Monday, March 20, 2006

The Danish Influence: Chewing Coca

A few weeks back, two Danish journalists arrived in La Paz to do a documentary on the political situation in Bolivia - Morten is on the left and Allan is on the right. Thanks to my Danish connection (DJ Restless-G), they hired me as their interpreter! The apple never falls far from the tree, oh so true. The week with them was amazing - I went to places I had never even heard of both in town and in the Ciudad El Alto, met all sorts of people, found out about very interesting resources... It was exhausting, in the best possible way.

One of the most interesting experiences was when Allan and I went to find the Coca market. I didn't even know such a thing existed, although in retrospect it makes perfect sense. So we took a cab up to Villa Fatima and eventually found our way to the right street, which was empty. Normally, markets are on the street, so I was about to start arguing with the cab driver for taking us to the wrong place - and then I realized the Coca market was on the left, down a not-very-well-lighted staircase over which was a huge glass mosaic representing a coca leaf... sketchy! But at least we were in the right place. So after trying a few different storage rooms, I found a coca producer and another lady who let themselves be convinced to talk about coca and demonstrate coca chewing on tape. We interviewed them and another man who showed up randomly but had great things to say (including "the coca leaf is what enables us to work hard and bring education to our children... we hate americans, they interfere too much... the coca leaf is not a drug, just as the grape is not alcohol...), and then I was offered to chew coca. I had never done it before, and decided that the polite thing to do was to accept (gasp shock horror).

Initially, the coca leaves tasted like paper. Then I added a bit of lejia (sticky black substance derived from burning different vegetables, the chemical composition of which allows for more efficient breakdown of the coca leaf, and a better taste) and there was literally an explosion of taste! Bittersweet, very similar to the taste of mate de coca (coca infusion)... and eventually, the right side of my tongue went numb! Very strange and sort of enjoyable, and most assuredly a recipe I will remember next time I have to go to the dentist, hehe!

Conclusion: Thanks to a Danish journalist, I am now more Bolivian than I used to be! Makes sense...


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