Saturday, July 29, 2006

I'll be draggin' in church tomorrow if I write this... but I'll be distracted if I don't. So here it goes!

There is so much more to tell you about the work in Mexico.

We spent the days in Rio Bravo and Progresso, worked hard and headed home to our clean rooms and cool showers. (Didn't take a hot shower all week!) We went out for fast food and woke up to a fantastic continental breakfast. Home made belgian waffles, or french toast, or muffins or cereal, or bagels, fruit, hardboiled eggs, yogurt... coffee, juice, milk. It was a feast! My morning plate was usually french toast, on which I sprinkled cinnamon and poured maple syrup and butter, yogurt, a glass of milk and a banana to go. It would be a hard days' work before lunch.

We loaded up the buses at 7:00am and headed for the border. It was already muggy... I just had to tell myself that this was the cool time of day. We'd generally sing on the way to the clinics, or laughed and shared antics and stories.

Once we arrived, the clinics were just setting up. I'd find work to do... tidy here, take a grandmother to the eye clinic there. Mostly just trying to find my spot. I usually found it with the children. Our group was in charge of the VBS... though I wasn't teaching. Two local women did their best to wrangle the kids into one spot, as we sat by cutting the papers for them and passing out crayons. We knew the teaching part of VBS was over when she packed up her box and left. That's usually about the time chaos would ensue. And... shortly before lunch. The preacher's wife would drag out a few boxes of things that would keep the kids amused. Bubbles, crayons, candy, and on the final day, hula hoops and jumpropes. Derek joined me on the last day to play with the kids. He managed to snag an interpreter and explained the rules to the games we would play when we worked at the daycare: "Bulldog" and "Mosquito Net". Chasing games. Kids anywhere love 'em! He was an instant hit! He'd count "Uno!"..."Dos!"..."Tres!" and the kids would start screaming and running. Parents started to come by just to watch. It really was amazing to see our little ones mixed in with the locals and realize that chase was a universal language!

I realized that we had loads of candy that no one wanted to take home. Little packages of Chiclets and Tootsie Rolls. I began to pass them out to anyone who wanted them. My interpreter taught me the word for "sweets", which I've long since forgotten. The kids were thrilled. I was a little concerned when the kids would put the candy in their mouths, wrapper and all... until I realized... they unwrap the candy IN their mouths. I was a little alarmed, but a sweet mexican lady politely laughed... and reassured me in Spanish that the kids here do it all the time.

By the time all the candy was passed out (I think it took three rounds), I realized that the line over by the clothing station was still going strong...and there were kids there who were not allowed by their parents to come over to where the games were being played. I went back to the room of goodies and brought out balloons. I asked the interpreter for the word for "Balloon" and was suprised to hear it sounded very similar to ours. A word which, too... has long since been forgotten. The children loved them too. Many would come back and ask for one more ... for their "Armana?". I smiled and told them to bring their sister here and I would give her one. Only two or three sisters showed up. The kids were clever... but they saw I was ... um... cleverER!

Friday was a typical hot, busy day. Our lunches were difficult times. Families had been there since dawn to be first in line, and many of them didn't bring water or a lunch. So, when we were served ours, we were told we could share or not share... it was up to us. Usually a lady came by asking how many lunches would be in your group. I always doubled the number and passed out sandwiches... which were usually turned down two or three times before they were taken. Dunno what that was about. We all brought our own waters, and were much to thirsty to even think about drinking a soda. The chips were from Mexico... and each Dorito had enough seasonings on it for the whole bag! Most chips were left behind. It was enough to pickle the American tummy! After a hurried lunch, we'd head outside to see what was left of work.

Lunches were late, so work usually ended right after lunch. I was always anxious to get back on the bus and get home, and then at the same time reluctant to leave. I was worried there was just one more little one out there who didn't get a bubbles of her own, or a hungry little one who'd like my banana.

The last day I was there, I held what must have been a six month old baby most of the morning. One of the teens had him, and I watched for a while, wondering where the mama was. There was a stroller, but no diaper bag or bottle. He held a cracker which he promptly dropped and a toddler must have picked up. After a while he began to fuss, so I took him over. We cuddled and played and when I realized he was hungry I went to the lunch room.

