The Power of a Mattress

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sometimes I almost forget that I’m living in a third-world country. Partially because I think I’ve been somewhat de-sensitized to the poverty; and partially because I don’t actually live in the poverty. The home where I live is made of brick and has running water and electricity. We even have one of those electrically heated shower heads. I go to work in a relatively nice office with high-speed internet and air conditioning. And my boyfriend goes to a nice, private university that seems every bit as nice as my university in the States. And, well, you get the picture. I’m not living in poverty.

But last night I was reminded that Bolivia is a third-world country and it hit me like a punch in the stomach. Until recently, a Bolivian woman has been renting a room in the house where I live. She has three children, all of which lived in the same room with her. But she hadn’t paid rent in months, so she was finally kicked out. She told her 15-year-old daughter, S, to start looking for somewhere to live because she wouldn’t be going along with her mother and younger brothers.

They moved out a few days ago, leaving S alone in the rented room. I caught a peek through the door and saw that she had a bare mattress on the floor, a radio, and an empty clothes rack. It made me sad.

Yesterday the mother came back to the house in the afternoon, when S wasn’t there, and removed the rest of the belongings from the room. She took the mattress where she knew her 15-year-old daughter sleeps.

As I was getting ready for bed last night I saw S sitting in her room, on a sheet on the hard, cement floor. I thought about being 15 years old, being completely by myself with nowhere to go, and having nowhere to sleep but a cement floor. And my heart shattered.

In my room I have only my one bed and mattress, so I didn’t really have anything to offer her. Fortunately, Mauricio has his own bed in his room as well as an extra mattress for when his mom visits. I convinced him to lend the extra mattress to S. And I am so glad that I did, because when S opened her door to accept it she had tears streaming down her face. I realized that she had been sitting on the floor in that room and just crying.

After that I couldn't get to sleep. I wrestled with a feeling of disgust in the pit of my stomach and heavy sadness on my heart. I’m disgusted that this mother left her child, no matter how difficult her own life is. I’m devastated that this poor, young girl was left all alone and crying on a cement floor. And I’m angry that there is no one to help.

I long to make some calls and get her into the Minneapolis homeless shelters where I spent time doing interviews. I wish that I could hook her up with the transitional housing program where I did my internship. But this isn’t Minneapolis. This isn’t the United States. And quite frankly, the Bolivian government doesn’t care. They don’t do anything for S or any other girls and women and families that are abandoned in poverty.

I cannot really do anything about it right now. I don’t have the resources or capability to help much. But what I can do is share the stories. I can pass them along and plead for others to pray and to remember. The injustices of this world are ugly enough without being forgotten or ignored or discreetly swept under the rug.
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