titled “Women on the Frontlines: Resource Battles, Popular Movements, and Gender Dynamics in Bolivia and Ecuador.” An Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) grant for innovative faculty-student collaboration supports Paul Dosh and Nicole Kligerman in an effort to craft a new model of faculty-student “complementary collaboration.” One way that they share their efforts is through a blog titled “Equal Footing: Collaboration at 13,000 Feet” (equalfooting.blogspot.com). This post is taken from the Equal Footing blog, with Paul’s writing in italics and Nicole’s in regular typeface.

Departing our hostel around midnight, we found our way to a public E.R. characterized by abysmal care, dried blood on the bedsheets, and prices so low Wal-Mart would be envious. By 2:00 am we were arguing our way into a private clinic which, though better on every dimension, was still BYOE — Bring Your Own Everything: blankets, towels, bandages, drugs, needles, syringes, IV, bribes, and, of course, your best marketplace haggling skills to bargain over the price of health care. Neoliberal health care is a beautiful thing.

Since I am an inspiring role model, Nicole naturally followed my example and also got quite sick, though she was not sufficiently ambitious to be hospitalized. Probably because she was spooked by the witches’ covey of evil eye nurses that cast a hex on her for breaking all kinds of hospital rules:

1) Thou shalt not sit on the beds (have to keep them pristine for non-existent patients).

2) Thou shalt not sleep on the beds either (even if not sleeping means you’ll soon be a patient due to exhaustion)

3) Thou shalt not sleep period, even if you are a patient (direct quote: “This is a hospital. There’s too much going on for you to sleep”).

And so on.

The hospital also proved to be an educational forum through which to learn about racism in Sucre. The head doctor set the tone with “I’m not a racist, but those indios and their president are destroying our country.”

Other than time spent hunting down witches, I mean nurses, we spent time learning about the prevalent racism in Sucre. Unlike some of the women in El Alto that we met, who fault Evo Morales for not going far enough in his nationalization projects, many Sucrenos hate Evo because he is moving away from privatization and also because he is indigenous. There is deep resentment towards Evo, his political party MAS )Movement towards Socialism), and the indigenous population in Bolivia in general. Racist graffiti lines the pristine walls of this colonial city, which has been named a UNESCO world heritage site, and racist comments about “those Indians.” There’s a reason that there’s graffiti in La Paz stating “Sucre: the capital of racism.”

The most stark example of this racism occured on May 24 of this year, when some powerful Sucrenos forced indigenous leaders to walk through the streets of Sucre on their knees, cursing at them and forcing them to renounce their commitment to Evo Morales (the first indigenous president in this overwhelmingly indigenous country). Faces were shoved onto the Bolivian flag as the leaders were beat up and called racist and derogatory names.

Not everyone in Sucre is like that, of course. We had lunch with a wonderful leftist professor who is part of a group to counter racism in their city. She described the climate of fear and political repression prevelant in Sucre. (She also brought us soup to our hostel!)

Now we’re back in action in La Paz/El Alto, ready for our last week of Bolivian fieldwork before heading to Lima for a week. It’s always adventurous in the Andes…