The lunch room. It was the weirdest thing. We were in a school... the door had a sign posted "Do not come to us, your lunch will come to you." "Workers only, please."

I opened the door hesitantly... I wasn't a lunch worker, but I had a little fella who was hungry and no mama in sight.

The room was blasted with cold air and there must have been 20 white haired people in there making PBJ sandwiches! They all looked up at me at the same time. One lady came up to shoo me out. I couldn't believe that 20 people came all the way to Mexico to make sandwiches. It boggled my mind. Once I saw that I was being pushed out, I explained that I needed something for the baby to eat. They were quite helpful. Someone found a banana, someone else a peanutbutter lid, and a spoon, and a cup of very cold water.

I thanked them kindly and went back to the hot play yard where I sat the baby and me in a desk. I mashed the banana and fed it to the little guy whispering a prayer that he wasn't allergic to bananas or peanutbutter. He loved it. He took sips of the cold water like a pro... but seemed suprised at how cold it was.

He was satisfied with his lunch and refused anymore. I cuddled with him a bit longer... it must have already been two hours, but his mama hadn't returned. He was tired, so I started to rock him to sleep... I started to get real hot... baby heat, so I went into the beans and rice room (air conditioned) and that's when he started to cry. I realized the cold bothered him, so I went back outside and his little body went limp... he was in hot heaven! MY babies would have loved the air conditioned room... this little fella found it uncomfortable. So... we sat and we sweated together.

After another hour or so, the same young teen found me and asked if she could hold him. I let her. I went off for just a minute, but when I returned... the mama had picked him up. I never met her.

One afternoon, we all loaded up and were headed to a community where we were building a house and it was ready to be painted. Two vanloads of kids were there... must have been a total of 20 kids and 5 construction workers. As soon as I hopped out of the van I knew we were in trouble. It was HOT... not typically hot, but devistatingly HOT. The crew we were joining were already sitting in what little shade they could find and wiping themselves down... drinking, guzzling water. I walked up warily... beyond the rickety fence was a brand new house... probably 15 feet by 30 feet. Two rooms. Not two bedrooms.. two rooms. In the whole house. We were painting it an unimpressive brown. I asked where the outhouse was... and I was pointed to a skinny shack that was being propped by a few old 2X4's. I decided not to disturb it. A van rolled down the dusty road and stopped right next to me. Only the fourth grader in the car spoke english. They wanted to know if this was the only house we'd be working on, because their house needed help too. I asked our leader, and returned the message that we'd only be working on this one. I told them about the free clinic and VBS too. I turned back to the house knowing that these next few hours would be the hardest.

I looked and looked for a paintbrush, but found none... every one was in use. And, I was useless. I looked around to see what I could clean up... An old candle stick, the 1/4 full mayo jar in the hot sun, the dried out lime, the melting wax candle... these were all on the top of a beaten hutch just outside the door of the new home. I peered into the shack next to it, and realized I was looking right into their old home. The hutch I was leaning on was their kitchen. I decided to leave everything put. What might have been junk to me, might be a treasure to them. Besides.... there was no trash service out there. I moved my way to the front of the building and found the clever concoction they had built... a pump... a well... and a large tub with dirty water in it. I turned the corner and saw more painters... there would be no way I could help today. As I stood on the corner, the hot wind picked up and whipped around the corner cooling my drenched body off. I had found relief. I stood there for just a second realizing that I had found comfort in sweat and hot wind... when I was asked to move over for a painter. I was in the way. I went inside to see if there was any help I could offer there. But there was none. I returned to the back "yard" and found a dog snooping around. I turned the candle stick over to make a bowl and poured some cool water in it for him. He didn't want it. I felt completely useless. And... suddenly I felt the need for a bathroom. I spied the outhouse one more time and promptly decided against it. Who knows what creatures were in there? Could I hover? There was just no way. I decided to take the first van home. The kids were finishing up the house and looking like they weren't going to give up their brushes. I felt bad for about 2 minutes. Just long enough for the van's air conditioning to kick in.

The trip really taught me so much about my priviliges as an American, as a christian. I always went home to a cool room with the Disney channel playing in the background, as I wrestled with where to eat. Where to eat... not WHAT to eat. My mind often went back the kitchen on the hutch. It was still hot in Rio Bravo... and the floor is still hard.

I am blessed. Fat and happy. Are you?


