Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stories from My Mission: We Run for Our Lives

OK, maybe the title was a little over dramatic, but at the time it was a little scary. Previously I mentioned how when I got to Argentina the country was in the middle of a major economic crisis (not unlike the one we have today). A year an a half later the country was still having major problems and people were still having a hard time getting enough money to buy food. In an effort to help people out the government would institute various welfare projects with the aim of getting people working. In the first year of my mission they had programs where they would have women sweep the streets, and the men would mow the (very tall) grass on the side of the road. In return they would get a few hundred pesos a month to cover food and other necessities.

Unfortunately these programs broke down over time with some work groups ceasing to work, but still getting paid while others adhered a little too strictly to the rules. ("Oh, you're 10 minutes late for work, on the last day of the month, well you just won't get paid at all this month. Don't complain, it's the rules. You have to work." Never mind the fact that they were on time and worked for the rest of the month, they wouldn't get paid.) This made people disillusioned with the whole process and after about three months the whole system broke down and no one worked, or got any money (except for those few who had connections and could still "cobrar", or get paid, even though the program was "officially" ended).

A few other times there were some feeble attempts to revive the programs, and there were also various programs to help the elderly. It seemed like the old ladies were always telling us that they needed to go into "el centro" to see if they got their "giro". They never seemed to get it though, because a few days later they told us that they still need to go check. Overall there was little money and many people were struggling to get by. A lot of people were working and trying to do something but there were also a number of people who just seemed to be waiting to the government to hand them their money.

Now with that introduction, I can tell the story which takes place in my fourth area of my mission, in the city of Eldorado.

One Friday, about 6 in the evening, my companion, Elder Caballero, and I were walking along trying to find people we had previously spoken with and seemed interested in hearing what we had to talk about. At every house we visited no one seemed to be home, or they were busy, or the person we were looking for was not home. Eventually we ran out of investigators to visit and ended up clapping random doors (remember, we don't knock on doors, we stand at the edge of the yard and clap until someone responds). I was getting a little discouraged and thought about just giving up for the night and going back to our apartment (we were supposed to work until 9:30 or even a little later). I said as much to my companion, but he flatly refused, saying that we needed to keep the rules and stay on the street talking to people until it was time to go in. I didn't see any point in staying out much longer because it seemed like no one was home and all the people we met on the street were in some stage of drunkenness.

We continued on trying to find someone to talk to without success. As we walked along I noticed a general noise growing in the city. It sounded like a mixture of fireworks, people yelling, cars honking and music blaring. This was weird because normally the city was quiet, except for the downtown area. Walking along I began to hear breaking glass, like people were breaking glass bottles on the cobblestone streets. On one street I heard the distinctive fwop of a slingshot being released. I turned and looked at where the sound came from and saw a teenager standing and trying (and failing) to look innocent.

As we continued on we heard a few more fwops and Elder Caballero indicated that he heard and knew that someone was trying to shoot us. We quickly moved on. At this point (about 7 in the evening) the general din that was present began to grow louder. Up ahead of us we saw a couple of men in the middle of the street in round 3 of a boxing match with no rules, and everyone else passed out, surrounded by beer bottles, on the side of the road. We quickly turned down a side street. Immediately we were confronted with more drunk people throwing empty beer bottles with a few coming crashing down quite close to us.

I should point out that my companion, Elder Caballero, was very macho and never wanted to admit that he was scared of anything. He was an intense fighter and would never back down. But in this moment we had both had enough. I looked at him and he at me and we both knew we needed to get out of there. We began hightailing it out of there as fast as we could run. We took streets that were less likely to have people on them and ran without looking back.

Fortunately we were only about a kilometer and a half from our apartment and got there in record time. From the balcony of our third floor apartment I could hear the yells and screams and general noise coming from all over the city. In retrospect it was the noise that you might expect from an invasion of zombies. A lot of yelling, moaning, and screaming, cars honking their horns, things breaking (especially glass) and a general noise punctuated by bangs and booms. This noise continued until late at night.

The next morning we left our apartment to see the remnants of the zombie Apocalypse. It took us only a few minutes to discover that no one was home/awake/willing to talk. There were still people passed out on the side of the road and plenty of empty beer bottles and boxes of wine. After a while we decided to go hang out at a member's house since it was evident that no proselytizing would be done this morning. We had to find someone who would be guaranteed not to have a hangover.

At the member's house we told our story about the night before and they told us that unexpectedly the government had decided to give every household a few hundred pesos to help cover food costs and other things. Also as an attempt to spur the economy. But everyone just got their money on Thursday and on Friday they all went out and bought beer and wine and drunk themselves all into a stupor. So in one day the entire country got drunk and passed out. The next day no one had any more money and they all had hangovers. What a waste.

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