When I first arrived in Argentina (sooooo many months ago) I started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Argentina. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This year is Habitat Argentina’s 10th anniversary and to celebrate, I had the honor of helping them do what they do best: build houses.
And so it begins on a sunny Saturday morning, in the barrio of 22 de Enero, on the edges of La Matanza, Buenos Aires, Argentina. My team worked with 21 year-old Johanna and her family including Johanna’s two ridiculously cute and wide-eye daughters.
First on the to-do list: Make concrete. I’m informed that we will have to do this with buckets and shovels (mmmm …. really?) But I’m wearing a big yellow hard hat with my name on it and a dress of a t-shirt (why do they never have x-smalls at these things?) so I keep my mouth shut and watch closely.
Johanna’s dad shows us with all the finesse of an Italian pizza maker how to spread the sand, cement and pebbles while gracefully adding water. After a quick demonstration he throws back his Argentine mullet and indicates that it’s our turn.
It is not as easy as it looks.
After a few rounds, the cement-mixer-machine-thingy shows up and it’s game time.
5 buckets of sand, 6 buckets of pebbles, 2 buckets of cement, a dash of water and viola! Meg is making concrete. Honestly, it has never occurred to me that 1) I could do this 2) that I ever would do this.
I love it.
I spend the next few hours schlepping buckets of concrete back and forth while doing little dances to cumbia music (the music was my suggestion, thank you very much).
The family works by our side and the father, Rene, a brick layer by trade, is in his element. It’s obvious that Johanna has learned a lot from dear ol’ dad and she seems somewhat amused by our construction skills.
After a few hours, I’m exhausted. But then it’s time to clean the buckets and shovels, because no, they aren’t going to do this for us.
For me, one of the highlights of the day was when Rene shared his thoughts about the experience. He was genuinely surprised that strangers would come to his neighborhood and help his daughter build her house. Raising his eyebrows and hands to emphasize his surprise, he exclaimed “…and women no less!”
(Before you cry “Machismo!” please remember that I am wearing an over-sized t-shirt with a matching dorky construction hat. I look like a Lego doll. Not exactly the kind of person you see and think “Che, I bet she’s good at building houses.”)
And then, just like a line from a freakin’ tango song, this Argentine brick layer from the barrio tells with a sweet smile while looking directly into my eyes…
“This is a day I will never forget for the rest of my life.”
It’s days like these that I am grateful for everything I have. All my time in Argentina, for better or worse, seems worth it.
If you would like to help, please consider making a donation (large or small) to Habitat for Humanity Argentina.