It’s hard to put into words really – but everyone I work with at ‘Un Techo Para Chile’ has that serene, peaceful and content look only found on the faces of ascetic monks! They are not driven by profits or wealth or accumulation of things. Nor are they driven by what people think about them. They are driven by simple ideals. They are cool and there is a whiff of revolution about them. They are also very young and the disappointments that seep into us as we get older – have not seeped into them. They are idealists and for them the future is rosy. I love being in their company because it’s all so uncomplicated. All so refreshing. All so simple. Like an elixir – a Detox. And it makes you feel younger too. They harbor no jealousies nor do they exhibit pride, vanity or envy. They say getting older makes you wiser. I’m not too sure anymore. Rather I am beginning to think that getting older makes you intolerant, inflexible, opinionated and fixed. I don’t ever want to be ‘fixed’. I want to be constantly ‘flowing’. Like liquid metal. Always open to new things with no ‘home’ but a wide zone of comfort that extends beyond borders, beyond language, beyond religion and beyond culture. A true man of the world perhaps?
When you walk into Un Techo’s office you are attacked by many slogans and posters and quotes on the walls. It’s like being in a seminary for little Che’s. Being a volunteer has the singular affect, of cleansing your soul. Giving it a good scrub.
My soul needed cleansing. The whites were no longer white and a little dose of detergent, in the cleansing machine that is Un Techo, has made my sleeps more peaceful. Not having a full-time job – with the daily grind to the office in the morning that it entails, the checking of the work inbox, the lunch times at exactly 12:30, the journey home at a regular hour on trains that run efficiently and on time, the diurnal repetitive rhythm – the life where if something doesn’t go according to plan (be it the train, the plane, the bus, other people, technology, or if the coffee in Pret takes a minute too long in arriving) – we think the sky has fallen on our heads! Not having to worry about these things is great. Here meetings are cancelled without you being informed. People are late. People don’t turn up. You are ignored by the waitress in the restaurant or the water is suddenly turned off whilst you are in the middle of your shower. It’s great! Not knowing how your day will turn out. Not knowing what time lunch will be (or whether you’ll even have lunch or whether you’ll have lunch in someone’s home with their grandma) is great. This also means that for the first time in my life – I eat breakfast! Oh yes, every morning – after showering (assuming the water is hot and hasn’t been turned off), I make my way to the downstairs kitchen and warm myself some toast and a bowl-full of cereal and some instant coffee. Yes instant coffee (It’s OK, I’ll live). So before heading to work (which is 2 mins walk away from where I live) I sit down, and have breakfast, in the manner breakfasts are supposed to be had – in silent contemplation. Not on the train or rushed through in the station or sat in front of the inbox at work.
The people who work here don’t earn much. Some of them don’t earn anything – yet do I hear the whining complaints? No. In their midst – their simple living, their simple pleasures of good hearty company and a big laugh, in their midst I feel like a fraud who has gate-crashed a home I was not invited to. But I am beginning to feel like a useful member. Not just a useless limb.
It’s a good feeling though. To know that everything you are doing, no matter how small and tiny, has some impact, on other less fortunate souls. It feels good. But I’m not doing it only to feel good, nor am I doing it so others can nod their heads in ‘impressiveness’ – I’m doing it because I can and I want to. I’m doing it because ultimately life has no meaning or purpose. We are alive and we had no say in the matter, and the least we can expect, is for this short life, to be as painless as possible – for everyone concerned.
Surely this is something mankind can achieve? But the blind greed of unfettered want – the Me Me Me – the spoilt child at the heart of the problems of the world, is hard to banish. It takes time to teach that spoilt child within us, about the things that ultimately, really, do matter.
To teach that child a lesson, one must venture into the proverbial desert, and live there for a while – and come back (hopefully) as someone else. “I is somebody else”
Maybe this is my desert.