January 2012

La Cancha - Beneat h the Surface

Part two of this three part series looks at the other side of La Cancha; away from the dust clouds and the searing sun there are thousands of people living thousands of lives. Aidan Jones blundered into a few of them fired off questions at maximum speed – here are the results...

By: Aidan Jones
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Adelaine – Australia

Children from Canarito Pampeño with teachers at Expo in December 2011
Photo: Ximena Noya

didn’t get mugged in La Cancha, in fact I didn’t have any trouble whatsoever with the thugs that apparently roam the streets day and night. I didn´t get sick from the food – well actually I didn’t try any of the food... for fear of getting sick, as I have been so carefully warned may happen. After my first visit; seeing the children of store owners playing amongst their parents’ shops and living day to day in a world where the rest of Cochabamba’s population only makes a brief, weekly visit – I knew there was more to La Cancha than meets the eye.

Have you ever heard of Canarito Pampeño? I doubt so. There’s no reason for you to have, unless you are a struggling parent living in La Cancha… actually I may have gotten ahead of myself here. Whenever you or I travel to La Cancha, we stroll through the long shopping strips – or maybe you run, or jog, or saunter even – maybe you buy some street food and try and haggle a shopkeeper down off his stool for that new pair of shoes – spoil yourself sweetheart! But after all that, we leave, because La Cancha, for all its delights, can be an extremely tiring place. Many of the store owners though – be it the owner of a large, well established clothing store, or simply a single mother selling orange juice on the street – they stay. They live in La Cancha; above their stores or in nearby apartments. And their children and their parents and their friends and probably 90% of the people they have ever known – they all grow up, sleep, work, live, learn and eventually grow old… in La Cancha.

So back to Canarito Pampeño. It’s a childcare centre by the way, and for the last thirteen years and until a few short weeks ago it has resided on the corners of Avenida Barrientos and Maria Barzada. It was supposed to have moved one block over last week, but I’m sure all of you are aware of the phenomenon of ‘Bolivian Time’, which of course applies with building constructions as well as social engagements, so the move has been delayed. I thought I’d go check out the old place and see what these kids are up against.

It was an averagely hot, averagely sunny, averagely dusty Friday afternoon in La Cancha when Ximena and I met Nilda, the woman in charge of Canarito Pampeño, in the middle of a small circle of tents as her twenty or so children were scattered throughout the surrounds. A brief chat with her revealed exactly what I had suspected from the outset – she spoke only Spanish. We have a conundrum. Luckily, while Ximena chatted to Nilda, I was introduced to a couple of German volunteers who were much closer to my age and they agreed to take me to the currently empty Canarito Pampeño building and have a look around. Straight away I was intrigued by the building’s inconspicuousness – any person could walk right by and think it just another residence for one of the wealthier sellers that have been able to afford rent in a building within the market. The whole place consisted of a meagre four rooms and a toilet downstairs which I was told (first-hand journalism has its limits) was a long drop and lacked toilet paper – well what did I expect? A bidet? The main area was upstairs, where two rather emptyish rooms were used for games and the children’s homework, and the floor was strewn with what looked like rubbish. Only on my attempt to pick some of it up did I realise that it was firmly plastered to the wooden floor. The small library housed probably around 100-200 books, and the administrator’s room was just as you would imagine – with paper filed in an impenetrably complex way (strewn over tables) and two computers; one for the accountant and one for the children.


Interview with volunteers at Canarito
Pampeño Expo
Photo: Ximena Noya

Despite its obviously cluttered appearance it was clear that the four walls and one leaky, foam-reinforced roof of Canarito Pampeño were a priceless safe haven for the 200 or so children enrolled. Only around thirty children attend each day – some attend more regularly than others but there is a fairly high turnover. When I asked my two guides whether they thought the children respected them the answer was tentative; “they didn’t at all at first, before we could speak Spanish properly… now they only fight with each other which is nicer.” They told me of daily brawls and occasional blood, as well as children scaling the walls and hanging out the window over the two storey drop to the street with surprising calm. Such insane events had become almost a monotonous routine nuisance. Most of the kids coming through Canarito Pampeño have abusive fathers who will beat them if they don’t finish their homework – but paradoxically, these same fathers are either unable or unwilling to help their children in any way. Add the mothers that work all day, every day, at their respective stalls in La Cancha and a large portion of the burden of parenting is essentially placed onto the staff. This is the main purpose of Canarito Pampeño: many of the children of La Cancha lack strong parental role models at home, especially male ones, so they come here to be taught about life and responsibility, not just to do their schoolwork and be kept out of trouble.

As I was led down the stairs and out of Canarito Pampeño Alena asked one more time whether I would like to see the toilets – surely with a hint of sarcasm, I hoped. I think I’ll be ok. Walking back onto the street I noticed to the immediate left of the door a huge pile of toilet paper sitting on a table as a part of one seller’s wares, I asked why the children couldn’t just use this toilet paper. At least I think I asked, or maybe I didn’t; either way the situation remained a mystery. For the sake of maintaining my journalistic integrity, let’s say I asked. Obviously, the answer I received was just as baffled and bemused as my inquiry, or else I would have noted it and written it here. Right here... I think? Well if you can figure it out then give me a call, Alena and I laughed to each other and walked off down the street... Ultimately, I resolved to commit to memory the thought that some things in the world just don’t make sense, but whatever system they had in there, it seemed to be working.

Whenever I go to La Cancha I am blown away by the plethora stores of all sizes; well established shops in actual buildings, medium sized stalls under canvas shade cloth, sidewalk food peddlers roaming the streets, searching out customers. What tends to escape first consideration though is that, for each of these stores, there is a family to be supported and a livelihood to be maintained. Children are routinely neglected in this cutthroat world and Canarito Pampeño is a place for these children of the streets to escape a world that is surely not meant for them.

The Rediscovered
Andean Gold

Quinua (Latin: Chenopodium quinua) is a plant which, although it looks like a grain, is botanically related to spinach and beetroot. Normally it is yellow or red with a very small seed about one or two millimetres in diameter. The crop itself grows up to three meters, but this also depends on the ground. It is possible to cultivate quinua nearly everywhere; near the sea on at sea level altitude or at high elevations of up to 4000 meters. Moreover, there is no need to worry about vermin, because quinua’s seed coat contains saponin, which tastes very bitter and protects the seed. There is also a long tradition of cultivating quinua with its richness of ingredients. So, how is it possible that quinua has had such little attention in the mainstream?

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