Saturday, March 28, 2009

My visit to the slums

Today I went a few steps off of the beaten path and found myself in a different world. A world where a small bowl of rice is considered the daily meal. And where sniffing glue is the only relief from the hunger. A world where medical and dental care don't exist. A world where the closest source of running water is a few blocks away. A world where hope lies in the acceptance into gangs. A world in the slums. On the river. In downtown Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Quick note: I did not take my camera with me today. Carrying anything valuable makes you a target for crime. So I am relying on pictures from Google to help you visualize my experience. :)

When my friend Juan Mauricio (Juanma) invited me to tag along to the weekly photography class that he teaches in the slums at a small school on Saturdays, I jumped at the chance. He warned me. "It's reallllly dangerous Hannah. I'm even scared to go there. I can't guarantee your safety." Still, I wanted to see for myself.

So I took off my jewelry. I left my money and cell phone at home. I put on old jeans and a t-shirt. And a baseball cap (to cover my blonde hair). And I went to the escuelita (small school) at La Isla, Tegucigalpa.

And five hours later, I am still crying. I am still angry, sad, and disgusted. It stirred so many emotions in my heart and rocked my soul so hard that I really don't know how to express it in words.

But I'm going to try.

This picture shows the type of neighborhood that I visited. As in, it's on a hill and you have to access the houses by a path instead of a street. However, this picture shows a concrete staircase and homes made of cinder blocks/bricks. The neighborhood I visited had a few stairs, but mostly dirt paths, and the homes were made from pieces of scrap metal, not blocks.

There are so many things I can say about the things that I saw/experienced today. Enough to write a I won't bore you with all of the details. But this is the idea:

All of them (about 20 kids) had lice. They were dirty. None of the younger ones had shoes. Their feet were caked with mud. Almost all of them had visibly rotting teeth. The "houses" were one room shacks made of wooden posts and large pieces of scrap metal for walls and tarps for ceilings. No indoor plumbing. No electricity. No running water. There were teenagers stumbling around, high from sniffing glue. There were mange covered skin-and-bone dogs scavenging for food. A woman scrubbing her laundry in the river. A woman cooking something in the open fire in front of her house. No sink. No fridge. No stove. And she took breaks to inhale a mysterious substance from a rag (probably glue or gas). The trash. Oh. my. gosh. The trash and the filth and the stench.

The most memorable part was when a roach ran across the floor and crawled into the pants of a little boy playing on the floor. I jumped up and starting screaming in English that there were roaches on the floor. I realized I hadn't said it in Spanish, so I said it again. They all looked up at me and stared like, "Why is this crazy lady screaming? They're just roaches!" The little boy assured me that there was no roach in his clothes because he didn't feel it. About 10 minutes later he started yelling because there was, in fact, a roach in his shirt. We tore his clothes off and killed the roach. He redressed and went back to playing.

I should tell you that I have seen communities like this from the street. I've seen beggars. And I've seen kids sniffing glue. But it is a totally different experience to see it in their environment. To be on their turf. I've never seen anything like this up close. In fact, I've never seen pictures of this kind of poverty. (The Google pictures are nothing like what I saw today...they are better than where I was. My theory is that people are too scared to carry in cameras...therefore, no pictures!)

At the end of the day, I thought, Is this real?! These people are starving, yet they live mere steps away from the market where people are buying fruits, veggies, and meat for their weekly meals. These people beg for money in the streets, while there are successful business people driving on the road above in cars that cost more than these people could ever dream of making in 10 lifetimes. This is 2009, and they are living without electricity, water, or plumbing in the capital city of Honduras!

How is this?!?

I am feeling so many emotions today that I can't even try to explain why. But keep an eye out...I have a feeling that a lot of the following posts will be covering this topic.


alex said...

I don't even know what to say. I can't imagine actually seeing it.

Laurie said...

Try reading Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario. She won the Pultizer for her story of a Honduran boy who took a harrowing trip to the US to find his mom. The parts about Tegucigalpa, where the journey began, will help you understand how desperate the people are who live in poverty, and often abandoned by their families. Enrique was a glue addict in Tegu. I work with poor communities near Tegu too. I love my work, but I hate the injustice that I see daily.

Jane said...

I have just taken a break to read your blog - I have spent the day putting all my children's old clothes/shoes etc. to be donated to the local Sally Ann - but I wish i was close so that I could just send it to these poor souls that truly need them. You are right, the injustice of it is mind-numbing!

Live Simply Love Strongly said...

Seeing poverty turns anyone with a compassionate heart upside down and is overwhelming. The challenge is what to do after you see it...

DON GODO said...

A mind-opening experience...that should be required for all 'material girls' and 'weapons of mass consumption'!