Census Day in Bolivia
"Walking around is forbidden!"
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I turned around and began climbing back. The area is a tourism center with many hotels and shops. All of them were hermetically closed. While passing in front of the Naira Hotel ("Naira" means "eye" in Aymara), its door was opened, and a guard went out. I seized the opportunity to break the line of sight between me and the policemen—who were still watching me—and entered the hotel's cafeteria. Except for me, there were no customers. They were happy to serve me a coffee while we all watched the local news on a large screen.
"It is forbidden for us to film the census," the anchor was saying. Images from houses of famous Bolivians were shown, but not even one image of the sad, desolated streets was added to the report. In the following minutes, I learned the state had mobilized 400,000 people to count the roughly 10 million Bolivians in the country. Counting only 25 people each, the process would take 24 hours. This was the perfect definition of "phlegmatic," and typically Bolivian. While pondering on this, I was shaken by strong knocks on the front door. A waiter opened it, first only a narrow slit, and then, after recognizing the people hitting on the door, it was opened to let them in. Three census-taking kids entered, and the hotel staff was called. They answered nervously, their eyes nailed to the floor.
He was right. In my slow way upwards, I met only single policemen. When alone, they don't approach people. Along the way, I met many teams of the census-taking kids. They knocked on doors that were worriedly opened by people who were obviously scared. American readers may chuckle at my descriptions; yet, Bolivia is a crime-oriented society. The robbing of houses is common; people never walk around with their keys, somebody is left to watch the property at all times. Letting in an unknown Bolivian is unthinkable. For this people, letting censors in, is like filling a form about what can be robbed from them the following day; answering the questions amounts to becoming collaborators of a crime. Grocery shops were closed. There was no food available. I found myself forced to fast; yet, it also meant that the usual harassment state-agents were not out. Happily, I kept climbing. Census Day in Bolivia.
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