Three days before Christmas the poor started coming to town. Campesinos from nearby mountain villages come to Sucre every year in hopes of receiving food and money from charitable hands.
Women, burdened with a blanket-load of supplies and three or four small children in tow, walk the city knocking on doors or following the stream of people to the next church or organized handout location. Once there, do-gooders dole out individual packets of milk, yogurt, bread or cookies. You can always tell where a “gathering” had taken place from the trash strewn about - the charitable groups never think of bringing a trashcan.
Though Sucre experiences this pilgrimage every year, there would be no facilities waiting for these people. They sleep in the parks or huddled in doorways. To make matters worse, it is now the rainy season and spontaneous downpours are good for washing the urine from the streets, but it does not bode well for those who put it there.
Christmas day I sat in the main plaza and soaked it all in. It was an incredibly sad thing to witness, but at the same time it had a palpable energy to it that was hard to walk away from. Every 20 to 30-minutes a SUV or truck would stop curbside along the plaza. A silent alarm would seemingly go off as children, dirty hungry children, would sprint across the plaza in their Chinese plastic or tire tread sandals to receive what was being handed out. Attempts at forming a line never came to fruition because everybody knew from experience that there would not be enough for everyone – it was first come first serve, survival of the fittest. Within 10-minutes the now empty SUV would close it’s doors and drive off.
I came across a couple young girls that spend time at the center where I volunteer. As we chatted and watched the “well off” kids play with their new Christmas toys around the statue of the city’s namesake, they told me that they were not having a very good Christmas. They did not get any toys, “We never do”, was their very matter-of-fact reply. Not bitter, they were just stating the facts with a smile on their face and a shrug in their shoulders, reinforcing what I have learned during my time here – Bolivians, especially children, accept their fate with great attitude and absolution, a cruel symptom of an ugly class system. They know they are second-rate citizens and matter little. Mid-sentence, they were off, reacting to yet another plaza stampede.
The day after Christmas the Bolivian government announced a 70% increase in gasoline and an 85% increase in diesel fuel. Everything will soon be more expensive. The poor just got poorer. In response to the announcement, the transportation union and drivers announced that they would go on an indefinite strike starting the following day. No micros (small buses) or trucks would be running for the time being. For now, there is no ride home, and when there is a ride home, it will cost twice as much as it did to get here.
Just another day in Bolivia.
(update to post: an hour before midnight, New Year's eve, the president bowed to recent protests and demonstrations and rescinded his fuel hike.)