In Bolivia, the sun is king. It is the first to greet you as you arrive and the last to bid you farewell, peering at you over the horizon as your plane climbs far above the steamy rainforests and endless roads. Each morning, from the moment you climb out of bed, the sun locks you in a sticky embrace and refuses to let go. The evening holds little respite, heavy with the anticipation of the sun’s return.
The sun scrutinized us as our truck spurted and sputtered its way along the muddy road on the outskirts of Montero. Its rays gave a sharp, almost artificial quality to the fields surrounding us, in which scattered trees openly declared their lonely existence. I noticed the cows first. These lean, white beasts paused in the middle of their grazing to watch us, their black eyes betraying a look of astonishment. The cows gazed with amusement as we battled the mud that saturated the road. The mud surrendered, and as we drove on I turned to watch the ghostly figures slowly fade away in the distance.
Civilization awoke on the vacant landscape as though shaken from a nap. Small huts with thatched roofs multiplied as we neared the Guaraní village; stone buildings replaced thatch as we approached the village center. I glanced at the neatly trimmed gardens and windows propped open to the suffocating heat, but not a soul was in sight. Then, a lone figure in blue jeans and sandals emerged from one of the buildings. He wandered up to a large brass bell hanging from a tree and began to ring. The ensuing clamour caused quite a stir. Doors opened. Men, women, and children came into view. Before long, a crowd had formed. The children giggled and pointed as we unpacked our medical supplies in the sweltering shade and set up the medical screening equipment on a row of wooden tables.
One by one they filed past, a caravan of sun-familiar faces and tooth-laden grins. A pleasant warmth unrelated to the heat of the sun welled up within me. Young mouths spoke Spanish, while the elder members of the village never swayed from their indigenous tongue. As I helped disperse donated eyeglasses to a small group of villagers who had finished the screening, I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. Turning around, I faced an elderly woman whom I recognized as one of the few remaining speakers of the Guaraní language. She held in her hands a plastic bag, which she handed to me. Her kind eyes nearly disappeared behind an enormous grin as she began to wrap her weathered hands about her waist, watching me with expectation.
I peered into the bag, its plastic weakened by heat and repeated use. My hands drew out a belt that she had woven of vibrant crimson, yellow, and blue. I gaped at the humble gift, then back at the Guaraní woman. Our eyes met. I tied the belt around my waist and smiled. My new friend shifted her gaze towards the sky, extending her hands upward in gestures of gratitude for our visit. Behind her I noticed the sun, then hanging suspended on the horizon, its rays softened by the approaching twilight. Fingering the tassels of the belt about my waist, I sensed my own astonishment. As the sunlight ripened from yellow to gold to a deep amber, I marvelled at the power of giving, a power as universal as the sun itself.