Busing despite the paro.
No lights. No sound. Just silence and held breath. It is pitch black and I can’t see a thing, but I can feel Carolyn tensing. In a moment of panic I realize where we are and every muscle in my body contracts in fear.
Let us go. Please, just let us go.
“You are NOT, under any circumstances, to take part in demonstrations.”
Mauricio’s words from orientation, week one. His deliberate Spanish resonated assertively in the dim room. Before we had arrived in the country, each of us had signed a document forbidding our participation in riots, protests, even peaceful demonstrations – and Mauricio, our regional program director, wouldn’t let us forget it. Behind him was an image I came to remember well. Centered in the frame was a flaming vehicle, its white body consumed by serpentine blazes and funneled smoke. Everyone in the picture was staring in fixated horror at something past the truck, just outside the left edge of the photograph. Some of the parliament buildings were in the picture: uncharred, unmarked, unnoticed.
I glanced around at the volunteers coated in the chalky light of the projector and tried to picture their serene faces in the swell of a violent mob. Mauricio’s words reverberated off the stone floor, and his Bolivian Spanish, though stern, struck me as melodic.
Don’t worry, Mauricio. We knew what we were doing when we signed those documents.
- - -
It took us less than a week to disobey them.
Carolyn and Dave were first. In the plaza 14 de septiembre they stumbled upon opposing rallies: pro-Evo and no-Evo. (Whether you agree with him or not, as a Bolivian you’re on a first name basis with your president.) A young man with short red hair was there, holding something small and dark – a moment later it was flying through the crowd. Disorder. The crowd dispersed, and Carolyn and Dave ran with them to avoid being knocked down. They didn’t hear a blast, but they couldn’t turn around to look if they had tried.
For me, it was my first day on the job.
It was the morning of San Juan, a holiday of fires. I waited for my boss at the plaza de las Banderas, but her staff got there first, and they came alone. Within an hour over a hundred people had swarmed the square and strapped white surgical masks to their faces. The crowd swelled into the street, drawing more and more people. In the sea of masked faces I met my coworkers by their eyes, chanting with the force of hundreds. I spotted my boss at the front, a short but powerful woman with a bullhorn, bellowing at the snaking masses.
- - -
Back in the calm of the office, I needed to get the name right. After all, it was where I would be working: a small nonprofit based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. A farmer assistance program. Or, as it’s known in Spanish:
“Programa de Asistencia … ” I squinted at the logo, “Agro—what?” There were way too many syllables in that word.
“Agrobioenergética,” said a coworker.
Interesting. “That doesn’t exist in English.”
“Good thing we’re not speaking English, then.”
July. I’m the first one in the bus station, and right away I’ve got this uneasy feeling. I don’t feel welcome. I’ve had this feeling a few times the first two months in Bolivia. Not like this. A cluster of distraught individuals pushes its way towards the ticket office, but many have given up already. They stand alone in the pale stone hallway; I can hear them breathing over the rustling of clothing, can feel them emanate uneasiness. My white skin prickles. It’s colder than I thought it would be. I’m transparent.
Carolyn whips by.
“I’m getting the tickets,” she states, her black backpack moving into the crowd. I watch her light brown hair bob around the people. She’s only wearing a thin sweatshirt and fingerless gloves, not even a hat. I curl my own bitter fingers inside my gloves and vaguely wonder if she’s wearing long underwear under her jeans. She should change – we’re heading into the altiplano, the high plains of the Andes, in the dead of night – but there’s no time. We’ve got to catch the next bus.
“Sabine!” Her voice is shrill. Accusatory.
"I’m taken aback. “What?”
“There aren’t any buses!” Her eyes are fixed on mine.
My cold brain processes this a second. No. Buses. That means the mass of protesters coalescing back in Cochabamba wasn’t temporary, wasn’t local. And the military marching outside my office–
“You knew.” She says, exasperated.
The notion I was entertaining earlier floated back to my brain: What if the blockades were spreading from city to city, shutting the country down? It would mean that we left our homes in the middle of a nation-wide blockade. “Oh shit, Carolyn.”
“Oh shit is right. They say there aren’t buses until morning, at least. It could be days. No one knows what’s going on,” she waves her hand over the mingling crowds of Bolivians. “There’s a paro, or something. I am NOT spending the night here – it’s fucking freezing,” she looks around, “and anyways, this place is creepy as hell.”
