As I walk into the courtyard of the faux-colonial hotel in Toro Toro in the evening, the sole employee asks,
“Did you go see the park?”
“No, I was with my friend Jesusa,” I reply.
“And tomorrow? If you want, there is a group going to see the viewpoint.”
It’s tempting, of course. But I decline. Toro Toro is a famous tourist attraction in Bolivia – not as famous of course as Tiahauanaco, Parque Nacional Maddidi, the Salar de Uyuni, etc. But still, supposedly a beautiful park with dinosaur footprints, caves, and more. I’d like to see it one day with more time. But on this short weekend trip, I had a lot more fun spending the day sitting and chatting in Jesusa’s little house/restaurant, playing with her kids and cooking the family an Afghani lunch. (Shopping and improvising ingredients in different countries is always fun.)
As I pack up my bags tonight, I’m content in who I’ve had the privilege of meeting and sharing cultures with. I only worry about how to explain to other tourists that I’ve been to Toro Toro, but I haven’t seen Toro Toro.
Instead, I feel blessed to have been invited into someone’s home in a genuine noncommercial relationship based on reciprocity. It’s something that happens far less often than you’d hope when traveling in the global South, where our money too often sticks out like treasure chests in a sea of inequality and injustice.
Simply being with Jesusa and her family – cooking over the same stove, with ingredients bought across the street – I could forget for a moment about the enormous privilege that brought me to their door. And it is in these moments that we get to interact as equals.
But it is always in saying goodbye that privilege smacks me in the face. I always say I hope they can visit me one day in Seattle. They invariably nod and smile. “Ojala que si, un día…”
Of course, it’s all a farce. The chances are abysmally low that someone who makes $7 a day can pay $1200 for a ticket and jump through the seven flaming hoops of our wonderful migra system to obtain a visa.
But, yes I’ll come back to visit you. (Just wait, since that’s all you can do.)
I suppose that’s all we can do for now. And it is truly amazing to build relationships, as materially unequal as they may inherently have to be. I have come to value it far more than seeing the sights, though of course the best is to do both – see the sights with a local friend!
It’s for this reason that I’m extraordinarily glad to have come back to Nicaragua and Bolivia – though I could be seeing new countries, I would not be able to rejuvenate and maintain the same relationships, which mean so much more. I’ve learned so much from my friends in Nicaragua and Bolivia!
Now, off to Brazil!