Some folks I know from church, Emily and Dane, just went to Mexico for a week to build houses. They got back into the States last night and Emily has updated her MySpace blog with a description of their time there. It sounds like it was an incredible experience. I asked Emily if I could re-post it here so people without MySpace accounts can share her experience, and she graciously agreed. (The picture by the way, is not from Mexico… that’s a vacation pic. )
If you do have a MySpace account [Click here for Emily's MySpace blog] if you don’t, read it below…
Day 1: We met at Carl’s Jr. and drove across the border together….we then took a Mexican toll road into the town of Tecate. We went ( via the toll road) through the mountains, and it was greener and nicer than what we had ever experienced before in Mexico!
Next job: set up camp! We all did this relatively quickly….in about an hour or so, everyone was ready. Terry Maldonado, our fearless team leader, led us in a devotion. The basic message was that anything we would be going through in the coming week was NOTHING compared to what Christ endured on the cross for US.
After devotions, Josh, an Amor team representative, came and introduced himself, then led us over to our work site. It was a lot closer to our campsite than we were originally told it would be (we were thankful!!). The family was in the front yard, and said hello, but were very stand-offish. I was expecting them to jump right in and help us, or at least engage us in conversation, but they did not (I guess this was my first unmet expectation!!). We began by taking inventory, then sawed the lumber (and yes, we ALL helped with this! I have a WHOLE new appreciation for power tools, which we were NOT allowed to use on this trip!). We were able to frame out all of the walls by the end of this first day.
The first night at camp was COLD!!!! It was 31 degrees…..I spent most of the night curled up in fetal position, and shivering…..I only slept about 2-3 hours at best, and the kids and Dane didn’t seem to sleep much, either. When we got up the next morning, there was literally ice and frost all over our tent, and all over the campsite. We were NOT prepared for these temperatures!!
Day 2: As I rearranged the sleeping bags and blankets (in hopes of being warmer the next night), I was greeted by a “friendly” (and yes, sense the sarcasm in my voice) Mexican spider….right at the foot of Claire’s cot. I was SO thankful that it didn’t crawl on her during the night! It was hideous (as all spiders are) with a FAT abdomen, and I made Dane remove it (then kill it) from the tent!!!
We went to the worksite right away….wanted to get going. It got HOT on this day….even with sunscreen, we were all getting sunburned. This was also our first experience with the outhouse at the worksite. Now, mind you, we had outhouses set up for us back at camp, but they were “new” upon our arrival. The one at the worksite belonged to the family who lived there, and it was well, disgusting. It had obviously been there for YEARS, without being moved, and it was ripe! One visit was all it took to make us “hold it” the rest of the week!!
The kids and I left the worksite early today….went into the city to try to find more blankets. We didn’t want to be so cold again tonight!! It was harder than I thought. Tecate is a much smaller town than any of the other Mexican cities I’ve been in before…..and it was difficult to find blankets! When we did, they didn’t negotiate as much as I was used to, either! There has definitely been inflation in Mexico in pricing since we’ve been there (granted, it was 14 years ago, but prices seem to have tripled since then!!)! I ended up spending $60 American dollars for 3 more blankets, but we NEEDED them!!
After purchasing our blankets, we headed back to the worksite. The family was now helping in the building process, which was great to see! We were able to get the walls up and the roof on today (I say WE, but it was mainly due to the men in the group!!). Alina, Terry’s niece, presented me with my first nursing duties (Terry put me in charge of First Aid for the group this week…..doesn’t she know blood makes me pass out?????? DEFINITELY outside of my comfort zone!!). She (Alina) was helping put up the walls, and fell from the top….she slid down the side of the wall, but caught a nail on her way, which scratched her all the way down her stomach, and took a chunk of her flesh with it.). Fortunately, Terry (who was a nurse for 18 yrs. before going on staff w/ Clovis Hills) came over and cleaned/bandaged her wound for me….I was her loyal assistant and handed her what she needed!!
