It´s been a while since I last wrote and I don´t want to bore you with my dental difficulties but I am still here in Cochabamba. I had intended to leave last night, which despite a 24 hour national bus strike, looked like it would still be possible. However, while waiting for my last dental appointment I found myself experiencing the worse pain I´ve ever known (even my hair hurt) and ended up in hospital for yet more jabs in the arse. Apparently my bone is exposed as my gum has not yet healed so I am stuck here even longer and have another two days of no food to look forward to.

Meanwhile, two of our new friends did finally managed to leave. They´ve been volunteering here with Somos Sur (http://www.somossur.net/) and have launched a new website featuring hundreds of articles about climate conferences (http://www.cumbrescambioclimatico.org/). We visited their home for their going away party as they have to leave Bolivia as their visas are expiring. Previously that would have just meant leaving the country for a day and coming back in but sadly the rules have changed. They are now off to Ecuador to do more voluntary work. We've asked them to let us know about struggles they come across which involve UK based companies.

In my last post I promised I'd write about the International trade fair. That post also spoke a lot about feminism but I don't want to give a false impression. This is a sexist city in a sexist country in a sexist continent on a sexist planet. Cochabamba has high rates of domestic and sexual violence, I read 7 out of 10 women here experience such violence.The adverts here feature the same sexist images as elsewhere in the world only even more offensive for being so unprepresentative of the people and culture they are trying to sell shit to. White brunette nuclear families at a dinner table smile as the coca-cola is served by mum, long legged bikini clad tanned models adorn ads selling 'American Chemical', saloon fresh European glamour girls sell cosmetics and US style teens promote mobile phones. I have not seen a single advert representing the culture or ethnic makeup of the majority of the people here and it is little wonder that just as people in the UK are often ashamed of their less than advert perfect bodies, people here are apparently frequently ashamed of their own ethnicity.

It seems there is nothing that a tall skinny 'white' womens body can not be used to sell – which bring me too the trade fair. We didn't plan to go, in fact we'd not even known it was on. However Alejandra and the band (warmi pachakuti) were playing and it was the last chance Agnes would have to say goodbye before heading to La Paz and then London.

So, we found ourselves at the entrance to this place and instantly knew we didnt want to go in. We compromised, Chris waited outside and Agnes and I ventured in. Inside was Babylon, a temple to consumerism with vast exhibition stands for coca-cola, pepsi, telecoms companies, banks, vehicle manufactures, fashion outlets, processed food brands, airline companies and much more. We passed vast arrays of huge flat screen TVs, then giant American SUVs displayed climbing piles of rock (which is at least somewhat representative of some of Bolivias roads). Almost every stand had a minimum of two drop dead sexy tall skinny young women in shiny figure hugging dresses or hot pants. Entering one area I thought to be a car park, three of these goddesses came up to me and handed me a flyer for HGV trailers made by a company called 'Guerra' (which translates as war). I looked around and indeed this 'car park' was infact all trailers, flat beds and oil tankers from this company. The sales technique was persuasive and I was tempted to buy one but my baggage allowance wouldn't stretch to it.

Perhaps the most incredible stand was for a company which made bricks, roof tiles and other architechual ceramics. Yes, even they had four glamour models to entice people in but they had gone a step further. Towering above the already towering women were half a dozen brick and tile sculptures made to look like… yes, more women, this time in long flowing colonial style dresses (made of different type of roof tiles).

The contrasts between this event and the rhetoric of the conference a week earlier were stark. This event show cased not only the big brands of transnational imperialism but also the big players in Bolivias industrial output. One stand had a variety of factory machinery from lathes to battery hens feeding mechanisms and dairy equipement. The Entel phone company had their logo on everything from bins to the main stages.

