“Understanding” culture

It’s always difficult deciding what exactly to write about. I’m trying to make this blog about ideas and take-aways rather than just a record of everything I’ve done, but it’s difficult to formulate in words what it’s like living in a different country. How do I summarize a group of people, cultures, and lifestyles without too many details? I think the ultimate answer is that you can’t. Any attempt at summarizing a country is in itself a failure of cultural understanding.

In fact, Bolivia is currently undergoing a similar cultural challenge. A huge social change underway is the attempt to recognize and accept the many cultures (especially indigenous cultures) within the country. It’s part of the reason why I’m taking classes in Quechua, one of the more popular indigenous languages in the Andean region. It gives me a little perspective into how others think and view the world (for example, the word for hot and sunny are the same, because it’s hardly ever sunny and cold where Quechua is spoken). At the same time, it offers me a slim chance of being able to interact with other people in the country than if I just spoke Spanish. Bonus for stretching my brain by learning a third language using a second language, as my Quechua classes are taught in Spanish.

I guess my point is this: I could talk about Día del Peaton (Pedestrian Day), when all the buses, cars, and motorcycles sat in garages while the streets filled with walking, bicycling, and dancing. I could talk about adjusting to eating huge lunches and almost nothing for dinner. I could also talk about my encounters with free dance and music concerts. I’ll get there. But at the same time, I’d like to warn against taking any of my thoughts and ideas as absolute truth. Think of Temporary Cochabambina as a window into Bolivia, tinted by my brown, Minnesotan-raised eyes.

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