Approximately five minutes away from my house stands a gate of corroded metal which encases metal shacks where presumably people live. I know this because I pass by it everyday , and it stands out like a sore thumb a stark reminder of the poverty that lies beneath the surface.
But ultimately, I chose to walk by. You grow used to do this here. You would go crazy if you don’t. You grow used to seeing but not seeing, of keeping your eyes straight ahead when you walk, in swallowing your fear because if you do if you stop you might be in danger. You might fall back and see something you might not like. Poverty is evident here, like a large scar but you go through life trying to not see it. It’s a leftover from my preppy school upbringing. It’s probably what others do when they go on the trains in europe and ignore the romanian woman placing requests for donations . You just can’t humanize it. That’s what people tell themselves… and I guess it’s a coping mechanism because if we really let ourselves feel for them how could we go back ?
At least that’s what you tell yourself. But on Saturday morning, I went into that metal gate, inside a slum that I would have otherwise ignored. I didn’t know the way in so a boy offered to walk with me to go inside. Inside the shacks were stacked one across the other, nothing I hadn’t seen before but never in such close proximity. The dusty floor, the tiny boxed surfaces of housing which would only be one room otherwise.
And there I stood in quiet contemplation wondering how all of this could exist right beside me, how this life was so different from my own. They had been there since the war and probably longer, refugees given asylum but essentially were left to a fate of getting used to a land that at any point could be taken from them. Most of the 150 people there did not work, and they were at the moment trying to get them to move away to an apartment complex and convince them to pay forty dollars a month for rent.
I wonder about this. And one told me how he had once went to the United States, of walking for days and going by bus from mexico and crossing a river to get to the united states. Of living in constant fear of being discovered of the exorbitant costs of rent. And ultimately his deportation back to this area. But he is hopeful, and proud and wants to change the community he cares about. He works with the group who wants to offer an education and give junior youth and children class .
And I hope these kids are offered a choice, and ability to educate and empower this community. Because a lot of times, people get caught up in making the american dream that they forget on the people they leave behind.
My housekeeper left to Texas after nine years doing paperwork. She is the first of her family going on plane. She hasn’t seen her husband for nine years. Will it be the same? How is she coping when she doesn’t know how to use a microwave ? I wonder about her, and the two boys she is forced to leave behind.
So many broken families separated for years, so many people never looking back and only returning with strong american accents and pinched noses eager to leave just as soon as they can. And I, the girl who has no real blood ties and two shiny passports in her pocket feel a lingering guilt and sadness over it.
I can’t know that life. Just as others in the united states won’t know what it’s like to live without water for days on end or not have electricity. I never lived somewhere with dirt floors on my feet, and I never didn’t have a choice. Yet, somehow I am in a situation where my life could be far better. The writing projects I have been getting are erratic, my friends and social life are sparse in between. Yet,it struck me on saturday what a luxury that I have that choice. That I don’t have to worry about water sources, That my future was never limited purely based on money. These kids, they just came up to me and hugged me. They didn’t know me . They just wanted to be noticed and loved.
And that is probably something we have to remember. Love is wealth. It really is. We go out of our way to pursue material things, and measure happiness in what we have and be miserable with what we don’t …. yet if we love and we give love is it not a sign that we are wealthy?
Sometimes we have to lose a lot to know of the opportunities that are still out there. Hope filters through ashes, and sometimes it’s hard to find. Here’s to better things…