Posted by: Shanie Matthews | February 12, 2010

Our Neighborhood Charlie Chaplin

Living abroad has helped me to see that there are aspects to all countries that can be worked upon. This is no different in Argentina…and one of those parts to life that needs a little love would be the litter and trash control.

As an avid lover of the creations of Mother Nature, this is one of my biggest struggles living in this stunning country. I have a hard time with seeing such an amazingly beautiful place as Patagonia poke-a-dotted with trash bags, candy wrappers, cigarette butts and toilet paper. In fairness, some of the wayward garbage is due to dumpsters becoming overfilled and the loose dog’s temptation to smell. But either way, the garbage that is strewn amongst nature has to be picked up eventually by a human hand.

So, instead of letting it drive me crazy, my husband, Jamie, and I tend to clean up some litter everyday…our zone mainly being the Parque Llao Llao, a protected park a few miles from where we live.

Well, there is another gentleman that has become a “trash crusader”.

A short guy that looks me straight in the eye at five feet tall, he has a cute little Charlie Chaplin mustache, shuffle to his walk, and twitch to his nose when making a point while talking. Although mentally challenged, this sweetheart of a man has taken it upon himself in the last few years to clean the Peninsula San Pedro area, an over-sized neighborhood near our house. In addition to cleaning up the continual litter that is strewn due to the unkempt dumpsters, he also built and maintains a recycling area and compost…because of his hard work we are one of only two neighborhoods in Bariloche that recycle. And of course, the community consciously or subconsciously is being affected positively by his actions.

So today, while dumping off garbage and recyclables in the pouring down rain, I heard a little scuffle behind me and turned around to find Argentina’s Charlie. He gives me a hearty kiss to the cheek and an irresistible smile that spans from ear to ear. He is so happy. He is wet. But happy.

We have never actually met face to face and he explains that he is the keeper of the neighborhood. He asks if he can help me with my truck full of stuff in exchange for some moneda (Argentine coins). I feel honored to be in the presence of this amazing soul. His personal sense of happiness is bursting from every pore. He is glowing. Yes, he deals with garbage on a daily basis, probably has the IQ of what many would consider to be stupid, and lives a humble existence, but this man is literally radiating.

In fact, he is so proud of his work that he gives me a little tour of his creation and explains that he has extended the compost zone to get ready for spring clean-up.

I literally have tears coming to my eyes. Señor Chaplin is a shining example that happiness is a state of mind.

At the end of our conversation, I express my gratitude for his hard work and hand him a 100 pesos (the equivalent to less than US$30). It is his turn to tear up. He plants a big, ol’ wet kiss on my cheek and gives me a smile I will never forget.

And a lesson that I will carry with me forever…

I think the Dalai Lama said it well, ” The basic thing is that everyone wants happiness, no one wants suffering. And happiness mainly comes from our own attitude, rather than from external factors. If your own mental attitude is correct, even if you remain in a hostile atmosphere, you feel happy.”



  1. […] Happiness truly is a state of mind. I have written about how those working with garbage in the Llao Llao area are people of real inspiration. They not only are seen […]

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