Platform Shoes

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In the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, upended cobble stones, missing tiles, and uneven stretches of sidewalk pockmark the city’s walkways. This poses a mild hazard to unaware American tourists like me, because unlike in the United States, traversing just a few blocks can turn into a perilous feat. Stillettos are completely out of the question, and god forbid you should pull out your phone to snap a photo– because you are much more likely to take a faceplant than a decent selfie.

Slide2However, much like Darwin’s finches, the women of Buenos Aires seem to have evolved in consideration of this persistent environmental stressor. In a declaration of both practicality and fashion, these long-limbed and svelte South American women confidently glide down their city’s hazardous sidewalks atop curious pairs of chunky platform shoes. Their footwear can range in form from sandal to tennis shoe to boot to high heel, but one thing remains common amongst them: everything is tall, clunky, and chic. Other members of the Learning Cluster and I quickly grew enamored with these strange shoes. Anna and I did our fair share of oohing and aahing over the colorful arrays of platforms that glowed in window-front displays. “I don’t even look at the people anymore,” Sofia told me one night. “I just look at their shoes.” And for a few days, fantasizing about owning my own pair of platforms consumed me.

    12573658_1255825751099289_8779578504136901281_nBut, after venturing into the field, where dusty streets and difficult labor called for sandals and tennis shoes, my burning desire faded, little by little. I discovered the stark disparity between the suburb of Campana and metropolitan Buenos Aires, and began to realize what a privileged thing I had been worrying about to covet those shoes. For three days, we worked on Monica, Jessica and Daniela’s homes, and in those three days, the dream grew more and more distant.
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On my last day in Campana, the ambassador’s procession kicked up rolling dust clouds as they sauntered down Campana’s quiet streets. Swarms of well-dressed reporters and photographers descended as the diplomat toured each dwelling. Next to Jessica’s humble flip flops, the press women strutted in their impeccable platform shoes, around cylinders of fiberglass insulation, piles of sawdust, and heaps of other construction materials. I could scarcely believe the unwitting insensitivity of it all, as I watched them navigate through delicate spaces in their heavy footwear. Suddenly, those shoes gained symbolic significance of privilege: privilege to have grown up in the city, privilege to have six to seven hundred pesos to drop on a new pair of shoes, privilege to even have to worry about tripping on Buenos Aires’s perilous sidewalks. How could these women innocently traipse through this low-income neighborhood, flaunting their wealth through their footwear? I found the whole display baffling.
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 I suppose the experience reminded me how subtle and nuanced privilege can be. Sometimes, it’s difficult to recognize privilege until it is taken out of context and replaced in an environment where that privilege does not exist. Now, I’m stepping through my world with more caution. What, exactly, are my platform shoes?
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-Written by MacKenzie Kermoade

 

I brought back more than a feather

January 22, 23, 25, 2016

When the idea of being apart of a Weatherization project loomed this past September I never imagined how transformative the experience would be. Semester came to a close and Learning Cluster approached. Our preparation encompassed an online course a week prior to a two-day session with Weatherization Without Borders founded by Nicholas The first day of our time in Campana was winding down. While at the first home in which I was apart of the energy audit, Axel the ten year old son was full of enthusiasm. As we used high definition technologies he was intrigued by the processes when using a manometer or when taking photos with the camera. We played catch together with his dogs and splashes were exchanged from the makeshift pool. Though he did not live in the ideal housing situation he was content and by this I felt so humbled. He had fun in our company and the enjoyment of interacting with the family on a personal level was apparent on all our faces. In the second home the little girl held onto a stuffed pig like animal as she meandered around the front yard and she allowed me to help her ride her bike around with training wheels in circles. She liked for her feet to be tickled and would giggle as she tried to hide under the foam top. “dónde estás no se puede ver” It was like playing peekaboo. She’d jump up “Aquí estoy” while filled with laughter. She was so sweet and a little shy but liked the idea of having a playmate. The mother felt comfort in this because the process of weatherizing her home became personalized. Though my spanish is not up to par, I could read facial expression and catch onto words to put together their sentences. Her older brother, Joaquin told a lot of stories and he enjoyed sharing with me the stories behind the photos on the wall of his family members. He found this red feather and we kept it up in the air while blowing the feather together. He gave the feather to me and I brought it back for safe keepings. While Sophia and I were speaking with her older brother he told us about some of his past pets and what had happened to them. Without hesitation and the slightest emotion he explained to us that one of his dogs had been taken and left out in the street abused to death. This kind of violence was treated as normal and the fact that he expressed minimal emotions during his explanation revealed to us the slightest reality of how children his age may be subjected a particular harshness early on.

