Holding my daypack with my left hand, I opened the door and left the building. Luis was waiting outside, with a posture reminiscent of a willing puppy. He was smiling and looking with interest at my small backpack.
"Let’s go," I said while making sure the door was locked.
We began moving upwards and northwards along a slight slope. Luis moved in that slow pace that characterizes Bolivians; despite my not being totally acclimatized I could keep up with his pace easily. There was something wrong with his walk, but he was too close to me for me to analyze that properly. I would elucidate the secret of the Bolivian gait secret only a few days later, during the carnival.
"Nice backpack you have!"
"It’s just my daypack. Where is the church?"
"It is nearby, a few blocks from here just across the Kollasuyo Avenue." Later, I learned this main venue of La Paz was named after the quarter of the Inca Empire to which this area belonged.
"How much did the backpack cost?" he asked.
He was still staring at it, and I didn’t like that. His question was not polite. The daypack was nothing peculiar. It was a German made Deuter Quasar backpack, with wide and comfortable shoulder straps and a bit curvy on its back. A plastic net connected the top with its bottom at its backside so that when putting it on the back, air could pass between the holder’s back and the pack. It was no outstanding equipment, yet it was unavailable in Bolivia.
"Why do you ask?" Luis was quietly caressing the backpack with his large, greedy eyes. His head seemed embedded directly into his chest; there were no signs he had a neck.
"Because we don’t have backpacks like that here. It is so pretty; it even has a rain cover." Luis was pointing now at a thin plastic film, half-hidden in a dedicated pocket at the backpack’s bottom.
Still unaware of certain cultural issues, I said: "about $60; I bought it in Singapore."
"Wow, that’s almost a salary. Backpacks can’t cost so much!"
The rest of the walk he kept talking about the backpack. Why were people prepared to pay such a hefty price for it? How much did other things cost out of Bolivia? I was getting tired of this; at a certain point I bluntly asked:
"Do you want the backpack? I’ll give it to you."
"But it’s yours!" was the unexpected answer, while his squeaky tone revealed he wished he had said "yes." Then he added: "here is the church."
(Excerpt from The Cross of Bethlehem II – Back in Bethlehem; the book reads independently of Part I, The Cross of Bethlehem - The Memoirs of a Refugee.)
The Cross of Bethlehem II – Back in Bethlehem is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.