Pissing on Main Street

On my first visit to this region eleven years ago, I was given the name of a farmer (Lorenzo) from the countryside and instructed to take a small bus to the remote trading town of Tarabuco, where I would surely find him in the central plaza on a Sunday. From there, Lorenzo would take me hiking over the mountains to the community where I would do my research.
That´s why this time I felt no qualms traveling to the same small town to look for another farmer (Modesto) whom I had not been able to reach by phone. I knew he would most likely be in the town on Sunday, and that he would be waiting for my arrival, as prearranged by a mutual friend.
This time I was accompanied by a Bolivian teacher to the trading town. When we got to Tarabuco, we didn´t see my host in the square, so we walked down the main street toward the house where his father-in-law had been staying when we passed through two years ago. Sure enough, there were the farmer´s fifteen year old daughter and three younger siblings. Within a half hour, they had called their father on his cellphone and he had come over from the local hospital, where he was participating in a two day seminar on integrating traditional Andean healing practices with modern medicine. Three of his sisters also emerged.
It turns out that since 2009, the entire younger generation plus most of my generation has migrated to Tarabuco from the countryside, leaving only Modesto and his wife, plus a single sister and their mother, and one eleven year old daughter, back on the farm. Two grown siblings have married and moved to the cities of Santa Cruz and Buenos Aires. The fifteen year old daughter has dropped out of school and is in charge of caring for her siblings, ages 7, 9 and 11 in Tarabuco, mostly making sure they eat and get to school. I was told that the reason for this migration is schooling.
A parallel migration is happening among many families in rural Bolivia and Peru. Many communities only offer schooling through 6th (maximum 8th) grade. Kids are moving, younger and younger, to small towns and cities where they begin speaking only Spanish and participating in schools with more resources than they can find in the countryside.
My teacher friend made sure that I was in good hands with this family and that they would take me to the countryside after meeting with the local school authority in the morning to ask permission to enter the school. We spent a couple of hours shopping for food and traditional clothes in the markets around town, then my friend left. I made my way back to Modesto´s house and found the door locked, so stood waiting for awhile on the narrow sidewalk.
Then I saw her: a young woman in a skirt only a half block away, squatting to pee right on the sidewalk, and not avoiding my gaze. I have seen many folks peeing in Andean ditches and on trails, but never right on the sidewalk, and never being quite so indiscreet!
When I related this tale to my teacher friend back in the city, she and her husband laughed and said ´that´s our Andean culture!´ There is no collective shame among folks from the countryside about peeing in public, (although other streets in Tarabuco have signs forbidding the practice.)
On the other hand, lest these people seem entirely without a sense of manners or cleanliness: we went today to a public market in the big city of Sucre and found our way to the food stall area where my friend´s fifty-something niece has a tiny restaurant service. Everyone greeted each other with great formality, calling each other ‘aunt´and ‘uncle’, helping the niece serve her guests. We had a delicious two-course meal in one of the humblest looking places in the city and the diners were all incredibly gracious and formal with each other.

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