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DORIS

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Moses cannot be explained without the burning bush, and Doris neither. The burning bush of Doris is the small Christian community of her area of Resistencia in the Argentine Chaco where the Word of God seems to have settled. A magnificent spark suddenly sprang up from the fire of that humble bush and it fell in the heart of Doris and transformed her into a flame.

Seeing Doris falling in love with the Bible, her father, who is a socialist and an atheist – like God loves them – nearly dies of a coronary. But the only thing important for the daughter is to live the Word. This brings her directly at two street corners from her house, in the small shantytown of a fetid lagoon infested with dangerous perches with sharp teeth. In that place where the poor is always the one who is too many, day and night, Doris looks, listens, consoles, encourages, sustains, defends and accompanies. She cannot give anything since she has nothing, safe herself. It is then with her whole being that she will give of herself to those brave people.

By standing as a team with the people of her area, she succeeds in convincing the residents of the lagoon to take control over their life. Together they create their own organization, have the little lots on which they live be legally recognized, laying the foundation of a housing cooperative, and finally, after two or three years of intensive labor, all those humble people are on the road and do not need crutches anymore.

And so, Doris decides to become a religious nun. This time, her father wants to die, but she persists with her project. She only ties to give solid foundations to her faith while finishing her law studies. She enters the convent and invests her whole heart in her new life. But after two or three years, she has enough. Anxious to return to the world of her friends, she flies towards the mountains of Bolivia to land in a condor's nest at 4000 meters in altitude. From that day, she will enjoy giving herself the nickname of the « mountain goat. » It is there that she will share with three religious women of another community the extremely tough life and the very painful work of the Kolla people of that region.

She merges with the people, wears the typical clothes of the women of the country, gathers her hair into a huge tress that swings behind her back, and crams her head up to her eyes in the traditional felt hat which is one of their characteristics. Every day, with those brave people known for their dedication to work, Doris dedicates herself to the culture of the huge fields of potatoes. Like everyone else, she lives in an adobe hut with a straw roof. In that way, she wants to give testimony that God is also Kolla.

Each week, Doris rapidly goes down to the large neighboring city, gets rid of her peasant outfit and flies to offer legal help to a noisy trade union stuck in a strike which has no end. To feed herself, she sells bread rolls along the street; at night, she sleeps on a bench at the station.

Many Christians who have a very high opinion of themselves are convinced that the struggle for a just salary, for land and for bread, for health, education and housing has nothing to do with religion. The good missionary priest of Doris' « condor's nest », otherwise an excellent person, is one of them. One day, annoyed by the criticisms of the influential people who cannot anymore see the sisters defend the poor, he presses Doris and her companions to the wall: either they accept to dedicate themselves only to liturgy and catechesis, or they transfer elsewhere. Doris decides to move out.

Her religious community offers her the Sahara... Doris packs her bags and takes the long route which leads to the sands of Tunisia. Barely arrived in the place, she is fascinated by the Bedouins of the desert and it was not long before she became a nomad with them. The alarm is raised in the convent. The Sisters are scared stiff that Doris becomes a Muslim. They ask her to cut her ties with the Bedouins and to quietly dedicate herself to a less risky service within the institution. It does not take more than that for our Doris to jump in a plane and bounce back in Bolivia. Here is how comes to an end forever the dream of religious life of our eternal novice. She will from now on continue to live as a committed lay person, which is enough already.

She knocks at the door of a humble bishop in her country of adoption who hastens to entrust to her the pastoral charge of a community that was abandoned in the farthest corner of his diocese. All the problems proper to those human groups that do not find space for themselves on the planet have met in that big village half Quechua and half Guarani where Cambas, Kollas and Creoles get on more or less well. For Doris, the challenge is great, but the highest is the mountain, the more « the little mountain goat » is happy.

Every day, Doris dedicates long moments to the Word of God. The dialogue with the Word is vital for her; it is there that she recreates her being and feeds the flame that burns her heart to that of the Risen One. Her deep desire to walk with the people of the little ones comes from there.

She laughs, cries struggles and dances the carnival with the people. She goes from the feast to the funeral vigils, from the railway station to the airport of the big land owners to sell her «empanadas» and her green papaya jellies. This afternoon, she studies the ABC of the Guarani language with an old grandmother, and this evening, she will reconstruct the country by joining in discussions about the constitutional reform with some political leader. Tomorrow will be something different. Her life is not systematic, nor programmed neither tranquil. Her agenda is made as she goes day by day with the people. She writes to some friends: « My law is the history written today by that people and I cooperate at that creation with them ».

