Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Note for Christopher (Guest Post)

I just wanted to send everyone in our group an email while the thoughts and reflections are still fresh. It was so nice having Sunday and Monday off to decompress and reflect on our trip and the work we did.

I thought about how different our country would be if everyone had the opportunity and desire to do a trip like that. I also thought about how much I think we got out of the trip in addition to how much we gave.

At first it seemed amazing how well we worked as a team, each with our own backgrounds, many not really knowing each other that well. Each of us having some strengths but bringing our many weaknesses to the group as well. In retrospect it seems like the perfect mix of people was assembled to not only get the physical job done, but to truly be present for the people we met and hopefully leave them a lasting impression that there is a better world out there that hasn't forgotten them. Mostly what impressed me about our team was how during trying situations people would pull out some strength from inside that filled in a void in the group that was needed. From physical strength and emotional depth to quiet compassion and the ability to mix concrete on the bare ground our group had it all!

It's incredible what can be done by a diverse group of people when truly motivated behind a common goal of helping those less fortunate. It's also incredible what we recieved in return from the people we helped.

Proud to be your co-worker,

P.S. Please forward this to Channy and tell him our talk at the Atlanta airport was a highlight of my trip.

Walter looks back (Guest Post)

Looking back works well for me because I had no energy to spare for blogging in the evenings. The whole experience was so fantastically exhausting.The sanitary conditions of the dump and homes were horific from my middle class American point of view: the people lived with livestock and their associated by products feet from their sleeping and eating areas; there were open sewage lines, which dogs drank from, feet the homes ; and people picking through the piles of garbabe looking for things to sell, use, and feed their livestock with. Children played with toys which were missing most of their parts, plastic cars with three wheels were sunbleached; dolls with no heads or clothes were scattered next to the houses.

The roads were covered with discarded clothes, shoes worn through the soles, rotting batteries, and other environmentally scary items. The electrical lines were supported by live trees and dead tree limbs haphzardly wedged between the wire and the ground. I was struck with how significant each meal must be for a parent when you are not sure how you will provide a lunch for your family the next day. One day we gave a pastry to Jose Cruz. After much convincing, he finally accepted it, but did not eat it. He carefully wrapped it in a plastic bag and slid it in his pocket (much too small for the pastry) as if it were some sort of treasure. From his eyes, I expected he probably planned to bring it back to his family for sharing.

During the day I found myself aching to hug my children and wife and to tell them I love them... but the damned cell phones rarely went through. My personal faith, hugs from Donna, Gaudencio's (spelling)laugh, and Paco's personal strength kept me balanced.As I worked through the cement pouring days, I found the varying levels of stink and visual stimuli were so disturbing to me that I really needed to escape through physical exersion. I found myself savoring the hard work as penance for the physical luxuries I have enjoyed my entire life. Thankfully, the physical pain, muscle soreness and exaustion kept me sleeping peacefully at night.

Then something hit me on the second day. The people were serious, struggling, and needy, but not unhappy. It was as if they accepted this lifestyle as their life, and found ways to make the best of it. The kids were loved, and considering the circumstances, were generally well cared for. Someone else mentioned this before, but I was struck by the number of father's playing with and hugging their kids as well. Americans seem to make much less physical contact with their children, maybe it is a fear of public displays of affection. Maybe most significant, Paco and his the others in Manos de Vida really love the people of the Tultitlan dump.

The Rejuvenation team was absolutely incredible from top to bottom. I cannot think of one time where I felt a person was not giving everything they had. I watched Nicole control wheel barrows loaded with more than her weight in cement, Sisco worked on his hands and knees for three days straight. I couldn't count how many buckets of sand and gravel Donna, and Lisa filled. Channy lifted countless buckets of gravel and rocks, Toby, Christopher, Steve, pushed countless wheelbarrows into homes, Megan did everything, and Foley "woman" handled the cement mixer which was a real beast. We found ways to work together in very efficient ways. See a need, fill a need or... see a potential need and offer to fill the potential need. Everyone looked out for one another physically, and emotionally.

