There is quite the story behind this photo. This is my new friend Flor and I in front of the Iglesia San Lorenzo, the oldest church in Buenos Aires... here are words from my journal this Tuesday.
Humility. I am so humbled by Flor´s kind spirit, her willingness to share. I have made so many excuses as to why we don´t really just learn these amazing lessons form the poor- they´re not all selfess and wonderful people. It is true that we musn´t generalize and group of people, nor idealize the poor. However, I can´t deny the generosity and love that Flor showed me today, unlike anything I´ve ever experienced. I am so proud, to judge from my place of privelidge. Like the widow offereing all that she had, Flor sacrificed for me.
I had the mindset of Martha when I left the house today, I had looked up a musum, the national cathedral, Café Tortoni the oldes cafe in Buenos Aires, and a Monestary called Manzana de las Luces. All day scheduled with beautiful sights, in hopes of making progress with my servant team project- my focus for the week had been typical Argentine cultural photos. This week as a community we are focusing on humility, one of the lifestyle celebrations of Word Made Flesh. All morning I was super torn , I am trying to learn about humility by going to a cathedral and this gorgeous café? To take pictures in hopes of showing how good I am at taking pictures? That´s not my attitude, but it still didn´t seem to add up. I just prayed that my eyes would be opened to see Christ that day.
Got to the cathedral, epic, beautiful. Reminded of Spain, I felt awe-inspired by the ornateness, and the separation of the holy and the ordinary. I arrived just in time for mass. I am attracted to liturgy, I value tradition, yet I am not in favor of the heirarchical structure of the Catholic Church. The reading was from the Gospel of San Lucas, the story of Martha and Mary. Jesus was visiting them in their home, and Martha was so busy preparing things and complained when Mary was not helping her. Jesus assured her that Mary had made the better decision. The Bishop explained that we are often like Martha, so busy, and never resting in silence to allow God to speak to us through the Holy Spirit. I felt super convicted, there I was, trying to be so busy in my time off. Trying to get things done and so excited to finally have a project in Buenos Aires. I took the Eucharist and prayed that God would still somehow be able to speak to me through this time. Mass ended and I did get some decent pics, including a few of this awesome wooden Paraguayen Saint with Maté. So great. Felt good to get the artistic juices flowing again.
I was on schedule, though hesitant, I wasn´t sure what else to do but continue to the fancy Café. With my camera camoflouged in a funky plastic bag, I headed confidently up Avenida de Mayo, aware of my surroundings adn looking to scare off any potential thiefs, thanks to the recent mugging. Abnormally determined, I would be surprised to encounter humility, right there on the sidewalk.
"Excuse. Money? Food?" with a tap on my arm.
I was so caught off guard. There was a woman, rotting teeth, and a sincere look. I don´t always give money on the street, as I prefer to build relationship, yet I recognize the legitimate need of those who have no other income but begging, and I know many for whom that is true. As determined as I had been, I could not just keep walking.
"Would you like something to eat? Empanadas? Sure, let´s go."
I had just past a bar that caught my eye. Flor was her name. Margarita, I introduced myself. We sat down like two strangers eager to know every last detail about one another. She asked me all about my family, my likes and dislikes, what I was doing in Argentina, and was quick to give advice about safety on the street. I chuckled when she asked if I was a communist after my shpeelon equality adn how there is enough food in the world that no one should go hungry. She told me all about her three children, how they were her life, she explained that she lost her job four years ago, and was living on the street, but now stayed with her mother, her daughter and her partner. There was an instant connection. We trusted one another.
Flor was so concerned when I told her that I had been mugged. They had stolen my only pair of shoes, and so I was wearing flipflops adn she was worried I would get too cold. It turned out we wore the same size shoes, and she said she had a pair of boots to give me, but they were all the way back at home. I asked Flor if she wanted more to eat, but she declined. She asked me if I liked facturas, little pastries. I told her not particularly, but that we could get some. She exclaimed, "No no no, te invito." Which means she wanted to buy them for me. This woman, who was just asking for money on the streets as her sole source of income, wanted to buy me coffee and facturas? I was so moved by her generosity.
Excited to introduce me to everyone in the area, as they all knew her, we went to Don Roberto for some coffee and facturas. From there to a bar where the owner gave Flor a big hello and wrapped up a bag of empanadas for her to take with her. From there I told her that I didn´t really care to go to the tour of the monastary that I had mentioned to her over lunch, but that if she didn´t mind I´d love to accompany her. Flor was stoked, and she said we would head to a church to ask for food.
Apparently it wasn´t just to pick up a bag of food, as Flor had led me to believe, because next thing I knew I was sitting in a circle with needy mothers for a weekly self-help group. What?! So hilarious. "Hola, my name is Margarita, just came here with Flor today." When the leader of the group asked for highlights from the women´s weeks, Flor was quick to raise her hand and tell everyone how something really special had happened to her today when she was just asking for money on the street, when I asked her if she wanted to get something to eat, and then I went with her to the church and I wasn´t even afraid. It was so sweet. We said the Padre Nuestro and Santa María, both of which I have down from attending private Catholic school for a month in Costa Rica during high school, and we were off.
Walking the streets, asking for money (Flor, not me, people gave me odd looks- apparently we were quite the pair) Flor asked me if I like Maté and mentioned that her niece also wore the same size shoe as I did. Seemingly unrelated details in my mind, yet Flor led us directly to her niece´s home to drink maté and see if she had any shoes I could borrow. We arrived and a beautiful pregnant woman stood at the end of a long hallway, she seemed to be crying. Sofia explained that her hormones were going wild due to the pregnancy, and she welcomed us into her home. We chatted it up and drank maté. It came up that I taught English in a slum and we thought up the idea to meet together to exchange talents. Sofia runs a restaurant of sorts with her friend, so English lesson in exchange for Argentine cooking lesson, and ending with a big celebratory meal all together.
Sofia lamented that she had lent her only extra pair of shoes to her aunt who lived in the slum, and they too had been stolen. Flor encouraged me to take photos, as I had told her how much I loved to do so. We said goodbye to Sofia, confident that we would all be together again soon. We went up to the neighbors, as Flor insisted on finding me a pair of shoes. By this time is was four in the afternoon, and Flor had to start thinking about heading to the train to go home. I told her that I was sorry for taking her day and asked if she would be alright without having been able to get much money. She looked at me with sincere eyes and told me that it was not a lost day at all adn that it was beautiful that we had met. We decided to meet again the following Tuesday.
Flor never asked me for a single thing after that initial, "Excuse. Food? Money?" She only insisted on giving to me. By the measures of material possesions, I had so much more, yet today Flor has shown me true generosity. I am so humbled by the person she is. I left the house that morning as Martha, busy to get to work, but when Christ was before me as a hungry woman, I was able to share a meal with her, to sit with her, and be drawn closer to Christ´s heart.