Travels with My Aunt 3
It takes something like two buses to get from San Pedro to Carpio, along with a potentially detouring little walk through a pedestrian shopping area, and when we reached the clinic, there were already people waiting to be seen.
I don’t imagine that Carpio is a garbage-city the way there are garbage-cities in, say, Egypt, but it kind of is one in that there’s a giant dump right at the edge of it, to which trucks are constantly trundling. From what I could see and understand, this barrio is an area where people who are considered to be refuse live, too. A lot of them are illegal immigrants from Nicaragua. The Costa Rican government doesn’t really want them there, and won’t issue them any papers to make their stay more comfortable, but it’s hazardous to live next to a dump, so they just kind of pretend they don’t know that there are scores of tin-and-board shacks crammed with people, all right next to the waste area. Most of the people in Carpio, says Auntie Susan, still have hope, unlike in various similar settlements. They still want to work hard and earn their livings. Christ-for-the-City has a clinic in the midst of all this, and that is where she works.
I spent the morning mostly hiding out in a storage room, putting labels on bags of children’s vitamins. Children’s vitamins have this almost irresistible smell—somewhat cloying and acidic at the same time, a little dusty, and really quite awful, but did I ever enjoy taking those things when I was a kid. I was sorely tempted to open one of the packets and take one, for nostalgia’s sake. Then the bag would only have had 29 supposedly-animal-shaped tablets in it, but they could have used that one for February. However, I restrained myself, and in the late morning, Maria came to take me to The Refuge.
Maria is another worker with Christ for the City, and she teaches English to adolescent girls coming from abusive backgrounds. I was supposedly going to help her with this endeavour this day. After giving me a tour of The Refuge’s “campus,” we went upstairs and she allotted me six girls to coach in English. This was a fine idea, except that the girls she assigned to me knew the least English in the class, and I definitely knew the least Spanish. Furthermore, I am a little more familiar with a semi-immersion-based approach to language learning, and these girls appeared to be tied to their books. Which were in English. Which they couldn’t understand. Which I couldn’t explain to them.
Overall it was an exercise in futility, I think, though the girls were very patient with me, so what could I be but patient with them? Still, I couldn’t help noticing a couple of them completely giving up on trying to communicate, instead taking notes from what Maria was writing on the board in another part of the room. I returned to the clinic for lunch, feeling like I wanted to be disgruntled again—or still—but having really enjoyed interacting, albeit patchily, with those girls.
And I was in awe at the work that was going on there. It seemed like these Christ for the City people just got ideas, and then they did them. I used to want to run my own coffee shop, where we could have ESL classes and maybe a counselor-in-residence or something, as well as live music and the art of local artists, and, oh, yeah—coffee. Before that I used to have dreams of working in or running an orphanage. But I don’t know how to start things. How do people start things? And I’m disorganised. And I’m not good with administration. One thing about all the projects going on with CfC is that it seems like the people with the gifts for the ideas just turn up. So far every person I thought could and would want to help with the coffee-shop idea, for example, has moved away or I have lost touch with.
So I’m working at Starbucks, and I know there are things going on there, behind the coffee as it were, that God is doing. But you know—sometimes I just wonder why I’m not working with girls who live in one-room tin sheds and whose older brothers abuse them.