Monday, September 2, 2013

The Other Buenos Aires: My First Experience with Real Poverty

One of the most interesting parts about living in Argentina for four months is experiencing the city like a true resident. Through discussions with my family, watching the news (albeit in espanol so my host mom has to help me out sometimes understanding), and just generally being around the city, you become intimately familiar with all of its good and bad traits.

I have been lucky enough to have host parents that are willing to spend a lot of time (hours sometimes!) discussing social, political, and economic issues in Argentina with me very openly. One that has really struck me is the poverty in Buenos Aires.

Before coming here I had never seen real poverty before. I had driven past "rough" areas of Kansas City before and thought that, that was my enlightening experience. But living on Prospect or Paeso in Kansas City is like a stay at the Marriott compared to the slums of Buenos Aires. Thinking that I could even think those KC neighborhoods were scary is laughable at this point. Places here don't even scary or intimidate me. They just make me want to cry.

One neighborhood that I've seen the outside of personally, in Villa 31, a shanty town home to about 30,000 people. An entrance into the "city" is very near to the subway stop that we get off to go to the bus station, train station, and the immigrations office, so it's literally unavoidable for most students in Buenos Aires. The first time I saw it I felt like it was a movie set. Like it couldn't possibly be a real place that people ACTUALLY lived in.

Essentially the view I had, though I didn't bring out my camera
for obvious reasons.
The dirt path, not even a road, that lead into the neighborhood was littered with trash and there were people peddling socks and klennex's to the people passing by. Two dogs were eating out of what looked like a McDonald's wrapper while another was just laying in the sun. The houses are unfinished, as in they are nothing more than bricks stacked to create a windowless, doorless, structure. From what I've learned they also don't have running water, electricity, or plumbing. This is a pretty shocking sight compared to the extremely wealthy neighborhood just across the street.

What hurts me the most though is the kids that hang out near the steps of the subway or ride the line begging for money. I've never seen a child that looked like that in real life before, filthy, ripped clothes, dirty matted hair, and hands that sorely need to be washed. The usually have a line that they continually repeat as they beg you for money. Most people though don't give them anything, because you know that the money is undoubtedly going to the parents that clearly have something else to do besides care for their child.

People actually live like this.
I once saw a little girl that was not from the slums on the subway give a girl that was begging a postcard with a picture of Violetta (like an Argentina Hannah Montana or Lizzie Mcguire). The girl was so excited, she was jumping around and showing it to everyone else riding the subway. It was probably the most heartbreaking and heartwarming moment of my life.

A part of me wants so badly to go inside neighborhoods like this, simply because I want to experience it more than just a glimpse down the alley leading inside. I want so badly to talk to these people, to know what a normal day in their life is like. But the fact that my parents would absolutely kill me and that I'm a a female, dressed much to nicely holds me back. I can't even take a picture because pulling out an iphone or fancy camera would just be like asking to be robbed.

Sometimes I hate being a white, female as stupid as that sounds. It's so restricting in terms of experiencing and understanding anyone outside of my social class. If I was a boy I would be much more capable of going into places like that. If I was more darkly complected (like the illegal immigrants from Bolivia and Paraguay that make up most of the shantytown populations) I would be able to slip by unnoticed possibly.

At the same time it reminds me of how lucky we are in the United States. Not only do I have my own nice car, I have a house that is furnished, I have access to virtually anything I could ever want. I've never had to spend a day with an empty stomach or without shoes. In the US for the most part even people under the poverty line have access to things that they need like homes, cars, cell phones, etc. The concept of poor is so subjective. Poor in the United States could easily pass as middle class in Argentina.

Most days Argentina is so similar to the United States, it's for the most part a developed 1st world country and then you come upon places like that and realize how far away from home you really are. Just the experience of things beautiful and terrible that most of my friends and family back home will never see makes this whole trip entirely worth it.


PS. It's EXTREMELY hard to find places to volunteer in Buenos Aires. This is due to lack of organization, such as places being listed online and also that most volunteer opportunities are through programs that you have to pay for to come to Argentina to volunteer. Also, my not so fluent Spanish doesn't help. So unfortunately, it's not looking like I'm going to be able to find any real way to help people in areas like that. Though my friends and I will continue to look!

No comments:

Post a Comment