despite the extreme poverty, the aura of argentina is bold and alive. everywhere you go argentines are proud to be argentinean. people value their dirty, old sweater or their little trinket that they just found on the street corner or that their team just won another game in the world cup. its a strange thing to see for someone that has grown up in a clean, wealthy, safe, and plentiful environment, and a small town none-the-less. people here beg because they don't have a shoe, they are literally homeless with no where to go, they lack a bottle of water or piece of bread, and sleep on a dirty, wet step somewhere different each night; but when you give them 50 centos (equivalent to about 15 cents in the states) they thank you for 3 minutes and give you blessings. its an entirely different world here.
i have seen extreme poverty in rural mexico and peru. i have helped build houses, brought supplies, picked and washed vegetables, served food, and helped children in third world countries, but never have i seen this type of poverty. there is no where to begin and so much to do. it is different than taking cooking equipment to an orphanage in rural peru where there was no knowledge of computers, college, heating/air conditioning, or toothpaste. bringing new knives and pots/pans changed their lives drastically. but here, where inequality is incredibly prevalent, the differences are much more pronounce. and for that i ask your prayers and thoughts this week.
i have some particulary extreme cases that i have come across this trip...
- the man with the eye ulsers: their is a man that stands across the street from my residence everyday. his "job" is to flag down taxis, put peoples bags and such in the trunk, and open/close doors. he works solely for the few centos that people give him when he does these tasks. and he is probably paid every 5 taxis. in a days time he probably makes close to 15 or 20 pesos, about 5 dollars. he has a gigantic visual protrusion from his eyeball that is fairly disgusting to put it nicely. and for this many people don't want to give him money at the risk of touching his hand. this is his life as i have seen it the past three weeks.
- brandon: brandon is the eleven year old boy that i help at the afterschool program. he "lives" with his brother and father and "attends" the local public school. last week he was caught smoking cigarettes with a group of older adolescents and risked being terminated from the afterschool program because of drug use. his mother fled their apartment because of abuse a few years ago, and his father and brother are addicted to drugs. he barely reads spanish and his vocabulary when writing is limited to that of maybe an eight year old. when i asked him what english he knew from school, he responded "go sit outside" because that is the only thing he has heard from his teacher. he is verbally and physically inappropriate at times. despite all of these things he makes the entire room laugh. i told him that my boyfriends name was brandon too and since then he takes me by the arm and says "es mi novia" (this is my girlfriend). he is hilarious and enthusiastic.
- the people of constitucion: this area of town is one of extreme poverty and at times very unsafe. as a foreign student we were told that we are not allowed to go there ever, and all of us have adhered to that to the fullest. it is on the very far side of of the city and accessible by subte (subway) only because it is a bit outside of BA. contitucion's subways is known as the drug nucleus, the plaza is the center for prostitution and addicts, and petty crimes are abundant. i have only seen it through a taxi from above on the overpass that heads to iguazu and las pampas. there are cardboard shacks under most building overhang shelters, their are people urinating against buildings, and a quiet darkness in all windows and buildings. its people are dirt poor and poverty resides everywhere in the central area of constituction.
- the 17 year old girl and her two children: rosie, the coordinatior of our great volunteer program, got a call while we were volunteering last week. it was the second call that she has received from a 17 year old girl with a baby and young girl. she was forced out of her house when she had her first child and has lived on the streets since then. rosie is working on finding her a home and the those of us that volunteer went out and bought supplies that rosie will deliver to her. as of now she has no where to go with her two young ones.
i bet you are worried about my safety and i probably should have told you this once i was home but to ease your worries i am in an extremely safe area with 24hr security at my building, one block from the police station and german hospital, with well lit streets, and tourist filled sidewalks. i never go anywhere without at least one other person and the area that i am in is known as the safest area in BA. plus argentina is the safest country in all of south america. still you are worried, but i feel safe here and i am not typically your "i feel safe" person. poverty is everywhere in the world, just in a different perspective and place. hopefully you can take a few minutes this week and think about this too... its easy to forget when you don't see it everyday, but once you see it i doubt you forget it.