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

We crossed the border for the first time on Saturday morning, prepared to pass out flyers in the Rio Bravo and Progresso neighborhoods. I videoed our crossing. The road above the Rio Grand was terribly bumpy and there was no easy transition between road and bridge. It was just a huge BUMP on and off the bridge. The river was lined with colourful shanty houses and the American side of the river had a high fence around it as far as you could see. The Mexican Border Crossing area was under construction. Actually... it was difficult to tell if they were building or tearing down. There were concrete chunks every where. After a few minutes of bumpy driving, we approached the actual crossing. A gentleman was in the booth and nothing more than a gate crossing guard appeared to hold the Americans back. (The other side of the highway headed into the US was crowded, however.) We made it through almost without stopping. I was surprised to see that we only paid a fee to go across, but weren’t asked for ID or what our business there was.
First we drove a highway that didn’t seem to have any speed limit. It was well maintained and well marked. The election had just happened and so several political candidates’ pictures were still up. They all looked the same to me... with different faces. One man stood out to me as he had a defiant fist held high. We got off the road and made our way to the Ranch church in Rio Bravo. The building was a grey concrete block building labeled "Iglasia De Christo" behind it were two outhouses. One with pink trim and one with blue. Behind that was a ditch partially filled with water and floating debris. And a shanty house flanked it on the left. Roosters and dogs were already up and busy. Some of the church members met us in the tent-like structure next to the building. We had plans to greet people in their own neighborhoods.
We drove back to Rio Bravo after a short while... and though it was only 9:30 in the morning, it was already quite hot. We drove through the colourful city, making our way through the huge speed bumps and morning traffic. Eventually we crossed the railroad and turned onto a dirt road. The buses unloaded under the shade and we split up into several groups headed in several directions.
The houses were very close together and sometimes it would have been impossible to tell if it was one structure or two if they hadn’t been painted different colours. It was Saturday morning, so we were greeted by people who were tending gardens or families who were meeting out in the cooler morning air. The houses were usually well gated and friendly dogs followed us up and down the street. Each yard was filled to the fullest with all sorts of random items... wash basins and car hoods, pallets and plumbing parts. We noticed that most of the houses still had huge rods sticking up out of the brick and mortar roofing. It was peculiar to us... so we asked about it and learned that the families were not well off, and would build on the houses as they had the cash to do so. The rods were left up in case they had plans to build a second story. We never saw a house with a second story. The gates were ornate and were often topped with broken bottles secured in mortar to keep folks from jumping the walls. People were skeptical and no one spoke English. I looked down at my paper and deciphered what was written on it. I told folks the best that I could about a free clinic at the church of Christ in Rio Bravo. Medical, Dental and vision... and that the children would have a bible school. Then, I would place the green flyer in their hands and hope for the best... wishing them a Buenos Dias...
As we finished up in the streets of Rio Bravo, I noticed that it was our newest Christians who were pounding the pavement harder than any of the rest of us. I think the poverty level of the Mexican families really touched them.
Next we loaded up and did the same sort of thing in Progresso. The streets were wider and I’m not sure they were much safer. It was nearly noon and the sun was beating down on us. Most folks had returned into their darkened houses, so it was more difficult to find families who were willing to speak with us. I walked one street to find a small group of children playing in the water that was running off of what ever their grandmother was cleaning. A little boy was naked and ran back to grandmother, but the older boy who must have been three was talking very loudly to me and had his arms crossed. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but noticed that he kept pointing to his older sister... who was quite shy. She had her little chubby hand held out and presented me with a bright pink flower. I was deeply moved and thanked them for the gift. I nodded at the grandmother and grinned all the way back to my group. It was truly the sweetest gift I received on that trip.
As we loaded up, we realized that a group was missing. It was terribly hot and though we all had our personal containers of water, there just didn’t seem to be enough water to go around. The vans couldn’t run in hot sun without driving because they would overheat... though we desperately wanted the air conditioning. We waited for a while, but when half of that group showed up nearly in tears we started up the van. The group had been accidentally split up and both halves were lost and dehydrating fast. We took one van into the village and began retracing the steps of the first half of the group. Immediately our pre-pharmacy kids took to dunking whole towels in the ice water that was in the cooler and placed them on the red-faced kids. We passed them our own waters and even diet cokes and told them to just sip them slowly. The van was quiet and serious. We were very aware of the graveness of the situation. We drove the bumpy roads and took turn after turn... and eventually we found the other half of the group. We scooted over and began tending to them as well. The younger kids in the group did everything they could to hold it together, but when they thought no one was looking, I saw tears. Being a mama, I snuggled up and cooled them off... I really felt for them. It was the most terrifying thing they’d ever been through. Being lost in a foreign country. They had a great leader who had really gone all out to keep the kids calm and used the cellphone to guide our driver to where he was. His translator had accidentally split the group.
We met the rest of our huge group at a small restaurant in Progresso where nearly 200 ice-cream cones were waiting for us. We took the restaurant over. After we were done cooling ourselves off, we were off to have cokes and do some shopping. Strangely, much of our group didn’t care to shop. They just couldn’t seem to stomach it after what they’d seen.
We all headed home tired and dirty and sweaty. We approached the US border and my anxiety about the validity of my US citizenship set in. I had never used my Indian Status ID card to claim citizenship before... and I was worried. I whispered a short prayer (one of many) as we unloaded to walk through. The building was clean and cool and I was so glad to be on the US side again. The border patrol agent asked everyone their citizenship... including me. I stated that I was a US citizen and then handed him my Canadian ID. Without missing a beat, he asked my for my date of birth and waved me through. I was so relieved.
We washed up in the hotel and went out to eat. Something cheap. I couldn’t get the kids out of my head. The heat. The dirty roads. Supper was swallowed hard. We had a devotional later that night and we could see that all of us had been really moved by what we saw. The medical supplies had been held up at the border for the entire week and we weren’t sure they’d make it through. We prayed about it... it was after all the main reason we were there. Mike had us pray and encouraged us to remember the greatness of God. We prayed some more.
I crumpled into bed that night wondering what worship would be like tomorrow. Do we dress up? Or would that just be rude? Or... do we not dress up and show up in our grubs? Would THAT be rude? I had my kids prepare their regular clothes. And, exhausted we all hit the sack. Zion prayed for the Mexicans to be rich. I thanked God for the little girl’s flower... a symbol of God’s beauty in both of them. We slept hard.
More tomorrow.

