Episode 11: La voz de la calle

Fabio Manuppella used to walk by homeless people on the streets of Buenos Aires thinking they must have done something to deserve their fate. Until he had to learn first-hand what it means to lose everything you have.

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Transcript

Martina: If you travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina you can expect a number of things — to hear tango music ringing through the streets, to eat excellent asados, or bbq’d meat, and to hear an accent that is unique to the region — they pronounce their double LLs and Ys with a SH sound, as in “aSHer” or “caSHe”, instead of ayer or calle. But you can also expect to see something that isn’t likely featured in your guide book — in Buenos Aires, about 6,000 people spend every night on the street.

Manu: Son niños y niñas, adolescentes, adultos, abuelos y abuelas, familias completas sin casa ni lugar donde vivir. Son los sin techo. Yo fui uno de ellos.

Martina: Fabio Manuppella, or Manu, went from being the breadwinner of a middle-class family, to a sin techo — a homeless person. It all started when a socioeconomic crisis hit Argentina in the 90s and Manu lost his job.

Manu: Recuerdo que cuando yo estaba en una buena posición económica, a veces veía a un “sin techo” y pensaba: “Está así porque no quiere trabajar”. Años después, aprendí que eso era falso – cuando yo también terminé viviendo en la calle.

Martina:Welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m your host, Martina Castro, and each episode we bring you fascinating first-person stories from Spanish speakers across the world. The storytellers will be using intermediate Spanish and I will be chiming in for context, in English. But these are not language lessons, they're real life lessons through language. Manu was born and raised in Buenos Aires. In that city he got married, had three kids and learned how to sell antiques, mostly art deco pieces. He had a thing for cigarette cases and pill boxes with artwork from the 15th and 16th centuries. They always sold well.

Manu: Hasta el año 1999 viví en un barrio tradicional en las afueras del centro de Buenos Aires. Nuestros placeres familiares eran cocinar asados y ver partidos de fútbol en la televisión.

Martina: But everything ended with the crisis that struck Argentina at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s. Years of bad economic policy had led the system to total collapse.

Manu: Muchas personas protestaban en las calles. La gente se puso violenta. Era una reacción ante las decisiones políticas que causaban más problemas económicos.

Martina: The ex-president Fernando de la Rúa fled by helicopter from the Casa Rosada, the President’s office. The impact of this crisis even reached the price of the U.S. dollar, which skyrocketed for Argentinians.

Manu: Las antigüedades se venden en dólares y en poco tiempo nadie podía comprar en mi tienda. Hasta que un día no tuve suficiente dinero para mi familia. Por eso, mi esposa tuvo que empezar a trabajar limpiando casas y vendiendo en tiendas. Y yo me quedé en casa con mis hijos, cocinando, limpiando los platos y lavando la ropa.

Martina: Unemployment hit Manu’s pocket and his spirit. He became depressed as he failed to fulfill his role as the breadwinner of the family.

Manu: Mi esposa trabajaba, pero ganaba muy poco dinero. Nuestra vida como familia de clase media, y mi relación con ella, estaban en crisis.

Martina: Their marriage didn’t last long. Only a couple of months after Manu lost his job, they separated. It was June of 1999 and he needed to leave his house, but he really didn’t have anywhere to go.

Manu: Podía ir a la casa de mi mamá, pero no tenía una buena relación con ella. Tampoco quería preguntarles a mis amigos...

Martina: He was too ashamed to ask them.

Manu: Y así, con un pequeño bolso y un poco de ropa, me fui a vivir a la calle.

Martina: Manu remembers that night very well. The night was cold and it had started to rain.

Manu: Caminé por unas horas, lejos de casa, sin destino. No quería encontrarme con amigos o familia. Mientras caminaba, pensaba sobre mi vida. Era difícil creer que esto era real – que después de muchos momentos felices, de tener una familia, ahora no tenía dónde dormir.

Martina: His aimless wandering was a representation of what was happening across his country: unemployment, rise in poverty, the closing of businesses and factories, rise in foreign debt, and the privatization of government agencies.

Manu: Después de un tiempo llegué a un parque. Parecía seguro. Encontré una bolsa de plástico que usé para dormir.

