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  • I wake with the sun beginning to peek from the hills surrounding me. I take a breath, another day I have been granted and for this, I give thanks. My thankless mind, however, races towards the obligations of the day and towards the recent affairs of this world. I take another breath and resist the urge to jump on the Internet highway. Life is better this way.

    The affairs of the world have been dragging me down, reminding me continually of how much of a refugee I have become. The country where I come from is growing increasingly into a place I cannot relate. Each time I have returned to it, I feel farther away. I no longer drive. I no longer chase the almighty buck, nor am I impressed by those who do. When I have been there, people, when they can stop the inherent braggadocio it takes to live there, have asked where I have been. When I tell them, Bolivia, nearly all of them shudder in fear despite the statistics that show I am more likely to be shot on their streets. Such a privilege to be so sheltered from the rest of the world.

    I am familiar with this privilege as I was one of those born with more than most, good parents who worked hard, nice houses, vacations, a paid for college education. Women’s rights, in my privileged world, seemed like a done deal. Even when I was five, I can remember my mother giving me a t-shirt that had a little girl holding a big fish. The text underneath read, “Never underestimate the power of a woman.” Mantras such as these are the netting of my bones. Within this framework, I was given the message that as a woman, I could do anything a man could do.

    I chose, after my love, a truly good man, died, to travel, to see this world to which I was entitled. Entitlement was not what I found. What I found was reality. I saw little girls being told they could not wear shorts despite the sweltering sun because it may ignite uncontrollable lust in men even full-grown teachers. Meanwhile their male peers ran around in very out of style, way too short running shorts doing whatever they wanted to do with no recourse at all from their parents nor their schools.

    I saw women selling Chiclets for less than ten cents each on the streets with three or four babies strapped to their backs. I have never seen one man do the same and I wager if I asked these women where the fathers are, the likely response is, “Barracho,” which means drunk. I can hear what my lucky ladies back home might say such as “Well, they should learn birth control.” What these lucky ladies of the US don’t enter into the equation is many of these children are products of rape, a crime that only recently started to take shape in the legal books of many of the American countries. a crime for which there is little to no recourse at all even for the 9 years olds who show up pregnant at shelters claiming they have been kicked out of their pueblos because they have been branded a ‘slut’ instead of recognizing this child was raped, probably by an uncle or a cousin who will simply rape the next little girl in line because hey, that’s how it goes and a man is not expected nor taught to have any control over their primal drive.

    Remember when you refer to America, the USA is but one of several countries that make up America, the continent, where it has drawn its line and will eventually build its wall and even its privileged, sheltered ways still result in legal decisions such as Brock Turner’s, a rapist caught red handed and given 3 months.

    I stop for a moment as I write. I notice how my heart races and how the sweat forms in my pits. I take another breath and ask myself why my body betrays my utmost desire for peace. It takes no time at all for the answer to be delivered. It is delivered in one word, violence. Since I have left my ancestral home, it is the violence against women and how is promoted, practiced, legislated and justified in every nook and cranny of this place called America that troubles me the most. I, myself, have come face to face with this violence and reporting from the front lines, I can tell you violence forces one’s eyes wide open because in the America that I live now to close one’s eyes doesn’t result in the illusion of privilege as it does for so many of the women where I have come from, here, it results in the reality of death.

    I am fully awake now. The sun has fully birthed from the hills that held it down. The hiils, I can see now, are green. Then, I see Christ, bigger than the one in Rio (but don’t tell a Brazilian that or they will demand another Olympics…I am not immune to comic relief), standing on top of the hill, his arms outstretched to greet this new day. I rub my eyes and ask myself where I am at on this journey I have chosen to take.
    I am in Cochabamba Bolivia, a place I am growing to love. Cochabamba, a place where I took bike ride yesterday, after I spent too much time on the Internet highway. My tour guide was a Cochabambina, the word for the women born here. She was just like me, independent in spirit and fierce in mind. She showed me the murals in these streets that have seen many a revolution in its time. What struck me was most of these murals were in complete reverence of women, which is ironic considering Cochabamba touts the highest incidence of gender-based violence in Bolivia. It is an immensely patriarchal place, a place where wives are expected to cut their husband’s steaks. I said this to my tour guide. She started to laugh and then grew serious in tone. She shared with me what all women I have met here have shared, stories of violence, inequity and injustice. I told her my own experience.

    She, then, directed me to a hill she called San Sebastian, a hill that is in line with the hill of Christ. When we got there, she told me the story of the Heroinas de la Coronilla. Their story occurred in 1812 when the Spanish were spreading their imperial rule and killing the natives left and right. A Cochabambina by the name of Josefa Manueal Gandarillas grew tired of this and organized a resistance called “For the Defense of Our Homes” that included an army of women, children and elders. Senora Gandarillas led this army to the top of San Sebastian hill where they fought the unwanted intruders with sticks, saucepans and other kitchen utensils. They eventually lost but their fight was so fierce that it is remembered as one of the greatest resistances in the face of colonialism that Cochabamba has ever seen (and they have seen a lot) and thus, they have been immortalized as an emblem to the spirit of Cochabamba. When my tour guide finished the story, we were both a little teary. She said, “Stories like this give me hope that someday our women can emerge from these walls and come to life.” All I could do was nod my head because otherwise, I would have cried.

    I remember this story as I put my two feet on the floor in the small room where I am staying now, so far from where I have come from. Again, I resist the urge to hop on the Internet highway to watch as my privileged sisters argue among themselves and watch as some of them taunt one and other with gas lighting terms such as whiners. Oh, to be so privileged and safe, I sigh to myself. That is the world I come from, yet, it is not a world I wish to return to. It no longer makes any sense because it is not real. So, I stand up, put on my shoes, set out for the work that lies ahead and I look at the Christ on the hill towering above me and I am thankful that I breath.
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