One of the most beautiful places I’ve visited is the Bolivian highlands. But tragedy struck when the “colectivo” van - in which I was hurtling along the barren altiplano - smashed into a country person who had just exited the only other vehicle within miles. Forgetting to look both ways before crossing the paved two-lane road, he stepped right in front of us. I’ll never forget the look on his face just before his head was crushed and body mangled by the collision of human ingenuity with human tissue. The expression was a combination of surprise, fear, but also what I perceived to be a trace of humor. Imagine - miles and miles of open landscape, with perhaps a single farm house or two (apart from the road) as a reminder of human presence… and the one spot he ended up in was right in front of an oncoming vehicle.
Of course, at the time, neither I nor any of the other passengers felt any inclination to comment on the irony. Our vehicle had skidded off the road into the dirt. Those in the front seats were picking glass from the broken windshield off themselves, and we were all shaken by the fact that we had just witnessed a death. The driver turned the engine off to assess the situation. After confirming the finality of the hapless individual’s condition and checking over our vehicle for damage, the driver paused. Clouds blew over the serene landscape as a nearby shepherdess approached the car shouting in distressed wails. Words were exchanged with the driver in an indigenous tongue I did not understand. The tone of the woman’s voice shifted from agitated and panicked to distraught yet resigned. I was told by a bilingual passenger that she was the deceased’s neighbor.
Voices tapering off, we sat in complete silence for perhaps a quarter of an hour. Eventually, without a word, the driver got back into the van and turned on the ignition. We drove another 45 minutes until we reached our destination, a tiny village, where we all disembarked.
The next day, just outside of town, I met the person in this photograph; an orphan who spent her days carefully tending a flock of sheep - including the two recently born lambs shown here.