SURVIVAL IN BOLIVIA By Jack Derksen (Article)

Jack D july 2017 copy

Jack Derksen


For some years Santa Cruz motorists using the 4th ring road have had to cross a major canal on a narrow, dirt covered provisional bridge. Two lanes of traffic crossing a one lane bridge leads to complications.

An enterprising vagabond noticed the traffic snarls and on his own hook, began directing traffic. The occasional driver began to reward him with a boliviano or two. From being the “crazy” at the bridge he became a fixture, someone all depended on to keep traffic moving in an orderly way. With time the contributions obviously increased. He bought a whistle and gradually accumulated a uniform complete with luminous security bands for night work. A lean-to and a chair appeared; a small business was established based on the municipal government’s neglect.

According to rumour, some months ago an influential drunk missed the bridge and plunged his new car headlong into the canal. This moved the city authorities to action and they began to construct a cement bridge.

I became very concerned. Edmundo Rojas was going to be put out of a job. His cheery morning smile—gold tooth flashing in the sun speaking of more prosperous days—had become a fixture in my daily routine. A self motivated man was going to be out of a job. I began to notice that “my”(we all considered him “ours”) traffic controller’s smile and his “buen dia” lacked their former spark. For him the new construction meant the end of a livelihood and a purpose in life. In future motorists would speed across the new bridge without a pause or a thought. Frankly, I much preferred to put up with a bumpy passage over the make-shift contraption—progress be damned!

The bridge was completed and I felt very sad for Don Edmundo. But I hadn’t counted on Bolivian ingenuity or municipal ineptitude. The government bridge subsided just a bit so that the roadway and the bridge level didn’t quite match. It was enough to require just a shovel or two of sand to smooth to the way. Mr. Rojas was back in business.

Jack Derksen


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