Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Mexico Adventure(Part Five)

 New here? Wondering what story you've just stumbled into? The short version goes like this: Over March Break I journeyed to Mexico with 17 others to build a house for a family in need.  To get the long story, read Part One, Two, Three, and Four.  :) 

I have to start by saying that Tuesday was our hardest day.  There was a lot to process as well as some very real frustrations.  But perhaps I'll start from the beginning.

 I woke up to a chilly morning.  Everything I needed was laid out for easy access, allowing me to slip out without making undue noise.  I was left with a dilemma after giving up my shoes for 12 hours. Do I put socks on, keeping my feet warm, or do I go barefoot to keep my socks clean? Being slightly strange,  dirty feet seemed less repulsive than dirty socks, so off I went barefoot.  Thankfully, the cold and dirt didn't bother me nearly as much as I expected.

 The morning followed the same pattern as previous mornings; I woke up the cabin with a disgusting amount of cheerfulness, we attended chapel and then headed to breakfast. Our group was towards the end of the line, so some of us ended up eating outside at the beautiful blue tiled tables. Did I mention that it was chilly? Our fearless leader slid into a seat next to us only to quickly leap up exclaiming "Oh My Butt!" Clearly, shorts + cold tile seats = a chilly experience. Being the oh-so-mature crowd we are, we quickly adopted this as our new saying.  Instead of OMG!, we bring you OMB! Sadly, this did not catch on quite as well as we had hoped.

 Thankfully our sickie was feeling much better. She was excited to head out to the work site.  Due to our late start the previous day, we were slightly behind schedule.   Although tired and sore, we had plans, both to catch up and to score more air-time in the end of day video. Alas, these plans were to be sorely frustrated.

  If that Tuesday were to be summed up in one word, it would probably be "frustration". Our problems began with the guys on the roof running into some problems. Some of the pieces were not cut properly, leading to multiple rounds of measuring and cutting. Progress was stalled as we waited for those key pieces to be put in place. And on the roof, you could almost feel the frustration coming off of our lovely leaders, Toe and Tuff. Tuff works in the trade and as his frustration mounted, his language became a wee bit more suited to construction sites.  This became clearly evident when he almost fell off the roof.  Then he was frustrated and slightly embarrassed..After ensuring he was okay, the rest of us were amused.

 At times, this delay felt like a blessing. And in some ways it was. For our site was flooded with the neighbourhood children that day.  Since our guys couldn't be up on the roof or installing drywall, they played with the kids.  They gave piggy-backs, played tag, chase or soccer and just generally spent time loving on the kids.  The leaders agreed that it was best that our group spent time interacting with the neighbourhood instead of of standing around bored and frustrated.  Finally, after a morning of frustration, the framing was finished and the roof could go up.  The mood of those slated to work on the roof improved immediately.

 For the painters though, this was when we began to experience quite a bit of frustration.  Painting is a lot of fun, especially when you're under five. And it's something that everybody can do.  Even really little kids can hold a paintbrush.

At first we had a lot of fun painting with our friends. They really enjoyed slapping paint on and we had fun watching and helping, especially those that were still waiting for the framing to be finished.  After about an hour though, it started to get out of hand.  Not only did we have more kids than paint brushes, we noticed upon inspection that the painting was of very low quality.  Now to be fair, this is what you expect from small children. And it's not like we're professionals or getting paid for didn't sit right, especially after what we had observed the previous day.

 Because of the mother's job, our family was only able to come for the first and last day of the build. Lira and Steffie joined in with the painting crew. As we painted together, I observed how carefully Lira painted.  She went over every board, making sure it was just right.  To us, this was just a project, but to her, this was her home.  Lira's careful attention to detail stuck with me, spurring me on to greater effort. Sometimes it is easy to live in the land of "good enough".  Even before I noticed Lira's effort, the phrase "Do everything for the glory of God" was running through my head.  With both of those thoughts nudging me, how could I let slipshod work go?   We tried encouraging the kids to do better work, showing them how to paint carefully, but with the language barrier, that didn't go well.  We tried doing touch-ups, but every time we got out another paintbrush(that would have to be cleaned later), one of the kids would grab it out of our hands.  After several tries, I was done. So I confiscated paintbrushes, began to say"NO!" (Praise God for some words that are the same in both languages!), and started the painful process of repainting.  We did allow one boy to keep working with us.  He was a really hard worker, and once we figured out how to communicate, he did a great job.  I felt horrible about having to say no to those precious kiddos, but I also didn't want to let Lira down.  After all, this was her dream home.

