Footprints to Zanzibar

Cochabamba Water Wars Close and Personal

It was the Cochabamba “Water Wars” that month.  The government of Bolivia had signed off on a deal with a multinational company that would turn over the rights to 96 percent of the gains from management of citizen’s water to a Britain-based multinational company and raise 9X  the citizens’ monthly water bill overnight.  Nobody had been consulted; the people were angry, demonstrating and blocking roads by the tens of thousands in the streets of Cochabamba.  Bolivia’s president used his authority to try to force the measure through and called the military in, supposedly to bring peace and order but really to force his measure through.

The masses became highly inflamed and more intrepid in their cause when some “franco-tiradores” (sharpshooters), dressed in civilian clothing, caught multiple times on camera and later proven to be military personnel, started mingling among the thousands of civilian protesters and inciting additional fear and death by shooting several people under cover of the general rioting and confusion.

After two weeks of this situation, the food in our home had gotten low, since we had spent most of our time inside, unable to go out in the streets much because of the security risks.

Friday evening I sat up very late listening to the radio.  (Television and other media channels had been cut for a few days.)  The report was that the conflict was ended and much rejoicing took place; many verbal assurances were repeated that an agreement had been signed and the crisis was over.  I went to bed with a little plan hatching in my mind to walk out early to the open air market across the road and buy some food for my children and myself.

Saturday at seven a.m. I grabbed my Bolivia bags, one in each hand, took my key, and walked out our property door, down the street and across the main road where , beyond and a little to the left of some knots of anti-governmental forces holding the bridge, who had been there for several days already, I glimpsed the white muslin portable awnings, bright pyramids of oranges, potatoes, broccoli and lemons and rustic striped burlap sacks of rice, wheat and flours. It looked so peaceful and happy in light of the cabin fever, stress and uncertainty everyone had been going through for two weeks.

I’d no sooner bought a kilo of rice and was in process of loading a dozen green fresh oranges into one of my Bolivia bags, and was chatting with one of my favorite fruit seller ladies when the drum of thousands of stamping feet, all tramping fast in unison, reached our ears.  The soldiers were coming!

“Senora!  YOU hurry up and run home right NOW,”  my fruit seller friend said urgently. “It’s not safe out here for foreigners.”

I was already turning, saying goodbye and walking quietly but quickly toward the big open road that marked the bridge into the center of the city.  Reaching it, I turned west and walked two blocks away from the bridge that now had many anti-government men on it, blocking it and holding it against provision of a driving way into the center of the city.

Day-dreaming a little, thinking of other things, I stepped out into the big roadway, to cross over into the blocks where our apartment lies.

Like a breeze quickening from one second to the next, the piercing sound of whistles, shouts, catcalls and jeers filled the air.  I glanced up and toward the bridge.  More than thirty men, each with a rock, small boulder, or log of wood in their upraised hand, were RUNNING toward me, eyes intent upon my solitary figure crossing the highway!  They were all running to attack me, to stone me!  In the same split second I realized there were no other pedestrians, and not one vehicle for miles in that wide roadway.  I was all alone and, it looked like, about to lose my life in the middle of a Bolivian street riot.  The closest of the running men were advancing rapidly – this whole event was going to end very fast now.

I prayed in my heart, just one word – there was no time for more.  “Jesus!”IMG_1210  I kept stepping forward, eyes ahead but at the same time, out of the corner of my eye on the side of the road I had walked out from, I saw a lone woman, small, dark, with a single braid of long black hair plaited at the back of her neck and curved forward over one shoulder.  She had on old sweatpants and an old gray blouse. There were no other pedestrians in sight on that side of the highway; she stood there all alone.  I had not seen her before.

The closest of my attackers, four or five stalwart young men running like the wind, were now within 12 feet of me.  I kept walking forward; I was a little more than halfway across, so it made no sense to turn around.  I realized I must be breaking some unwritten, unspoken Bolivian rule of riots, by crossing the main road that was being held against the government on that day.  I continued to pray to God for His deliverance.  All was happening within split seconds.

My would-be attackers were almost upon me. Suddenly I heard a low calm voice speaking. The dark small woman with plaited hair, standing behind me on the edge of that road was speaking to my attackers.  I strained my ears to hear the words she said, but I could not quite make them out.  Immediately the men slowed their running, lowered their arms with the rocks and huge sticks clutched in their hands,  stopped running, turned, laughed and shrugged a bit with each other and began walking back toward their bridge.  I continued crossing the road, gained the far curb, breathed my thanks to God and looked across the highway toward where the woman had been standing. There was no one there.

Psalm 9:9  The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 91:11  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;  they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.  You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.  “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and i will answer him;  I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him.”



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