Ponderings on Argentina

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La niña de tus ojos September 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 4:46 am

So last Thursday I went to Retiro (the train station) with the girls for the evening. We left bearing hot chocolate and sandwhiches to help the youth there fight off the cold and their hunger on that cold, blustery night. As I left I (selfishly) felt a little sluggish. I didn´t really want to go; it would be so much easier to stay in my warm bed reading a good book. On the subway ride there I started prayingl, God I´ve heard someone say before that if we meet You we can´t help but be changed, and the Bible says that You are with the poor. God, I will be looking for you among and in them–please allow me to see You and to be changed.

It turns out that God was much easier to find that night than I would have expected. When I got to Retiro two of the guys that I have gotten to know fairly well ran over to greet me; I was excited that they were as excited to see me as I was them. At the begining of our servant team I always heard the Word Made Flesh staff refer to the youth at Retiro (who I will here on out refer to as the Ramigos–a cross between the words Retiro and amigos) as their ¨friends,¨ and I was definitely skeptical. Surely they weren´t really friend-friends. Maybe they called them that more for show. However, as time has passed I realize that friends are exactly what the Ramigos are to me. They are my friends–I get excited when I see them, and I care about how their lives are going (and vice-versa). It´s really a refreshing and life-giving experience!

So anyway, I was greeted by my friends, and then we all settled in on the subway floor and Tina broke out her guitar. At first everyone was just messing around with it, but then Jen dispersed words she had printed out and we all started singing worship songs in Spanish. This blog will never do the moment justice, but stay with me and I´ll try to give you a glimpse.

The atmosphere was electric. All of the joking around, the coming and going, the hustle and bustle of the Ramigos stopped and everyone was enveloped in the music, either singing or simply listening. We came to my favorite song and belted it out across the entire subway station. The song is called La niña de tus ojos and goes like this:

Me viste a mi cuando nadie me vi

Me amaste a mi cuando nadie me amo

Y me diste nombre–yo soy la niña, la niña de tus ojos

Porque me amaste a mi

Te amo mas que mi vida.

In English, the lyrics translate to something like this: You saw me when no one  saw me, you loved me when no one love me, and you gave me a name–I am the little girl, the little girl of your eyes (the apple of your eye), because you loved me. I love you more than life.

While we were singing this I looked around me at the Ramigos and saw so much hope and redemption because they were singing these lyrics. They are the forgotten, the unloved, the people no one sees. But there we were, in the middle of the station singing as loudly as we could–people were stopping to watch! It´s like the lyrics were becoming true by the very act of singing them.

And as I was looking around our group, my eyes stopped on Rosa–a beautiful, lively 3-year-old that we have gotten to know very well. She was sitting only inches away from the guitar, absolutely entranced, the stillest I have ever seen her and her eyes as wide as ever. I saw her singing along, as well. Her mom told us earlier that that song is her favorite, and that she will go around the house belting it out. What a wonderful message of beauty and hope for Rosa to hear and cling to. The Ramigos aren´t built up very much. they deal with scowls and glares of passerbyers in the subway all day, and rude remarks. Many are told from a very young age that they are ugly and wil never amount to anything. Hopefully they heard a different message Thursday night.

I think it was then that the drummer walked by. He was an older man with one eye swollen shut, 3 fingers bandaged in gauze, and a drum strapped to his back. We begged him to play with us and he set up camp and played 3 songs with us. After three songs he had to leave, but not before he sang us an incredible, heart-felt acapello solo. The whole time Isabelle, Rosa´s little 1-year-old sister sat on my lap dancing. It felt so normal, worshipping God in that subway station. So normal yet so revolutionary.

Thursday night was really neat because I prayed that I would find God and be changed by it, and God answered that prayer. I found him in the wide eyes of Rosa, the bandaged fingers of the drummer, the warm welcome from my friends when I arrived, the electric atmosphere of marginalized people audibly singing their worth into being. It just proves that if you are desperately looking for God, maybe you don´t have to go any further than the floor of the subway station.


