In our new houses, there almost always were the tenants who had arrived long before we did, probably dating back to couple months, years, or even decades: the ants. They must have formed a secret colony under the wooden floor under living room, cracks on the kitchen wall, or even in the corner of the bathroom--I thought. After numerous failures to eradicate them, I was amazed by their resilience, intricate system, and their unyielding struggle to live.
I was reminded of this piece of history I shared with the ants on one street of La Boca, Buenos Aires. It was a short phrase written in thick black painting on the wall: Somos Las Hormigas. Below these letters were paintings of ants crawling on top of colorful houses La Boca is well known for. The ants here are not the tourists who come to see a exotic colorful neighborhood to check out; the ants are the residents of the hidden Boca, the side that recognizes the long history of people’s struggles. These people settled in a long time ago, when the Boca river smelled from water contamination; when the beautiful buildings now were actually the ugly patches of red, black, and blue--the left-over paints from the industrial ships passing by the port; and when more than forty people lived in this building together, sharing one kitchen and one bathroom. They were the ants of the neighborhood, trying to make a living with their surroundings.
As I later learned, the ants almost seemed to be a recurring theme that defined certain spirit of struggle. When the communication team went to a radio station in a neighborhood located in the outskirt, we also saw a painting of an ant on the wall. One supervisor told us that the ants were just like common people. They are weak and unrecognized, but they are together in their fights against the adversities in life. The radio station works together with these people in the neighborhood and talk about gender problems, socio-economic situations, or some situations people want answers to in their daily lives. And visiting other projects as a volunteer helped me see how so many organizations--health center, kindergarten, soup kitchen, radio stations, orphanage, garden education program--were all working on their own way to help improve the neighborhood.
One point it struck me, I was an ant too. A child hoping to find a place to finally call a home, a student trying to settle in a country where I am a foreigner, and a volunteer participating in different projects in neighborhoods, however inconsequential the help may be. The ants are the people, and the people are the ants. We are a team of mutual aid.