The Bolivian Paro: A history.
Paro is literally “stop” in Spanish. That’s exactly what happens to the country when the workers become incensed enough – it shuts down. Every road, every business. Whatever the crime – be it a military beating or mistreatment of the disabled – creates anger. And it rises, spreads in whispered circles. All the major work groups are in the know – the workers near the military checkpoints, the bus drivers, the university professors. Sometimes it’s announced. And sometimes, everyone just … knows.
Bolivians are a politically passionate people. In 2000, the government decided, on the suggestion of the World Bank, to privatize the water supply. An average family in Cochabamba, the city in which I was based, saw their tap prices quadruple. Twenty cents: the difference between life and death. The company was French. They didn’t understand that in Bolivia, a country that maintained the largest indigenous population in Latin America despite centuries of inquisition and siege and killing, no outsider tells them what to do.
The privatization lasted less than a year. I walked by the parliament from time to time, and you can still see the burn marks eight years later. If I close my eyes, I can picture the tear gas canisters being thrown, the sound of rifles being loaded, the chanting of the people – children, old women, families linked in arms.
It happened again in 2003 when the Bolivian parliament tried to sell natural gas reserves to Chile. Indigenous groups rallied across the country over what they believed to be the only natural resource left to Bolivia. Autonomía, Autonomía – “Autonomy!” they shouted in the plazas, in the streets, day and night. Strikes and blockades stopped traffic as fingers were pointed. Riot police used teargas. Protestors threw dynamite. Which was thrown first?
Blockades are a way of life in Bolivia. Bloqueos stop traffic on the main streets of cities across the country nearly every week. But Bolivians don’t shut down the country with a paro unless they want to make a statement. And nobody, nobody disobeys that statement.
- - -
One thing about a paro is this: sometimes it doesn’t make it to the whole country. Which means, if we can make it to a department that hasn’t shut down, we may be able to avoid the demonstrations. The decision to flee is time sensitive: if the protestors have reached all the military checkpoints, they stop the traffic. And then there are no roads out. We’d be trapped at the checkpoint until the military comes to take it back.
On the other hand, we could sit around and wait the paro out. There’s the remote possibility of the police coming in with tear gas, or someone may light a building on fire. And there’s the certain possibility that food and water will not reach the station until the paro is over. Not good for the people of the Oruro department, ninety nine percent of whom lack “necessary basic needs,” according to a recent census. How long we’d all be here is anyone’s guess.
We need a bus.
Just as I’m about to argue with the clerk about tickets for tomorrow morning, a flock of alpaca-clad backpackers speaking American English string by.
“There’s a bus, guys! There’s a bus going!” shouts the one in front to the four in tow.
Carolyn whips around. “Where to?”
The guy has disappeared around the corner. Janan and Jess stride over. We’re hesitant. No one crosses the roads during a paro.
“Does it matter?” I say, hauling my blue school backpack over my shoulder.
“There’s a bus going and we’re on it.”
- - -
The place is swarming with people. Most are Bolivians: women in traditional Quechua garb, their belongings swung over their backs in colorful home-woven fabrics. I can see influences from the different tribes – some wear small black bowler hats, some alpaca wool caps with the woolen ends braided in strings below the ear coverings. There’s a small contingent of backpackers speaking what sounds like French, but they speak so softly its hard to be sure. The American group is loud and front and center of the lines. Everyone’s pushing and shoving, though the bus doors aren’t even open.
That’s when we meet Mitch. Tall, with square glasses and an afro, he appears out of the crowd long before he reaches us. He’s a friend of Janan’s – came up from Chile, where he’s been traveling. He has a fantastic Jewish nose. He’s also very talkative. Mesmerizingly so. He’s got a confidence that says I know exactly what I’m doing.
Carolyn offers to grab us food and heads off with Jess and Janan. Mitch and I are in charge of the bags.
“… but it was just bullshit, you know. They had me taking this intermediate Spanish class and I hated it. Wouldn’t let me switch out.” He checks on the girls, sees they’re okay, turns back to me. “I just stopped going to class.” His eyes are clear with the cold.
“You dropped out, you mean?” I try to sound unconcerned.
“Well, yeah. I mean, I wasn’t going to put up with that.”