The children of these homes interact with the world in such a different way yet basic communication through laughter and love broke this barrier right away. Taking time to listen to them and give them a positive atmosphere in which they felt safe brought about the comfort of the family. The service we were providing for these families seemingly could be impersonal but I believe it was so important to make it a personal experience so that the families not only benefited from the changes made in the home but also from our presence as a whole. As I went to visit the third house I couldn’t of imagined what I would find there. The close interaction and relationship built with the families was lasting. Not only did we improve their homes but we improved the energy surrounding the process with our personal presence. The children had smiles on their faces when we spent time with them and silly faces and sounds were so much fun for the both of us.

As I visited the last house I understood that previously some of my classmates had to lug two truckloads of trash outside from one of the bedrooms. I had a brief understanding of the situation. The conditions in which the children of the final house, were not ideal and from the beginning I could read their expressions as slighty dimmed especially the older children at the ages of 8 and 10. The rooms were dark and grim as we scrubbed the walls of mold. I understood that this was a chance to change the livelihoods of these families. And so we did we not only improved the physical aspects of the home we also were apart of their emotional health  throughout the duration of our time there. I have formulated a short video about my experience in this home.

 

– Written by Naomi Antinarelli

A Future in Latin America

Working in Campana provided me with insight into my future career path. As a student interested in Latin American Studies and working in Latin America in the future I gained ample motivation from working with FOVISEE, Weatherizers Without Borders, and the families of Campana. On the first day of work in Campana I was tasked with the extensive energy audit of Daniella and Sergio’s home. Not only was it was my first time performing an energy audit with a family, I also had to conduct the entire interview/audit in Spanish. My Spanish skills were tested throughout our trip, but the audit was perhaps my greatest challenge and achievement. Part of the audit process is to connect with the family; starting a conversation rather than simply asking the questions on the sheet was important to completing the audit in a comfortable manner for both myself and more importantly the family. I strove to communicate with the family and make a connection beyond the questions of the audit. Performing was not only a challenge of my skills but also one that took both an emotional and physical toll.

Daniela and Sergio’s home was 97 ˚-101˚F throughout the process with about 60% humidity and only two doors to ventilate the entire 2 bedroom home. The roof/ceiling meanwhile was 131 ˚ -143 ˚F, creating an oven like atmosphere inside the home; these temperatures coupled with the poor ventilation and humidity created prime conditions for mold growth. Emotionally, the audit was challenging as I had to listen as the family described their living situation and the incidents and health concerns that they have had because of their home. It was hard to see the conditions that Daniela, Sergio, and their seven children had to withstand.

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For the last two days, I worked on plastering a wall on Jessica and Pablo’s home. After the audit was completed by other volunteers, it was determined that the roof and wall should be fixed. The north facing wall was covered with water repellent plaster then covered with a protectant coat of another plaster mix. Overall my experiences in Argentina affirmed by passion for Latin America and its people. I was able to develop my learn about weatherization and most importantly help families live a more comfortable life.

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-Written by Oscar Medina

~Making A Window~

  I clearly remember how I felt when I entered Daniela’s house for the first time. The house was very small, dark, damp and shady. As soon as we started auditing, we realized that one of the biggest issues of the house was the lack of windows. In total, they only had two small windows in the house. Furthermore, those windows were blocked by the pile of garbage and a shelf, so the house got very little sunlight. As a result, walls were damp and full of mold, which could cause the children’s health problems.

