Four days of Reality…
A few weeks ago, we Nikki and I (Tara) spent four days living as a Mexican family in a cardboard shack. We worked for eight hours a day, six am to three pm, with two ten minute breaks and an hour for lunch. We were paid 100 pesos each day to provide everything we needed, including rent, water, food, soap, toilet paper, etc. We were also expected to take two showers with a bucket and a cup, and wash our clothes by hand on a washing stone on the final day.
Our school of leadership class put this experiment together because we felt it would be very valuable to have a deeper understanding about the lives of the people we work alongside and build houses for. We were fortunate enough to be chosen to go first for the experiment. Knowing we had a huge adventure ahead of us, we set off on a early on Sunday morning to our new “home”. Our job for all four days was to dig a bano (washroom in Spanish) hole for our translator Santiago. It was exhausting work, with little to look forward to as the day finished because we knew it would be the same rigorous work the following morning (and that at the end of all our hard work it would become a huge hole full of poop!). We got into a pattern, one person in the hole for about ten to fifteen minutes at a time, chipping away with a pick axe at the hard Mexican earth, and the other resting or pulling buckets of dirt out of the hole. Soon we began thinking in terms of only six more digs each until lunch…only five more digs each until lunch. Usually though, it was safe to say, lunch was not going to be overly delicious. With the amount of money we were making we could afford something to fill us and keep us working. One day we had plain, cold, white rice. That was yummy. Our budget was manageable though because there were only two of us. Thinking about what it would mean to feed ourselves and a few children, while planning for a future and trying to build a better life, is simply impossible. People in Canada save money to go on a vacation, for a new car, or a relaxing retirement, basically for a future filled with more luxuries and fewer worries. A Mexican family may be able to save all of five pesos one day (which is about 50 cents) which would probably be spent on food on a day when there wasn’t anyone working. It wouldn’t be enough for an emergency trip to the doctor, or a new tarp when the one over your head got a tear in it. They are trying so hard to survive right now that saving for retirement isn’t even a question. The minimal savings of an average Mexican family is an accurate reflection of their hope for the future.
Looking across the street we saw our house, and longed for it and all the comforts we would be missing for four days. It was only for four days though. The hardest thing was wrapping our heads around the idea of hopelessness, because it is something that we will likely never be faced with, and it is something that is hard to create with a cardboard shack, or any other type of scenario. This experience did, however, bring us closer to that feeling than anything else we have ever done before. Those four days gave us a small glimpse of the life of a person who struggles to simply survive. So many people we meet here on a daily basis are working long, tiring hours to fulfill their daily needs, with hardly any thought in mind towards their wants, mainly because what they want is to be able to simply fulfill their needs. Every task of the day was complicated. Suddenly making dinner, changing our clothes and doing laundry became work. Living should not be that difficult for anyone.
It is plain to see why relationships are valued so much in this culture. Because, to put it bluntly, sometimes that is all you have. Talking with a neighbour became the highlight of our day. There are no entertainment items like television, ipods, or computers and, although we missed those luxuries, the joy and companionship that relationships offer is much more cherishing than any piece of software could ever give. Something we both feel is very valuable to take home with us, and something our society could benefit from immensely.
We could go on and on with what those four days taught us, but it is something that you have to experience for yourself. We both strongly suggest that if you ever have the opportunity to do something like this, take it. Or just taking a trip to see where and how the rest of the world lives gives you such a better understanding of the hardships they go through. Now when we meet people at the grocery store, or on the street here in Mexico, we have a slightly better idea of the struggles they face. Except our idea comes from four days, four days that must be multiplied by a lifetime to truly understand. Some people might try to come up with single words to describe this experience. Words like exhausting, interesting, or eye opening come to mind. A young teen might use the slang word “killer” to describe it, and the sad reality is, for many families, it literally can be.
(To arrive soon…video footage …to get a better look at our experience!)