Obviously not. “Yeah. Who wouldn’t want to skip classes and backpack around South America? Bet your parents were thrilled.”
Mitch laughs and glances aside. That was a whole other conversation. He asks why I’m here. I’m volunteering, I say, for a farmer assistance program. We –
“Where’s my bag?” It’s Carolyn.
“It’s right here, Carolyn. Mitch and I are literally standing over it.”
She sifts through the bags. “No, you’re not. That’s Jess’ bag.”
The moment is heavy, pulses between the three of us like a giant, rotating finger.
- - -
Ten minutes later. Carolyn’s off to the side, on the phone with her mom. It’s probably costing her a fortune.
“Holy shit, Mitch. I didn’t even notice them taking it.”
He speaks slowly: “It’s dark. It was a black backpack. These people are professionals.”
“Mitch, her clothes were in there.”
“Could’ve been worse. At least she has her passport. Know how long it takes to get–”
“Mitch, I don’t think you get it. Her jacket was in there. She’s gonna freeze.”
- - -
“Carolyn, there’s a bus,” I approach her slowly, speak softly, “It’s not official – we’ll have to sit in the aisle, we’ll need to slip the driver 40 Bolivianos cash. But it’ll get us to Uyuni.” To the next department. No paro there.
She’s been crying. She methodically rubs a tear off each of her cheeks.
I try again. “I think it’s our best option. We obviously can’t stay here.” Pause. “Carolyn?”
“Yeah I heard you. Let’s go.”
The road bumps, carves along the bouldered, weathered plains of the altiplano. I’m wedged between knees and backpacks in the darkness, but if I tilt my head just so, I can see past the shapes of curtains and out the dim sliver of a dusty window. I see the black of the earth – the bruised and swollen crust, risen up like bread, then flattened by millennia of ferocious winds. A wasteland. Phantoms cross the desert, their tiny figures appearing in the vehicle headlamps before vanishing into the blackness once again. They are the Quechua Indians. Dots fighting the cold and wind.
Sound has been muted by the closed metal shell of the bus, except for the slight sucking sound at the window edges as the human heat leaks out into the plains. The bus is dark, but I can still distinguish the outlines of human figures, dozens of them, squashed against the windows, piled, staggered along the aisle, knees and elbows sticking out at awkward angles.
The bus rocks silently, hours upon hours. At first I’m relieved, the edge of panic eased by the reassurance that we were headed away from the station. But the night wears on and it gets colder, and I’m realizing that though it’s probably one or two in the morning, I can’t sleep. I can feel the cold slipping under my clothes. In those first hours my limbs begin to protest at the lack of mobility, begin to beg for just a few more inches of movement.
Shortly after the moments of silence start to blend together something occurs to me. I have no idea why the paro is in place. I haven’t once thought about it. Now that I am, I hazard a guess. Of all their sorrows, there is one that has caused these people much pain recently. Bolivia’s latest heartbreak, up for re-election in a fortnight.
- - -
Two and a half years earlier, a barefoot man in a yellow cap stood at a weathered gate of stone to receive his blessings. His tunic was as red as those worn by honored priests who stood at this spot 2500 years ago. The world knows this place as Tiwanaku, a name given by the Aymara, one of Bolivia’s modern indigenous peoples. They found it nameless, for those who walked among the temples of its prime left none, none written anyways. Instead they left stones – stones dragged hundreds of miles to the shores of ancient rivers, covered in carvings like the gate behind the barefoot man, a gateway to the sun.
Around the two Aymaras locked in ceremony, a crowd of tens of thousands roared.
“Viva Evo!” they shouted in triumph, “viva Bolivia!”
And the man who became the first indigenous president since the Spanish conquest spoke to the crowd. He had come a long way from his rural beginnings, had gained much power since he harvested the small green leaves which became an identity in themselves: the cocaleros, coca farmers. Those were the days of the former government. The government whose soldiers drunkenly beat their fellow Bolivians. Who knew how they chose who to murder, like the cocalero who they doused in gasoline – shining against his trembling skin. If he was conscious enough to tremble after they beat him… that is known only to those whose eyes are marked by the flames which consumed him.
Enough for Evo Morales.
He spoke: “… to end the injustice, the inequality and oppression …”
It would end. He promised to end it all.
- - -
The French backpacker at the back of the bus is vomiting.
