This past week has been very busy. Thankfully the weather suddenly became gorgeous and it is near 75 and sunny almost every day in the long range forecast. It makes it really nice to find a park to read in or just explore the city. I am also hoping not to return to the US all pale and pasty, but we will see on that one. After this week, I only have three weeks of classes left in my semester, then I have almost a month to take a final exam, travel, and just enjoy life in Argentina. Time is flying by and I only have about a month and a half left here which is crazy to think about.
This weekend, our wonderful director, Raul, offered us all the chance to participate in a weekend activity called “Un Techo Para mi Pais.” The name of the organization literally translates to “A roof for my country” and it is a non-profit that sends groups into impoverished areas to build houses for families in need. It seems very similar to habitat for humanity, although the need here is much greater.
When Raul told us about the activity, I was very excited but anxious at the same time. He told us we would be split up and probably the only Americans in our group, which I was very excited about. I knew this weekend would be an awesome chance to practice Spanish. My construction vocabulary in Spanish is lacking however, so I was a little nervous about comprehension. Thankfully I had no problems at all and was actually surprised at how easy it was to communicate with everyone there no matter the theme we were talking about. This weekend definitely improved my confidence in talking with native speakers about anything.
The second thing I was anxious for was seeing what the neighborhood was like. Up until this point, I mainly stayed in the richer parts of Buenos Aires, which are very beautiful and safe. However, this weekend we were going into the heart of the poorest neighborhoods in all of Argentina. The poverty in these areas were unlike anything I had ever seen, and it was heartbreaking to see so many young, beautiful children walking around the streets knowing that they will not have the same opportunities that I have been blessed with. At the same time, the people there were in no way depressed or mopy. On the contrary, they were eager to talk to me about anything, and even gave me the nickname “Mr. America.” They were also ready to help build the house and incredibly hard working. Without them, the house wouldn’t have been nearly as easy to construct. A strange thing that I saw in the area was that a lot of people had horses to get around. There were horses puling carts all over the place, and even kids were riding horses everywhere.
The first morning, we played an icebreaker that was rock paper scissors with rankings depending if you win or lose. Everyone starts as an amoeba, and if you win you become a crab. If you are a crab, you can only play other crabs and rock paper scissors and the winner becomes a bunny, the loser an amoeba. Next you become a gorilla, and then if you can win as a gorilla you win the game and can leave the area. No matter your rank, if you lose you become an amoeba again. Well, yours truly was the loser of a group of nearly 40, so as punishment they wrote “Ameoba” in big black letters across my forehead. Needless to say, if me being an American wasn’t a conversation starter, this certainly was.
The house itself was very simple to construct. First, we dug holes for 15 wooden support pillars in the ground.
After digging 7 holes and placing the pillars we hit a minor snag; someone in the group hit a sewer line with their shovel and broke it. Thankfully the flow was very slow and the smell was fairly contained, but the idea of what was in that hole was disgusting. We lost most of the first afternoon waiting for someone to help us fix the problem before we could continue digging.
After the problem was fixed, we were back in business. We soon placed the prefabricated floor over the pillars and next we had to put up the walls. From there, we nailed everything together and then began assembling the support beams for the roof. After that, we nailed the metal roofing in, placed the windows and door, and finally painted the house.
When we were done, the family we had built it for was incredibly grateful. They were an older couple, and the wife was deaf, but she still communicated her gratitude without any problems. The family had cooked for us, helped us build, and talked with us for three days, and I have to admit it was a little sad to leave the neighborhood Monday evening.
The whole experience felt a little bit like summer camp. We slept in sleeping bags in a big gymnasium, we stayed up late playing random games, and even had a bonfire Sunday night minus the s’mores. The experience itself was truly incredible, and I feel like I got to know a completely different side of Argentina. I would highly recommend doing something like this to anyone staying in Latin America for an extended period of time.
For me, the hard working weekend is over and I get to relax this next one in the tropical rainforest near Iguazu Falls in the extreme North of Argentina. Be expecting a ridiculous amount of pictures.
Thanks for reading,