As the week progressed, the entire team felt an incredible desire to do more. We found ourselves spending our personal money at night buying gifts for individuals, and for Manos de Vida. I personally felt like I just could not possibly spend enough. Finally on Friday Morning, the blood and tears had flowed to dryness. It hit me that we did all that we could do while we were there and that had to be enough. No matter what we did, we could not bring everyone there to a decent living, or make every child feel blessed.

The real value in this trip and the best contribution we can make comes from this blog. From keeping our memories fresh, and our continuing efforts to help this organization and others like it survive and help people. Maybe the best thing that can come from this trip is for each of us to learn from the families in the dump that our children and families need love, and to not take our lives for granted.

Thank you Manos de Vida for sharing this with me... Thank you Rejuvenation for the opportunity... and thank you Jim Kelly, your personal commitment and financial commitment to the people of this world are rare gifts. This experience was truly once in a lifetime.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Looking back...

We are back on American soil. The trip to Mexico was rough; the turbulence, the anxiety, the general upset stomach. I can play the last week in my head so clearly… and at the same time it’s a blur. It went smoother than I could have imagined. It was also a lot tougher emotionally than I thought it would be. I will be honest, that I had no idea what to expect.


I thought it would be different. I thought I would be able to be removed. I thought I could do the work and be done with it. I wanted to help people. I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to prove to myself that I was strong enough to go to a foreign land where I am totally out of my element, no common language, different culture, and different beliefs. I was lucky to have some wonderful people there with me to push me when I needed a push and let me know it’s okay if I needed to withdraw and take some space.


I sat in my hotel room and uploaded photos and blogged during a massive lightning storm. I went to a anthropology museum with two awesome little kids. I walked through a church built in the 15th century and the remains of a temple built even longer ago. I worked with some really amazing people, both native to Mexico and from Portland.


We accomplished something that most people never even consider trying to do. We gave up our comfort and our security. We went way outside our comfort zones. In the end, we met every challenge that came up and we did it as a team. That sounds corny, I know.


But, it is amazing what a small group of dedicated people can accomplish when they set their mind to it.


I miss my home. I miss my cats. I want my own bed. I want to cook my own dinner. I want to go to work and help people with plumbing and hardware.


There is a part of me that wants to go back to the dump and pour 15 more floors. Hang out with Pablo and Jose Cruz. Pet the dogs and give them cookies. Eat Ruth’s amazing cooking. Wake up sweating in my hotel room and watch movies and 30 Rock with Donna. I want those things too. 


We are sitting in the airport at Atlanta. The Wi Fi is down. I will post more pictures this weekend… but right now I am happy to be one step closer to home.


See you soon.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Some perspective (Guest Blog)

I left my comfy space in Portland Oregon, so hey, why not try to post a guest blog. It is one of the many first time experiences I have have since arriving in Mexico City. Many of you know how straight and to the point I like to be so here are some thoughts, observations, challenges, question...what ever you wish to call them I wish to share them. They are things I have been pondering throughout the week.


* Have you ever been worried about your child being bitten by rats while sleeping at night?

* Would you stand in the middle of traffic - BAD DRIVERS AND BUSY TRAFFIC - to sell snacks or newspapers to make money for your family?

* Why can't we leave our children (under the age of 5) at home while searching through the local dump to find useable household items, clothing and food?

* I will think twice before I say, "I don't want to eat chicken again" when I have a freezer and fridge full of delicacies to choose from...then call pizza hut.

* I will never appreciate a COLD bottle of water or can of soda more than I do now.

* I will remember the smiles of the child with the dirty face, tattered shoes, sitting in fecies and eating food with flies all around.

* When I help a customer complaining about a slight defect in the finish of their hardware I will remember the walls made of mattresses and doors made of scrap wood. I wonder if they care what finish their doorknob is.... oh yeah, they don't have one.

* Everywhere I went I saw people loving each other.  Couples held hands, fathers played with their children; they physically embraced each other regularly.

