It’s hard to believe, but I have barely two months of my fellowship left. If I haven’t expressed it enough, the last months have been joyous. If I haven’t qualified this joy enough, it hasn’t been met without its challenges. Processes like Casa decision-making and community-living, finding work-life balance (there’s often not even a clear line between the two) have made my experience one that constantly forces me to reaffirm my priorities, my values and at times, to make difficult choices, take difficult stances. The challenges are what have helped me grow and find light in myself and in others. The process of community building at the Casa is on-going and constantly requires thought, reflection, intentionality and commitment.
With long-term staff and volunteer team members leaving in this week and next, some of our work in the Casa has been put on hold to give sufficient thanks, appreciation and celebration of all that these individuals have given to the Casa over the last year (or years). The Casa has a special “closing” for each volunteer who leaves, where we gather together in silence and speak directly to the person who is leaving. Once each person has spoken, the person leaves the group and the rest of us discuss how the community will compensate for the loss of that person–as much in regard to their professional talents and abilities as to the personal loss of a unique community member. It’s an important moment of reflection and recognition in the process of saying goodbye to someone who up until that moment, made up an integral part of the team. It’s sad to see people go, but each time a person leaves, there is an understanding that the moment has arrived for them to continue along their path in life.
Joy comes from simple things. A long bike ride or walk, a big supper made for and by the a member of the Casa family. Just a couple of weeks ago the Casa had its annual picnic in Chapultepec Park. We took a group photo outside the Casa and then rode bikes/walked/publicly transported ourselves to a little bit of green space in a big park to share food, play Frisbee and soccer and hang out. I had the honor of giving Maru her first bike riding lesson on a tandem bike borrowed by a Casa friend. I’d never ridden a tandem bike before either– it’s harder than it looks!
The shape of life lately has been triangular. I’ve been working on a perfect trifecta of life in Mexico City: Casa-Escuelita-las Mártires Art School. It’s hard knowing I’m putting so much of myself into communities that I may not be part of for much longer. It’s crazy how fast time goes by, but I now know that these processes will never stop being a part of me.
In the Escuelita, a couple of the last sessions have been Right to Water and Right to Non-Discrimination. Both of these sessions had a huge impact on me, but for opposite reasons. Right to Water for my ignorance about the incredible impact water shortages and poor water quality has on communities in D.F. and in the State of Mexico, and Right to Non-Discrimination because of direct impact on our work in the Casa–we have recently been directly engaged in a conflict with the Government-run shelters who have systematically excluded migrants from their services.
Water services, as it should not be surprising, correlate to extreme inequality throughout the city. In some parts of Mexico City water is virtually potable, it comes out of the tap crystal clear and without a trace of ill. In other parts of the city, the scarcity is made worse by poor quality and political corruption. Services are over-priced and do not meet even adequate standards. One political and environmental question is, how much water is there to go around? The next is, who is water made available to? Due to corruption, poor infrastructure and marginalization of poor populations in Mexico City, there are many communities that do not get water, period. There are still others that intermittently receive water services, but the water that comes out of the faucet is murky and causes rashes, allergies and chronic illnesses. In the State of Mexico, many people are charged exorbitant prices for a water service that barely reaches them, and the water they are provided can barely be used for anything.
We then looked at the gender-dimension of the right to water. In many of the marginalized communities where water accessibility is unacceptable, women, because of the division of labor are left responsible to acquire water for domestic uses. Women are unequally effected by lack of accessibility and quality of water because they often are the ones to have to stand in lines for water, to wake up in the middle of the night to fill water tanks, and who seldom have the mobility to consume water in other parts of the city where it is of better quality. In the spirit of popular education, we formulated a map of water problems in Mexico City and Mexico State through the personal experiences of each one of us. One compa’ in the Escuelita shared water problems characteristic of a community near the border between Ecatepec and the State of Mexico. Neighbors will call in the middle of the night to let families know the water has been turned on–and probably will only be on for a short while–so that they know to collect water. Of course Mexico City’s Center–where wealth is vastly concentrated–has the least of the problems. If you are living in the Center the shortages might barely reach you. And although there might still be shortages, we talked about how shortages are not necessarily correlated to availability of water. For example, in Iztapalapa, one of the poorest borroughs in Mexico City, water accessibility is political. Services are highly privatized and water services are denied to populations with little political sway.
The Non-Discrimination workshop was particularly visceral because of recent struggles for migrant rights in D.F. Attending a migrant in the reception this past week, I called the shelter we have traditionally sent migrants to, and was interrogated about who this person was, why the person was on the street, and where his family was. When it finally came out that he was a migrant, I was informed that “he doesn’t fit the profile” of someone they could attend. I was angry; it wasn’t just. But at the same time I didn’t feel empowered to react in any productive way. File a complaint? With whom? Send the migrant anyway, hoping they might not check his identification when he got there? Tell him where a quiet, safe street where he may safely pass the night without robbery or violence? None of the options were particularly constructive. (The irony is that many people say sleeping in the street is better than going to that shelter, where drug-addicts and people with psychological illnesses create a hostile and dangerous environment. And yet the migrants have been blamed for “causing trouble,” and for that reason are no longer taken.)
The Escuelita session, even if it didn’t directly answer my questions about what to do in this situation, made us do a lot of critical thinking about language, interactions and prejudices about marginalized, stigmatized groups of people, and opened up a dialogue about discrimination which later can serve as a basis for how to approach these issues. Here’s a picture of us working in small groups about three topics: prejudice, stereotypes, stigmatization and discrimination.
We also played soccer after last class. Apart from being stared at because of our… unconventional technique, we had a blast.
Tune in next time for updates about the arrival of the Haverford interns, my big move, and more art-in-progress!