After leaving the worksite, we decided to spend $3 per person on hot showers which were advertised just outside of our campsite. It was at someone’s house, and they literally led us through their house to the bathroom. The only problem…..a team had gone before us and used up all of the hot water! So we paid for cold showers! And they were ICE cold! Stone repeated Terry’s devotional from the day before as he backed himself into the cold water (this is NOTHING compared to what Jesus did for us on the cross….I can do this!!). Dane opted to go across the street to a crude bathhouse (which also advertised hot showers). We should’ve followed him….he got a HOT shower!!! He spent some time talking to the attendant outside while he waited for another team member to finish up (as the attendant spoke English). The attendant was telling Dane that the locals hate when all of the Americans come (the camp literally holds about 2,500 at a time) because they are rude and messy. Dane probed him a bit to find out why….he told Dane that they drive too fast, create too much dust/dirt for the people who live along the campsite road, and they are rude to the locals. The attendant told Dane that the night before he was standing around until 10 pm to keep the shower house open for the Americans. As you will recall, it was below freezing that night. He was cold…..the Amor staff came by to bathe, and had a truckload of blankets to sell in their store back at camp. He asked if he could have one, and they said NO. Here he was out in the cold, keeping the shower house open for THEM, and they couldn’t even give him a blanket. He was merely the attendant at the shower house, not the owner, and only made $10 a day……that $15 blanket (which is what Amor charged in their store) was a fortune to him…..Dane figured out it would be like an American spending about $400 on a blanket. Obviously, he could not afford it! Dane was VERY frustrated over this whole situation….to the point of tears when he retold it at campfire that night. Dane pointed out that we were there to build houses, yes, but more importantly, to SHOW God’s love….to the locals….not JUST the family for whom we were building a house! He was frustrated particularly that the AMOR staff themselves were not more sensitive to the local people and their needs.
That night we all did sleep much better with our added blankets. It was still quite cold, but having the extra layers helped tremendously!!
Day 3: Today was a half day at our worksite (Terry had set apart the afternoon for us to tour the city and experience the culture!). The guys managed to get the tar/paper on the roof, and completely prep the rest of the house (with bailing wire and chicken wire) for stucco the next day.
The local kids came out at the worksite today! This is what I had been waiting for. I finally got to practice my limited translation skills!! We (all of our kids, and the local children) played basketball, jump-rope, and the kids’ favorite….dirt clod wars!!).
At lunch time we went back to camp, had a baby wipe “bath,” and headed into the city! We walked around as a team, shopped a bit, and had an authentic Mexican food dinner at a local taqueria. It was delicious!! Stone found a peso while we headed back to the cars, and he was quite excited!
At campfire that night, Terry asked me if I’d co-lead communion the next evening. I said yes. Back in the tent, getting ready for bed, I had my first and only meltdown on the trip. I couldn’t find anything, it was dark, it was cold, and the kids needed to get to sleep (but we couldn’t locate their sweats to go over their pajamas, or their toothbrushes). I literally sat down in the middle of the tent, started crying, and told Dane I was DONE with this whole camping/tent thing. He very firmly told me to step outside of the tent to have my tempter tantrum, while he helped the kids. I did, and prayed that God would help me readjust my attitude. I felt He reminded me that it was temporary…and I could endure! And I really did need to readjust my attitude if I was going to help lead communion the next evening………so I went back in and tried again. It was another COLD night, and I couldn’t get comfortable on my cot (there was a bar in my back)….I got about 4 hours of sleep.
Day 4: Today was a LONG day….and a LOT of hard work! We mixed (the girls/kids) the stucco, and the guys applied it to the house (the kids helped with one wall of application, then gave up!). My arms and back of my neck are SO sore from the sunburn, and it’s another HOT day. We also took time to play with the local children again. I brought out the arts/crafts container, and they went to town! It was a blast! They colored, glued, stickered, and had a great time. After arts/crafts, they had dirt clod wars again (truly MY children had NEVER been this dirty!!), then signed each others clothing and did body art with the markers. Our kids said it was the BEST day EVER, and didn’t want to leave. They talked about (and verbally committed to Terry!) coming next year…..
