Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Corner with the Pink Church

Landmark in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

This church of unusual hue was a landmark in our neighborhood when we lived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia (1980-1982). In my mind's eye, it is a brighter pink than this image shows it.

We lived seven or eight blocks from this intersection, and directions to our house began with, "Go to the pink church and ..." I hope the building is still there because I remember it affectionately as a distinctive and useful landmark. And I hope it is still a church, as well.

We taught at an English-speaking school in Santa Cruz. When school was dismissed in the afternoon, we often rode a micro (red-and-white bus in the photo) to this corner and walked the rest of the way home.

An Indian lady with big skirts and a little bowler hat always had her pushcart on this corner, near where I stood to take this photo. Vendor pushcarts like hers were miniature convenience stores where passersby could get an aspirin, a handkerchief, a comb, a piece of candy or gum, a rubber band, a T-shirt, or whatever.

I smoked in those days, and one day, I stopped at the cart and asked for a pack of cigarettes. I didn't look carefully at the cigarette box before paying, and when I got down the street, I found that she had opened it and replaced all the cigarettes with rolled up pieces of paper.

A little note inside the box said (in Spanish), "Ha ha, stupid gringo." She knew that only gringos would buy a whole pack of cigarettes from a market cart. Any Bolivians who were shopping at a market cart would buy one cigarette at a time.

If I had taken it back to her, she'd have professed innocence or pretended not to understand my Spanish, so I accepted that I'd been taught a lesson. I never bought anything from her again, so in the long run, she was the loser. Or maybe she won, because I still remember the incident to this day.


ptg said...

Onesies! I started smoking at age 9 in Madrid largely because the pushcart peddlers and the pool hall (futbolin parlor) near my apartment sold cigarettes one at a time. The same cats sold shots of cognac, even to kids, so I started drinking then as well.

I should have stuck to the sunflower seeds.

Genevieve said...

I am sure that a shot of moonshine or a glass of nasty chicha could have been bought at some of the "wet" Bolivian pushcarts. I'm not sure about cognac, but most anything could be purchased in the big markets.

Also, I wouldn't doubt if some of the carts sold cigarettes laced with cocaine base. The base had a peculiar pungent stench when smoked, and it wasn't uncommon to catch a whiff of it. Bolivia is a major cocaine producer, and it's part of the culture that the Andes Indians chew the coca leaves. Cocaine base was a byproduct of processing and the cocaine trade, and some of the big money in Santa Cruz came from all that.

It's good to hear from you, PT. Hope you are staying well and warm.

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