Thursday, January 28, 2010

Compartiendo en el Campo

It is so difficult to summarize my time in the campo; there's just too much to talk about. But here I will try to cover the bare bones of my experience sharing in the lives of the most generous people I've ever met.

For 10 days I lived in the community of San Antonio, with the motherly doña Maribel and her family. When we got to the house after the winding, rocky trek from the main road, it was already getting dark. She apologized for the lack of electricity in the community, and then said simply, "This is my house." My host mother is not the most talkative of people, but in that one sentence she communicated a lot: this is my house, it's not much, but I've worked hard for it, and you're welcome here.
Eight of us lived in that little house: Maribel's husband Juan, her daughter Ligia, two young teenaged sons Luis and Julio, 10-year-old Mayra, and baby Belén.
Because there wasn´t enough room, most of the kids and some of their cousins slept at the house of their soltera aunt Altagracia. That's also where we watched novelas every night, because Altagracia was one of a few people in the community who received electricity from a tiny personal solar panel, which are expensive but can be bought with loans. (As an environmental studies major I was really excited about this!)

In the life of the Espinoza family, electricity from the solar panel was one of a few small physical comforts (that we in the US see as necessary). Another of these was the water piped from a well through a system of gravity-fed tubes. It was then stored in a large tank right next to the house, which meant that we did not have to trek to the well every day to draw water. We stil bathed using buckets or in the nearby stream, but it made a huge difference in their lives to have a semi-reliable source of water. Even so, things are drying up due to drought. As this especially harsh dry season progresses, no water will get to their house, and there's simply nothing they can do to change that.
San Antonio was different than other communities because instead of houses placed nearly on top of one another, most were located several kilometers apart; from our house I couldn't even see Altagracia's right next door. Because of this I didn't feel the same sense of community that the others have talked about, though I am sure the people who live there do. But this did mean I became very close to the family. I spent almost all my time with the women of the house, since the boys worked in the fields all day with their father. Every day we woke up with the sun and began the day's chores, including turning corn into tortillas, cooking, sweeping, gathering firewood, doing laundry, taking care of the baby, and constant dishwashing. Mayra was still young, but Maribel and Ligia hardly took a break all day. And since her mother was often looking after baby Belén, 16-year-old Ligia practically ran the household. Every morning she was the first one up, and she hardly sat down the rest of the day. Even if I insisted on taking over whatever job she was doing, Ligia would always find something else to take care of. She has a work ethic like I've never seen before.
She is in her last year of high school, and she is the only muchach@ from her community to have made it that far. It makes sense, because there are so many obstacles to studying. The tiny public primary school in San Antonio (which could only be reached by trekking steep, rocky hills) only went up to fourth grade; after that education became an expensive hassle that most families couldn't even afford to think about.
Ligia finished primary school by living with a family friend in the relatively nearby city of Limay, because it would have been too difficult to go back and forth every day. The high school she attends is also in Limay, but since she is needed at home and since the trip is too long and expensive to make every day, she can only bus there on Saturdays. The other days of the week she teaches preschool, and this school year she will also take on 5th and 6th grade (for very little pay). That way her sister Mayra will at least be able to finish primary school. After that the fight for education will be up to her.

Ligia wants to be a nurse, but she's worried about all the costs that come with higher education. Without a scholarship there is no way she can go. I've got a full scholarship to Oberlin, and before meeting her I felt like I had really earned it. But I've never had to fight as hard to do anything as Ligia is fighting to continue her studies. I gave her a Paolo Coehlo novel and a Spanish English dictionary, but I am determined to give more somehow. This week we've spoken with the other Ligia, my sister's namesake and an equally determined woman, about different projects centering on the access to education in the campo. Right now it's only talk, but I hope that someday we are able to turn words into actions.There is still so much more to say about my time compartiendo, and I could go on and on about education. But this post is already long overdue and a lot has been happening this week, so next time I will write about something else. I promise that the next post will come more quickly than this one!

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