The usual Americas’ duplicated, blotty-penned, form-filling, discussions and decisions about our identity and then an escape from officialdom. We’ve only crossed one low granite headland, one just like the last five since leaving town. It’s the same Sacred Lake beside us, the same snow-dusted hill sits on my south, the same soft smear of rain still falls out of the same cloud. Yet we’re in a different place. Initially it was the gaudy moto-rickshaws waiting for the first of the day’s foot pedestrians to walk the frontera, but it’s the second image that was stark and startling: it’s an image in negative form, that says more about where we’ve just left than where we’ve just arrived. It’s a girl walking to school.
St. Stephen’s Day, what an Anglo would know as ‘Boxing Day’, yet the schools are open for business, or at least for those who arrive on time. As we ride through town, having interviewed and liberated some ‘Nuevo Soles’ from the hole in the wall, we pass more and more scholars who are converging on a heavy metal gate set into a high wall. A siren sounds and a population take to their heels. In the eerie silence of it’s termination, the gate closes, locking out the dilatory, incarcerating the punctual. It’s a scene that we never witnessed in Bolivia. There the schools stand forlorn, empty, the gates resolutely shut, such that I hoped it was a long holiday recess, knowing it to be otherwise. We’d seen so many herds of llamas, sheep and cattle tended by expert whip-and-gutty wielding children, to know that these weren’t just holiday jobs.
It takes two countries to create a border, but just one image to define a difference.