 Unfortunately, our problems with the children weren't contained only to painting.  With probably close to twenty kids flooding our job site, demanding both attention and our stuff(because, sadly, gringos=handouts), it soon became overwhelming. We had brought along some treats to share with the children.  At first, when there were only a couple of children, it was fine.  But then more kept coming.  It became about kids coming to get stuff, instead of us sharing with our new friends. Some of the children became rather demanding.  And by demanding, I mean, literally demanding, grabbing things out of our hands, or even going into the van and getting them if we didn't hand it over.  Some of the older boys went into the pick-up truck and went through some of our girls' backpacks. You can imagine the violation my teenage girls felt after being handed back their personal possessions by a Mexican tween.  For some of us, Tuesday was the day we stopped saying the kids were cute, and started instead mentioning the absolute lack of manners or gratitude among the children we encountered.  Even cleaning the painting equipment became a challenge as the children grabbed it out of our hands because it looked fun and wouldn't take turns or allow us to explain how to use it.  Thankfully we had gotten very creative with using the little spanish we knew by this point.  Some of the kids were absolute gems and did listen once we figured out how to communicate.  Yet other kids broke my heart.

 One little girl in particular sticks in my memory.  She was young enough not to be in school, so perhaps four or five. Yet she was "big enough" to be in charge of her baby sister, and lugged her everywhere on her hip.  Several girls commented on how she seemed split, having to both be a caretaker and yet also wanting to play with the other children her age.  This girl had offered to paint, but I was restricting painters at that point.  Later when we were cleaning the brushes, she grabbed the tool out of another child's hand.  Since we were taking turns, I took the tool back.  But when that turn was done, I offered her a chance.  Well, that little girl was so offended, that she wouldn't even look at me.  When I tried to talk to her, she just walked away.  It was frustrating to know that this little girl was taking away a sense of hurt and rejection from our interaction.  I wanted her so desperately to know God's love through our time with her and yet that wasn't what she took away at all.  Both our interpreter and our job boss(a local Mexican) were busy trying to get us back on schedule, so they weren't able to help us navigate these difficult situations.

 Thanks to the hard work of our framers and roofers, we were able to catch up. We did stay longer on the job site than planned, but still managed to get back to the camp earlier than the day before.  Our group was very thankful for a chance at the showers before dinner!  We also had a chance to purchase more jewelry from the venders outside of the camp.  After the stressful day we had, it was nice to unwind a bit before dinner.  I ended up buying a necklace for my MIL, earrings for my mom, a doll and bracelet for Aris and slingshots for my boys.  After my shower(which felt AMAZING), I purchased some apple pop from the cafe.  Manzanita came in glass bottles and was both flavourful and refreshing while not being too sweet.  I enjoyed trying new sodas while in Mexico.  Manzanita was my clear favourite though.

 Between dinner and chapel, we attempted a walk to the beach.  However, once again we met with frustration.  When the adult team had been there in November, there had been easy access to the beach. Since then, some building had been done and the path to the beach was now blocked by a rather large wall.  Since this was fairly close to the military compound(as in, may have been part of it), we opted not to climb it.  After walking around, we found a sign promising public beach access.  So we followed a very interesting path to....a closed residential beach. We think.  Sometimes my translating abilities broke down.  However the guards made it rather clear that we couldn't get to the beach.  Instead we looked at the waves longingly and headed back to the camp.  I chose to walk, but some of our team got a ride instead.

 There we met with more frustration.  Thankfully mine was more comic as I argued with Blondie that no, unicorns don't fly! We had quite the fun conversation/argument with Guapo backing me up.  Meanwhile back at the camp one of the girls had found a cute little lost puppy.  Toe had the dubious pleasure of sorting out that mess.

 It was clear that Tuesday had been rough for the whole team.  Several people commented that it felt like Friday.  We were tired physically and mentally and some of us had headaches from not drinking enough.  I suspect I wasn't the only one taking advil that evening.  I was also in a lot of pain from my burn.  My arms had gotten fairly burnt the first day on the job.  Although I applied sunscreen extremely well Tuesday morning, it soon became obvious that it wouldn't cut it. However the only long sleeve shirt I had was my hoodie.  As I didn't want to get it covered in paint, I took off my sweater whenever I was painting.  This helped to protect my arms some, but by the end of the day, my arms were quite hot and sore.  During group time in the evening, I remember pulling my hoodie up in front of my face to hide my tears.  I was tired and in a lot of pain.

 The frustrations of the day, combined with the amount of pain I was in, did not leave me with an optimistic outlook for the next day.  We had been warned that Wednesday was the hardest day of the build.  Already I could see fractures in the team, places that were just waiting to rupture into an explosion.  I spent some time praying for a better day and then I collapsed into my nice cozy bed after applying even more aloe vera to my poor arms.  What a relief it was to go to bed!

 What will happen next?  Will Wednesday be an even harder day? What are we going to do with all those kids? And will we ever get to the beach?  I guess you'll just have to wait to find out....:)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thoughts on Good Friday

 On this, perhaps the holiest day of the year, we fought with our children.

