“I have nothing besides this house,” Marie was telling us.
She was right. Her use of house as a description for the shack in front of us was pushing the definition of the word. Rather, what belonged to this little lady named Marie was more four concrete walls holding up a series of barely connected rusted metal sheets to shield out the onslaught of daily tropical rain. The interior of this shack was barely more welcoming; the rain that had gotten through the rust had made the inside a humid sweat lodge out of the countless boxes filled with papers and clothes.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
Together with nine other members of my church, I was in the Central American nation of Belize to assist in anti-poverty measures throughout the city of Punta Gorda. We had arrived to help a local named Marie, whose home had become so ramshackle she required the help of strangers in rebuilding it. Though I found myself questioning how someone could live in such conditions, the object of our mission was clear: we were to assist in whatever way possible to make Marie’s home safe and habitable until a local church found a better way to house her.
We set to work. The shingle pattern made by the weaving metal sheets had slowly degraded to make a series of corroded metal patterns with countless holes made by the rain. All had to be replaced, preferably before it rained on our work later in the day. The nine of us divided up the work between the roof and the inside of the house, which required many of the boxes to be removed and thrown away as trash. As Marie and the women who had come with us moved out these boxes, I was on top of the concrete walls pulling out the roof with the other men.
Marie’s help in the process was invaluable. She spoke broken English but I used what Spanish I knew, combined with the others grasp of the language to communicate what needed to be saved and what she could do without. Midway through the day she came outside with a boiling water pan with chicken inside it. She offered a bit to the workers, but we had to decline – we did not know that the food was sanitary for consumption. Marie was unfazed, thankfully, just appreciative of the work we offered.
I then had a feeling so powerful I might have toppled over if not for the calibration of the ladder I stood on. I had realized then just how lucky I had it back in the United States. Not just lucky, but I had it better than Marie had ever known. I had air conditioning, a roof that would never leak, I had food cooked in an oven and unquestionably safe to eat. I had a warm home in the winter time, and a cool one when the summer came. The temperature of my home was not dependant on the weather that furrowed down with the sun or the cold rains.
When we had finished replacing the roof, I went to Marie and gave her a big hug, which was returned. She told me she was overwhelmingly grateful for the help we had all offered her. I told her that was the same way I felt, that a complete stranger had helped me in ways I was only beginning to understand.
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