The President and the Foam Fight
I’m in Oruro, Bolivia. My friend Annabel is getting a neckful of soapy foam courtesy of Bolivia’s Vice President, Álvaro Garcia Linera. The grinning visage behind us, fully enjoying the moment, is that of the president himself, Evo Morales. Surrounding us in the presidential bleachers are numerous bodyguards and officials. A bodyguard has amicably agreed to take a photo of Annabel and me with the president.
Annabel’s a Bolivian-born Brit whose family comes from Oruro, a moth-coloured mining town in the Andean altiplano. Once a year Oruro emerges from its drab cocoon as an extravagant butterfly. The streets metamorphose into a dazzling cacophony of dozens of brass bands and great groups of ornately costumed dancers. The tradition plays the darkness of the indigenous miners’ underground gods off Catholicism’s virginal icon. It is the Carnaval de Oruro, a 2,000 year-old festival, one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Fuelled by the sacred coca leaf, dancers and musicians surge along a four-kilometre parade route in the 20-hour-long homage to the devil. Then, they fall to their knees and crawl into the cathedral to worship the Virgin and receive blessings from a priest.
From bleachers that line the streets, tens of thousands of spectators from all over Bolivia celebrate the spiritual procession by randomly hurling water bombs as hard as they can. Alternatively, they spray foam from pressurized canisters, sometimes as strategy, directly into the faces of their victims — it’s easier to rob someone blinded by stinging foam.
Notice Linera and Morales chose foam as their weapon and they’re giggling like schoolboys playing tricks on the girls. In this case Annabel. Although she’s smiling, Annabel’s Bolivian blood is boiling. She swears she’ll get revenge. I doubt she will.
I realize I’ve underestimated Annabel as I watch her avenge the foaming. She marches up to the presidential bleacher with two girlfriends in tow. They act as decoys and sit on the presidential knee as if he were a department store Santa Claus. They engage Linera in banter. A bodyguard takes snapshots.
Dancers and brass bands careen by in a kaleidoscopic clash of bodies, colours and sounds. Balloon water bombs scream through the air like missiles, spanking the ground as they burst, lacing the presidential party with water shrapnel.
Annabel uses the chaos tactically to mount the sabotage. She sidles beside the distracted vice president until her target – Linera’s neck – is within striking distance. Just inches away and still undetected, she stealthily pulls her arsenal from under her jacket. With the determination of a suicide bomber, Annabel attacks Bolivia’s vice president with a prolonged blast of stringy foam.
The presidential bleachers erupt in laughter as if the skirmish was a slapstick comedy instead of the security nightmare I perceive it to be. I laugh too.