“What is the Spanish word for snow?” my friend, Catie asked me. I came and sat next to her and the little girl next to her.
Catie smiled, and pointed at the picture of a house covered in feet of powdered snow in her hand. “Nieve, snow.”
The girl’s face lit up with wonder, as her eyes looked at the picture and then turned to look at her own surroundings. Sand, and plywood and cardboard houses, and scrawny dogseverywhere. The air smelled of dirt, sweat, and the chemical plants not far away. “Nieve,” she sighed. “Me gusta.” I like it. And she smiled.
At the age of sixteen, I had never seen such poverty, if poverty even does justice to their stories. Dirt and sand clung to the bottoms of the children’s bare feet, and scraggly dogs ran between their legs and in and out of the ply-board and cardboard houses. The air smelled of urine and nothing green could grow. Yet, these poorest barrios of Lima, showed me a form of beauty that I had never seen before.
Each day, I assumed the role of translator for the children and my friends, and watched the barriers of language fall down. When I came home, it was all I could talk about, the power of language. While we were separated from these children by barriers of culture, of age, of wealth, these began to break down when I helped them communicate with us. It allowed us to enter, however slightly, into their lives. Speaking to the children in Spanish was more than just speech; it was proof that we wanted to interact in their lives. It showed that were cared about them. It built trust. Watching these barriers between us fall down as the children told us what their favorite colors were, who their siblings were, how old they were, was beautiful. In the midst of all this dirt and sand, the friendships we made with these children were pure beauty.