Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Of Zebras and Presidents.

We first met them in La Paz last Christmas, then again in Tarija last week, and now today outside the Casa de Gobierno buildings in Sucre. We saw Him in Potosi last year, missed Him by a street last week and now He's here today. It would seem that the Zebras and the President of Bolivia are destined to be our occasional, recurring companions.

Thirteen years ago, the major of La Paz introduced a programme of civic education. Using a carrot in place of the stick. The smile in place of the fine. Humour in place of a scowl. 'Mama Zebra' was aimed at curbing the antisocial behavior of both pedestrians and car drivers. No jaywalking, no lights jumping, no mobile use. He recruited twenty 'at risk' youths, paid them and dressed them in impractable two man outfits, that have morphed into the comedic characters that today patrol at rush hour crossroads and conga-dance through markets. Now, the iconic image has spread to other Andean cities, and is aimed at enabling students to pay their way into further education. Such is the image that the Zebra has joined in other municipal campaigns.

Sitting plaza benched, people watching. Two Zebras are on duty at each of it's four corners; they're on crossing patrol. Not a lolly-pop or safety tabard in sight, Bolivia is a hi-viz-free zone. Each time the traffic lights phase back around to the White Man, the curtain is raised on an horse opera. The zebra crossing now a hippodrome. The pantomists enact a melodrama as a group of self important civil servants jay walk through the traffic, making their way to one of the Casas de Gobierno. One Zebra hangs his head, shakes it sorrowfully and wipes a virtual tear from it's eye. The other administers the waggy finger. Some of the transgressors have the grace to smile. The message is clear. Pure street theatre.