There was a small low-lying building in the middle of the compound that contained clothing. At one time it functioned as an office of sorts for my dad. One of the plywood paneled rooms had a large desk in it and a few filing cabinets. I enjoyed climbing up on the padded rolling desk chair and “pretending office.” I don’t remember my dad ever actually working in this building – just the desk and the filing cabinets and a squeaky stapler.
After that – or perhaps at the same time – it was a kindergarten. Jenny, Elizabeth and I would meet there whenever was convenient for our parents and we’d sit in our tiny desks, painstakingly practicing writing our names in tight manuscript. I remember learning our first Spanish words there and donning giant sombreros to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
But slowly we stopped having school there and the donations increased. They would come in the shape of plastic bags full of clothes, boxes of shoes and crates of socks and underwear. Initially they were organized within the three rooms of the building and labeled neatly so that we could easily access the “sock” crate when we needed better fitting socks. But eventually the donations overcame our penchant for organization and the entire building filled with garbage bags for the needy; for us.
I found the donations exciting at first. It was like going to a candy store where everything was free. The possibilities were endless! Perhaps I would find the right size of sneakers or maybe a jean jacket would pop up! It felt like a dream.
But then as I got older a sense of shame rose up. When we needed new shoes, we would have to dig through every box and crate and soon the building looked like a landfill with mountains of black garbage bags and stuff spilling out of everything. We would crawl over the top of one crest of clothes to get to the next, stepping on rogue pairs of underpants and single shoes. It was a blatant symbol of our over-abundance and consumption that contrasted starkly with the model of deprivation we were trying to portray.
And then the wasps came. I’m sure it was the queen at first – staking out an area in the small bathroom that we had never used and then laying eggs. Within days, there were hundreds and then probably thousands. Walking into the building, we would be swarmed by wasps. We’d put clothing over our heads and try to dig through, but eventually they won and the building sat there, essentially abandoned except for the swarm that governed the landfill of stuff that was given to us out of the kindness of strangers.