I found myself comparing the place to glastonbury festival, we'd walked through the crowded babylon of the main drag past dozens of snazy corporate strands and endless cola and burger stalls. Our mission led us to the Ecoligical Pavillion with much smaller crowds. There, we watched the band perform, necked some chicha and checked out the variety of organic products being promoted by the green capitalists. Among the plastic vacum packs of dried tropical fruits and pots of herbal cure-alls, I came across some organic fairtrade coffee that is apparently made by climate refugees from Bolivias altiplano. Having been driven from their homes by lack of water, they have moved to the tropical region where they now cultivate coffee plants under the rainforest canopy. This, and a number of conversations I participated in since I arrived, made me realise that migration isn't just about people moving from county to country but also being forced to shift within national borders, often swelling the masses in the cities.

Anyway, when Agnes had gone and Alejandra and I were wandering around in awe, we came across one of the stages. A folk band was playing but although there was a crowd dancing, they did so against a fence which separated them from an obviously VIP section of tabled seating in front of the stage. Alejandra wanted to get inside and locating a security person standing at the one gap in the fencing she pulled some kind of 'my friends are inside blag' and we found ourselves inside.

It was quiet surreal. On the outside were loads of people dancing and inside, with unrivaled views of the stage were perhaps a hundred rich people in suites and posh party dresses at tables crammed with classes, jugs of cocktails and wine bottles in coolers. They had table service from waiters in bow ties and I never saw any money change hands as the tables were kept flowing with booze. Despite the alcholic lubricants these people were almost entirely static, pretty much ignoring the band on stage. Just in case these people should feel a chill, the organisers had thoughtfully provided a number of gas powered patio heaters, perhaps inspired by the bastion of corporate evo awareness 'Hopenhagen' where people stopping to admire the seimens sponsored cycle power Xmas tree lights were also warmed by these fossil fuelled planet warmers.

Things got more surreal when the rest of Alejandras band arrived. We had gone back outside of the VIP area to dance but soon found ourselves ursured back in when our dancing had formed a snake like chain twisting through the crowd. Perhaps desperate to liven things up a bit in the VIP, our human chain ended up right up the front of the stage. Eventually even some of the stuffed shirts on the tables got up an joined the dance. 
 
Afterwards Alejandra spoke about how strange (and wrong) it all was. The VIP section consisted mostly of the rich and powerful from places like Santa Cruz. The band had playing had managed to get a small critique into their set when they sang of the Miss Bolivia who became infamous for being white, blonde and non-spanish speaking Bolivian, who said she represented the other Bolivia.
 
The next day I went to the another type of festival, a tradditional peoples festival of fertility. I had hoped this would cheer me up but actually it was pretty depressing. The location was a bit of land on the southern outskirts of Cochabamba which has been sacred for as long as can be remembered. Then the catholic church came along and build a church there. Now the festival merges ancient rituals to pachamama with the false idolism of catholisism and consumer aspirations. Before reaching the site you pass through a huge outdoor market where hundreds of stalls sell miniture ceramic cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and even babies. These respresent the desires of the people, their dreams for the coming year. But the stalls also now sell fake money (including US dollars and Euros), credit cards, passports, driving licenses, houses, cars and motorbikes. I wouldnt be surprised if there were miniture flat screen plasma TV´s available as well. These were taken first to the dusty courtyard before the church were people built fires and made their offerings to mother earth, and then people queued to enter the church to hedge their bets with the holy trinity. 
 
Oh well, I guess it would be more depressing if I thought it would actually work. The last thing mother earth needs is to be handing out new cars and credit cards to an ever growing number of consumers intent on western style consumerism.
 
I should finish with something perhaps a little more cheerful. In the last couple of days the Bolivia government has nationalised what I believe is the main electricty company here (and I think that includes the ´national´ grid). Althought it´s not nationalised in the true sense of the word and some people say it´s just propoganda, it seems that having a controlling interest could be an essential first step to ensuring a sensible energy policy is in place to address global warming. While profit is still being exctracted by investors, it might mean that the government now have a powerful tool by which to enact some of the rhetoric they have been so keen to have attributed to them. Time will tell. 
 
 
 
  

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