The cold creeps into the back of my mind, interrupting my thoughts. I’ve been fixating on unanswerable questions, of how long these blockades would last. Even worse, I’m drawing up scenarios of getting caught in the middle of a skirmish between the police and the protestors and what we could do if things went drastically wrong. I can’t think of anything. We couldn’t possibly escape the violence – we’re trapped, crumpled into this bus.
But I’m too exhausted to panic. Suddenly I think of Carolyn, a few feet in front of me. I can’t see her face. I hope she’s asleep. Because if she’s awake, she feels this stabbing cold.
A Restless People
Every country has its restless poor, the downtrodden minorities. In Bolivia, there are the Amerindians, an impoverished ***majority***. It’s distressing to see them, the races, the tribes, all of them trapped in an oppression that outlives their conquerors. They are kept marginalized by the inertia of time, and it reads on their faces.
Luis was taking me for rellenos, a traditional Bolivian dish. He led me down the streets at a clip, his face young and bright. He brimmed with hope, with pride, as do many of the young urbanites and light-skinned youth who empathize for their country’s disadvantaged. I’d slipped right in with them: my skin is only so much brighter. Luis’ face beamed as he told me of the Indian festival coming to the nearby town of Quillacollo. Over the years it had created a beautiful mixture of the continent’s much-celebrated Christianity and the ancient celebrations of the Amerindians. “The mix of cultures,” he was saying, “es genial,” brilliant.
I struggled to keep up, for Luis had gotten so excited he was walking at a near jog. This part of the city was new. Soon I was lost and couldn’t remember the last turn that we made. And then I stumbled upon them: the country’s old and beaten. Never before had I seen the age of a people show as strongly as I did in the faces of the Indios sitting on the city sidewalks. I passed them in a rush to keep up with Luis, but still I was trailing behind him, his voice lost in the static background of street noises. My feet slid along the edges of the worn street curbs on the tiny sidewalks where old women sat like fortune tellers. They gazed up at me with sharp cheekbones, like portraits of the urban poor taken by young photographers in black and white. They held no inkling of curiosity nor envy for this white girl, at least none that I could catch in the seconds I spared for them. Their eyes were hazy glass. They pierced me nonetheless.
I was haunted by them, as they were haunted by those for whom they mourn. I sensed their pride, but also that they were wary, their trust hard won. Evo was able to coat their pain with words that resonated; He called for the world to lament the oppression of their peoples, living and dead. But of all the things that Evo promised – equality, empathy, recognition – there was one which would solidify their loyalty to him. It would also bring the country to chaos.
He promised them their land – including the natural gas which lay beneath it.
My feet are the first to go numb. Soon I notice that I’ve started to slide down the thick, lined, rubber aisle of the bus, inch by inch in the most painstakingly slow manner. My useless feet do nothing to stop it and my shirt slides up from the friction. My lower back becomes exposed to the bottom of the bus and the crisp air stings. It’s hard to move my hands, clasped to the edge of the armrest beside me. I am paralyzed. Numb. And whatever isn’t numb is freezing, my lower back in particular. The back of my neck. My ears. My fucking ears.
I’ve run out of conversations to have with myself at this point. I embrace the lack of thought because I don’t want to think. Not about the cold. Not about the thin air here at 12,000 feet. Not about the military checkpoints and what would happen if this bus of illegal travelers was found. For a few miserable moments everything centers on the sharp pain in my lower back and the relentless sting of the cold air. I want to let go of the armrest onto which I have been clinging to move my shirt but after awhile my brain fogs and I don’t mind the pain. The
numbing sensation spreads up the spine. That’s when I begin to count.
- - -
Every leader has his opposition. For Evo, it’s the wealthy non-indigenous groups of the Eastern lowlands – areas rich in natural gas reserves. With Evo intending to nationalize the supply and give the proceeds to indigenous groups, tensions are running high. Some say the Easterners have lost now that the indigenous poor finally have the president on their side.
But the East does not give up so quickly. In fact, they are gaining power. Bolivia is becoming more fractured, racial and economic lines running between the country’s breaking halves. And after reviewing USAID documents, Evo began to understand why. His was a sickening conclusion: his opposition was receiving millions of American dollars from the US government under the guise of aid. Rumors of clashes between USAID workers and the farmers in the coca growing regions spread. Now aid workers are considered potential spies.
