About the only thing that kept me sane while I was with Willka was having Beck so close. One Monday we decided to go up to Villa Adela to visit, so Willka went with Beck’s companion. The two of them were from the same hometown, so they were fine spending the day together.
It was strange riding up to El Alto with Beck, as we hadn’t been there together in over a year. We got off the bus at the plaza and walked over to the Lopez’s house. Omar, the 9 year old, opened the door and then ran to get his mother. Hermana Lopez cried over us, and we shed a few tears ourselves. “Thank God you’re both doing well,” she said, hugging us and kissing our faces. She was still our mom.
We stayed a while and talked. She told us that she had spent some months in Buenos Aires with relatives after her husband had beaten her. “But this is home,” she said. “And he’s behaving himself.”
It was always hard to imagine her mild-mannered husband being so violent when he was drunk, but that’s the way it was.
At the Morenos’ house, it was the same: lots of tears and hugs and kisses. She told us that her son, Tony, was going into the hospital the next day for surgery to repair a cleft palate. 13 years old, he’d always had trouble speaking and eating, so this would be a great change for him, though the surgery would be painful.
“Will you come and give him a blessing before the surgery?” she asked. “Both of you?”
“Of course, we’d be honored to,” Beck said, smiling.
We walked around the neighborhood, visiting some branch members, and stopped to visit the family we had baptized the day Beck had left. “I’m on the high council,” the father said.
When it was time for zone meeting, we took a taxi to the Plaza San Francisco and then walked down the Calle Potosi toward the church. We passed a news stand, and on the cover of Newsweek was a photo and the headline, “Madonna: Why She’s Hot.”
“Who’s Madonna?” Dave asked.
“No clue,” I said, and we kept walking.
Willka was a little upset when I told him we would be going to the hospital the next evening to give a blessing. “It’s out of our area, and we should be doing missionary work, anyway.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I promised I would be there, and I will be.”
The next evening we met Beck and his companion at the Hospital Obrera. It was much nicer than the clinic where I’d had my knee drained, but it still was a little run-down. Tony was lying on a bed in a large room with perhaps ten beds in it, his mother holding his hand. He looked scared, and he calmed down considerably when we laid our hands on his head and blessed him that the surgery would go well.
Willka and I stopped by the next day, and Tony was sleeping. “The surgery went well, and they say he’s going to be fine.” As we walked out, I could see so many children in pain, many of them with casts or with legs or arms in traction. I wished we could do something, but I didn’t know what.
That week we kept a low profile because election day was approaching, and we did not want to be seen as involved at all in Bolivian politics. After a series of military dictatorships, Siles was the first democratically elected president in years. His tenure had been marked by social, political, and economic upheaval, and the country was on edge, wondering if the military would allow the democratic experiment to continue.
Election day we walked down to Beck’s apartment, and he and I stayed in the house and made banana bread while Willka and Saravia, Beck’s companion, went to vote. Saravia told us he had voted for former president and leader of the 1952 revolution, Victor Paz Estenssoro, while Willka proudly declared his support for the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Revolutionary Workers’ Party). That certainly explained some things.
The vote was split between Jaime Paz Zamora’s Movimiento Izquierdista Revolucionario (Revolutionary Leftist Movement), Paz Estenssoro’s Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement), and Acción Democrática Nacionalista (Democratic Nationalist Action), the party of right-wing former dictator Hugo Banzer. The MNR and the MIR brokered a deal, and Paz Estenssoro became the new president.
The new government brought changes we couldn’t have imagined. Before taking power, Paz Estenssoro convened a group of economists, politicians, and business leaders in the La Paz Sheraton to come up with a plan to address the country’s economic crisis. That night we were sitting in a pizza place a couple of blocks from the Sheraton, talking with some missionaries that had come in the day before.
“Where are you from?” a blond kid sitting next to me asked.
“California,” I said.
“Oh,” he looked a little dismayed. “I’m from Idaho, and where I come from, we don’t like Californians.”
“We’re in Bolivia,” I laughed. “Who cares where you’re from?”
Just then we heard a disturbance outside, and being stupid, we went to the front door just in time to see a large crowd of people heading toward the Sheraton. They seemed very angry, so we stayed back and tried to look inconspicuous.
Within minutes, the police had arrived, and we could hear the tear gas canisters being fired, and the crowd ran past us again, going the other way. We figured it was best to stay put, so we sat at the table and finished our pizza.
“Hey, what happened to the greenies?” Beck asked.
I looked around, and they were gone. I asked one of the waiters, and he said, “They went that way,” pointing to the Sheraton.
“Come on,” Beck said. “We’d better go and get those idiots.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” It sounded crazy, in fact.
“Look, if we go, the police won’t bother us,” he said. “And I think the crowd has pretty much broken up.
We walked up the Prado, where scattered demonstrators were still shouting at a line of riot police surrounding the hotel.
“Excuse me, but have you seen any American missionaries?” Beck asked.
“They went inside,” said one of the policemen. For whatever reason, they let us through. You could still smell the tear gas, and one of the plate glass windows was cracked, but otherwise the hotel lobby was quiet and eerily dark.
We found the three of them sitting on a couch near the front desk.
“What were you thinking?” Beck asked. “You could have been killed.”
“I dunno,” the Idaho kid said. “We just thought we’d take some pictures, and then one of the bellboys pulled us inside and told us to stay out of sight. So we did.”
We walked back outside, past the police, and got out of there as quickly as we could.
The “Plan Sheraton,” as it became known, would have major effects on the economy and on life for everyone in Bolivia, including us missionaries.