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With the volunteers of WWB, we hollowed out some walls and put window frames so that they would have a better ventilation system and get more sunlight. As we were working on, Sofia told me the reason why the family had only two windows: they were afraid of windows. The house used to have a big window in the front of the house. However, the window was covered up because when Daniela was living in the house with her mother, someone tried to break in to their house for robbery. As well as the mother, the oldest daughter is traumatized by windows because of her past experience. One time, her uncle intended to surprise her parents through the windows, but he went to a wrong room and woke the children up. Taking these episodes into consideration, we installed bars with the new windows.

 

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With the new windows, the house has drastically changed. Now the gloomy and shady environment has been transformed into brighter and healthier one. Through this experience, I witnessed that such a tiny change can cause a huge impact. In addition, I clearly perceived that we were working not only in the house but also with the people who are living in the house. By transforming the house, we were changing the family’s life too. The significance of communicating with the family besides assessing the house lies in this point. I really hope the new windows will be a good peg for the new departure of the family.

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-Written by Kaori Tsuji

Backyard Cleaning

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On January 26th, we worked on collecting the garbage which was scattered over Daniela’s backyard. We’d been instructed by staff members to stop working while the US Ambassador was visiting and looking around the house; however, we were eager to do something, rather than just stand and gawk at the ambassador. As the simplest way to improve their living condition while we waited for his arrival, we started collecting garbage in the home’s front and back lawns. When I saw the scene of the backyard, where all different kinds of garbage were just scattered over, I lost my words. There were tiny pieces of broken glass, diapers, food leftovers, and many other hazardous objects, and Daniela’s kids were walking around without shoes. The amount of garbage and the smell just overwhelmed me. More shockingly, as I approached the pile of garbage, I found a girl sleeping in a bed, under the sun. The trash was just an accepted part of their environment.

We spent the whole morning for removing the trash. Meanwhile, Daniela’s children watched us hesitantly in the distance. They looked a little bit anxious, and I figured out the reason why when  the second daughter hesitantly asked me to give her back a doll which I just threw it on a pile of the garbage. The doll had lots of stains and it’s hair was almost gone. But after I passed it to her, she held it tightly and stored it in a broken fridge. For me, the doll was nothing but a trash, but I realized that for them those could be reminiscent of their fun memories. Until then, I had strongly believed that cleaning the backyard is absolutely helpful for them, but I found that it’s also so important to consider what is really helpful for the family. Otherwise, I might violate their memories and lifestyle, like I could too easily threw away the girl’s doll, her treasure.

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By the afternoon, however, some kids came out from their house, grabbed shovels, and started helping us removing garbage. One of our members asked one of the kids, who told them to ask us. He just shook his head, and made me filled with warm pleasure. By looking at us, even without words, they were motivated to clean their backyard. When I realized, more than four kids, from the age of 4 to 10, were sweating and working hard with us to clean up the backyard. Thanks to their help, we could end up making two piles of garbage and making some spaces without any bits of glass for them.

 

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However, this story doesn’t end here. The next day, we went to check the backyard. Honestly, I felt sad when I saw that new garbage were again scattered over the backyard. The scene really taught me the difficulties of changing one’s habit and lifestyle. That is to say, we might need more complicated and philosophical approaches to keep a backyard without garbage rather than just setting a trash can there. By realizing the difficulty of actually making a change, I was overwhelmed by despair. That was just too conspicuous to understand that the backyard will be filled with garbage, regardless of our and the kids’ work.  However, I still believe that we could make some positive impacts because our cleaning could show a clean backyard without garbage, and kids experienced the work of removing the garbage. That might be a little change, but someday they may choose a backyard without garbage by remembering the scene of clean garden and the work we did together.

– Written by Yoko Taguchi