*Why can't I bring every child I know to see how these beautiful, humble, gracious people are living? Would they appreciate what they have or would they continually be blinded by greed?

* I have eaten food that has made me very very happy :)

* I would have never gotten to know some pretty fab folks at rejuvenation.


Many nights I tossed and turned from all of the thoughts and feelings that have been brewing a bubbling. I got through the whole week without crying, but today was my day. As I stood behind a table giving out the donated clothes, school supplies, and personal hygiene items it hit me. I was giving away a piece of myself with every item that was given off that table. And I was honored to do so. I could understand much of what they were saying but we spoke to each other’s hearts and I got some great hugs out of it.


I gotta go now. I am exhilarated, exhausted, and in much need of a shower. As I get ready to go home I pray for the people of Mexico city and the families at the dump. God has a purpose for everyone and everything and though their situation may look hopeless to outsiders they are a strong people. I gave my time and energy, but they gave more to me then they will ever know.


Dios le bendinga mi Amigos Y mi Amigas!



Thursday, May 8, 2008

A well earned day of rest

There is a lighting storm outside right now. It's amazing. So different than Portland.

There is a breeze and for a brief moment the smog has cleared and the sky is blue in patches.

Today we split up. Most people opt for a 2 hour drive to some ruins. Donna, Steve and I opted for a museum in Mexico City. We were greeted at 11 pm by Gardencio and our younger tour guides, Pablo and Jose Cruz, 3 and 12 respectively. The boys had never been to the city before and they had never ever been to a museum.

Steve grabbed a few flyers for different museums around the city. Gardencio did his best but we hit traffic and got kind of lost. We did not find the museums on Steve's flyers... we found the Anthropology Museum. IT WAS AMAZING! So much history for $4.50 USD. I will upload some pictures soon...

We watched this amazing display outside the museum... five men climb a 100+ foot pole and 4 men tie ropes around their waists. The 5th man stands atop the pole and plays a flute and small drum. He asks permission from the North, South, East and West. Then the 4 men fall from the top of the pole and spin around as the man atop plays beautiful music. It's a symbolic gesture representing a old tradition. The 4 men would be sacrifices to the gods. A request, plea, for rain. Their throats would be slit and they would drop for the tallest tree spinning in a circle until they hit the ground. Their blood an offering. Now it's a beautiful acrobatic display at the steps of a cultural museum. So many things, once so important, so necessary... now just for show. 

Lost rituals. Forgotten gods. Tourist attractions.

The art and artifacts were so beautiful. The museum was the best one I have ever been to. 

I shared this experience with 2 great coworkers, a new friend, and 2 young boys who were as new to this as I was. I was able to experience the history of this country through the eyes of a child. No prejudice. Just wonder.

People are out to dinner now... I think. It was unclear... Sisco called and wanted people to go out dancing? At the cafe in the mall near the hotel? I am here. Writing to you guys. Uploading photos so you can feel closer to us. So you can see what we were able to do here.

It costs approximately $6000 USD a year to run the community center. It is possible that some day they may loose their funding. The school. The adult education programs. The place to play that is free from trash and raw sewage. All those things could be gone. It just doesn't seem right. 

Tomorrow we head back to the center to help with the bible study group. We have donations to give and it just doesn't seem right leaving without seeing these people again. I think we may visit the homes where we poured floors. I just want to go back. Working there was the best experience of this trip. It may not make sense... but it's true.

Good night folks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Are We There Yet? (Guest Post)

Hello dear reader- be forewarned I'm probably a bit delirious and feeling sort of gushy, so if you're not in the mood, please stick with Foley's fabulous posts.

That being said, wow, What a whirlwind couple of days! Each home presented different challenges and learning opportunities, and at this moment it's all a huge blur. Shovel gravel or sand, grab a wheel barrow, lug some buckets of water, clear debris, go, go, go. There were times when we were all sort of wandering aimlessly bumping into each other- stepping on toes, but only because we all wanted to contribute as much as each of us possibly could. As we moved from home to home, we definitely found our groove, and developed systems and strategies to help each other do the best we possibly could. As Walter said this morning, "another week and we'd be really good at this!" Each floor we completed taught us something new about the process, and about each other. And as corny as this may sound, man it really was all about TEAMwork.