There´s nothing like a good óle scrubboard September 2, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 8:19 pm

So a few days ago was my first night of washing my clothes by hand. Margi and I had been looking for a while, and we finally found and bought a scrubboard. I started at about 7 (pm of course), and set up my washboard in a tiny plastic container, and then set up a bucket to rinse my clothes in. I had a process going where I would have clothes on the line drying, clothes rinsing in the clean water, and clothes being scrubbed on the washboard–all at the same time! Being the horrible multi-tasker that I am, I was really proud.

I actually liked washing my clothes by hand. It was a peaceful experience–just me under the dark sky, no one to talk to or entertain. It was kind of a redeeming process, too. In this consumer society we are so far removed from certain processes, and getting our clothes clean is one of them. Washing my clothes by hand allows me a chance to get up close and personal with all the dirt, stains, and filth I accumulated.

I´ve always hated it when people take an idea stretch it unnaturally, stretching the idea to it´s limit in an effort to make it into some kind of spiritual metaphor. But, for some reason, I´m going to be that person today, so if you hate that–skip to the next blog.

But as I was scrubbing my clothes, I couldn´t help but think that this is how God is with us. We, as sinful people, are stained and splotched and filthy, but God doésn´t simply throw us into a washing machine, refusing to handle us until we are clean. Instead, he grabs a scrubboard, soap, and clothespins, and jumps in to accompany us on our journey to cleanliness.


El Retiro, take 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 8:04 pm

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.


A cultural sidenote on grocery shopping August 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:15 pm

So Monday Tina and I volunteered to cook the meal for our servant team dinner that night. We went shopping Monday afternoon, our recipes for bourbon chicken and fried rice in hand. Shopping was so much fun in Argentina, which is weird because I absolutely hate it in the States! We went to a carneceria to buy the chicken breast, garlic, and pepper. I loved just talking to the locals in the shops–they always are amused to see two gringas frolick in and try to remember the names for all the food we need.

It was such an adventure, trying to find Spanish equivalents to all our American food needs. Do you know that they don’t sell brown sugar, molasse, or many spice here? Definitely different. Also, they don’t have any huge grocery stores–just a lot of small ones that specialize in different things. For example, the carneceria sells meat, and then if you want bread you go to a panaderia.

And for those of you wondering (Dad), if i completely crisped the meal to obliteration like I am known to, I didn’t and it turned out amazing.


Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 2:18 pm

A few days ago, Jeremiah gave us a more complete tour or Buenos Aires, and we went to the Plaza de Mayo. For those of you who don’t know, I wrote my senior thesis this spring on the Catholic church’s role in the Dirty War, and how that affected the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Don’t worry, I’ll decode.

In 1976, Argentina’s deomcratically elected president was overturned in a military coup because of the economic dive the country had been taking in the last 20 years. The military thought they could run the country better, so they took over with an iron fist. To help the country “recover”‘ economically, the military thought it prudent to dispose of anyone who threatened their views or dominance in the country. They set up a series of cladestine concentration camps and began to kidnap, torture, and kill anyone who  opposed them. They began only taking prominent political leaders, but it quickly spiraled out of control and they began taking any men, women, and school children–even babies–that they viewed as dissidents. And they used the term dissedent VERY loosely. The horrors that took place in these concentration camps rivaled the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, and over the period of the next 10 years, approximately 30,000 people “‘disappeared.'”

Many people were frozen into innaction by fear. If they stood up to the government and tried to procure justice, they would surely be next to disappear. However, there was a group of people that had lost too much to stay quiet. A group of mothers whose children had been disappeared banded together to form the group called Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo–the Mothers of the Plaza of Mayo. They called themselves this name because every Thursday they would gather in the Plaza de Mayo–the huge Plaza in the center of downton Buenos Aires that housed all of the important political buildings, including Argentina’s Casa Rosada (the White House) and peacefully, yet forcefully demand the return of their children.  30 years later, they still meet to this day to protest the injutice.

So, after studying and reading about this for months, you can imagine how excited I was to actually go to the Plaza de Mayo, walk over the bricks, be in the place that the Mothers had cried out for justice in for so long. It was very surreal.

First we came up to the Casa Rosada–their White House, which is actually pink, and then we saw the Plaza de Mayo, which is decorated with all of their symbolism. The Mothers wear white headscarves with the names of their disappeared children embroidered in them, and the bricks that make up the plaza have murals of these white headscarves all over, decorating the ground. There are anti-terrorism messages spray-painted all over the ground, as well.

