Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A day at the dump

A typical Carpio home
The young children of Carpio
Literally. Today  we got to feel what it would be like to live and work in and around the city dump. A modern day Samaria, many Costa Ricans would never think of stepping into the town known as Carpio. Occupied by Nicaraguan immigrants, they came to improve their positions in life. And, believe it or not, living in the squalor of the dump is a step up.

Waiting to enter the school
Driving into the area, we were all impressed by the houses, the tiny sidewalk shops on each street corner, the filth, but most of all the children roaming the streets. Even little ones, perhaps three and four years old, played alone in the narrow passageways crowded by cars and speeding dump trucks. It seemed to be an accident waiting to happen.

The school we were allowed to enter was protected by huge bars on every window and intimidating iron gates. I wondered if it was to keep the children in or evil out.

Our job was to teach two different classrooms of children a little bit of English. Crowded, dirty and ill-equipped rooms could not prevent the explosion of excitement at the sight of gringas entering the classroom. But it was no easy task. Many students were unruly and few knew even a syllable of English.

When the girls pulled out the photo albums they brought, the children clamored to keep the photos. In moments, each photo and every newly acquired bracelet and anklet purchased during yesterday's souvenir shopping excursion was relinquished to the kids. By the time we left, my girls had voluntarily been stripped. However, more important than the physical possessions left behind were the beaming faces of the kids with their newly acquired treasures.

The church is the building with the blue sliding doors

Then it was off to play with the many of the children at the "church" around the corner. An indoor playground turned into a chaotic frenzy when the school children, dismissed after just three hours, poured through the doors. Inside that humble building with it's unfinished and uneven concrete floors, marginal toilets, and areas still under construction, swings, climbing, face painting, volleyball clinics, hugs, kisses, and yes, a few bullies who took advantage, kept us occupied throughout the day.

The final Kid's Carnival culminated in games and dispensing treats and a new toy to each eager child. But as the toy was handed to them, we necessarily had to say adios and push them out the door. Many tried to enter again, claiming they never received their gift, some even trying to steal from the box. It was odd to close the heavy metal doors behind them, only to hear them clamor and pound to enter once again before conceding their special day had come to an end. Yet others, climbed the windows, grasped the metal bars, their heads forward and peering in. It had a sad, zoo-like aura as we watched them yearn for more time and attention.

Indoor playground
It is good to be reminded of how fortunate we are to have clean facilities, nice homes, and intact sewer systems, plenty of food to eat and people to love. And yet, despite the daily challenges that the people of Carpio face, children still smiled, waving feverishly at the bus as we passed on our way out. Though we were anxious to shower away the filth of the day, may we never rid ourselves of the lessons learned.


Rick Gray said...

Lessons learned here and experiences had a for a lifetime.

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

That's for sure. It puts things in perspective.

Follow the yellow lines

Jack in his younger days "Well, you know I can't live here by myself. I'm moving in with you." I guess he was serious....