Agency doesn’t matter. Even the Peace Corps became a target, marked solidly by “the incident.” It happened earlier in the year, when thirty peace corps volunteers stationed in Bolivia informed ABC News that they were asked to participate in intelligence gathering activities. It got worse four months later, when a Fulbright scholar came forward with a similar claim. For the white Americans, our skin had become a give-away. We were the white man’s descendents in the midst of a new colonial war. By now, my occupation, my nationality, my skin color, my language – all these fragments of my former identity marked me as an enemy.
Later that Bolivian winter we’d watch a film of the 2003 gas wars – horrible, gut-wrenching footage of the wounded, of dead children, of screaming voices. We watched shaking cameras show hundreds of indigenous peoples running down from the plains of El Alto to the city of La Paz, as a battle of ethnicities raged. I knew watching the video that these were desperate peoples with a cause worth dying for. I had never felt such compulsion towards any cause in my entire life, but I knew then why Evo’s words echoed so strongly for the modern struggle. The last 500 years of indigenous resistance has not been in vain.
Oh, but it has. Were they to kill the whites on this bus, it would bring them no peace. There is no such thing as a final retribution. Their pain is unrelenting.
- - -
Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Breathe. Okay, I can do this. Look for the windows. It’ll be okay. Keep counting. Eighteen.
No one is moving. Janan and Jess and Carolyn are lined up in front of me back-to-back like the chains of little girls braiding hair in the plazas of Cochabamba, now ages behind us. Mitch is somewhere in back, probably with the French backpackers. I haven’t heard anything from anyone for awhile. No one is talking.
Perhaps they’re counting too.
For a while now, I’ve needed to go to the bathroom. But the bus just bumps and bumps along. I’m still grasping onto the armrest, fingers locked on for dear life, to keep from drowning under the elbows and bags. The thin air and darkness make this illness worse: shaking, shivering, confusion and nausea. A distilled fear reeks like old coffee grinds. It’s like food poisoning.
I can’t remember which number I’m at or how many times I’ve started counting again, only that my frozen brain can never seem to get past twenty. I’m squinting into closed eyes, and then I take a deep breath of icy air. I open my eyes and start again.
One. Two. Three…
The bus stops. No lights. No sound. Just silence. Everyone holds their breath in unison, hoping, praying, that this is the end. But it can’t be. We haven’t arrived anywhere. The windows are pitch black, and there are no signs of houses, even lightless ones. I can’t see anything. I can feel Carolyn tensing, can feel her emitting waves of desperate hope. I emit them back.
And then I realize. It’s a checkpoint. A military checkpoint. Suddenly every muscle in my body tenses, breathing becomes shallow. I’m shrinking in my skin, trying to make the bus smaller. What will they do to us?
And then the bus lurches forward. Exhales all around.
“Merde.” It’s the backpacker in the corner – the one who had been lurching in nausea a few hours back. Concentric circles of quiet, nervous laughter radiate around her. No one here speaks French, but they all know a curse when they hear one.
- - -
When we finally get there, my limbs don’t work all that well. But I can’t wait to get off this fucking bus and find a bathroom – to get out of the cramped position I’ve been folded into for nine hours.
Stepping off the bus, sharp pain. Like crystal knives.
All of us are cursing in our mother tongues, chattering teeth disguising the words. I open my eyes against the chill. The town is a cold white. Frost. The ground exhales plumes of fog, like those coming out of my nose in fitful breaths. It’s dim and the place is completely deserted. I can’t think. Everything is in black and white.
I’m following the others, searching desperately for coffee, for a hostel, for anything. My legs are brittle. Vaguely, a thought: The bus. Let’s get back on the bus. It’s not worth shouting the thought at the back of Mitch’s head, though – he’s too far ahead. The others are all spread out around the street, each following Mitch’s black hair which is bobbing like a dark flashlight ahead in the whiteness. The edges of what look like grey tents appear around him, a glow of a small fire spits feebly up ahead. Dim enough to be an apparition. The air is dry and piercing as I stumble over towards the tents. Someone says it’s fifteen
below. Nausea creeps in.
