Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Time Management

By Emery E.

Before going away to college, I was told that in order to succeed, I would have to learn good time management skills. Over the four years, time management skills was something I thoroughly developed. I learned that getting a sandwich and eating it while walking to the library or to class was much more efficient than actually sitting down in the dining hall . My junior year I found that the quickest way between my dorm room and Spanish class was to cut through the science building by walking through the chemistry department rather than risk walking through the geography department and potentially losing time by bumping into a professor or fellow geography major. I finished college having two minors to complement my degree in geography but I would like to think I had a concentration in time management.

Time management, even though it was something I could not physically pack in my suitcase, was definitely something I brought with me to Uruguay. I quickly figured out the optimal time to leave my house in order to catch the right bus to La Obra.  Every day I woke up, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, got dressed, quickly said “buenos dias” to the portera, the door lady and then I was off to face another day in Uruguay.  That became my daily routine. Then one Monday as I was leaving, the door lady asked me a question. I quickly sputtered out an answer in Spanish and continued out the door. The next day, Tuesday, the door lady asked me the same question. Wednesday too. I was starting to wonder if the door lady had a bad memory. Coming back from La Obra on Thursday of that week, the door lady repeated what had become the question of the week. This time instead of giving her a hurried response, I actually sat down in the empty chair next to her to answer the question. We ended up talking until her shift ended. 

After that, my schedule changed a bit. The quick and curt “buenos dias” in passing became a sincere morning greeting. The “buenos tardes” after a day at La Obra transformed into longer conversations. I soon learned that Kristina, the person previously known as door lady, used to live in Argentina, did long jump in high school and does not like sugar in her mate. In turn, Kristina learned a lot about me. For example, when mail arrives at el hogar, Kristina is is the one who holds it at the front desk until the recipient claims it. Earlier in the year, if I had mail I would scurry up to my room, eager to hear news from home. However, now if I have mail, I sit down and open and share it with Kristina who now is well-informed about my life in Wisconsin thanks to shipments and clippings from hometown newspapers. During the summer, when all my roommates went home for summer vacation, it was great to have someone to talk to. I think that Kristina, who sits by herself most of the day monitoring the front door listening to the radio, felt similarly . Once again, I have been a witness to how accompaniment, a central theme of YAGM, really is a two-way street.

These days our conversations have started to include talking about how cold the weather is getting and the fact that my YAGM year is coming to a close. I realize that all the times this year I have spent sitting, people watching and listening to 80s music with Kristina is going to be one of my favorite memories of Uruguay.  I also realize how none of those memories would exist if I did not do such a good job of managing my time.

Kristina y Yo

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Station

by Kjerstin
I have explained briefly before what I do at SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia), but it is such a big part of my life here that I would like to elaborate a bit more. Forgive me for the article length!
Servicio Paz y Justicia
SERPAJ is an international non- profit, and I am working where it all began: in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires is also the name of the province).
Two days a week, I meet my colleagues in the afternoon at our office in San Telmo, where we prepare drinks and snacks for the children and mothers at the ConstituciĆ³n station.
Then we head to the train/subway station. The station is very large – picture Grand Central Station – in part because it is one of the only places to enter from the interior of the country to the capital via train. I would guess that it was a pretty elegant place when it was first built. From there, commuters have the option of taking one of the many buses outside the station or taking the subway.
Trains are much more economical than buses here, and many times they unofficially let people who are on the streets ride for free, hence one of the reasons why many people in tight financial situations congregate at the station.
Many of the children who I accompany have homes in the province of Buenos Aires and come in each day on the train to the station to sell trinkets and newspapers, beg, or steal. When things are rough at home, they sleep at the station or perhaps only return home only to eat and bathe.
Like any other community, there are many different social circles within the station and people of all ages. Our children range from newborns with their mothers to teenagers. Most of the mothers have many children and started motherhood at a young age. The fathers on the whole are not present.
Unfortunately, I have no photos to share of the inside of the station. The train station and surrounding area is a home for many, so I have no intention of invading that space and privacy with an expensive digital camera.
Together we play and color, giving the kids a place to actually be kids instead of dealing with the adult topics they usually face. Meanwhile, other members of SERPAJ talk with the mothers to check on how things are going and to answer any legal questions or offer accompaniment to schools, hospitals, police stations, etc.
At the Beginning
When I first started working with SERPAJ, I was overwhelmed. The mothers and children did not trust me, and rightfully so. They have not had life stories that encourage trust.
The clean freak in me was also not comfortable with playing on a dirty urban station floor or with exchanging cheek kisses with people whose hygiene practices were different than my own.
Then I got over it. And I have gained so much by doing so. I now have people there who know and trust me to sprawl out on the floor and color with their beautiful children. I now am less judgmental, understanding that there are always histories behind why people turn to drugs or stealing, or why they don’t share the same social graces.
Realistically, I do not think that the community at the station is going to vastly change. With hope, the children will become more aware of their rights and learn about other perspectives and opportunities. Chances are slim that I will see those changes in them in this short time, but I already feel changes in me.
Perhaps that is the key. For the lives of these people to change, the rest of us need to open our eyes and ears, ask questions, and change.