a comfortable cup of tea

a comfortable cup of tea

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Within this barrio" ...

In January of 1996, I moved to Argentina to live and work with the Sisters of Mercy among the materially poor. The next 3 years proved to contain the most challenging and richest learning experiences I've ever received. The following is a journal entry written a couple of months after I arrived in the south of Argentina. Within this barrio [neighborhood] I am living and learning a life of which I have never experienced. Sweeping frogs from underneath the bed at sundown before retiring for the evening, and chasing cats from the kitchen at sun-up having entered through the window, looking for a bite to eat. Embracing children with lice-ridden heads, and filth encrusted noses and bodies from weeks without a bath. Houses with no running water and little more than bundled cardboard for walls and a ceiling; dusty, dirty, pebble and mud roads whose rising clouds of dry earth never seem to dissipate. Last evening Marcela and I went to visit a family of the parish living in the next barrio. There were 12 children ranging in age from 9 months to 20 years. The mother is 33 years old. The father works in the chakras [fruit orchards] collecting fruit, but has not been paid for three months. If he does not continue to work, he will lose his job to one of the men who line-up each morning hoping to replace an absent or ill worker from the prior day. So he continues to work each day without pay. The family lives in a two-room home, very crudely put together with a hard dirt-packed floor. We sat in the kitchen taking maté [a strong herbal tea drunk from a dried gourd and sucked from a metal straw] with 10 of the 12 children wide-eyed and hanging on every word. I spoke as much Spanish as I could possibly muster and drank enough maté, made from water taken from an old plastic bucket set on the floor beside the mother, until I thought my bladder would burst. I knew I could not ask to use the bathroom because there wasn’t one, and they would have been ashamed to show me the hole dug outside. I tried to pretend like I had been in houses like theirs all of my life; that the hoards of flies encircling the room and covering the sweetbread dough being fried and served us were of no bother to me whatsoever. I tried to maintain eye contact with the children instead of noticing the far from eye-pleasing physical conditions around me. I felt ashamed at my dis-ease and hoped it was not showing. Never had I experienced a poverty so cold and so obvious; nor had I ever experienced a welcome so warm and filled with such peace and gratitude. That evening I cried myself to sleep and prayed for a day when I would be able to notice the people so intensely that the physical surroundings would melt somewhere in the background of my unconsciousness.

7 comments:

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

I found your blog through a post on another's blog and am so glad I did. I tip my hat to your heartfelt desire to experience a part of the world we tend to overlook or glamorize. A college friend did the same, but in Guatemala. For him, it was a life-changing experience. Thank you for sharing yourself. Don't you find EVERY blog has one word which jumps off every page, passion! Have a wonderful day! Petra

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hello Sarah, Thank you for your kind words. :)) If you'd care to vote on whoseroleisitanyway, by all means. I write a mini-script once a week and post different actors to play the role. Perhaps you'd enjoy it. Have a wonderful weekend. If you don't mind my adding you to my bloglist, it will be easy to find you in this black hole called blogland! :)) Petra

Tipper said...

Now I see why you seem to have such insight to life-you've seen the other side.

sarah, rsm said...

I don't know how much insight I have. I have been privileged to be able to have some wonderful learning experiences within various cultures not my own, which have caused me to take pause in the decisions I make in my own life on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes those decisions are good, and sometimes they could be a whole lot better ...

Dana said...

Sarah you need to write a book.


Seriously.



I'd buy it.

amandajean said...

wow. I can not imagine living like that.

huesofnature said...

Sarah,

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your blog with me. I feel so fortunate our paths have crossed. : )

Kim

a comfortable cup of tea ...

http://acomfortablecupoftea.blogspot.com/