- - -
I’m throwing up. My stomach contracts upon itself, folding up over emptiness. I haven’t eaten for hours. It’s just dawn, and the sun is glaring into the frosted window of the bathroom of the hostel – a real bathroom – and my head pounds like the worst hangover ever. I’m shaking in some sort of relief, or maybe I’m shivering. It turns into laughter. I feel colder, even after sliding under those blankets for a fitful hour of non-sleep. I should eat something, but the thought just makes me want to throw up again. It is so bright here in Uyuni. Here in the department of Potosi.
Relief comes slowly, seeps in like a trickle of warm water. Everything’s better with the sun. We’ve hired a couple of guides who can navigate the land, and all of us have left town to explore. Carlos, a Mexican photographer, joins us. The tires of our Jeep kick up dust. We drive through plains of salt crystals, past colored lakes and cactus islands. We meet flamingos one day, llamas the next. The desert days are as warm and bright as the nights are cold. My eyes never tire of the alien landscapes: mountains old and dignified, tufts of grass sprinkled at their feet and giant boulders of crazy shapes cast down in lonely pockets along the road. The volcanoes of Chile beckon to us, and the early morning ground spits acidic gases through tiny fractures and heat vents. The blood has come back to my veins at last, and it’s all a warm dream.
The following night I sit perched on my bed of rock in a cold blue room, wearing every piece of clothing I own. The sounds of French and English and scraping chairs, shuffling of clothing, filter in through the door with the heat from the single stove. The laughter flickers like candle flames on the tables. The hostel is tiny, a shack really, a bright refuge of backpackers in alpaca chullo hats. Plates are clattering and I set my notebook down to join in a game of cards.
Carlos has his camera out at the table, gingerly tipping its thick black body so I can get a look at the crisp images on the display. Here in the Bolivian highlands amongst the exotic earth and young travelers, Carlos is in a picture playground. Here’s a ground shot: our scrambling bodies looming over distant volcanoes. Here’s a photo he took tipping himself out of the moving car: jeep tires trailing dust beside the colored lakes. He promises to send me copies. He never will.
I miss the solemn promises like this one, given by the characters I met along the road. So many of these men and women fade like puffs of memory, like slippery figures of forgotten dreams.
We rush out of the hostel doors, drunk as all hell on Sangani and dragging our sleeping bags out to the flat, dusty earth. Carolyn on my left, Jess on my right, huddling together in a clump of sleeping bags. We look up.
Ay, Che. Look at those stars. They light up in the cold, thin air. Here on the ground there isn’t a light for miles and miles, but up in the sky there are more stars than I’ve seen in my entire life. They wink at me. They are all different sizes, small ones appearing as if someone cleaned a layer of grit from the sky. Clouds of stars appear, clusters of them, everywhere. Sparkling blue and purple and white. The Milky Way is thick with them, spilling out the sides, a wide speckled brushstroke across the sky. A shooting star. Another.
“Did you see that?” Carolyn’s arm shoots up. “Another one!”
Minutes pass. Mitch points out constellations. Another falling star. Silence.
“Oh. My. God.” Carolyn sighs. “It’s …”
Beautiful. There are thousands of them.
And I can never seem to get past twenty.
While we live in dreams, the country shifts. The paro reaches three of the nine provinces, stopping the transit of food, water and fuel. A bloody clash between miners and police arises at a military checkpoint. It is the type of violent conflict that will become common as paros spread throughout Bolivia: within the first month of Evo’s second term there will be at least thirty politically motivated paros stemming from opposition movements in the East. The North will be plunged into chaos after an Indian massacre in the Pando department. The military will march to Pando with the aim of re-taking the capital and arresting the governor for genocide. At the brink of civil war, Evo will tell his people that for their country, they must achieve victory or death.
- - -
Again I have a feeling. It is potent and permeating, thick and encompassing under the stars of this frozen desert. It intensifies until it is a maddening mixture of fear and excitement, a searing current running along my shaky nerves. I am stirred by purpose and wonder in a moment of awestruck euphoria. If it weren’t so damn cold, it’d be perfect.
Sabine Bergmann's story "Counting Stars" won the the Silver award for Culture and Ideas in the Fifth Annual Solas Awards. She grew up in Northern California and earned her B.S. degree in Earth Systems from Stanford University. She has engaged in ecological field work in Queensland, Australia and climate change capacity building in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She is preparing for a Peace Corps assignment in Latin America and currently lives and writes in Santa Cruz, California.
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