Embracing Ignorance: One Fellow’s Struggle to Understand Bolivia
by Alexis Guild, KF11 Bolivia
I thought at one point that I would write a blogpost comparing my experiences in Guatemala, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer, to my experiences in Bolivia, where I am currently serving as a Kiva fellow. Two and a half months into my fellowship, I realize that I cannot do that. Therefore, I decided to write a blogpost about the importance of embracing ignorance instead.
How did I come to this realization? It started when I went to see a Bolivian movie called “Hospital Obrero” and walked out completely confused. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the dialogue. I didn’t understand the story. This was confirmed when I spoke about the movie later that night with my roommate. He is an American who has lived in La Paz for 5 years and has done extensive traveling throughout the country for his job. He loved the movie. What was I missing??? Apparently, the underlying Bolivian/Paceño context was beyond my comprehension. I thought I was starting to understand La Paz. I realized that I had only begun to scratch the surface.
In retrospect, my expectations were unrealistic and presumptuous. My perspective is limited. Yes, I get to travel to neighborhoods off the tourist path and I am slowly becoming familiar with the maze that is El Alto, but I essentially live in a bubble. I have only traveled to the rural areas once. I do not know what life is like in the campo. Life in La Paz is very different from life in the Yungas or Cochabamba or other areas of the country. In Guatemala, I lived in a rural municipality in the country’s western highlands. To write a comparison of these two experiences would be unfair, biased and inaccurate.
Although my work with Kiva has introduced me to many entrepreneurs, I cannot really write about the struggles of women or the lives of the indigenous population because, in all honesty, I know little about it. And you know what? That’s OK! I have learned to embrace my ignorance. I am more open-minded to new experiences and more flexible in my opinions.
It takes time to get to know a country, especially one as complex as Bolivia. While I have appreciated my time here, there is still so much for me to learn. Three months is not enough. Even after 5 years, my roommate told me that he learns new things about Bolivia everyday. With only three weeks left in my fellowship, all I can do is absorb all that is around me and hope to come back one day to learn more.