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Perhaps you’re curious about what life is like in an entire community built on land than no one has legal title to, a stone’s throw away from the largest garbage dump in the country (and a line drive away from the country club’s golf course across the valley). Perhaps you never noticed that in places without paved roads people toss water on the dusty road outside their doorways too keep it from unsettling and coating the insides of their homes and from clogging up their lungs. How are places organized and coordinated where resources are scarce and government can’t keep up with population growth? Or ever wondered how people who don’t get 24-hour running water store up water for the day when they can’t afford sophisticated backup water systems? How many buckets of water does it take to bathe oneself in the morning from a 55-gallon drum?
I recommend getting curious about what life is like for people in parts of the city that everyone avoids, and I recommend finding out for yourself by talking to people who live there and asking lots of questions. Thanks to God’s protection and the relentless hospitality of the people in La Carpio, I have no complaints and a huge list of awesome memories from my six months living in “La Cueva.” Most of the photos and videos I posted were about our amazingly talented students and the incredible things they were doing, or about birthday parties and interesting things going on. Those are the parts I wanted to share with everyone and remember about my time there.
But the day-in and day-out living conditions in La Carpio can be a challenge, and nobody knows that better than the people who live there. A lot of aspects of a place like that can be just plain disturbing and hostile. This is the well-sensationalized perspective that you can get from most news reports and popular commentary, and the bits of it that are accurate can be quite terrifying when you are face-to-face with them or when someone close to you suffers from these threatening realities. There are tidy phrases to describe life in places like this: fierce competition over scarce resources, “social density”, delinquency, “microlocalities”, the periphery, environmental hazards… all interesting terms, but what is it really like to live in a place like La Carpio?
When I decided to live in La Carpio, the best explanation I could give was that it was a learning experience, and pretty much everything about my time there was a learning experience. I went as a student and a guest. But there was a spiritual dimension to it as well, one that most strongly impresses on my mind the term “reconciliation”. As I wrote somewhat aggressively in a spin-off of Thoreau’s famous statement of Where he chose to live and What he chose to live for, I am not satisfied with an unexamined life that accepts these inequalities passively, and I want to see for myself what good news God’s message of love has to speak into this issue of increasing disparity between the rich and poor. I wanted to understand what growing up in La Carpio was like for the youth we work with. I wanted to know what day-in and day-out living was like for a family in a “squatter settlement.”
The over-all conclusion I have is good news. We’re not all that far apart as it may seem. In fact, we are deeply connected on this issue, and the quicker we realize it the more ways we can work toward true reconciliation, and making the world a better place.
So, I felt from the very beginning of my time there that this was good news that I should share with as many people as I could, as best I could, in the most detail that I could. Toward that end, I am finally beginning to compile and write up some of my notes and journal entries from when I lived there. This blog is where you can find all my research, notes, videos, journal entries, and commentary about La Carpio, all in one place. I’ll continue to update it as I find time. I hope you enjoy it; I hope you are encouraged; I hope you feel as convicted as I do about people living in hazardous places like these; and I hope I pique your curiosity about finding ways we are all connected on this.