Monday, January 16, 2012

Empanada and Ice Cream

July 2003
We waited.  Knotted around our belongings we huddled against the crowds pouring through the open aired bus station like an end of vacation flood.  Monday morning  all the kids in Bolivia have to be back in school after their winter vacation and we threw ourselves into the current in order to get back to La Paz.  Joaquín and I had come down early Saturday morning to afternoon the station was heavily congested and every company’s desk had a thick crowd clamoring around it. 

Our bus was supposed to leave at three pm.  Joaquín and I had debated which schedule to get a ticket for, whether at one o’clock, one thirty, two thirty, three pm or later.  Juan Carlos had told us he would be done by noon and for us to get the earliest bus possible.   
Luckily we chose three.  After a morning spent roaming the streets of Cochabamba, watching crowds, eating wist'upiku (an enticing combination of a spicy pastry and ice cream), and my spending far too much money and time in a great local bookstore where I could still spend more money and time, we arrived  at the temple at noon.  Both of us were worried they would not let us back in, even though all our belongings were inside, since neither of us carried the requisite recommend, but the guards had gotten to know us and just waved us in with a smile.

Inside we took a chair, among the pilgrims packing up to head home, and waited.  Juan Carlos did not show up, so we waited.   One of the temple workers sat down by me.  He is a jovial man who plays loud Bolivian music from his room in the temple's housing and whose laugh and sense of humor makes even the walls smile.  Originally from the ancient mining city of Potosí, he spent most of his life in La Paz where, according to him, he knew everyone.  We exchanged personal stories and he was intrigued with me. 

I asked him how Brother and Sister Leaño were doing, since I knew they were working in the temple.  I had met the Leaños when I was nineteen years old and trying to make sense of, what seemed to me, the strange and forbidding city of La Paz, a highly conflicted branch, and difficult companions.  Jorge Leaño was a prominent banker and one of the earliest members of the Mormon Church in Bolivia.  Soon I started to regularly visit the Leaño household just for the peace, calm and acceptance I found there.   
The days that, for some reason, brother Leaño and his family did not attend our little branch with dusty wooden floors and a tinny piano that required work every Sunday for other than harsh dissonance to sound, were days that seemed to have lost something.
Brother Leaño radiated peace.  For years he has been one of my heros.

Over the years when fate has brought me to Bolivia I have visited with him and his family, except for when he was in Colombia as a mission president.   I thought this would be the exception, since the temple seemed such a busy place and I did not want to bother with my secular concerns.  Instead of answering my question, brother Rojas said come on let's call him.   Woah!  I did not plan on interrupting.

Dressed in my Levis and travel shirt, I found myself being escorted into the temple, into a room to the side of where they check recommendations one last time to ensure that only bearers of that form can enter the holy place.  The room was like most temples decorated in high hotel, corporate style.  On one wall was a painting of an andean flower called Puye and behind where I sat was a copy of the Anderson painting of Jesus receiving the children. 

Shortly after I sat down, Brother and Sister Leaño, dressed all in white, entered the room, as if all the air rushed out of the place and came in again filled with fresh oxygen.   They looked older, after all it has been nine years since I have seen them, but they looked good.  When I told them about how I had demurred contacting them, they said it's a good thing you did.  Someone would have told us you were here and we would have been hurt.

We talked, telling stories of family and friends.  They asked about my life.  Never once did they show judgment.  I only felt love from them    I told them how much they had always meant to me over the years and how important it had been to visit with them.
They said, David it has always been recíproco, a word that in Spanish means fully shared or mutual.  I felt like crying.

I left the temple and went back to the couch in the waiting area.  There was a whole group of people from Tarija, who had made the more than twenty-four hours of very hard travel to the temple over horrible words and now were returning.  I told them about when I had gone to Tarija  in 1975.  You would have thought that I had lived there, by the way they responded.  One of the men, a thin, handsome man, with a magnetic personality, told how he had been a missionary on the altiplano and how hard it was to learn Aymara, but how he had.  He had worked in areas as a missionary where I have done field work as an anthropologist.  We exchanged stories about people we both knew.

Afterwards he had worked for an NGO involved in development and we shared stories of travel in rural areas of Peru and Bolivia.

Then it was time for them to leave to get to their bus.  They gathered their bundles and each gave me an abrazo while inviting me to visit them in Tarija.

By now it was almost two o'clock and still no Juan Carlos.  Uh oh, I though, we are going to miss our bus.  What to do.  So I went to brother Rojas and told him of the situation and asked if there was anyway of contacting Juan Carlos in the temple to hurry him up. 
So he called.  But Juan Carlos did not come.  I felt a little panicky.   Then I noticed Joaquín was no where around either and I thought oh my I will have to look for him too.

Finally around two thirty Juan Carlos, looking pale, came down the steps from the temple, his arm around Joaquín who had been at the temple doors waiting for him.  We grabbed our bags and a taxi and ran to the bus terminal.  Joaquín was reprimanding his father for making us wait.  Son, he said, you have to understand it was out of my hands.  They wanted me to stay until tonight.

While we were waiting in the terminal, we kept meeting people, including a white shirted young man from Las Vegas, who looked slightly lost.    Finally they had us board the bus, almost half an hour late.  I sat next to an elderly woman traveling with her two

We pulled out of the terminal, as vendors streamed on board the bus to offer food, travel cups, newspapers, and salvation.  Just as it seemed we had left Cochabamba, the bus pulled into a station to load gas and we all groaned.   At the terminal, the representatives of the bus company told us the reason it was late was that it had stopped to get gas.  

Finally we pulled out of the city and into the mountains.  We climbed, fighting the western sun that occasionally would blind us, for the next five or six hours.

When Juan Carlos and I were discussing some item of Quechua vocabulary compared with Aymara, the lady next to me said, I speak Quechua.  So she and I conversed for the next hour, until the movie Water World made conversation impossible.  It was followed by Rambo III.  In both cases I decided sleep was more entertaining.

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