RELEASE DATE: 21 Nov, 2016

EDITORIAL BY William Wroblewski

In many parts of rural Bolivia, whether people have come together to hold a community meeting or to celebrate a milestone or holiday, there are many occasions for an apthapi, or communal meal. Most of my experiences with these events have been in areas populated by potato and quinoa farmers and llama herders. In these areas, women gather in a nice shady spot and empty their aguayos of their contents: boiled potatoes, chuño, corn, cheese. . . whatever they can bring from their small farms. At an apthapi, everyone contributes food to share, which is laid out in a long line on the ground, mountains of local foods cooked separately but brought together into one heaping mound.

Once everyone sits around the spread, the real purpose of the gathering begins. After a short greeting and message of thanks from community leaders, everyone leans in and takes their first sampling. Their bare hands search for the perfect potato and tear off a small piece of cheese to accompany it. Their fingers begin to peel the red and brown skins, dropping the casing in the ground to reveal the potatoes’ white, starchy flesh. Everyone digs in, laughing and chatting all the way.

I once described an apthapi as ‘a potluck on the Altiplano’, but the truth is it is more than that. It is an old tradition with unspoken yet set rules: where people sit, who eats first, how to give thanks. The event happens with a surprising amount of order if you look closely. But many of these rules are in place to set expectations, to make sure things go smoothly. With a communal understanding of what is taking place, you can focus on what is important: spending time with the people around you. You can talk business, ask others about their families, trade jokes. It is usually held outside, and the entire community is present. With communal food as the binding factor, it is a gathering not to be missed if given the opportunity to attend.

In this issue of Bolivian Express, we looked at all forms of gatherings, and how opportunities to come together with others make for great experiences. We visited a fine-dress motorcycle rally that brought dapper motorists together for a good cause in Cochabamba. We visited mosques in La Paz and saw how this community prays together to practice their faith. We rocked out with heavy metal fans and watched young women skateboard together, both groups collectively defying community expectations to find a home amongst their like-minded friends. And we learned what it means to be a citizen in a large city, the permanent gatherings many of us navigate every day.

With every issue of this magazine, we try to bring everyone together to share our Bolivian experiences. Our writers tell their stories and adventures in this great country, and we amplify the voices of the people who make Bolivia a fascinating place. While not everyone may be lucky enough to experience a Bolivian apthapi, hopefully this magazine allows people to connect with Bolivia in the same deep way. And hopefully you will enjoy the stories we experience together as we explore the people and places around us.


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