Sunday, July 25, 2010

Consumer Concerns

Inspired by a couple of recent articles on La Gringa’s Blogicito, I thought I would write about what is like here in Oruro to secure those goods one needs and or wants.


Supermarkets are an unknown thing here in Oruro. There are a few in larger cities like Cochabamba and La Paz, but here in Oruro food is mostly purchased fresh in the markets or from small “tiendas” that are more or less Bolivian convenience stores (for North Americans) or newsstands (in British terms…except that you’d never expect to find reading material there.) We have two “mini-supermarkets” just off the central plaza where one can pick up a few imports or less common items like mozzarella cheese and canned beans (as a result I’ve been able to make BBQ Chicken Pizza and Baleadas for my host family and friends here.)

Here’s a good example of solving a problem by purchasing a product: I really wanted to clean my shower head when I first got here, because it was clogged with calcium deposits and rust (the water here is incredibly hard.) Of course, miracle cleaners like CLR aren’t something one can find here outside of industrial applications. After some internet research I came upon the idea of using white vinegar in a baggie tied around the shower head for 24 hours. Well, white vinegar proved impossible to find, so I finally settled on a bottle of the red vinegar that is sold as salad dressing here. Truly watertight plastic bags were also impossible to find, but I finally wrangled three bags into layers in which each bag’s leaks were least annoying and were backed up by the next bag’s areas of strength. So, 1 bottle of red vinegar, 3 baggies, 4 rubber bands, and 36 hours later, I had a well functioning shower head…and a more than slightly vinegar-scented bathroom.

Determination and creativity are ingredients that must never be underestimated.


I recently got a crafty inspiration to make jewelry out of plastic bottles, to be sold when I get back to the US as a new line of products for my online business REMNANTS (currently on vacation mode while I am in Bolivia.) It’s taken me a while to collect together all of the necessary supplies, but after spending a Friday afternoon wandering downtown and a Saturday in the “feria” with Nelly, a member of the Save the Children team of educators with whom I am working, I’ve managed to collect all the necessary pieces: translucent paint, wire, round nose pliers, and ribbon. Of course, each and every item was purchased only after scouring for a shop that carried the item in the right size and quantity for my needs and then comparing between shops for the best price.

Although I’m busy and can find it frustrating to say the least, I happy that a single shopping trip allows me to help keep so many different people in business rather than a single large company with impersonal employees. I love getting to converse with all the different people I buy from. They always have suggestions for where I might be able to find something else I’m looking for but that they don’t carry. And, it’s only in Bolivia that you can walk past shops selling magic supplies like dried llama fetuses and other offerings for the earth goddess Pachamama!


There are plenty of clothing and shoe shops here, but so far I’ve been able to fill my needs in the much cheaper “Mercado” or the twice weekly “Feria.” On Wednesdays and Saturdays the section of town just northwest of the plaza becomes a whole other world chock full of stalls along the sides of the street where clothing, electronics, beauty products, housewares, and just about anything else you might need is sold for much cheaper rates than in established stores. This is how I’ve gone about finding most of the more traditional Bolivian style cold weather clothing I’ve been wearing here (ponchos, sweaters, shawls, gloves, hats) as well as the universal cold weather gear (like long underwear and turtlenecks.)

Shoes proved a little more difficult…actually a lot more difficult. I brought my warm hiking boots and a pair of black flats that quickly proved far to open and chilly to wear in the office. However, despite the fact that all I wanted were black dress boots or flats (with more foot coverage than mine) like many women wear here, I went to just about every location that sells shoes in the city…the “feria,” the established shoe stores, the “Mercado”…and ultimately found only 1 pair that fit me! Not one pair that I liked, but one pair that was actually in my size! I do often feel like a giant here, it’s true, but that day was frustratingly so!

It does help that many shops of the same kind are grouped together. For example, in town there is a street where most of the sewing shops are, a street lined purely with lawyers, a block with all the shoe shops, etc. If you are a fan of the efficient shopping provided by the concepts of department stores and supermarkets, this system is, I suppose, the next best thing.
Staying warm and thinking development thoughts

The “feria” where I’ve picked up warm clothing is also where I picked up my beloved space heater (which I have since gifted to the office when another one became available in the house.) I’ve had to finally give in and admit that it is bothersomely cold (especially as nights here are now regularly below 0 degrees Farenheit.)

I really can’t understand how people could live here for so many thousands of years and not have developed systems for heating their buildings. The kids have been out of school for a month now because it’s simply too cold for them to learn. Although it’s been a colder than normal winter, this is hardly the first time the problem has occurred. Surely there are simple and affordable solutions. It’s a volcanic region and there are hot springs not far outside of town, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some geothermal sources under the town. By midday the sun has warmed things nicely on the outside, but buildings without much sun remain cold and even those with sun become cold again by sunset. There is quite the market here for development projects related to affordable and ecological heating methods.

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