On Sunday, I went to my host mom’s church; it was celebrating the 130th anniversary. Luisa is evangelista, so she’s there like almost every night. There’s really only two types of religion here- Catholics and evangelists (which is just every other Christian). At least this church has a “band”.
Allison and Molly showed up, their families are also evangelistas. We sat in the back of a really hot, really crowded church while the pastor droned on … in Spanish. We understood about 1 out of every 5 or 10 words, so it was hot, crowed AND boring.
When it was all over, everyone spilled out to the concrete basketball court/patio. There was lots of food and even a mariachi band complete with festive outfits. That was cool and a little bit like a Mexican restaurant- if we’d been inside and all the patrons had been Latinos.
After eating, Molly wanted the empty soda bottles so we collected some around us and lined them up. Some kids saw and without saying a word, started gathering them as well – from under chairs, asking people for their empty ones, standing beside people still eating and waiting for them to finish their bottles! They really got into it, even going elbows deep in trash bags where people tossed their food plates. Ok, that was kind of gross, but I commend their enthusiasm, especially since they had no idea what we were doing. Molly’s mom helped, also scrounging around in the trash bags overflowing with un-eatened and messy food scraps. (Eew again.) She even gathered a bunch of used plastic spoons in a pile by the trash bags. Back in the states it would have been a huge ewww factor but these kids just dove in, interesting because we have less hand washing resource here.
I found out Molly wanted to cut the bottles and plant pepinos (cucumbers) with the girls. Afterwards, we walked home with the girls and helped them bring their little “plants”. Off the main street, we turned down a little dirt alley between two concrete houses. Their home was in the back and I was shocked at the poverty they live in. You know those commercials that try to get us to send money to children in poor countries? They always show these skinny sad-looking kids living in terrible conditions and the announcer is saying “Imagine going to bed hungry because there’s no food. Juanito only gets one cup of rice a day and has no water.” Yeah, I watched those commercials and they made me wince. Now I felt like I had walked into that television screen and right in to the home that poor starving child lived in.
There was a muddy dirt front area that continued into their little concrete house, as its own dirt floor. There were no windows and no door, just a doorway cut out. The dirt floor was rutted and uneven, not packed down like some homes to look like concrete- there was no mistaking this was a dirt floor. It was very dark inside, I don’t think they had electricity. Their home was no bigger than a large bedroom, 20 x20 feet. There was an older woman sitting in a plastic chair in the “living room” and a kid sitting in a hammock made from sack material. There looked to be two bedrooms, sectioned off from the rest of the space by hanging sheets. Their washing stone was outside and I’m sure they must cook outside too.
(At this time, I had no idea that these living conditions are all too common in the poorer areas like my site and I would see people living in even more abject poverty.)
So we helped the girls place their little bottle planters in the tiny dirt space behind the house and explained the two things the cucumbers needed to grow strong were sunlight and water. If only that was all these two little girls needed. They were sweet and enthusiastic, like all they need was the right circumstances to shoot across the sky like comets.
A little while later we were on a nearby street corner, talking to mi mama, when John walked up and Allison came over. A small mentally handicapped woman came over and started talking to us. She knew how to say “hello, my friend” and I think was happy to have someone to practice that phrase one. (From then on, whenever I saw her in the street she would say this greeting to me.) She is an artisan and took us to her house two doors down (another rather primitive, dim home that was made brighter by the colorful pottery hanging on the walls). She took us to the small, dark back room and promptly cut off a hunk of clay sitting in a bag on the floor, plopped it on the stone wheel and started working with her hands. She did this so smoothly and perfectly, as if from years of practice. The pottery wheel was on wood apparatus, like all the others I’ve seen in town. It had a wooden seat, flat stone wheel connected by a wood pole to a larger stone wheel a few feet below. She kicked it with her foot and the top stone started spinning. She worked that lump of clay patiently for about 15 minutes into a beautiful vase. She kicked and kneaded and concentrated in this small, cramped windowless room; the only light from a small hole in the metal roof directly about her. The faint light streamed down the highlight her little form hunched over this round stone wheel, little brown hands deftly working her craft. It was mesmerizing.
At the end she stood from the primitive pottery wheel and in halting English “ Thank you.. for looking… my work”. Her daughter showed us some finished (fired and painted) items. I was really moved. Whatever her disability, she is one of the most talented artists I have seen here… and there are many.
Side note: I completely forgot it was 9-11 today; man I am in a total other universe here. A place where the 10th anniversary an even that shaped the US so dramatically has no meaning. The disconnect really throws me; it’s like I’m in a time warp here where things like A/C and driving a car and watching the nightly news is slowing losing its meaning.
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