Decisions at 20

No one in her family, and even less so her boyfriend, ever understood
this choice. If everything got according to plan, after a few group
sessions with friends and family members of ex-drug-addicts, Paula would
be allocated one of these ex-offenders to accompany them about four
hours at a time. the idea was to never leave them alone.

However, things did not go according to plan. Paula spent a whole year
attending those groups. Then one day she voiced her impatience to one of
the women she befriended there, who had a friend “in the program”:
“You know, I don’t think it is anything against you, or that they don’t
think you are prepared, at all. I think it is just that they want the
boys to manage with just their family and friends, without relaying on
“external” people like you.
“Hmmm. Why do I have the feeling that I am wasting my time here then?”
“I’m sure you are learning lots of things in those group sessions.”
“I have indeed learned a lot. No doubt about that. But I want to make
myself useful.”

Paula started to search for other volunteering possibilities. After
spending one year in group sessions that had nothing to do with the
religion that brought her over to get involved in the first place, she
wanted to join something with lots of Christians in it.

One of those Christians was Ara.

“So, how is your Proyecto Hombre going?”
“It is actually not going anywhere” (interrogating face by Ara). “It turns out, they don’t want volunteers like me after all. They prefer friends and family to do all that work.”
“Hmmm. Who has told you that?”
“One of those friends and families.”
“Hmmm. Have you checked with any one else?”
“No. But I have been going to those groups for a year and I haven’t been told to accompany anyone once.”
“So, what now?”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to take on groups of confirmants, but after a year of non-religious talk, I feel like getting back to a Christian group now.
“Hey, have you heard of Salva!?” Suddenly Ara’s face changed to one of an excited teenager.
“No. Who is Salva?”
“Salvador. Padre Salvador. He left a few years ago to be a missionary in Peru, don’t you remember?”
“He’s back!”
“I didn’t know that.”
“He’s been talking about opening a shop to sell Peruvian handicrafts, and even coffee, as a means to aid them, instead of charity.”
“I’m all ears.” And she certainly was.
“Look, he says that all problems about third world poverty happen because their products are not paid by rich countries at a fair price. So he wants to help with all that by opening up a shop, in the car park of the parish, which is unused now, and he is going to bring products from Peru and most of the parish is involved in that now. Ok, there are three new people that Salva has found somewhere, who are a bit atheist, but apart from those three, we are all from the Parish!”
Paula wondered how came she had not heard anything about this and she guessed she had been studying too much, going out with her boyfriend too much and attending too many ex-drug-addicts-friends-and-family-self-help group meetings. But now she felt the excitement too. She did not need any insistence from Ara to decide to get involved in this shop. Fair Trade, Ara had said.
Paula and her boyfriend had planned a whole weekend together. But Paula could not wait until then to tell him the news:
“I am leaving Proyecto Hombre.”
“Wow. That makes me so happy. Now you will have more time for yourself, which I think you needed.”
“Erm, no. I am getting involved in Fair Trade instead.”
“What? And what is that, fair trade?”
“Something that will require my volunteering about three or four hours a week.”
“God. This is so tiring.”
“What is tiring?”
“You go to class, you stay in studying most evenings, and the evenings you are not studying, you go to those groups. And now this. Are you not exhausted?”
“Exhausted?” Paula wished her boyfriend could jump at the possibility of spending more time together by volunteering with her. After all, there were other people from outside the Parish too. But somehow, that seemed unattainable.
“I don’t suppose you have the intention to go on like this once we are married, do you?”
“Eh? Of course I do. And it will be lovely to have your support.”
“Uhm. And yourself?”
“What about myself?”
“Well, looking after yourself, having time for yourself? I don’t see you
have much time to enjoy yourself.”
“But I have all the time for myself. All the time I spent in those
groups, I was enjoying, I hope to enjoy the time with Ara and the others
in that shop and I even enjoy studying! The whole day is time for
myself! Of course if you volunteered with me I would enjoy it even mo…”
“And the house? When are you going to do the cleaning?”
“What cleaning?”
“When we get married. If you go on like this, when are you going to have
time to clean the house?”
Admittedly, she had not thought of these insignificant, trivial
“On weekends, with you, I suppose.”
“No. The house needs cleaning every day, Paula.”
She was left shocked and speechless.
“I suppose we need to talk about this.”
“Look Paula, let’s do this: let’s cancel this weekend and instead think
about this separately. After that, we can talk. Shall we do that?”
“And when will we talk?”
“We can talk on the phone again.”
“You talk as if you were thinking about the future of our relationship.”
“Yes, that too.”

Decisions at 19

Paula sat in front of the television set. She had put the video tape
that Carlos the History teacher had lent her and a middle aged man was
talking about the perils of a career in journalism. It was all about the
immediacy of the news story, having to write really quickly, to deliver
a story that had been demanded at 3am that morning, when his boss had
called him at home because an incident was happening right then and he
had to go and cover it.
That was enough for Paula.
Her boyfriend had already asked her to marry him, and Paula was
absolutely sure he would not be happy at all with a wife running out
of the house at three in the morning to cover some news. Besides, to
study journalism she would have to stay in university for five years,
and that if she successfully passed all exams in time. Her boyfriend had
already expressed annoyance at the length of Paula’s studies.
Paula was not so much in a hurry to marry her boyfriend as she was to
move out of home. In any case, a course that would take five years to
finish would not fit her needs. That left out almost all university
possibilities. Of those remaining, only two seemed attractive enough for
her: teaching and business studies.
“There are fewer and fewer children all the time, you know?”, Said Laura
on the phone, when Paula commented these possibilities. “There are
already too many teachers. You’ll just be unemployed when you finish”.
Voila, decision made. Business studies it would be.

She actually did like the prospect of going for business studies. She
had the feeling that it was business and world economics that were the
culprit of all those starving children her Granma kept talking about
every time there was potatoes for lunch. Now she would learn how it all
worked, and that way she would try to fix it all. Or at least she would
understand why every one who had tried before her had failed so miserably.
The paperwork for University began right after all the students got the
results for the final 10 or so exams that they had to take in two days.
One exam after the other is what Paula and a million or two other youth
in Spain that year – like many other years anyway – for two full days.
The results of these exams were decisive for the path they would be
allowed to choose. Of course more desirable courses would require a
higher result. Paula got good enough results for all her choices, even
the more “difficult” ones. To the dismay of her teachers and her own
mother, she stuck with the decision she had made in June: Business
Studies, three years.
“You are only going to study half a course”, Mum kept repeating. Yep.
That’s the idea. Get the hell out of here as soon as possible.
Paula liked to stick to her decisions, even if these were unpopular. “Especially” if these were unpopular.
Continuing to be a Christian, also known in catholic circles as “taking
up confirmation” was one of these decisions, although, unlike her
studies, this did please Paula’s mother.
Being a Christian in Paula’s parish was no small deal. Especially
because young people taking up confirmation had to also “take up a
commitment”, which in more lay terms meant to volunteering for some kind
of social (or religious) service.
Most of the confirmed people in Paula’s parish took on groups of younger
people who would eventually be confirmed as well. It was a matter of
pupils taking on teaching. It seemed the easiest option and priests and
older committed parishioners would not demand more. Then, against every
one’s wishes, including the Priest and her own mother, Paula took on
volunteering in the local drug-addict-help centre. She was nineteen.