A few nights ago a bunch of us attending a public meeting of SomoSur (We Are South) who had organised a debrief of the conference declaration (which I posted an english translation of on this blog a couple of days ago). One of us got to make a presentation about Carbon Trading. During the event we were told that the Mesa 18 declaration has also been placed on the official website which is amazing if true. I´ve not confirmed it myself. Speaking of Mesa 18, last night we meet with some of the organisers for a chat and to get contact details for some of the organisations which spoke or are actively resisting extractive industries in Bolivia.

 
Our numbers have dwindled, its´s just me an Chris remaining in Cochabamba now. I´ve rearranged my flight home as I´ve got emergency dental work to complete and there is now no point to me spending time in Mexico City on my stop over as Via Campesina have cancelled the meeting I was planning on attending. Chris has been pretty ill, diagnosed with three different types of stomoach infection including one with a 10 – 15% motality rate if left undiagnosed. Pretty much all of us have been ill to some degree, either flu like symptoms or stomach bugs. Personally those issues have been dewarfed by accute tooth ache which didn´t stop when I had the tooth pulled at the start off the conference. I´ve now got an old filling to be removed and replaced on Monday and had another decayed wisdom tooth pulled yesterday. Poor chris had to go to hospital as they were thinking of sticking him on a drip (they didn´t and hes much better now). Meanwhile, after the dentist I also found myself in hospital. Apparently some bone in my jaw needed cutting away which carried a high risk of infection so I ended up with my trousers around my ankles and a nurse jabing a dose of antibiotics in my arse.

I briefly mentioned the 'Lachiwana' radio show 'Ankallis' (rebels) which we appeared on ealier in the week. We were invited by our amazing new friend Alejandra who last week shocked her Cochabamba comrades by suddenly revealing she could speak English. She was the person kind enough to take me to her dentists at the start of the conference. I first came across Alejandra my first night in town. I was treating the first signs of toothache by swigging beer from a bottle in Plaza Colon while wondering if public drinking was frowned upon here. Meanwhile she was with a group of women practising pan pipes and wondering who the tall threatening street drinker was.

I was surprised to be introduced to her the following evening at a meeting between local activists and our little gang of European imports. I actually recognised her by her bicycle (they don't seem to be very common here). We were meeting in the main plaza before moving somewhere else to talk and this time I wasn't the only gringo on the bottle, and pretty much everyone else was chewing coca leaves. I tried the coca leaves as relief from toothache but without success. I also learned that Alejandra also had tooth troubles which over the next few days would result in an affinity being formed.

Alejandra works at the Democracy Centre in Cochabamba where I had been invited to a party on the last night of the conference. I spoke to her there briefly when I arrived but she was rushing off with her friends to dance somewhere. Aware that I hadn't been sent to have a good time, I stayed at the party to chat and took the opportunity to interview some of the activists there. I also grabbed a rushed an ill-conceived interview with Naomi Klein. She was reluctant and just about to leave but she owed me. She gave a couple of minutes which I wasted asking an irrelevant question before remembering she'd spoken briefly at Mesa 18 but by then it was too late. Fortunately I forgot to hit record so didnt actually waste any space. 

My other interviews went much better and should be available on Dissident Island radio after i get back to the UK. However, during one of the interviews my phone rang (terminating the recording since I use my phone as a recorder). It was Alejandra but I could barely make out the words due to excessive background noise at both ends. Basically it boiled down to cops giving people trouble a few streets away where third night of street partying was taking place to celebrate the end of the conference.

I tried to pull others away to rush to the scene with me but without success so I arrived alone. About a dozen armed police were strutting about in the street and people were hanging about on the pavement and doorways. I soon found myself chocking on tear gas while I streamed live video on to qik.com. However the cops soon moved off and within seconds people emerged from the cafes and bars carrying tables. In no time at all the party was back in full swing.

At the heart of this street party was my friend Alejandra and the all women pan pipes band I mentioned earlier. They rocked the street and had the crowd in a frenzy of dancing and cheering. After a while they starting moving down the street but they were not alone. Much like the Rythmns of Resistance samba band in London protests, the band took almost a hundred people in tow and soon blocked yet another road on route to their destination.

I later learned that this group are highly unusual. Convention has it that women only sing or dance while the men play the instruments. However this band embraces indigenous traditions while rejecting sexist elements and developing the culture into the contemporary context. The band is highly political, rooted in resistance and struggle, not put off by a little tear gas. The lyrics, though based on traditional songs, are modified to carry more approbriate messaging. For example, one song previsously blaming women for men getting drunk has be transformed into a song calling women from their domestic chores to join those dancing. Another orginally about seducing women by getting them drunk is now a song about sexual concent and equality.

This theme of strong women engaged in struggle is reflected throughout the history of Cochabamba. Agnes and I took 
the Red Tinku alternative political history tour of the city and learned how even the language here had been influenced by the women who have given their lives in struggle and resistance over the centuries.

Red Tinku had been criticised by some for exploiting gringos during the conference. Our group had considered staying at their social centre but were put off by prices several times the cost of a cheap hostel in the city. However we did eventually end up there for a pachamama ritual which involved large quantities of coca leaves and bucket loads of booze. When I say buckets, I mean it literally – the bar consisted of three barrels from which people were served 5 litre buckets costing under £2.50 a go.

The party involved lots of highly energetic dancing but also a performance about humanities relationship with nature. I followed as best I could with my limited Spanish and later checked with friends to see how accurate my attempts had been. For the most part I had it spot on until the end but I'm sure my version was better than their own.

The performance told a story about a tree and a man, covering the period of the mans life from childhood to old age. At first the boy is entranced by the tree, playing amongst it's branches, they are friends. Some years pass and money is now the preoccupation of the young man. The tree offers it's fruit for the man to sell and the man greedily strips the tree bare. More time passes and the man returns to the tree complaint of needing something else. I'm not quite sure what exactly, perhaps a home or fuel but either way the tree kindly offers it's branches and the man thoughtlessly cuts them all off and drags them away. More years pass and the man returns to the tree which is now just a trunk. He complains of being restless, he needs a boat to go off and explore. Once more the tree offers itself, this time it's trunk, in order that the man can make a boat. In the final scene the man is back but an aged old man bent over and walking with a stick. Apparently he complains about his aching feet and the tree, now just a stump, offers itself as a seat and that's the end of the performance. However, I interpreted it differently. In my version the aged old man is complaining of having cancer and the tree is sorry to inform him that it's leaves once offered a cure for cancer but since being stripped down to a simple stump the tree now has nothing to offer beyond a place to sit and die.

Anyway, on that cheerful note, I should probably wrap this up since the internet cafe I am in is about to close. I wanted to mention Agnes going on the campasina radio on a show about women in politics and I wanted to tell you about the amazing contrast I experienced last night at the Cochabamba International Fair but that will have to wait…

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