Day One:
Thursday, July 13th, 2006
We did all the laundry in the world yesterday. Didn’t think we’d ever see the bottom of the hamper! BUT... when it was all said and done... it was a beautiful sight to behold! We counted outfits, underwear and socks... We went out and bought hats, sunscreen and water bottles for our mission trip to Mexico... okay... and a few more incidentals. It’s amazing what you think you need for a trip.
BUT... here it is... day one.
We woke up around 6am. Kids knocked on the door ready for a shower. Our bags were packed, and all that was needed were some showers and clothes changing. It wasn’t too long before we were faced with breakfast. We had cereal, no milk. Peanut butter, no jelly. Departure time was in 30 minutes... I spied a 15 pound surloin roast on the counter. I thought "mmmm... steak for breakfast... wouldn’t that be something?" then I thought "You’re nuts... there’s no way! There’s no time!" Then I passed Mike on the way out to the car... he had just lit the grill. Oh me of little faith... Steak and eggs for breakfast it was! AND... we made it on time. God must have stood time still for us.
We met up with our bunch at the Conoco gas station where we filled up for the first time. I hopped out and began to paint flames on the sides of the Steinermobile (a 15 passenger bus). Kids thought it was cool...I was just hoping the paint would come eventually. Hehe.
So... we have already been through the rest of Arkansas, ate in Shreveport, LA, and we are currently on the road to Houston... It’s hot here. HOT. And, humid. But from what I hear the humidity will be soon over. Just in time for some hard work.
I brought face paint for the kids in Mexico... and plan to learn some children’s songs in Spanish... I just hope that my time spent will be useful, and productive. I pray that my children’s hearts be changed forever because they were offered this opportunity so early in life.
Right now, our van is singing all the devo songs they know. Derek is leading them. We have new friends everywhere... and what a blessing that is. The ache for old friends is somewhat eased by the making of new ones. But, that’s just a part of God’s plan, isn’t it?
I’ll be calling old friends today. I know they have been praying for this trip, and they need to know that we are all able to go.
More later.