Trinidad, Bolivia, 1958

Most of the people were fixated on the stranger as he dodged among the vegetable stalls, a foreign oddity in a homogenous world. The eyes around el mercado monitored him, but hands remained engaged with the toils of their trades. The open-air market bustled with farmers selling their produce: potatoes and corn, pacays, yucca, aji peppers, coffee, barley, grapes…

Eight-year-old Angela Moscoso had never seen such a lanky, pale man, a head higher than anyone else. He looked to be on a mission, unaware that he was the focus of all of the locals.

She told her brother Carlos to remain where he was and he proffered a guilty look, his impish eyes gazing up at his older sister. “Está bien,” she told him. Pointing at the ground with both hands, she raised her eyebrows, checking that he understood. He nodded. As she stepped away, a lost look washed across his face. He wrapped an arm around a metal pole, and stayed put as instructed, tracking her as she disappeared around the corner.

She tripped over a mangy terrier that was sniffing around the bottom of carts, eager for a few dropped morsels. She let the dog sniff the back of her hand and cupped its head in her hands, kissing it on the nose. The little girl left and the dog scratched at his ear with his hind leg.

Angela’s family were farmers and had brought a selection of meats to the market, but there was just about every type of food imaginable. As she cut around each cart following the man, the scents announced what was on sale, from the earth to the sea. The wind blew dry dust up into her eyes and settled into her hair, which hung loose around her shoulders, black as a condor’s wings. A smudge of dirt ran down her cheek.

The locals were clad in layers of colorful baggy clothes, pleated skirts, shawls, hats on every man, undersized bowlers on the women. The indiscernible sounds of dozens of voices muddled through the humidity.

The man she was stalking toted a leather suitcase. He looked out of sorts with his silky cropped hair and curious fashion. She hugged the corner of a building and watched him in the middle of the square, his head darting from left to right before focusing in on the only restaurant for blocks.

A few small tables filled a patio outside the single-floor establishment. The flaxen yellow paint was chipping off in places and the tin roof baked in the full sun, but smoke billowed out of the open door carrying with it the evidence of fire and beef.

The man sat at a table with someone more likely a Bolivian, placing his suitcase on the ground. Angela couldn’t make out what they were saying from across the dirt road, but she heard an accent from the pale man. For a couple of minutes, she watched them. They ordered from a waiter and were served bottles of beer.

She moved to the middle of the road to listen more closely and the Bolivian turned his attention to her, nodding with a smile. The lanky stranger spun his head and grinned at her, a clean-shaven face. He wore leather loafers, tailored brown slacks and a rose-colored short sleeve button up shirt.

“Hola,” the Bolivian man said to her. “Me llamo Sacha. Cuál es tu nombre?”

She inched closer. “Angela,” she replied, shy and quiet.

The man held out his hand as if introducing someone of great prominence. “Monsieur Lavoie, may I introduce you to Angela, my newest of friends.”

“Buenas tardes, Angela,” the stranger replied in an awkward phrasing.

“I can speak the language you've been using,” she said.

Both men raised their eyebrows and looked at each other confirming their shock. The Bolivian spoke. “You can? Who taught you to speak English?”

“Nobody. I just know it. I know lots of languages.”

“Certainly you must have learned it from somewhere.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Where is he from?”

“This is Carolas Lavoie. He is a biologist from Toulouse, France.”

“Parlez-vous Français?” Monsieur Lavoie asked.

“Oui, même si je ne sais pas oú se trouve la France.” The girl spoke in a perfect southern French accent that matched Lavoie’s.

Lavoie’s eyes doubled in size and he regarded his colleague, bewilderment apparent in his colleague as well. Lavoie leaned in toward Sacha, “She says she understands French even if she doesn’t know where the country is.” He turned to the girl. “I am afraid my friend does not understand French, my little one. Perhaps we will stick to English.”

“Okay,” she said. “Why are you here?”

“Do you know what a biologist does?”

She nodded.

“That is remarkable,” Lavoie replied. “And what does a biologist do?”

“You study living organisms,” she said.

“That’s right. It just so happens Angela, that Bolivia has a great number of animals that the rest of the world does not know all that well, so I have come to see what I can find out.”

“Do you have goats in Toulouse, France?”

Carolas laughed. “We have a great many goats, yes. But there are species of birds and fish, mammals and insects that are still new to people in much of the world.”

She approached the table and hopped up onto a chair, curious about their conversation and confident that she wouldn’t be missed by her parents for a bit. The men eyed each other, both trying to hold back grins.

“Would you like a drink? Perhaps a lemonade?” Carolas asked.

“Yes, please,” she nodded.

