Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Life in the Campo

I made it 10 days through life in the campo. It was a huge challenge and every day was tiring, but I also learned so incredibly much from my family and the many people I got to talk to. It´s overwhelming to try to portray my experience in a blogpost, so I will try to pick out some relevant anecdotes that I want to share. However, know that this is only a small glimpse into my past week and that there is so much I cannot even put into words.

I lived with a family of 5 in Pedernal, one of the smaller and poorer communities in Limay. Bertha and Antonio, the two parents, were so kind and welcoming to me. Their three teenage daughters, Haydi, Carla, and Yerling, were also very accepting and social, constantly playing with my hair or taking me around to meet their friends.

Of course the first thing that hit me was the extreme poverty they live in. Although I have done a homestay in the campo before, last year in El Salvador, this community was much poorer, which was initially shocking. They had electricity, but the only accessible water was by well. Bathing and washing clothes took place in the river, where I shared water with cows, spiders, and other animals. The floors and some walls of the house were made of dirt. Despite lacking many material things that we think of as necessities, Pedernal was very rich in community. All the houses were only a few feet apart and people were visiting constantly. If people aren´t actually related (they were shocked I only have one brother and 4 cousins in the US) it is still as if everyone in the community is one big family. The community was constantly bustling, if not with people than with animals. One morning a hen woke me up by jumping on my bed, and two other mornings it went the extra mile and layed an egg on my pillow. I then ate those eggs. Very local. People also owned horses, which I got the opportunity to ride. They were very impressed that a white girl knew how to ride a horse. I found that if people had anything, land, animals, gardens, it was because they took out loans from the UNAG. They would have nothing without our donations and the existence of the loan funds. It made me realize that we really affect these people's lives, and its important to come here and see how our donations are being used.

A very hard thing for me this week was sharing a room with Bertha's sister, Darling, a 24 year old with cerebral palsy. For the past 24 years, she has been lying in a bed all day every day, crying constantly and being fed liquified tortillas and beans. It was very disturbing to live so close to her and imagine her life being like this every day. In many cases, if someone was so handicapped in the US, they would have the capability to still have a decent life. But here it is not an option.

Another issue that was constantly mentioned was the drought and lack of water in the community. Here is a photo of where the river usually runs in the wet season.

Even if the people are able to buy animals or seeds with loans, they can't succeed because they don't have water. The river is so low right now during the dry season and the farmers are so frustrated because they can't sustain their families. Furthermore, they have very little food access. Whereas in the past they could grow various fruit trees and vegetables, now they are only able to eat rice, beans, eggs, tortillas, and occassionally cheese. I definitely got tired of the food monotony this week, but they eat this food all the time for their entire lives. They simply don't have the water to grow varieties of foods.

I learned a lot this week about the daily lives of people living in the campo. Every morning they wake up before the sun. The women make tortillas for hours while the men go off to work in the fields. I helped make the tortillas every morning this week, but even after I thought I finally accomplished the perfect tortilla, they would take it and fix it. The women are also responsible for cleaning the house, getting water from the well, cooking, and looking after the kids. Nevertheless, in Pedernal I felt that socially the men and women were perceived equally. Bertha, my host mother, was a community leader and was incredibly confident. She registers kids for school and during the school year babysits the little kids in the community, which is completely voluntary on her part. She is also vice president of the women's sector of the UNAG in Limay. She could really do it all. By the end of the week, I felt really close to her and amazed that she shared so much of her experiences with me. It's so generous of them to let me into their lives, this privileged student from the United States who they know has much more than they do. I often felt uncomfortable with how much more I had than they do and at times even found myself downplaying my luxuries in the US. But alas, the point of this experience was to feel uncomfortable and be pushed out of my comfort zone.

There is so much more I want to write and share with you all. The last thing I'll say for now is that the person I will miss the most from Pedernal is my friend Rudi, the 5 year old boy from across the path.

He was my best friend in the community. We spent time every day together and really enjoyed each other's company. He told his grandmother he wants to come to Boston to see me. He is the one man from the community whose request for that I would grant. Hope to write more about my experience soon.

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