Tuesday, February 10, 2009


One Sunday afternoon we helped wash babies in Cochabamba: round, stoic, black-haired beauties from North of Potosi. They had travelled the 350km from there to here slung on the backs of their mothers who had walked, hitched rides, bumped in the backs of trucks over hours of dusty winding roads. The mothers had come for a few months to beg a living, sleep on the streets, and then make the trek back home again. But the streets are short on baths, and so, on Sunday afternoons these women bring their children to a tall tent that is pitched in the city square for a few hours and run by a local man and some volunteers. They are given milk and bread outside, and when they are done they bring their babies to be cleaned.

I washed the littlest ones - took off their layers and layers of homemade clothes and poured warm water over their black hair and chubby arms and legs. Mostly, the babies only blinked up at me. They were silent even with the soap and shampoo and the washcloth that scrubbed at the layers of dirt and grime under their noses, behind their ears, and in their deep and secret bellybuttons. Some of the mothers handed their babies off to me and then waited outside, and some of them helped quietly in the washing, calm and matter-of-fact as we striped, washed, rinsed and dressed their babies in clean donated clothing. There was hardly more than a word that passed between us.

Later, some of the women undid their long black braids and washed their hair in the square, necks bent, water streaming. They worked out the knots with small plastic combs while their children watched, teased and tugged at the mystery of those hanging black curtains, of their tired mothers made beautiful on a Sunday afternoon. The sun was setting as they lifted their heads and re-braided their hair: tight, smooth, cleanly parted and shining, glory around them, resting on their shoulders.

Photo credit: Colin Puchala


shannon said...

I am reading a book to my students right now about a little boy in Cochabamba. And this young man is coming to talk to my students about it next week: http://tinyurl.com/dxz3vj

I'm beside myself with excitement. I hope they are moved by what he has to share.

Angela said...

oh! wow. that's so fantastic. you are such a lucky lady. i want to hear him too.

deanna said...

I read your post on the "travel blog" soon after the day this happened. You've made the images even clearer. Hanging black curtains...those colors are lovely.

Angela said...

ya, deanna. one of the guys from the trip is working on this beautiful book of pictures from the trip along with some commentary on what we saw and thought about it. i re-worked this bit and will write/have written a few more pieces for it. it's good to revisit now with some time gone by.