July 19, 2013
I am given a shopping lesson by two Bolivian women: Teresa, the wife of the American who showed us around when we got here, and her mother. I am shown how to always get a little bit more than I bargain for, so that when I buy a bag of black-eyed peas or popcorn I get another much smaller bag in addition. We see two young goats displayed on the floor with their fur still on but slit and splayed, insides removed, and three or four cow snouts, cut off just below their eyes, on a shelf. The three meat sections are devoted to a) chicken, b) the cuts of meat one can buy in any US supermarket, and c) the other stuff (heads, feet, organs, stomachs). I’m disappointed that they’ve run out of lengua cocida (cooked beef tongue). Teresa shows me how to buy steak (t-bone), which sells for about two bucks a pound, and ground beef, which you point to while it’s whole and watch it get ground. A fruit seller ardently offers us delicious samples of mandarins, chirimoyas, grapes, and tiny melons; a vegetable vendor puts more carrots and onions into her little plastic bags than I really want. The variety of potatoes here is astonishing, and include tiny dehydrated ones and orange ones that look like carrots and small firm sweet potatoes that aren’t stringy like the ones I’m used to; and then there are the hairy black yuccas and the slightly sweet dry biscuits made of potato starch. And it’s all so cheap! We need a cell phone here, so we pay about $1.40 for a chip that we put into our American cell phone and presto—we now have a Bolivian phone number! We take our laundry to a laundromat where they wash, dry, iron, and fold our clothes for about seventy cents a pound. A young woman cleans our floors and bathrooms once a week for about $3.50. But it makes me feel guilty. I’m not used to being a big cat, moneywise—I’ve always resented the rich. And now, here, I’m one of them.