Martina: Manu laid down on a bench and used his backpack as a pillow. While he stared up at the dark sky he was sure this was a temporary solution. He would figure something else out in a couple of days.

Manu: No quería aceptarlo, pero yo ahora era un “sin techo”, como las miles de personas que duermen en las calles de la ciudad de Buenos Aires.

Martina: Despite living on the streets, every once in a while Manu got his hands on an antique to sell.

Manu: Pero no funcionaba. Argentina estaba en una crisis económica y nadie quería comprarlos.

Martina: When he occasionally managed to sell something, it would give him just enough to pay for a hotel room for a night so he could get some sleep and take a shower.

Manu: Yo todavía vivía en la calle, caminando sin dirección por la ciudad y durmiendo en parques. A veces, por la noche, entraba a los trenes sin pagar y viajaba por Buenos Aires. Allí dormía tranquilo.

Martina: Each day, Manu walked the streets of the city, a city he saw through new eyes. He would look for food in the downtown neighborhoods of San Nicolás and San Telmo, where he knew restaurants would throw out their leftovers.

Manu: Yo pedía comida en panaderías y pizzerías. Era triste ver por la ventana de los restaurantes a familias comiendo juntas y felices.

Martina: The first time Manu looked for food in the trash bin was really rough on him. He felt he had reached the lowest point in his life… but that he had no other choice.

Manu: Como yo era un “sin techo”, ahora yo era invisible para el resto de la ciudad: la gente caminaba cerca de mí, pero no me miraba. O me miraban con odio. Me detestaban. Antes, yo también actuaba así.

Martina: From the day he stepped out of his house and onto the street, Manu’s shame and embarrassment kept him from visiting his kids or his friends. He didn’t want them to see him in that state — dirty and without a dime. That isolation left him completely alone. He dealt with the loneliness by turning to drugs and alcohol.

Manu: Quería escapar y no aceptar la realidad, que era horrible. Más de una vez me intenté suicidar.

Martina: Suicidar means to commit suicide.

Manu: No tenía familia, amigos, ni casa. ¿Para qué vivir si no tenía nada?

Martina: That’s how Manu spent nine of the most difficult years of his life. On especially cold nights, he’d walk until daylight to keep from freezing to death in his sleep. Eating so poorly also made him sick -- he developed issues with his lungs, high blood pressure, and malnutrition. He had wounds that wouldn’t heal.

Manu: Tenía el pelo sucio, una barba larga y ropa con un olor horrible. Después de un tiempo empecé a ser muy violento, sobre todo con los que me miraban mal.

Martina: Manu spent time with other homeless people in small communities that formed under bridges or in public plazas. They called them rancheras, and there people would look over each other’s things and take care of one another. But these communities didn’t last long and attracted unwanted attention from police. One random day, a friend who also lived on the street told Manu about a shelter, a parador, that he should try out.

Manu: Tenían normas muy estrictas, era como estar en prisión. Las personas que trabajaban allí nos trataban mal: insultos, malas caras, revisiones... Además, para reservar una cama para la noche había que esperar por tres o cuatro horas. Entonces era imposible para los “sin techo” que tienen que trabajar por la noche o buscar comida o ropa por la ciudad.

Martina: So when Manu’s friend proposed he go try out the new shelter, Manu told him no, that he had lost faith in institutions. But Manu’s friend insisted, so he figured he had nothing to lose and went. It was April of 2008 when Manu first set foot in the shelter they called Monteagudo.

Manu: Era claro que este lugar era diferente. El director era Horacio Ávila, un hombre que también fue un “sin techo” cuando era joven, pero que pudo obtener trabajo, mejorar su situación y ayudar a otra gente. Y lo más importante: estaba interesado en escucharnos.

Martina: Monteagudo is located in the south of the city and can house up to 120 homeless men. There they not only get food and shelter, but also they get help to reinsert themselves in society. It’s coordinated by an NGO that was created by former homeless people, including the director, Horacio. This made him more knowledgeable about what these men were going through.