“Una limonada, por favor,” Sacha said to the waiter in the doorway, a few steps away. The man retreated inside.

“Do you live close by, my dear?” Carolas asked.

“No, we are several kilometers out of town.”

“And what are you doing here?”

“We’re selling meat at the market.”

“Oh, so you are farmers?” Carolas was asking as much as stating a fact.

She nodded before taking in her surroundings. She had never eaten at a restaurant, but she had seen people sitting at these tables just last week. Bolivia was a few years out of a civil war. Inflation had made it very hard on the populace and anyone eating at a restaurant was doing all right for money. She was too young to remember the war, but her parents mentioned it off and on.

“Are you going to help on the farm when you get older?” Sacha asked.


“What type of animals do you raise?” Carolas asked.

“We have goats and sheep,” she said. “And pigs.”

“You know, Angela, I believe your English is better than my own.”

She smiled back, but her attention was diverted by the waiter bringing a glass of lemonade, which he laid on the table in front of her. The girl glanced at both men to ensure she wouldn’t be getting into trouble, then took a sip and smiled. A sweet, floral tartness greeted her tongue, an unexpected flavor. “I want to drink this every day.”

“I want that as well,” Sacha said.

The girl craned her neck back as if looking for someone, but there was only the market and the bustle of the people on the street. Her attention remained behind her as the two men continued talking.

“Is this normal,” Carolas asked Sacha in broken English, “for someone from a farm to be speaking multiple languages so… well?”

“I have never seen it,” Sacha replied. “Perhaps her parents have taught her English because the United States has been helping Bolivia. I do not know.”

“But French as well?”

The waiter brought an order of warm cuñapé, a cheese infused bread, whose scent drew Angela’s eyes back to the table.

“Would you like to try some?” Sacha asked.

She nodded and Sacha delivered her a piece. With great chugs she finished her lemonade then chomped into the bread, returning a guilty look.

“It is okay,” said Sacha. “We needed help to finish our food. You eat what you want.”

She took another bite. “I have an insect that you haven’t seen.”

“You do? And what is it?”

“I don’t know. My parents don’t even recognize it.”

“What does it look like?” Carolas asked.

“I can show you. I've trained it.” The girl held a finger out and looked back toward the direction from where she’d come. A moment later, a large insect landed, its tiny legs tickling the hairs of her finger. It was blue from some angles and green from others, with four wings and four eyes. A purple diamond dominated its back as its wings tucked in.

The men sat in shock, both admiring the bug as it rested on Angela’s finger. Carolas moved his eyes to Sacha for a second before looking back to the girl’s visitor. “Sacha, tell me, do you recognize this insect?”

“We have all manner of wildlife in Bolivia, but this is new to me. I do not believe I have seen anything like this before.”

“Angela,” Carolas asked, “how did you train this insect?”

“I don’t know. It just comes when I want it to.”

“May I?” Carolas reached a finger out, gentle and slow. He placed it in front of the bug, nudging it as one might a bird trying to get it to change hands. The insect didn’t move.

“It just likes me,” she said.

He pushed harder and the bug flew up to Angela’s shoulder. The French man let out a belly laugh and pulled his hand away, causing Sacha to break into a smile. “In a million years I could not have guessed my introduction to Bolivia’s insects. Tell me, Angela, how long did it take you to train your pet?”

The girl leaned her head in toward the bug. “I don’t know. It followed me around and one day I just held out my finger and it landed on it.”

“Remarkable. Absolutely remarkable.” Carolas’ eyes squinted and he raised a fist to his lips. “Do you think you would be willing to donate your little insect to science?”

Angela shook her head no.

“I really didn’t think so. Would I be able to buy it from you?”

“No. It’s not for sale.”

Carolas knew how much low-wage workers made in Bolivia. And he had more money available to him than she could imagine. “Angela, what if I offered you five boliviano?”

The amount was more than her parents would see if they sold all of their meat at the market for the day, still the girl wouldn't budge.


She could not look the man in the face anymore. She shook her head no.

“Twenty, I cannot go any higher.”

Angela reached a finger up to her shoulder and the insect hopped on it. The man was offering more than her family would make in a month. At this point, her parents would have her doing chores for the rest of her life if she turned down the offer. She hesitated.

“Twenty-five,” said Carolas. He retrieved several bills from his wallet and presented them to her. “You’re a shrewd businesswoman.”

She closed her eyes and moved her finger toward the French man.

“Wonderful! Your parents have raised a smart little girl.” He produced his briefcase and opened the lid. “It will be okay in here until I can find it a suitable home.”

The girl nudged the insect into the case and Carolas shut the lid.