How sadness can act as an incentive

It was such a hot day and I immediately felt that I was so inappropriately dressed. I am usually dressed in a pair of shorts and t-shirt. Since I had not had the time to wash my clothes, I had to wear a pair of trousers and shirt in silk. Though I had not planned to visit the homes of some families in the neighborhood it still felt so wrong to be dressed in silk and visit them. Anyway. Off we went.

Miguel and I walked for about 20 minutes until we got to the first building complex. The sun felt strong this day, gazing all of its power over our heads while we were walking. My hair, which is long, felt heavy against the back of my neck, rather uncomfortable if I would describe it. The warmth, making me imagine how much better it would feel if I could strip myself from this uncomfortable fabric of silk in this heat. Oh, the silk felt so wrong in regard to everything this day. But it did not matter anymore as I stood at the bottom of the staircase to the first home. Now I was mostly interested in meeting the mother of a boy at Casa Karah.

As I set my feet on the other side of the threshold after the narrow set of stairs, the first thing that hits me is the odor of filth, sweat and urine. The odor is intruding yet it feels like a natural part of the whole complex. We see a man sitting inside a room, which seems to be the “reception” where the light is obscure and everything just seems dirty and messy.  Upon asking where the woman lives, the man behind the barred window raises his arm pointing to the right, with such fatigue that I cannot determine if it is a lack of interest or simply physical weakness. He did not even lift his head to look at us, almost giving a sense of spookiness.  We walk through a room which seems to be a common area and I am guessing it is the “livingroom”. The “livingroom” consists of a petite, squared thing that can just about be classified as a TV, a corner with a heap of mattresses which are so, so filthy. So extremely filthy that words are insufficient to describe its condition. There is also a sofa, kind of broken, torn, dirty and occupied by a little girl, I am guessing around 10 years old and she follows our every move with great curiosity. But it is such curiosity mixed with the sense of being cocky rather than with innocense.  As we shortly turn left, my reflection of the girl quickly shifts to focusing on the purpose of our visit. We enter a narrow corridor which actually by the end of it leads to daylight. We knock on the door a few times and wait patiently for the woman to open the door. It is a small room and some rooms have bunkbeds whilst others only have one bed – this is how they live, 3-6 people in one little room. The room is really small. About 200 persons share one toilet and shower. All of the sudden, I kind of understand why some of the kids smell bad and I am sorry if it feels awful of me to write that, but that is how it is. You should know that it makes me sad to know, to see and feel that, for example, a 5 year old can smell this way because they are not “properly” taken care of – when there actually is a shower.

The mother comes out from behind a curtain hanging in front of the door. She steps out and looks slightly dazed, behind her is a dark room, it is 10.30AM and it takes a while before her eyes gets used to the obscure lighting in the passage. My first reflection when I look at her is that she is beautiful and very young. Probably not much older than what I am if not even much younger. A look at her eyes reveals how tired she seems and that ..well, something else is missing as well. Dark around the eyes, big and small bruises along her arm. I seem to glimpse a fading bruise right above her cheekbone. No smile, no eyecontact, no sense of energy. But she has a wonderful boy. He smiles and is very loving. But his level of tolerance is almost zero and if he is provoked – he will want to hit the counterpart and while doing this seems to lose any sense of control. Yet, he is certainly not one of the aggressive boys at Casa Karah. But still, if he gets upset, something seems to snap.

It is time to move on and right before I am about to leave the corridor I see a little girl standing all the way down the other end of the corridor. It is a little girl who did not show up this morning at Casa Karah. She is the cutest and she is 5 years old. I have always noted how she seems rather filthy and has an odor similar to someone who has not taken a shower in a very, very long time/keeps him or herself clean. I know that her mother is expecting a second child. I run to her and embrace her and give her a big kiss. Even though I have gotten used to the smell, my nostrils still make a light jerk upon the odor. I also get a big kiss though it is more of the wet kind. I do not want to react this way but instinctively I wipe off the saliva off my cheek afterwards once I have left the complex, the bad smell remains on my cheek. The emotions of sadness wells up inside of me and I just want to take her hand, shower her, get her clean and teach her about hygiene and life in general. I mean, it is not only about smelling bad or not – hygiene is strongly related to health too. Perhaps I should be even more understanding considering the standard of the complex and how many of the families live? On the other hand, there are other children from this complex who I meet at Casa Karah as well and they do not smell this way. I am standing there, with my arms around this little girl and I seem to dwell for a while, unsure of what to do – what I want to do in this moment. I experience a few moments of confusion because there is just so much that I want to do but I snap myself out of it and realise that there is nothing more I can do in this moment apart from seeing her and acknowledging her presence. We say goodbye, we smile and I hurry out from the corridor, through the “livingroom” and I practically fly down the set of stairs as Miguel is about to walk up again to try and find me.

Within a few moments my head is filled with a billion thoughts and I engage in a very active discussion with Miguel who works for Fundación Poder Joven. I think I ask him 100 questions and I have already drawn up a plan in my head about how to arrange groups of volunteers who would want to come here and help clean, build and improve the livingstandards for these families. However, as we are getting close to Casa Karah, I realise that it would not be the solution. Nicer, cleaner livingstandards would not diminish or eradicate violence, poverty and/or sorrows or even their sense of being victims. It is not an easy task to solve. And remember, it is not the only building. The whole area consists of these kinds of complexes with hundreds, if not closer to thousands of families. Perhaps I should try and look at this picture differently and think about how lucky the kids are who actually have at least one parent instead of none? And perhaps it is better living here, there rather than  on the streets, right?

I leave this blogpost at this. The morning of this visit took a lot of energy as I get so affected. I wish that I could smile and make a wish to make all of the bad things go away. You know, like when you were a little girl and you would wish for “peace and love on earth”, actually believing if you wished hard enough that the world would turn in to a pink, fluffy, loving place all over.  But I am not that little girl anymore in her pink dreams. I am in reality. But you know what? When confronted with such sadness and other things that comes with all of it it reminds us that we must do our best to make things better. And to do my best, I want to do it properly to build it strong. So much to see, to learn and do in order to deliver and to help. All that energy that was “sucked out”of me. The tears that rolled down my cheeks because I felt so sad and..helpless..and small…has now turned in to an even stronger fuel of motivation to do what I want to do in order to make my dreams come true.

I was not allowed to take any photos during the visit which is why I share with you this photo of me putting some warm colors on one of the walls at Casa Karah.

“A dream does not become reality through magic; It takes sweat, determination and hard work”

– Colin Powell