We actually finished the entire house today. Terry gave Tristan, our “crew chief” the honors of doing the key ceremony w/ the family. It was EMOTIONAL….he cried, we cried, everyone cried!
Since today was such a MESSY day, we all decided to pay for a hot shower again. This time the kids and I went w/ Dane to the bathhouse. Dane stopped to buy a blanket for the attendant before we went. He and the kids were excited to give it to him…..he was SO grateful….he teared up, hugged Dane repeatedly, and kept saying thank you. He immediately draped it over himself as it was already getting chilly. Dane also gave him some cash, and told him to use it for his family.
Back at camp (now that we were all semi-clean again) we had dinner, then communion (as it was our last night). We then shared memories (high/lows), including all of the children! It was precious! Terry told us we could pack up the next morning, and be on our way, since the house was completed a day early. Danny, one of our team members, put together a FUNNY song for our team……highlighted some funny moments of the trip, and our favorite new phrase for when something went wrong, “It’s a Murray” ….Murray was also a team member who, let’s just say, had a knack……:)
It was another COLD night, but I kept reminding myself as I shivered through it, that it was the LAST one! I must’ve eventually fallen asleep….and when I woke up, I heard the campfire crackling, and voices whispering. It was still dark, but I got up.
Day 5: Time to get up, and pack up! As we took our tent apart, a BIG (bigger than the other one we experienced) Mexican spider dropped down into our tent, right from the middle point….hmmmm….wonder how long he was there? But thankful I didn’t experience him earlier!!!! Boy, he was disgusting! I get goose bumps just typing about him……..
After we were done packing up camp, we went as a team to say goodbye to our family. We also took them all of our leftover food/water/blankets/etc…..they were wide-eyed and so thankful! It was a blessing for US.
After this, the rest of the team wanted to go to the local pottery farms (which looked amazing), then go into town to eat….we (our family) opted to go ahead and separate, and head back across the border. We were tired, dirty, hungry, and just wanted to get back on to American soil at this point! We ended up waiting in line for about 25 minutes at the border, were flagged through, then had to wait at another point for a drug dog to sniff the car. After this process, we were allowed to cross. Then, about 20 miles down the road, there was a 2nd border checkpoint. Neither Dane nor I remembered this process, but honestly, I’m glad they do it!! Once we got to San Diego, we got our dirty selves out of the dirty car, and went into a fine Mexican restaurant (I know, I know, but hey, we were in MEXICAN mode!!). They had beautiful flushing toilets (wow, I’ve never appreciated plumbing so much!!), and a sink with hot water….it was the first time we’d washed our hands w/ running water all week….and quite literally, the water coming off our hands was SO brown, we had to wash multiple times before eating! We enjoyed a fabulous hot meal, then drove to Dane’s parents in Newport Beach. We opted not to drive all the way through….we were too tired. We all took baths/showers, and I did 6 loads of laundry. We were all in bed by 8:30, and slept until 7:00 the next morning. Wow, a soft bed and moderate temperatures did us WELL!!!!!!
Day 6: So it’s Saturday morning, and I’m sitting at Dane’s parents’ computer typing this….we are having a leisurely morning, and will head back to our house this afternoon. So….what have I learned from this process? Well, for starters, I’m not quite as resilient as I was when I used to take these trips (you know, back in THE DAY!!). It is definitely taking me a bit longer to recover! But as always, it is a fabulous reminder of what we have, and so often take for granted. I have learned, once again, to be THANKFUL…..we have SO much in comparison to the rest of the world! I also got to see my children go through this process……and to watch what God did in their little hearts was amazing….truly priceless. Other than experiencing the two of them accepting God into their hearts (and being baptized later on), this was one of my high points in parenting…….words cannot describe watching your child go through this process….being uncomfortable, learning to cope, experiencing another culture and adapting, and at the end of it all, humbly appreciating what God has given to us. The kids promised never to complain about being bored, or not having anything to do….we’ll see how long it lasts! But I know this is an experience they will NEVER forget…..God has imprinted it on their hearts, and it was a joy and a blessing to experience it alongside them. And yes, I would do it again…..who’s going w/ us next year?????????