 As we attempted to ready ourselves to remember Christ's death, my child threw his egg across the table, kicked my bad knee three times setting off a spasm of pain running from my shin to my hip, and had a screaming fit.  The full catalogue of his sins this morning runs much longer.  Unfortunately, he was not alone in his wretched behaviour.

 As the frustration and pain mounted, my husband and I were not in the holiest state of mind.  There may have been thoughts of running away, leaving our children far far away.  We may have mused about duct tape, baby valium and other less than beneficial parenting techniques.  And although our children did all end up in the van on time,  parental tempers were running high.

 At times like these, we pray.  As my husband pulled out of the parking space, I started to ask him to pray just as he began to beseech God for help.  Clearly, desperate great minds think alike.   He asked God for peace, for calm hearts and for hearts that were ready to meditate on Christ's death.  We did not feel ready to walk into a solemn worship service.  Going to a bar sounded much much better.  Unfortunately that was not the healthiest choice at 9:20am nor on today's schedule.

 Yet as my husband prayed, I was reminded of the real reason we observe Good Friday.  To walk into church carrying my frustrations and anger, being so very aware of my failure is to be ready to find the cross.  I'm not meditating on my self-righteousness, on how worthy I am of Christ's sacrifice, but of how desperately in need of it I am.  And Christ, in His great mercy, shed His blood for moments such as these, for sinners such as me.

 Perhaps my penitent, humble and needy heart was what caused me to go directly to the communion table this morning.  We were to walk the stations of the cross, ending with communion.  But I went directly there and then walked the stations backwards. Perhaps I needed the reminder that forgiveness is the beginning of new life and from there I can walk in freedom to live differently.

 The rest of the day was not without bumps.  But it was a lot better.  So I end the day thankful of all it brought, the good and the bad.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Mexico Adventure(Part Four)

On Monday, the first day of our build, I woke up earlier than normal. There was an enforced quiet time until 7am each morning. Although we were allowed out of our dorms before then, there was an expectation of silence. I quietly tried to get my clothes together, wincing at each little sound, certain I would wake up the rest of my dorm. This experience scarred me so much that each evening following I laid out everything I would need for much easier, quicker and quieter access.  After getting dressed, I slipped out quietly and crossed the road to the main courtyard.   There I sat on at blue mosaic benches, joining other leaders in some quiet time with God.  Soon after 7am, the first coffee of the day was ready.  After grabbing my cup, I continued journalling and reading through my book until the courtyard became too noisy.  Then I headed back across the road to wake up my crew.

 One thing you may not know about me is that I am not a morning person. I do not wake up talking(unlike my middle child), but making inarticulate sounds.  It takes me quite awhile to be able to think or speak coherently each morning.  (This has a lot to do with why my husband cooks breakfast for our family. There may have been a slight concern that I might start a fire if I cooked soon after awakening.)  However once I've been awake for a bit, I soon regain my typical enthusiasm.  Thus each morning after spending some time slowly waking up in silence, I woke the rest of the girls up with a disgusting amount of energy and cheer. I'm surprised no one threw anything at me.

 Monday morning brought with it a certain amount of trepidation.  Not only was this our first day building, but it was also our first shift in dish pit.  We rushed through breakfast, separating into groups, some washing dishes, others collecting what we would need for the day.  As I went to remind the cooler ladies of their tasks, it became obvious that one of our girls would not be joining us.  We had a sickie! While another leader tucked her into bed, I joined Dancer in collecting our cooler and water jug, both essential necessities for our day.  As the KP crew finished up, we slathered on sun screen, took a final bathroom run, filled our water bottles and headed out. Not surprisingly, we were the last team to leave.

 Following Ricardo, our build supervisor, through the bumpy dirt roads, we drove through the town and out into the countryside.  It was an experience.  From the tiny little shops selling all manner of interesting things, to the cars piled high with random objects, to the Spanish everywhere, we were surrounded by the new and unusual. I drank it all in, fascinated.  The mood in the van was significantly quieter than what it would be by the end of the week.  Most of us didn't know what we were in for so we waited to arrive at the job site with expectation and a wee bit of anxiety.  Would there be a bano?

 We turned off the main highway on to a steep bumpy dirt road.  I think I wondered if we would make it up that first hill each morning.  Slowly we followed the twisty road to what seemed like a bare forsaken spot that first day.  But as we disembarked from the van, we saw the concrete pad and pile of lumber under a tarp that marked our spot.  This was it, our job site.

