A few things have been starting to sink in recently...
The first has been the amount of poverty in the city. Apparently, this is a relatively recent phenomenon, only becoming noticeable in the years following the economic crisis of 2002.
The seats on the train are set facing each other, one pair on each side. When I was taking a train to work early one morning, a mother and child were sitting in front of me. The daughter was about ten years old. They were clearly homeless. The girl was sleeping on her mother's lap, looking very sick. Her skin was a slight shade of gray. She was convulsing when she coughed. The train ride lasted about twenty minutes. Her mother passed the time by picking head lice off her daughter's head, occasionally scratching her own scalp.
What disturbed me the most was the kindness in the eyes of the mother. She asked me something that I didn't understand, and when she realized that I was not from the country, she just smiled and went back to slowly picking through her daughter's hair.
I never give money to the homeless, as it doesn't help much at all, and most times it ends up being wasted on drugs or alcohol. But I couldn't remember the last time that someone made me feel so depressed. I dug around in my pocket for cash, and came up with 5 pesos. This is the equivalent of $1.50, but given the cost of living and salaries, it has about the same value to the locals as $5 in Canada.
What really put me over the edge was what I saw on her leg a few moments later. I don't know what it's called, but there was a thin black line, some sort of parasite, that was working it's way over her leg, usually in a somewhat circular pattern, just below the surface of her skin. It looked very serious, and if she doesn't get it fixed up soon, she will have some _very_ serious problems with her leg.
In the end, I was feeling sick, and also a bit annoyed with how badly part of me wanted to get away from her. As the train got to the end of the line, I gave her the only other bill that I had, 20 pesos.
Though she took it graciously, thanking me, her daughter jumped up, grabbing it from her mother and sticking it in her own pocket. At this point my feeling of nausea mixed with a feeling of being dumbstruck.
I'm sure that the little girl wasn't faking her condition, and the mother certainly wasn't faking hers. But the contrast between the expression of the mother and that of the daughter left me feeling somehow dirty. Despite being in such a bad way, the look in the eyes of the girl was so different than that of her mother. It was the same look as so many people that try to hustle you the world over. Yet from the look of her, she might not last very long. When I try to consolidate these two images, I'm really left at a loss.
Later that night, I was waiting in the commuter station for the train back to the suburb where I live. There was a dog roaming around the area, barely able to walk. It's leg was severely injured. Worse, it had some bizarre infection that left it so itchy that it kept gnawing at its skin. It had already chewed off all of its fur and was bleeding in several places. Yet it kept gnawing away.
It, like all stray dogs here, had a mixture of fear and utter submission in its expression. I find it strange how easy it is to identify street dogs by simply that. Their eyes almost always have that look, of utter defeat.
Another strange part of life here is the contrast between how people treat you if they meet you as a friend versus as servers or clerks in stores and restaurants.
Most people here are extremely friendly, to the point where I come across as being cold. Men routinely kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting, something that I've had a hard time getting used to. It's fine if they shave, but it's also very common to have a bit of stubble here, which usually ends up getting rubbed across your face. It gives an appreciation of what girls have to put up.
My students are also very nice. Almost everyone that I meet in offices and on the street are very kind, a pleasure to work with or talk to.
Yet when I walk into a store, I expect to get the stink-eye from whoever is working there. Often I end up arguing with the clerks over their flippant attitudes. This is especially true in nicer clothing stores, despite my being well-dressed when I shop there. They act as though I'm not worthy of being in their stores, especially if I tell them that I'd just like to browse.