In addition to being a seamstress and sewing teacher, salesperson of small products made by her hands and popular health promoter, she works at the formation of catechists, animates youth groups, organizes sessions of initiation to the Bible and at all times cultivates her friendship with everyone.

Still, the more she strives to sow love and good understanding in the village, the more she finds herself caught up in quarrels in which he has no choice but to side with the weakest against those who abuse them. Hence she is making enemies who would really like to get rid of her, but she won't give them that pleasure.

Most of her time is dedicated to a group of poor women like her and who do not know that they are the greatest force in creation. In that plot of fallow land, Doris opens new paths. Soon, a great awakening takes place in the conscience of those courageous companions and spreads among many women of neighborhood.

Years go by, then comes the moment when the one who gave wings to so many people must move aside once again so that the community gets use to fly by oneself. And so, Doris packs her bags and leaves without any noise for Paurito, another big village located at about 40 kilometers from the city of Santa Cruz.

The only means of livelihood of the people of Paurito is connected to the making of hats from the fibers of the saó palms; these traditional hats are very popular in the region and throughout the country. Yet rumor has it that those lands belonging to the municipality where the hat makers stock up on the saó fibers could be privatized at any time.

One morning, the village discovers with astonishment that a large part of the saó plantation has been fenced. The new « owners » coming from Santa Cruz are caught chopping the saó trees so as to landscape a pastureland for their cattle.

Without any guns, machetes, sticks or stones, the whole population rushes at the scene, Doris leading, to block the way to those usurpers. Discussions, pushing and shoving; the saoïsts are desperate. The preferred weapon of the adversaries is to denounce Doris as a « terrorist ». They accuse her of having converted the village church into a cell of the MAS1 and of being involved in drug trafficking. Insults fall like rain and go to the extent of death threats.

But the community of the saoïsts closes ranks around Doris. They protect her, guard, defend and do not let her out of their sight. She is not even allowed to eat something unless someone first tastes it, so much that they are afraid that she may be poisoned.

Thanks to the support of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform and of the Minister of Agriculture, and thanks also to the remarkable intervention of solidarity people of Argentine, Doris and her community of Paurito succeed in presenting to the Congress of the nation a bill that would insure the protection of the saó palm tree.

Believe it or not, the project is approved in a record time and the new President of the Republic, Evo Morales, personally travels to Paurito to deliver directly to the community of saoïsts the new Law for the Protection of Saó Tree.

While they are still savoring that extraordinary victory, Doris faces a new challenge: the landless peasants. They are like exiles in their own country. When she has them discover that the right to land is a natural right that God has blessed since Abraham, the struggle by the peasants to accede to legal ownership of the land, that they have tilled for generations, becomes for the people of Paurito a real salvation story. And so, everybody mobilizes behind Doris once again to pass into action.

The confrontation with the big land owners, the same ones who, with the years, have grabbed through force or corruption most of the land of the region, is inevitable. The struggle is uneven. The powerful landowners resume more than ever the defamation campaign against Doris in order to that she will lose all credibility in the eyes of the peasants. She is accused of being only a puppet of Evo Morales, the « dangerous communist » who became President of the country, who would be using her to grab the lands of the honest people and keep them for himself.

In spite of that, the judicial process starts and, after many long months of debate and unbearable tensions, it comes to succeed in a very positive way. Finally, hundreds of land titles are distributed to the peasants and Doris is still alive, this clearly proving that miracles exist...This feat follows a former campaign where an infinite number of identification documents had been turned over to a crowd of people whose existence until then was not officially recognized.

Doris continues to give of herself without reserve to the community of Paurito until the time when rings for her the hour to return to Argentina to her native Chaco to take care of her sick and aged mother left alone at the house. That is what she is doing now while constantly keeping her antennae turned towards the planet of all the social outcasts of her country, of her dear Bolivia and of the whole world.

 

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1 The MAS is the Movement towards Socialism of the popular leader Evo Morales who will become President of Bolivia in the following months.

 

Eloy Roy

Translated from the French by Jacques Bourdages

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