Going to Retiro Wednesday was amazing. We ended up outside in the Plaza, and it was a beautiful day. The birds were out, the sun was it–it was probably 80 degrees or so–it seemed to give Buenos Aires new life after two non-stop days of rain.
I was talking with some of our friends on one side of the plaza, and Meg told me they were having a mulberry party under a tree at the other side of the plaza. Intrigued, I went to go check it out. It turns out the tree is a mulberry tree, and it has long, drapey branches that give the tree the shape of an umbrella with a big, hollow space in the center.
I crawled under the protective branches of the tree and saw Tina and Margi talking with Andre, a really wise and trustworthy guy who loves to share the wealth of information he knows about life on the streets. His family has actually been living under this mulberry tree for a few weeks now–all of their possessions are in a grocery cart under the tree in plastic bags. They used to live in Villa 31, an infamous slum behind Retiro that drug dealers who sell Paco lord over, but recently there has been a lot of social unrest in the slum, and Andre and his girlfriend and their two little girls moved out and made their new home under this mulberry tree.
I crawled in under the branches and saw a pile of luscious mulberrys sitting on a newspaper in the middle of their blanket, and saw the stained fingers and faces of Tina, Margi, and Andre, and my first response was, what a mess…they will never get those stains out. I grabbed a spot on the blanket and began to listen to Andre, and, before I knew it, I the mulberrys won me over and I had matching stained fingers.
As we sat eating, Andre started giving us advice about men and boyfriends, just as if we were his daughters. We talked with Andre for at least an hour and a half. Even though I didn´t agree with everything he was saying (such as all men are the same, and if given the chance to be unfaithful they will), I loved how he was looking out for us. He then moved on to give us advice about what to do if we feel threatened while walking down the street, and how to best protect ourselves if need be.
In light of the serious topics, we asked him if he was worried about riasing his two daughters (about ages 6 and 2) in the street. At that point you could see the whole weight of the world on his shoulders, and he said he absolutely was.
We had an amazing conversation, and, by the time we were done talking, my hands were stained from eating the mulberrys, my cheek was stained from where Juan smeared one on my face, and my shirt was stained from the mulberry-throwing war Brian and I had, and I would have had it no other way.
After that, I joined the mob of people that had congregated in the plaza (there were probably 30 of us or so). It was the first time that we had brought the new guitar, and it was so exciting watching everyone play it. Maria told Tina how much she had missed it and requested that Tina serenade her new-born with the song ¨Nina de tus ojos.¨ One of the 3-year-old girls sat on my lap and sang the song…it was such a special moment.
After that, the little 3-year-old painted my cheeks, hand, and arm with some paint she had, and I painted her cheeks.
I felt like that day our friends at Retiro really taught me how to live. They all live in a harsh, cruel, often relentless and unforgiving reality, but they understand the importance of kicking back, staining yourself with mulberrys, paint, and being yourself. I learned that we trap ourselves so often from enjoying life through social norms and standards of beauty, and whatever else it may be, and that throwing those aside and living life is one of the most freeing things we can do for ourselves.
Yesterday I learned how to live life under the mulberry tree.