Monday afternoon, after the grocery shopping extravaganza, we went to El Retiro (the train station where we hang out with the homeless youth). I must admit, I was excited but really nervous. Nervous that I wouldn’t understand whne they talked to me, nervous that I wouldn’t be able to relate to them, nervous that they wouldn’t want to relate to me.
We arrived at the train station and ran into two of Jeremiah’s homeless firneds and their children. They immediately greeted us with a kiss, which was exciting because it showed their acceptance of us. We talked for a while and then David (another WMF employee in Argentina), showed up with coloring pages and word searches, which they love. We all camped in a corner and sat on the floor with them to begin the coloring and word searching. The floor was pretty gross. It had gum plastered to it with a layer of grit; no one sits on the floor of the train station unless they have no where else to go. Sitting with them was really symbolic of the beautiful illustration that Larry gave us in Toronto: the “‘us vs. them”‘ circles. For those of you who don’t know, this summer i went on a pilgrimage of sorts with Access, the college ministry at my church. Larry, our fearless leader, guided us on a pilgrimage to understanding poverty.
One night while we were walking the streets of Toronto, around 2 am, larry decided to teach us about the us and them circles. He drew to huge circles in the middle of the side walk with sidewalk chalk, and played a sort of “stand here if…”‘ game. For example, we would stand in one circle if we normall eat more than two meals a day, and go to the other one if we don’t.
Well we stood in the circles looking at each other, and then looking at the other circle (there was no one in our group standing in the other circle, by the way). It showed the us and them mentality. There was a clear boundary marking the difference between the two groups–those that eat more than two times a day and those that don’t. That boundary can divide a lot of things: those who have money and those who don’t, people who have education and people who don’t, etc…. Whatever the boundary may be because, the problem is that the boundary exists in the first place.
“‘And so,”‘ Larry continued, “‘Do you know what you have to do?”‘ The moon lit up his face as he grabbed someone’s water bottle and began to splash water on the ground, dissolving the chalk. ”You got to erase the lines, erase the boundaries that separates you from them. you do everything you can to erase those lines. If you don’t have water, pee on it. I don’t care what you do…just erase those lines,” he said.
i thought of all of that as margi, jeremiah, David, and I all sat down on the gritty subway floor. We had so much fun spending time with them. Tina taught them how to play Egyptian Ratslap, one of my favorite card games, and we all talked for a while.
David brought word searches and math worksheets with him, because the youth love to do them. I was doing a word search with one of the women, and I noticed that she didn´t know how to read. So instead, whenever I would find a word, I would tell her the letters in it, showing her where to start circling and where to end. She kept circling all of the wrong letters, and I quickly realized she didn´t even know the letters of the alphabet. I think she is one of the first illiterate people I have ever met. I have to give her credit though, she did not let that stop her. She kept searching until she and I had found almost every word in that word search. She was determined.
There were also a few babies there, crawling around the station. It broke my heart because they were covered in filth and grime from crawling around the subway floor, one of the little babies had a rash under his nose.
But I didn´t only see illiteracy and disparity when I looked around at the youth in the subway station; I saw hope, too. I saw people of different economic statuses, cultures, languages, and races come together and step forward in bravery to erase those chalk lines that the world has drawn around us. I saw happiness, joy, and laughter in the youth. I saw hope.
Immanuel, Christian´s brother, is 21. He attended school through 8th grade, but got really bored because he already knew everything they were teaching him and dropped out. He is really smart and was talking politics with Tina and I, commenting on how many presidents value money and resources over human lives. He was passionately talking about how wrong that is, and how everyone has value–the same value–simply because we are all human beings. It was so exciting to see him recognize his own worth and how precious he is, because that is one of Word Made Flesh´s goals–to tell the homeless over and over again that they have value untill it actually clicks and they believe it. It clicked with Immanuel, for sure.