Student - March 10, 2011

No grousing in Bolivia

Who? Marlies van der Kamp
What? A research internship on the effectiveness of a water purifying plant for 'domestic waste water'
Where? Bolivia, Cochabamba
Why? 'I thought it would be nice to go to South America to learn Spanish and sample the culture'

'The welcome I got was fantastic, for a start. When I arrived at the home of my host family, Grandma (one and a half metres tall) was at the door, jumping up and down with enthusiasm. The family took me everywhere with them, fed me the whole time, and taught me Spanish as well as they could and with endless patience.
'The way my internship went was typical of Bolivia: I had to redo a research of which they had lost the results. But the measuring equipment only arrived when I was about to leave again. I realized there that the Netherlands is one of the most efficient countries, and Bolivia one of the least efficient. It is incredibly relaxed though. You can turn up two hours late without having to explain why. No grousing! People there really take time for each other, and it is just not done to tell someone, 'sorry, I really don't have time now'. Combining doing your work with having a beer is perfectly acceptable as well. You can't opt out of the drinking. That is impolite: people get cross if you don't join in. That's just the way they do things.'

'Of course there are things that are not so pleasant as well. The traffic is totally chaotic. I saw three people die in a road accident; that was really heavy. After a party you have to take a taxi, because it's too dangerous to walk home. And then, I had the runs for a month and a half. At times my stomach was chucking out its contents at both ends at once. Out in the field I was working at high altitude, and I got a lot of headaches. But coca leaves work wonders. You don't get high on them but they widen your arteries so you get fewer headaches. Back in the Netherlands, I miss the openness and the relaxed attitude of people there. I definitely want to go back one day.'

Re:act