 Joining with our family and their pastor, we began our morning with prayer, again setting a pattern for each day.  Then we began unloading the work truck and sorting the lumber.  Not being very strong, I was on the painting crew. We only had two sets of sawhorses, so after those were full we laid the rest of the panels on the ground.  In theory, this was a great idea. In practice it meant that at the end of the day I was so sore from squatting I could barely walk.  Thankfully I had a great painting crew working with me.  Some of our group switched out to try different tasks.  As painting was going to cause the least amount of damage to my hands, I stayed where I was.  One young man, Guapo, ended up sticking with me on painting crew, becoming my buddy for the week.

 The evening before, we had renamed my friend.  Pre-Mexico, he was a very quiet young man.  Even though he taught my son Sunday school for over a year, I hadn't gotten much out of him.  Even while preparing for our trip, he kept quiet.  One of the girls was determined to change that.  On Sunday evening, several of the girls were trying out pick-up line from the Spanish phrase book.  They called me over to practice on. I began correcting prononciation and soon started giving a brief lesson.  One girl wanted to know how to say handsome.  We looked it up, but the book listed "bonito" which is the masculine version of pretty.  Suddenly my high school Spanish kicked in and I exclaimed "Guapo! That's how you say handsome in Spanish!" Silly me, I then taught them that you could call someone Guapo, as in "Hey Guapo, how are you?" I gestured at my shy friend sitting across from me and just like that he was renamed. Guapo is very fun to say and yell, so it stuck.  And that is  how Guapo was renamed.

 Painting itself is kinda fun, somewhat monotonous, but mostly enjoyable. Especially if you wear sunscreen and don't burn your arms. (Note to self: When painting in Mexico, put sunscreen on your arms!) Where was I? Right, so while the painting part is fun, cleaning the painting tools is both fun, frustrating and time consuming.  The fun part is getting to put the rollers and brushes on the spinny thing and spray everybody with water. The frustrating part is how bloody long it takes you to scrape the paint off of the roller handles and mesh trays.  That part sucks.  And then knowing that tomorrow you will have to do this all over again.  Unsurprisingly we tried to use less brushes and rollers each day we had to paint.

 It was in this frustrating part where Guapo began to shine. Everything I asked him to do, no matter how frustrating or tedious, he did it.  Without complaining, without grumbling, he just nodded and kept on working.  I was beyond impressed.  By the end of each day, my hands were starting to swell. I wanted to do the hard jobs, but couldn't.  And every time I stopped being able to do the hard jobs, Guapo took over.

 The first day of our build was pretty amazing.  We started the morning with a concrete slab and a pile of lumber.  The day ended with the house framed, siding on and the beginnings of the roof framed. It was impressive progress.  The next day would bring even more.

 Following our ride back to the camp, I was so sore that I was walking like an old woman.  A shower helped, as did some advil and aloe vera.  My knee was swollen, my leg muscles ached and I had badly burned both of my arms.  However, even through the pain, I was really happy.  We had begun to build a house, bringing a dream to life for Lira, our mom.  She shared at the end of the day that she believed in miracles having seen one come to life before her eyes. I think we were all touched by that.

 Evening chapel began by showing a fun video of the day's work.  Our team accomplished less than the others as we began late, but it was fun to see everyone's work.  The day's end video became a highlight for all of us, even if our team didn't get featured as much. We weren't quite as goofy as some of the other teams.  Soon we segued into more weighty matters and at the end of chapel we were each challenged to spent 12 hours without our shoes.  If we chose to accept this challenge, we were to leave our shoes at the front of the room.  I hate going barefoot, but realized that I am privileged in ways I am not fully aware of.  Taking a deep breath, I slipped out of my chair and left my shoes at the altar.

 I was prepared to hate this experience.  Dust/sand on my feet is one of my pet peeves.  It drives me crazy.  Having to walk across the dirt road, take a shower and then walk with wet feet back to the dorm stressed me out.  But strangely it didn't stress me out quite as much as expected. In fact, my end reaction was rather surprising.  But my bare foot experience made me much more conscious of other people's realities.

 Soon it was quiet time.  Still not being quite adjusted to the time change, we were ready to go to bed.  The Child Whisperer led us in prayer and devotions again and then, long before lights out, we quieted down and went to bed.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Encounter with a Stranger

I hugged a stranger yesterday.

While walking across the church parking lot to pick up my local foods order, a woman approached me.  I shared some coins with her as she asked if I could spare some change, but it was soon evident that she needed more than money.  I took the time to listen, to make eye contact, to ask and learn her name.   As she shared her story, I asked if it would be helpful if I prayed with her.   She didn't exactly answer my question, but later as she began to cry, I gave her a hug and whispered a prayer that she would know God's comfort.  I stayed about ten minutes, listening and hugged her about three times.

I know this was just one small encounter in a long hard life.  I'd be naive to think that it will make a tangible difference.  Yet I hope that for those brief moments I was able to be a physical representative of God's great love for this broken stranger.  He hasn't forgotten her and neither have I.

Linking up with Imperfect Prose;