This morning we slept in a bit waking up at 7 rather than 6 because we had had a late night the night before and that extra hour was much needed. We had a bit of a relaxed morning and headed off to the site to finish the walls and put the roof on making it look more and more like a real house. The roof turned out to be much more time consuming than I was expecting. We had to use large 2x4s to lift the roof up and over in order to sit on top of the walls passing them off to someone up top. There were about 15 sections of the roof that had to all be put up and nailed together one by one. Several people were sitting on the walls or on the roof as they hammered in wood framings or the insolated panels as the rest of us were working on installing the 3 windows and the 2 doors. It was finally starting to all come together.
Today was long and exhausting and ended with our whole groups laying down in the house with the roof unfinished all huddled to stay warm and looking up and the beautiful, clear, star-filled sky. Juanita, the 14-year-old daughter, came to the open door frame and asked if she could enter. One of my team members said come in but Juanita was hesitant asking again if it was okay for her to enter. I responded with, of course! This is your house! She finally had enough courage to come in and sit down next to me with her little sister sitting on her lap. Maria once again asked me what my name was. Then for the first time she continued the conversation by asking if I had a mom. I said yes and she asked what her name is. She asked where I was from, still confused after several conversations we had already had where I explained that I was from a different country. I asked her and her sister if they knew where the United Sates was and both said they had no idea. The girls were fascinated by my camera from the first day on site and when it ran out of batteries I had brought my iPhone to continue to take pictures. Phones were discouraged on site so the teenagers wouldn’t be tempted to upload pictures and chat with their friends back at home and were encouraged rather to be present in the constructions. I was the exception, as everyone knew that I couldn’t be contacting anyone with my phone here in Chile. I asked the girls if they would like to see a map to see where I was from. They both said yes please, so I got out my phone and opened up the map feature on the photos. Since I had taken pictures in Santiago, in Freirina and from my house in LA there were pins sticking in all of these places making it very easy to show them. I zoomed out and showed a map of the world, wondering how many times they might have seen a map. I zoomed in to where we were now and explained that we were in the North of Chile then zoomed out again moving us even more north to the United Stated and explained that I was from California, on the coast and from a city called Los Angeles. They seemed very fascinated and were fully engaged as I explained that you needed to take an airplane for about 8 hours to get there. Maria then asked if I had a picture of my mom with me. As I started scanning through my photos to find a picture of my mom and me to show her, I started to feel more and more uncomfortable. I was already uneasy as I considered the likelihood of them ever getting to ride on an airplane or having the opportunity to visit a place like the United States. Starting from the beginning of my photo album, I scanned through pictures of my high school prom and graduation, pictures of concerts and music festivals I had been to, pictures of me dressed up and smiling with friends going to various parties and events in college and visiting beautiful places during summer vacations, I couldn’t help but reflect on all of these events; experiences that these two girls might never get a chance to participate in. Who knows if they would even get to wear a cap and gown and graduate from high school let alone get to experience all the fun I have had in college and living on my own these past couple years. I finally found a picture of my mom and me and opened it up, Maria exclaimed “que linda!” – “how pretty!” and it warmed my heart. Even thought she may not be able to experience any of the fortunate opportunities I have been blessed with in my life, I know we still have one important thing in common: We both have mother’s who love us with all of their hearts and would give everything they had for us. When we arrived back at the school everyone entered the kitchen for another surprise activity. None of the staff members were participating so as I tried to sneak by with just watching, one of the facilitators caught me and thoroughly duct taped my hands together so I would have no choice but to participate. My partner had a scarf tied around her eyes and we both sat down with plates of pasta in front of us. The rules were then explained. The blindfolded person’s job was to feed both themselves and their partners as the person with their hands together could only give verbal instructions. It was a bit of a challenge with my poor language abilities but we luckily made it out with only a few casualties. After eating I was helped by one of my group members to slowly remove the tape from my hands when the facilitator who had taped them together came over and ripped the remaining tape off quickly and painfully giving me a hug and apologizing afterwards but leaving burning, red marks on my hands. I forgave him anyways. We all sat down in a circle on the floor as the facilitators lead a big group discussion about what it was like to be restrained and have to work together to eat dinner. They then explained to us that the blindfold and hands tied together were meant to represent our experience working with the poor as we blindly help people who may be constrained by their limiting circumstances. Everyone by now was comfortable enough with the group to share and address one another by name.
Today was the hump day, day 5 of the 10 day experience and I caught myself several times throughout the day counting down the days until I would be boarding the plane to head back to my house. I was exhausted and feeling extremely dirty and tired and dreaming of home cooking and a warm, cozy bed to sleep in. Today I thought a lot about the Chilean pride that I was experiencing and trying to think of something in America that was as unifying as an experience as this. I think this experience is one that many high school students take part in here in Chile. This type of work allows them to come together and work toward a creating a better future toward a more just country. It allows the students to live in conditions, with no shower, sleeping on the floor and eating cheap food that might be somewhat similar to how the poor families live every day of their lives. I think this is a wonderful experience for the students to not only feel a connection to each other and to their country but also to learn about some of the issues that persist in their country. It is a very unique opportunity that benefits both the volunteers and the families that they work with.