Seeing the plaza was a very spiritual moment. Finally, I was able to walk around and see the same things the Mothers did while they protested in honor of their disappeared children. The formidable Casa Rosada loomed closeby, the group of policemen leaned against the white obilisque, and all the while these brave Mothers marched around the Plaza.

After a while the Mothers got an office that they based themselves from, and this office has tranformed into a bookstore, cafe, and a musuem of sorts. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the plaza, so we went there to look around. I walked through in a sort of awe. Awe that the horrors I wrote about are, in fact, true, and awe at the Mother’s extreme bravery and determination for justice. They are truly inspiring.


8/21 August 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:43 pm

Today we got to see a lot of Buenos Aires! Jeremiah led us on a tour. We got on a bus at La Boca, and took it through the streets that are too dangerous to walk through. There is a little slum there that showcases devestating poverty. We drove by the little slum, and then–suddenly–we entered into the richest part of town, where homes run in the millions.

We got off the bus at El Retiro, which is a train station and bus stop where we are going to be going about 3 times a week to hang out with the homeless street children. While Jeremiah was showing us around, we ran into one of his homeless friends. She was small and was selling newspapers she had found in a sweet, sing-song voice. We introduced ourselves, kissing her on the cheek as is the custom here. I am sad to say it was a little weird. Here we are, in the middle of this bustling train station, kissing a homeless lady on the cheek that everyone is ignoring or avoiding.

I guess it is weird because, for years, I was the one avoiding the homeless. Not all the time, I went downtown with my mom and worked in a soup kitchen and helped inner-city children with reading, but basically if I was going about my daily life and I ran into a homeless person I would ignore them. Why is that? For years society had been telling me that they were dangerous people, that they could mug me or rob me. Society said that those people were nothing more than a litany of bad choices–drugs, sex, alcohol, and that it was best to not come near that. I didn´t know how to respond to someone who had nothing, sitting on the side of the street on a cardboard box, when I had so much. The only response I had was guilt. So I did what everyone else did, walk around them. Sometimes I gave money, but never in a meaningful way.

Everytime we ignore and avoid the homeless, we take our scissors and cut out all of the passaes of Scripture relating to the homeless or poor. ¨Whatever you do the the least of these, you do unto me.¨ Snip, snip.

What if we stopped picking and choosing which passages of Scripture we wanted to lsiten to and started acting like God actually means what He says in the Bible? Proverbs 21:21 ¨If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.¨

Going to Toronto this summer with Access was my first experience of really seeking out the homeless. I realized that Toronto, as is Word Made Flesh, is not a 10 step program. It´s more about allowing a little of the Kingdom to break into this world by giving people back their dignity–the one thing we rob from them everytime we walk by and ignore them. They are sons daughters of God, and image-bearers of Christ, and they deserve to be treated as such, just like we do.

I´m hoping and praying that God will change my heart so that I won´t feel weird walking up to a homeless lady and greeting her with a kiss on the cheek. Instead, i hope to be joyful. One of my favorite songs is ¨hosannah¨ from Hillsong United. This song has a line that addresses God and is quickly becoming the theme of Argentina, as it was the theme of Toronto for me. The line is becoming my prayer and hope. It states simply, ¨Break my heart for what breaks yours, everything I am for your Kingdom come.¨ These simple words carry with them a great power and an attitude shift, the potential for change.


WOW! They DO that here?

Filed under: Uncategorized — vanosdola @ 3:25 pm

Last night my host family didn´t eat dinner until 10:45! And taht is actually normal for most families.

So then, you may be asking, when do the little kids go to bed? Do they eat earlier? No. They go to bed about midnight. During nice nights we have seen them out playing at parks as late as 11, and Jenn says they are often out there until about midnight. The schools start early too, around 8:30. Jennifer was telling us that every morning the parents have to practically drag their children out of bed because the kids are so tired, and they don´t ever have enough time to eat breakfast because the kids don´t get up early enough, so the schools serve the children breakfast. The schools serve the children as many cookies as they want and Coca-Cola. What a nice little sugar rush to start the morning! Jenn says that whenever Jordan (her son) has kids over to play in the afternoon they will randomly fall asleep because they are so tired from being up late. Coming from the US, where all children are in bed by 7 or 8, this is so weird to me!