[ póvvərtee ]
- state of being poor: the state of not having enough money to take care of basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing
Last week, a group of us...mothers, fathers, high schoolers and college kids stared poverty in the face. We got to see what it looks like, what it smells like, what it wears, how it washes it's clothes and how it lives day to day. We met poverty and her name was Maria and her kids were Alejandro, Paula, Antonia, Luis and Cesar.
They were the family that we built a "double" for. A double house is 14 x 30 divided into three rooms. It has a porch light, a ceiling fan and electric outlets and lights in each room. The floor is concrete and the walls have insulation and drywall. Sounds like a mansion to you, huh? Yeah...me too.
As I have said before, my kitchen is bigger than that whole house, and my livingroom is bigger...
I tell people that going to Juarez and building houses has become my husband's mid-life crisis. I, on the other hand, am jaded. I go and I always enjoy it but wonder what I am doing there. I love helping people have a dry, warm place to lay their heads at night but I struggle with arrogance...of being the great white hope and I know that they will be just fine without me. If I want to be honest, I felt like that this year more than ever. I didn't really even want people to know that I was going and what we were doing.
Then I met Maria...she is 37 and as joyful and sassy as me. She was yelling at her kids, they were under our feet while we were building the whole time. She stayed outside and talked with our crew, laughing and joking, telling her story and letting us know that we were changing her world. I tend to not believe that last line but when I went into her home...I know she was right.
Her house was behind the house we built. She invited a few folks in to show them around. I avoided being invited...it helps me feel less. If I close off my heart, I can work really hard and get alot done without having to think about what day to day life is for folks with nothing. It is a great way to not feel.
I managed to stay fairly disconnected until the last day. The work this week was exhausting.
We started on Monday morning prepping the site for the concrete pad.
We ran into some problems leveling the site and seemed like we shoveled and shoveled to get it to where it needed to be. Then, the concrete truck came and poured and we got it to the point we could drag a board across it to make it look nice. Seemed to me that the concrete took forever. After that was done, the group began building walls in the street. The "cut" crew was busy measuring and cutting and the wall were hammered together. The walls are laid out in the street and the group is on their knees hammering...appropriate, huh?
Tuesday came and by the end of that day, the house looked like this...
Then came Wednesday...stucco day and finish day. We arrived on the site and the pregnant dog had puppies in the night. Maria ran out of the house with the little puppies in her hands to show us...
We all held the puppies and felt bad...who was going to feed these puppies? How were they going to survive?
We finished the stucco, the drywall and the house for the most part on Wednesday night. Our gang was exhausted but very happy to have it finished. The only thing left was mudding and taping and that would be done on Thursday morning by a skeleton crew while the rest of the gang went to the Orphanage to play with the kids. In my "closed heart" attitude, I decided to go and work on the house and not play with the kids. Too hard and I didn't want any part of it.
We showed up Thursday morning at the job site and Maria brought me all the puppies at once. I sat in the sand with 7 puppies, 3 days old whimpering. I decided they needed their momma and told Maria and before I knew it, I was standing at her front door of the house she lived in. I crossed the threshhold to see 6 matresses on the dirt floor against the wall that was made of pallets with black tar paper as a break against the elements. The matresses were obviously old and tattered and didn't have sheets. She invited me into her "kitchen" which had a piece of carpet on the floor but was mostly dirt that had an old oven and stove with stuff all over a piece of wood that doubled, I guess, as a counter and table. The momma dog was in the corner on a pillow. I sat down on the floor and placed each puppy to nurse. There were no lights, no water and I heard that there was a bathroom somewhere. I walked out of the house stunned and began to think about what she was getting.
The drywall mudding and taping was finished, and I was sitting on a bucket at the water spigot washing the tools. She came out with dirty clothes and two buckets and in her best english, let me know that she was going to wash her kids up for the dedication in the afternoon. She also took a rope and strung a clothes line and washed her best shirt and pants in a wash bucket and hung them out.
As I washed tools, she and I talked about her life...her husband who was out of work for three months and just found a job on Monday in El Paso, how she sometimes runs out of money and the kids go without food, how she doesn't feed the dogs and they live on the garbage they find in the street...how she loves her family and is doing her best for them. We communicated all of this with my terrible spanish and her little bit of english. She called me "Teresa" and asked me about my "esposo" and pointed to her chin talking about his gray beard. Sure, I am 10 years older than her but it seems to me that we all want the same things...a warm house, beans on the table and a healthy family. The rest is just gravy.
We dedicated her house and I watched her as the Pastor spoke. Tears rolled down her cheeks and her kids were acting up all over the place...she would give them a look, smile and listen again...when the tears started rolling down, I walked over to her an put my hand on her shoulder. I admired her...and felt honored to be part of getting her family into a stable home.
As we drove home yesterday, I was so thankful to cross over and be in the United States. And, yeah, I have a warm house, a few cars, food in my fridge. I haven't had to worry about feeding my kids or the roof pouring water in when it rains, or even if I could feed my dogs and cats...because I am blessed.
I told the group I was going to retire from building in Mexico...not gonna do this again. Done...
Talk to me at Christmas and we'll see if I am still retired...
We'll tawk tomorrow,
I love you all,