Manu: En Monteagudo había doctores y psicólogos. También nos daban oportunidades de trabajo. Pero lo más importante para mí fue que había clases de periodismo, literatura y reparación de zapatos.

Martina: Manu was so comfortable that he stayed. And that’s how, without even meaning to and in the least likely moment, Manu got off the streets and started the long process of reintegrating with society. First he learned how to fix shoes. Then he joined a radio workshop.

Manu: Nos daban clases de cómo hablar al micrófono y muchos otros secretos profesionales. Hice el taller por nueve meses hasta que un día pensamos en comenzar un programa de radio. Yo inventé el nombre: “La voz de la calle”.

Martina: In the summer of 2012, their show launched on a community radio station called Radio Sur. “La voz de la calle”, or the voice of the street, was a live show that had sections of heavy metal music intermingled with commentary and discussion on issues like spirituality and sports. Manu liked to talk about political topics, like housing rights and access to education.

Manu: En el programa hablaba sobre los “sin techo” y sobre cómo ellos no son parte de la política en Argentina. En muy poco tiempo descubrí que la radio era mi vocación.

Martina: Manu started going more frequently to the radio station to see how they ran the other shows. And there they trained him on the use of music, writing and editing.

Manu: También empecé a leer libros y a ver documentales para aprender a expresarme mejor en la radio. Aprendí a eliminar algunos hábitos, como insultar.

Martina: He started to carry a recording machine with him, just in case he got a chance to conduct interviews while he was out.

Manu: Era 2014 y un día vi que había un evento en un centro cultural. Entré y ahí estaba Mauricio Macri.

Martina: Mauricio Macri was the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires. Manu was super nervous because he knew he had the most powerful politician in the city standing right next to him. Manu approached him as he was leaving the bathroom to try and get him while his guard was down and he introduced himself. Macri showed interest in hearing Manu out. He asked Manu about his program and the radio station it aired on.

Manu: Sentí la responsabilidad de hacer preguntas profundas, sobre los problemas de los “sin techo”.

Martina: Manu told the mayor about bad conditions in the shelters. He asked what he thought the city’s homeless need. Then they discussed the children that are often among the homeless and Manu asked him whether he thinks the homeless are capable of reinserting themselves into society…

Mauricio Macri: Depende de cada uno. La vida te da millones de alternativas.

Martina: The mayor answered, of course, he thinks they’re capable… but that it depends on each person. “Life gives you a million options,” he said, but you have to have in your heart the desire to change your life. When he finished the interview, the first thing Manu did was to hit rewind and listen to his recording to make sure it was all there.

Manu: Todavía no puedo creer que hablé con Macri sobre los “sin techo”.

Martina: That night he could barely sleep, but this time, not because of feeling cold or vulnerable, but because he was excited.

Manu: La entrevista tuvo un gran impacto en las organizaciones sociales. Y a mí, me dio mucha motivación para continuar trabajando.

Martina: The following year there were presidential elections in Argentina. The mayor, Mauricio Macri, ran and he won. Without knowing it, Manu had interviewed the 54th president of Argentina. Last year, Manu’s show “La voz de la calle” was honored by the legislature of Buenos Aires for its cultural and social contributions. They asked Manu to say a few words at the ceremony. As he was preparing to approach the podium, he looked around the main hall of the legislative building and stood in wonder.

Manu: Recordaba que solo unos años antes yo había caminado por esa misma cuadra, pero como una persona que no era bienvenida en ese lugar.

Martina: Today, Manu is no longer homeless...

Manu: Hoy ya no soy un “sin techo” – Pero continúo caminando por las calles de Buenos Aires para que se escuchen las voces de las personas que no tienen voz en la sociedad.

Martina: Fabio Manuppella has since reconnected with his children and continues to be a radio reporter in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Journalist Mariano Pagnucco worked with Manu to bring us his story. You can find a transcript of this story at podcast.duolingo.com. And don’t forget to subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app to hear other episodes. With over 200 million members, Duolingo is the world's largest online language learning platform and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes that everyone should have access to education of the highest quality for free. Learn more at duolingo.com. I'm Martina Castro, gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings from aesge, InspectorJ and Pogotron under the CC Attribution License from freesound.org.