Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday Thirteen – Thirteen Things About Plant Teacher

1) Martin Banzer, one of the main characters, travels to Bolivia to get in touch with his Bolivian roots. Then, rather than branching out and meeting family members, he spends his days in a coffee shop eating cheesecake and reading The New York Times.
2) Cheryl Lewis, a young woman who has just graduated from UVA, is probably the bravest character in Plant Teacher. She finds a job in Bolivia and then moves abroad without knowing anyone in that country or having any support network.
3) Gus Adams is a missionary with a graduate degree in development economics. He is a walking encyclopedia of socioeconomic statistics.
4) The idea for Plant Teacher was born when a retired U.S. Army colonel told me about his experiences with a hallucinogenic drug, caapi. He felt that he’d experienced a form of spiritual enlightenment, and I kept thinking, Can you really buy wisdom? If you do, isn’t there a price to pay?
5) I made Martin Banzer try caapi at the beginning of Plant Teacher because I wanted him to spend the arc of the narrative wrestling with the consequences of his actions.
6) Martin’s father, Raul Banzer, dies in the second chapter of the book. Because I killed him off so quickly, I brought him back to life with diary entries. I wanted people to know who this man was and why Martin finds it so hard to live up to the legacy of his father.
7) Plant Teacher takes place in Bolivia from 2007 to 2008 during President Evo Morales’ contested consolidation of power. It is the story of an evolving dictatorship.
8) Raul Banzer was married three times and had eight children. Martin is the youngest of this clan.
9) Hunger strikes, riots, and mass protests take place around the characters in Plant Teacher, but they move forward as if life is simply normal. I have witnessed this phenomenon and know it to be true.
10) One of Martin’s half brothers, Josue, is severely autistic and institutionalized. The decision to place Josue in a home was one of the most difficult decisions that Raul ever made.
11) Gus falls for Cheryl the first time he meets her – on their plane ride from Miami to La Paz. Cheryl, on the other hand, has no interest in this missionary and immediately forgets about him.
12) Cheryl walks to work through the brujeria, the witches’ market. Here, they sell potions, totems, mummified llamas fetuses, and numerous offerings for the traditional gods.
13) Cheryl and Martin write poems to one another throughout Plant Teacher, but theirs is not a love story.

Caroline Alethia is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, on radio and in web outlets. Her words have reached audiences on six continents. She lived in Bolivia and was a witness to many of the events described in Plant Teacher. You can visit her website at


Hailed by Huffington Post contributor Joel Hirst as a compelling and powerful story, Plant Teacher begins in 1972 when a hippie in Oakland, California flushes a syringe of LSD down a toilet. Thirty-five years later, the wayward drug paraphernalia has found its final resting place in Los Yungas, Bolivia, the umbilical cord between the Andes and Amazonia. Enter into this picture two young Americans, Cheryl Lewis, trying to forge her future in La Paz and Martin Banzer, trying to come to terms with his past in the same city. The two form an unlikely friendship against the backdrop of a country teetering at the brink of dictatorship and revolution. Bolivia sparks the taste for adventure in both young people and Martin finds himself experimenting with indigenous hallucinogenic plants while Cheryl flits from one personal relationship to another. Meanwhile, the syringe buried in the silt in a marsh in Los Yungas will shape their destinies more than either could anticipate or desire. Plant Teacher takes its readers on a fast-paced tour from the hippie excesses of Oakland, to the great streams of the Pacific Ocean and to the countryside, cities, natural wonders and ancient ruins of Bolivia. It reveals­ the mundane and the magical, and, along the way, readers glimpse the lives of everyday Bolivians struggling to establish equanimity or merely eke out a living during drastic political crisis.

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