In the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, March arrived like a lamb and roared out like a lion. When Dorinda bade farewell to Doña Maxima and the weavers following November’s Spinning Week, the plan was to reunite in April for the annual intensive dyeing sessions that takes advantage of the rainy season dye plants. Doña Maxima and the Club de Artesanas members did make a trip to the higher altitudes when the misiqó flower was at its peak and easily harvested in clumps and the suyku plant was still in bloom for a dye pot of the leaves and another of the flowers.
Sundays are market day in Independencia, and Doña Maxima attends the PAZA workshop/store because the Huancarani weavers are in town. It´s always a good day for a WhatsApp video chat with Doña Maxima and maybe one or more of the weavers. During a call on Sunday, March 15th, Doña Maxima was aware of the Coronavirus, but her only comment on the topic was to report that because schools was cancelled her daughter Zoraida and 2 granddaughters had arrived from the city for an extended stay. A week later it was Doña Maxima who made the call due to heightened awareness and anxiety of the Coronavirus. She reported that Independencia was jammed with vehicles from the cities, filled with supplies and folks headed to their rural communities and family farms.
On March 22nd Bolivia´s interim President Jeanine Añez, instituted a national quarantine through April 4th. The borders closed at midnight and a curfew was set. The curfew allows 1 person per household to leave the house for family errands between 7am and noon. The police patrol the streets and a steep fine for breaking the curfew is set at 1,000 Bs. ($144).
On Saturday, March 28th, Doña Maxima made a video call to express her worry that the trucks would not be arriving from the countryside with produce for Sunday´s market. Due to the quarantine, it was inevitable that there would be no Sunday market. In trying to accept that reality of this extraordinary time she did not want to believe the news until it could be verified from her own experience. She called from her home on Sunday to report that there was no Sunday market and that no cargo trucks had arrived with the vendors and produce. After a lifetime of Sunday markets, her expression asked, “How can this be?” It is fall in the Southern Hemisphere and the beginning of harvest. The impact of the Coronavirus may be devastating for the Andean agriculture based economy.
The Club de Artesanas members formed a WhatsApp group a year ago, and used that method of communication to “meet” the first Tuesday of the quarantine and share their projects. Last week Club members, Claudia and Marleny along with their children headed on foot to their family farms in the distant community of Sanipaya. It´s a long walk up the mountains, along the range, and down into Sanipaya, so they could not have carried much more than food and beverages to sustain their efforts.
Today, Doña Maxima´s daughter Vilma called to check in. Although the 2 families only live a block apart they have to maintain the curfew. She said that 3 local truck drivers have been given a special dispensation to haul staples such as rice, noodles, and cooking oil from the cities. They have not been able to carry sufficient gas canisters to meet the demand for cooking stoves. Vilma said some of her family escaped the curfew last night in her father´s truck to go to Huancarani to collect firewood and harvest potatoes on their farm. The other 2 items that are becoming scarce are gasoline and the telephone company´s credit scratch cards required for phone service.
Vilma stated that the city of Oruro is quarantined so tightly that, “not even a fly is flying”. Time will tell if the decisive strict lockdown measures of interim President Añez´s government were in time. On March 22, there were 22 reported cases of Coronavirus in Bolivia. As of today there are 132 reported cases with 9 deaths, although with such a large rural population without health posts it´s possible the actual figures will tell a different story.
Five years ago, neither Doña Maxima nor Dorinda had a smart phone (Doña Maxima got hers first). Both are thankful to be able to check on each other through a video chat. The resilience of humans will weather this crisis, and the silver lining is it has forced us to reach out to each other regularly connecting us with our humanity.
A huge thank you to Ginny Chrisenton a PAZA supporter who sent the following link of Noarly, a Dutcher motorcycle adventurer’s, foray through Independencia. Ginny spotted Doña Maxima in the video (it took Dorinda 2 viewings). There is footage of Noarly driving down the street past the Sunday market. Since Dorinda´s first visit in 2006, the dirt road from Independencia to the tarmac has been greatly improved by the widening of many of the curves. There are still 3 scary landslide spots. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jp_3z5dxWI&list=UUEIs9nkveW9WmYtsOcJBwTg&index=5&t=0s
Thank you to Lyn Lucas for your long years of support for the Bolivian weavers. Thank you Marjorie for you gentle hint that the blog was been idle much too long. And to Jane and her Angel a great big hug. And to all please be safe, Wishing You Good Health! Dorinda Dutcher, April 3, 2020, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hopefully, this crisis will not burn through Bolivia, or any other country for that matter. But it is scary to think about it spreading in poorer countries without much universal healthcare.