We begin in the highest capital city in the world. And then we ascend.
They meet me on the street and offer to show me an interesting, historic club. When we arrive the club is locked. They knock and someone comes to open the door. We sit in an unlit bar area and he orders three mimosas. As I sip my mimosa I contemplate which aspect of this situation carries the most risk. Will I contract Hepatitis from the ice cubes? Has my drink been drugged? Has this couple lured me to a locked, unlit club in order to rob me? I tell them I need to go. The price of my departure is a bag of coffee that I buy from them for ten times the reasonable rate.
I am present. I am in the moment. I am in the woodgrain of this tabletop. I am unstuck in time.
There are six tons of paper piled in their offices documenting morbidity and mortality.
One child after another is measured and weighed. Blood samples are taken. No one questions the ethical ramifications.
Just when it matters most the system fails. They look at each other. None of them will look me in the eyes.
Ben is walking a narrow path along a steep incline high above the valley floor. He rounds a bend and finds himself confronting a wild dog. The dog growls and charges Ben who slips on the loose rock and tumbles down off the path. He finds himself clinging to the ledge with the dog nipping at his fingers.
I lie in my bed unable to sleep, listening to dogs throughout the neighborhood barking, howling, fighting. It isn’t the noise that keeps me awake so much as being drawn into contemplating how a homeless dog problem of this scale could ever be addressed. I learn that there are about 300,000 street dogs in La Paz and the number grows by 20 percent each year.
Ben buys an alpaca foetus in el Mercado de las Brujas. After some negotiation he is permitted to take it on his flight from La Paz; however it is confiscated at his transfer in Atlanta.
Jim is flying back to LA with some of his mother’s ashes in his carry-on bag. Airport security spots something suspicious. They ask Jim to step aside so they can question him. They open the container, peer inside and ask Jim what it is. When he responds “my mother’s ashes” they become uncharacteristically discomposed as they quickly reseal the ashes and place them gingerly back in Jim’s bag.
Wandering the hills outside the city I discover a discarded antler. I pack it in my bag and return home with it, vaguely concerned that I may be breaking a law by doing so.
We are invited to celebrate Canada Day with a barbecue at the Canadian Consulate. Canadian beer, Canadian cheddar.
We spend the evening in a jazz club. Back at her place at the end of the evening I am unsure what is appropriate, what her expectations are. It’s not so much I’m having trouble reading the signals as there don’t seem to be signals at all. She works as a clinical psychologist dealing with epilepsy, advising surgeons what part of the brain to target. Signals must be distinguished from noise. Errors in judgement can be fatal.
Hockey sticks, maple leaves, snowshoes, canoe paddles. Everyday objects hung on the walls, elevated to cultural icons, transplanted from Lower Canada to the high altitude of La Paz.
I am sitting next to a woman getting French lessons in Alexander Coffee. I overhear the expression “tres bizarre” and think “my sentiments exactly.”
Dogs in packs roam the streets or lie indolently on the sidewalk. I cross the street repeatedly to avoid them, not wanting my presence to be interpreted as a challenge or confrontation. It is reassuring to finally see the occasional dog on a leash, tethered to an owner.
He cooked good omelets and stews until the Huntington’s Disease began to erode his memory and concentration and physical coordination. He collects pills to end his life when the degradation becomes too much to bear.
Those with dormant diseases covet their resources and lifestyle. Those infected by the diseases are dismayed and repulsed by the visitors.
They go from farm to farm recruiting participants. All anger is pooled. Every crude weapon is valued. They march toward the city.
He refers to them as vermin, a pest to be eliminated.