Some imagine that this world was made and created for only men. Yet this thought not really true. I remember seeing a mural by José María Sert entitled “American Progress and Time” in the General Electric building at Rockerfeller Center in New York City. The mural has text which says, “Man labouring painfully with his own hands; living precariously and adventurously with courage, fortitude and the indomitable will to survive.” It reflects a period of time where women did not have any rights or a voice of hope, but they were and are as important as men. One thing that I strongly remembered when I read that text was my mom’s hands. Those hands that always reminded me of work, work, and more work.
With her big, hard, black and beautiful hands my mom worked as a single mother to survive. From preparing food to washing clothes every day, many women in this world work day and night. Many Afro-Bolivian women wake up early in the morning to prepare breakfast and lunch for the long work day. By 7:30 AM they are ready to harvest coca leaves, coffee, oranges, potato, tomato, and rice all by hand. For about 10 hours a day in all kinds of weather, they are on their feet using their hands to harvest their crops to bring food home to their families.
In the Yungas, partly because of tradition and also lack of money, houses are not always made of brick and cement. Women and men work very hard to build their small “adobe” houses. In a process of 20 to 30 days, they build a small house with only one room. In ten hours of hard work per day, both women and men prepare natural materials, which includes soil, water and straw, taking care of not harming the environment. They put the soil mixture in molds to be dried by the sun and after a day the adobe bricks are ready to be used. When the walls are built they will paint and decorate them all by hand.
At nighttime, when I was little, I would feel a gentle yet hard caress by my mom on my back. It reminded me that her hands have been used to collect our food. I put my head on her legs and she gently pats me. I saw my mom using hand cream only a few times. I asked her why she did not like to use it. She only answered, “my hands are in hot and cold water every day. I need to use my hands and they are not just to look nice and beautiful. My hands are the reason that you have food to eat, a place to sleep and shelter to live.” We do not really understand our hands as a valuable resource until we lose them. I understood that using their hands was essential for many Afro-Bolivian women who have survived the difficulties of life.