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Bowler babies

August 2, 2006

The women here, as in rural Mexico, are intriguing to me.  They look and live so differently from me, yet I know at our core we share similar emotions, ideas, and desires. 

Due to the obvious differences between us, it is difficult to see the similarities we may share.  The women who dress and live traditionally here (based on observation, I would posit that approximately 2/5 still do) wear knee-length skirts that puff out over the petticoats worn underneath.  Thick woolen socks or stockings are worn to keep their legs warm, and leather flats complete the bottom half of their outfits.  Their sweaters almost never match the skirts in color, but the whole ensemble nevertheless appears coordinated due to the multi-colored sashes/sacks worn over their shoulders, in which they carry children, food, or other items that must be transported from here to there.  To top it off–literally–most wear rounded black or brown bowler hats that don´t seem to serve any obvious purpose, as they don´t block much sun and don´t cover the ears in the winter–but I´m sure there is a practical reason that such hats are worn, as these women appear to be no-nonsense.

In an attempt to see these women as sisters rather than foreigners, I went out today with the expressed purpose of observing them for signs of shared experiences.  Despite their seemingly stoic exterior, I saw many laughs and a number of huge smiles–a few directed towards me–that made the creases in the corners of their sparkling eyes crinkle with pleasure.  I saw women shoe shopping, carefully looking over the available styles and prices, as I would do.  I saw one woman watching a soap opera on TV from her stand in the market, taking part in an international culture that I must admit to participating in as well (my excuse for watching telenovelas is that they help me improve my Spanish).  Two other women who encountered each other on the street stopped to chat on their ways to their respective destinations, something I do nearly every time I return to State College (it´s hard not to run into somebody you know in towns as small as State College and Tupiza!); and still other women expressed weariness, boredom, and curiosity, all emotions I have shared at one time or another–especially the latter.

Curiosity.  I stopped to think about that one for a while.  Many of the women look at me with as much interest as I look at them–and why not?  I´m dressed in jeans (how uncomfortable, some of them must think), sneakers (how boyish), and a solidly colored long-sleeve t-shirt (she´s going to be cold once the sun finishes setting behind the mountains); and where´s my hat?  I imagine that some of them chuckle at the tourists who pass through their town, wondering why we choose to dress and live the way we do; others may be fascinated; others annoyed.  I, too, can empathize with those thoughts and feelings.  When I see Penn State freshman getting drunk off of their asses on campus, I shake my head in a combination of disgust and amusement.  When alumni return to town for football weekends and homecoming, I become annoyed at the inconvenience of traveling anywhere near downtown–or of driving into State College on the Friday night before a game.

So we–the traditional women in Tupiza and I–are just as similar as we are different.  I´d like to approach one or more of them to strike up a conversation, but I´m not sure what I´d say.  I like your hat?


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