I was punched in the crotch yesterday by a four and a half foot tall woman here in Potosí.I’m assuming that it wasn’t some sort of Good Friday ritual unique to this south central Bolivian city of 130,000, which is at 4,090m (13,418ft) above sea level, one of the highest cities in the world. Maybe it had to do with the thin air.
Here’s the scene:
I was walking southbound on Calle Sucre, attracted by the late afternoon light reflecting off of Cerro Rico, the legendary mountain whose bellyful of silver made Potosí one of largest and richest cities in the world in the mid 17th century.
Its vast riches funded much of the Spanish conquest of the 1600s, but at a barbarically high human cost. Historians estimate that the mountain has claimed the lives of some eight million miners over the years; local lore claims that the souls swallowed by the mountain and trapped in some of the twenty thousand tunnels carved into it continue to rumble and cry.
Despite the numerous mining scars that have bludgeoned the mountain over the past five centuries, it doesn’t require too much imagination to envision its former majesty. That’s what I was attempting to do after I snapped the photo at top when I saw a woman walking in my direction. She carried her short but thick frame with a deliberate pace, her head bent low. As she was about to pass, I smiled.
“Hola,” I said politely.
Her terse reply was as shocking and determined as it was brutal and quick.
First came a swift series of short phrases delivered with a raised angry voice in a language I could neither understand nor identify. Then, without breaking stride, she connected with a stiff and furious left jab. The woman, perhaps 65 or 70, was strong.
As you might expect, I was caught entirely off guard. I don’t recall being punched in the crotch since high school, and I had no idea how to react. Do I punch her back? Call the police?
Instead, I just stood there doubled over as she walked away, trying to ignore the spreading spasms of pain, but mostly just hoping that nobody witnessed this smack down at the hand of a great-grandmother wrapped in brightly colored clothes.
The only explanation that makes any sense is that she saw me taking photos, and assumed I had taken one of her. (Now, I wish I had.) Many indigenous in the South American antiplano don’t like their picture snapped without permission. Doing so captures their soul and traps it in places like Cerro Rico’s bottomless belly. I’ve heard stories of people kicked, being yelled at, or having bottles or rocks flung at them.