Monday, January 21, 2013

Visiting Olga in Mexico - Worlds of Poverty and Wealth Collide

Today was a day of heartache and incredible joy. Massive contrasts. The worlds of wealth and poverty did not just collide today, they exploded in my face, and my head and heart are confused. I’m not pretending that I’m the first person to struggle with this, and I certainly won’t be the last, but I’m no longer some idealist/bleeding-heart/do-gooder whose only knowledge of the inequality in the world is theoretical by nature.  

By golly, it became real to me today.

I have been investing in Olga’s life through Compassion sponsorship for two years. She is a tiny ten-year-old, and is one of 8 siblings aged 6 to 20. I only met two of them today because it was a normal school/work day. This meant there was no action at the Project either. We met at the Project, had a tour of the rooms and the church, and I “showed off” on the drums. We then had an incredibly moving time where several songs were exchanged. I sang to Olga, Olga sang to me and Olga’s father sang to me as well. I know I repeat this a fair bit, but their gratitude for my support and for the impact that God and Compassion have had on their lives was heartfelt and genuine.

Olga has a mum and a dad who love their kids very much, but struggle to provide for them. I was not expecting to see that their house only had two and a half walls around it. The front wall is only partly completed and one of the sides of the house has wire fencing instead of a wall. It is basically made of sticks. They have one bedroom for 10 people. They do not have running water in their house and bottled water is very expensive. There are lots of chickens and dogs running around in the yard. Photos of me and my family were featured prominently outside the bedroom.  

Olga’s dad works as a motor-taxi rider and a fisherman, and spends most of his income paying it off. He also often gives free rides to the kids from the Compassion project who cannot get there any other way. I know God will bless this selfless act. He very generously rode me, my translator Irma, Olga and his wife around the neighbourhood and showed us the nearby beach. What a sight that must have been for the neighbours.

The parents show an incredible defiant faith in God that flies in the face of their circumstances, and their gratitude brought me to my knees. I met the oldest daughter, who is 20, and the second son, who is 16. The others were at work or school. The older ones choose not to go to church, and aren’t Christians as far as I’m aware. I know Mama and Papa fervently pray for their kids, and I know God hears them.

In complete contrast to what I had just witnessed of Olga’s home life, in the afternoon we toddled off to a shopping mall in Tapachula, a large town about 30 minutes away. Just your everyday, standard mall in our part of the world. Having just visited the family's house and seen how they live (remember: two and a half walls) this was culture shock for me beyond anything I had experienced. It was Olga and Mama's first time at the mall. When we got there we went on one of those little trains that goes around the mall and toots people to get out of the way. It was funny seeing a young Mexican hombre greeting his mates with cool-dude high fives as he drove a little tooting train around.

The little train trip was a mixture of funny and sobering moments. It was an eye-opener, for me as well as Mama and Olga. I watched them take it all in, and my heart broke. I struggled to reconcile the two worlds I had been a part of, so close together. They were seeing people just like them, who lived only a short car ride away, but may as well have been from another planet. I wondered what was going through Mama's head as we travelled past Walmart, jewellery shops, shoe shops, food shops and others, selling everything imaginable in unimaginable quantities.

After having some Dominos pizza, we went to Playland Circus, which is your everyday-average amusement game joint. I have to admit I initially wondered about taking them to a place like this, as I consider them to be an over-priced frivolous waste of money. However, on this occasion I can say I was very, very wrong. I had a couple of WINS today as a result of being a clueless gringo who had come all the way from Australia. One was that I got to join Olga on the massive bouncy castle. Initially she was the only one on, and you could see her enthusiasm waning after about two minutes. My translator Irma managed to convince the guy to let me on, and the transformation in her demeanour was incredible.

I don’t think sponsors can ever accurately judge the impact that their visit has on the child, but I got a pretty good indication on this afternoon. I cannot describe the pure excitement, joy and delight and Olga displayed as we bounced, jumped, ran and slid for (what felt like) about 30 minutes, and I certainly exhausted my aerobic capacity. That Jumping Castle was a “temple of joy”. She even brought on the teddy bear I had given her as a gift and started throwing it around! A highlight for me was when we were having a go at the inflatable punching bags that were part of the jumping castle, and each time I punched them I said “punch, punch, punch” In her excitement, Olga tried to copy what I was saying, but it came out as “woosha-woosha-woosha.”

We then went and had a go at some of the other games. Olga was unrestrained in her glee as she shot basketballs in the hoop (very well, I might add!), played airhockey, and tried several other games. She even won enough tickets to get herself a prize. My earlier grumbles about the way I spend my money went out the window as it dawned on me what a rare and precious experience this was for her (and her mother watching her). Absolute gold!

On the way to the airport, the one thing I could not get out of my head was the image of Mama looking around at the foreign world of the mall when we were riding the train. I tentatively asked the question "What were you thinking?" I was not expecting her answer. "I was very content, because I had never been to the mall before, and I was happy because my daughter Olga was happy to be there too." 

No trip would be complete without some airport drama, and today was that day. I was heading to Guatemala straight after the visit, and had my bags already packed and locked. What I hadn’t realised was I had left my deodorant and inflated Australian football in my carry-on luggage, both of which weren’t permitted to go on the plane. By the time we got pulled up at the security checkpoint, our checked-in luggage had been already whisked away. It wasn’t really a big deal, I’d just have to get rid of them both. The deodorant I could replace, but I didn’t really want to lose the Australian football. With some fast talking from my translator Irma, and some compassion from the woman at the check-in desk, my suitcase was recovered, football was secured and all was at peace with the world again.

1 comment:

  1. Hi David, it there any way I can send some money to this particular family