“Connecting my Soul with the Land and my Heart with the Ocean”
By Alejandro Gutierrez
During my trip to Ghana I was amazed with the people, music, culture, and food. But, what really shocked me were the similarities between Los Yungas, La Paz Bolivia, South America and Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Africa. If somebody has been in Los Yungas, they would probably make some connections, but for somebody who hasn’t, let me tell you what I saw in Ghana and what is similar in Los Yungas.
Los Yungas is generally warmer than the city of La Paz. In Los Yungas there is a lot of vegetation, huge trees, amazing waterfalls, anybody who is there can still smell coffee, enjoy the river, and connect his/her heart with Mama Nature. Also, there are trees of cacao (some Afro-Bolivians use “Cacao” to refer to his girlfriend). The sound of the birds will let you know that it is time for a new day, the first lights of the sun will open the flowers and let you feel that you are in Los Yungas. This was the same sensation I had when I was in Ghana!
Those nine beautiful days were like being in los Yungas. I cannot believe how similar Accra was to Los Yungas. I heard many people, especially
academics; say that Los Yungas was a good place for first Africans, because of the climate. As an African Descendant, I cannot understand why the colony brought Africans to work in Potosi when they knew that they were coming from a hot place. Was it that hard to understand that Black people needed an environment similar their home? This made me sad, and reminded me of a powerful quote by W.E.B. Du Bois. He says, “Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometimes, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins.”
I was amazed with the people. Everywhere we go it was like being the villages of Los Yungas – Tocaña, Mururata, Coroico, Chicaloma – everywhere everybody was black! I remember one day I was having lunch in the cafeteria at the University of Accra, and a guy was sitting alone, so I asked if I could sit. He said in a very friendly voice, “sure my brother, this place is for everybody.”
When I looked at him it was like looking at some of my uncles or cousins in Bolivia. I also had a picture with a woman who was carrying her baby in her back. That remained me a picture that I have with my mom and my sister. The kids were just like the kids in Los Yungas, similar smile, happiness and kindness
The food was so delicious. Every time that I had rice, plantains (platanito frito), chicken, beans, and vegetables. I had to have that dish it was just delicious! Something that was very unique from Ghana was the Fufu, which is mashed plantains. Making fufu requires a lot of work between two people, because they have to pound it a wooden bowl. This is something that we do not have in Bolivia, but rice, plantains, chicken, beans, and vegetables are pretty much Afro-Bolivian food.
The music in Ghana is called Highlife and it remains me of Saya. The drums and the singing and the dancing were just like Saya. I should mention that Afro-Bolivian Saya represents in movement the symbols of slavery. The men usually dance looking down and move their legs no more than one foot up at a time, because of the imaginary chains on their feet. However, the sound of the drums is still from Africa!
I was so excited about this trip because I wanted to connect my soul with the land and my heart with the ocean, and I think I did it. I am so proud of have some African roots and to also be Indigenous (Aymara). There are many more things that make Los Yungas similar to Accra. The next time I am in Los Yungas, I’ll think about Ghana. And, if I am in Accra, I’ll think about Los Yungas.