I’m back in Bolivia, and its good to be here. But things seem to have changed considerably since my brief trip last year, and its not just because my Spanish has improved so that I now have a better grasp of what’s going on. Everyone is talking about how much food prices have risen – some say prices are four or five times as much as they were a year ago.

While in the US I was beginning to notice that it now takes $40 to fill the tank of my car while less than a year ago it took $30, I hadn’t begun to notice the rise in food prices much except for a small sign in the bread section of a supermarket explaining why they had rise their prices by 50 cents. Here in Bolivia it is glaringly obvious everywhere we turn. The supermarket near my apartment in La Paz has a big sign over the front door saying “Solidarity against inflation! Buy rice here!” (and this, by the way, is the very posh neighbourhood where people actually shop in supermarkets rather than in street markets). In the rural town of Tiwanaku where I am doing most of my work there are bread shortages. Usually the archaeological project I am working with eats a lot of bread – for breakfast, accompanying each meal, and at ‘tea’ in the afternoon. This year we were told no-one was selling bread in Tiwanaku any more. Elsa, the woman who used to make and sell bread each day in the plaza, had to give up because wheat prices were too high for her to make it affordable. The project cooks suggested they make us Buñuelos, a kind of deep fried donuts/pancake instead. I can’t stand them (I’m a crepe purist), but even those that like them as an occasional treat are baulking at the idea of having them everyday for breakfast. But while we will have to make do with deep fried non-wheat alternatives for a few months, Elsa has lost her business and the rest of Tiwanaku are probably having to change their eating habits for good.

Buñuelos_con_piloncillo_y_canela

Not quite a donut. Not quite a pancake. Certainly not toast.

 

Everywhere prices are higher, and wages are slow to catch up. Having put in grant applications for research a year ahead of when they plan to do field work, several anthropologists I know are finding that when the money comes through its already not enough. The airfares have doubled, the cost of living is three times as much as they budgeted, the wages they were going to pay assistants are not engouh. What with the dollar falling even against the boliviano money doesn’t go as far as it once did, although living in Bolivia as a foreign will always be very cheap in comparison to Europe or the US. I’m beginning to worry about when I go to Chile next year though. The cost of living in Chile is comparable to the US already, limiting the amount of time I can afford to do my research in by the limits of the grants I can apply for. Speaking to members of the project I will be working with there next year, they are saying that this year they already can’t afford to run their vehicles and are having to cut back on food costs.

I am only feeling this so directly because I have just left the US and am in South America. Other than gas prices, are we feeling this crunch in the “West”? Is it affecting us on a day to day basis, so that our eating habits are changing as dramatically as they are everywhere else in the world?

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