(Editor’s note: What follows is pure, albeit mostly true, silliness. Any appearance of political analysis is a figment of your imagination.)
Sometimes I think Bolivians are having us on.
Our trip to the market this morning provides a good example. The day started of typically enough. We headed out in search of some organic vegetables for our young son. Such things are rare in this country, but not unheard of. The produce I mean. Not the young sons.
We had heard tell of a particular merchant, known as “Aqua Vida,” who sold all manner of organic produce at a stall in the market each Saturday morning.
So off we went at the stroke of 11 and walked the dozen or so blocks to the market. Naturally, we obeyed all posted traffic signs and signals, which meant we were nearly run over only three or four times on the way. Actually, Bolivian traffic law for pedestrians is charming in its simplicity. Here is the relevant passage in the Bolivian National Traffic Act, which I have translated myself (apologies for any resulting inaccuracies):
Sec 419, sub-par. b) Pedestrians shall not have the right of way. Ever.
See? It’s perfectly straightforward.
To resume the story, after repeatedly cheating death we arrived at the market and began our search for the legendary Aqua Vida, Water of Life. No luck. We asked several people for directions. Some had heard of it, some hadn’t, but none knew where it was.
Our hope was fading, when we asked at a stall near the front of the market called Agua Pura, which claimed to sell clean and natural produce. “Conoce usted el Agua Vida? Es una tienda orgnanica.” (Do you know of Agua Vida? It’s an organic stand.)
“Agua Vida? No hay. No existe. Agua Vida es una iglesia. Agua Pura es la tienda organica.” (Agua Vida? There is no store by that name. Doesn’t exist. Agua Vida is a church. Agua Pura is the organic vendor.”)
What luck! Now all that was left was to buy our veggies and be on our way. Once again, I’ve translated for the reader’s convenience.
“What do you have available? There only seems to be some lettuce left. Have you sold out everything else?”
“No, no, we have everything. We just store it in the coolers, to keep it as fresh as possible. Go on and ask.” The man, whose name was Oscar, handed us a very professional looking glossy pamphlet with names and pictures of all the produce they carried. “Here’s a list of what we sell.”
My wife looked it over. “What do you think, honey? Do you want some asparagus?”
“Okay, we’ll take some asparagus,” she said.
“We’re out of asparagus,” came the reply.
“All right, that’s okay. We’ll get some tomatoes instead.”
“No. Sorry, we’re out of tomatoes as well.”
“Even cherry tomatoes? They’re on your list too. Do you have any of them left?”
“No, not them either.”
“I’ll check.” Oscar turned to his assistant. “¿Tenemos mas escariote?” The assistant shook his head. “No, we’re out of zucchini.”
“So really, you only have lettuce left.”
“No, that’s not true at all! We also have arugula. Would you like some arugula?”
“No. Not really.” We were about to give up, when Oscar brightened with an idea.
“What about cheese? Would you like to buy some cheese? We have Tilsit, for instance,” he said, pulling out a giant block. (I swear I’m not making this up.)
“Yes, right here. We also have Emmental, and some Gruyere too.” He pulled out each in turn, and none looked the least bit runny.
I just about to ask about cheddar, when suddenly, the bouzouki player started up and I lost my train of thought. (Okay, I made that bit up. Not that it would have mattered much; there isn’t much call for cheddar around here anyways.)
In the end, we didn’t buy any cheese, or lettuce, or even the arugula. However, we did come away deeply amused, and harbouring the distinct suspicion that some Bolivians love nothing more than the occasional quiet joke at our expense.
photo credit: Stewart Prest cc