This trip has been a really beautiful experience (I say this with blisters on both my hands and feet, while covered in concrete). It's been a lesson in both humility and humanity; the conditions that these people are living in is totally heartbreaking and no words or photos could ever truly demonstrate that. One of the last houses we worked on was literally built upon trash from the dump- the giant mountain of Mexico City's waste was the view. A stream of sewage and who knows what trickling through their back yard. The home was built from  fabric, old mattresses turned on their sides, and scraps of wood and metal. And here come these strange gringos treking through their home with loads of concrete to build them a floor for one of the small rooms of this little shanty- their home. And it's astonishing to me to think of something like a concrete floor as a luxury.

When Rejuvenation announced that they were sponsoring this trip, my immediate reaction was, "I HAVE to go", but after not making the cut for the New Orleans trip, I thought it was unlikely that I'd find myself a member of the Mexico Team. Trying to articulate why it was i wanted to participate was really difficult, because to be completely honest, I wasn't really sure myself. Everything about my life has changed so drastically over the past three years. My "old life" was good. Comfortable and familiar, yet I felt so empty inside, like there was something else I should have been doing- some greater purpose than merely existing- owning a home and collecting nice things. I abandoned all things familiar and moved to Portland to do some soul searching and while I've gotten reacquainted with myself and found myself working for this really great company; a company with a soul that employs some of the most incredible people i've ever had the good fortune to know and collaborate with, I guess I saw this trip as a chance to do some tangible good.

It's so easy to "do good" by donating money or material objects, but to contribute some part of yourself and become emotionally invested by helping these families build something that will really improve their quality of life, it's been an absolute joy! I've gained so much myself in terms of compassion and knowledge that it hasn't felt like work at all. And to think of the things in my life that were troubling me prior to this trip, well, I have to confess I'm a little embarrassed.  I wanted new perspective and a better understanding of a foreign culture...all can say is WOW! I am walking away from this experience truly humbled, and grateful- for so may things.

You may not work with them directly or get the opportunity to know them well but Walter, Lisa, Megan, Steve, Christopher, Cisco, Channy, Donna, Foley, and (last but certainly not least) Toby are some seriously amazing folks! Intelligent and passionate, not just about their day to day work at Rejuvenation, but about so many other things that would just astound you. Sharing this experience with them has grounded me and made me a better person.

I am so happy to call you guys my team mates- both here in Mexico City and back at home.

(Takes deep breath)

We all came here not knowing what to expect, perhaps a little scared and unsure of whether our decisions to participate was the right move, but we did know we were building some floors and were in for an adventure. All i can say is great work and Mission Accomplished!

Thanks for letting me guest blog.


15 Floors in 3 Days.

That's right. 15 floors in 3 days. We could do more but there are no more supplies. 

This morning we loaded into the truck and set off for the site. Steve and Megan bought dog treats the night before for the dogs at the dump. They really are some of the sweetest creatures I have ever met. So sad and yet so trusting. They had no idea what to think of the cookies at first and then it was like the flood gates opened up and dog cookies were AWESOME! The little white dog who I call "Matty", because she has a ton of mats in her hair, was so excited to see us she laid on the ground and rolled on her back to get her belly rubbed. Rambo was ready for pets and general attention.

We gathered up supplies and headed out. It was a little hike and a very different area than we had seen before. More trees, more shade, more steep hills. The mixer had been placed at the bottom of the steep hill. That meant lengths of rope and lots of tired Rejuvies. Up the hill. Down the hill. Rinse and repeat. The one plus was after the upper floor was put down, the second floor to pour was five feet from the mixer. That went quick. 

The guys we worked with are great. Strong, funny, kind. So much help... 

Next floor... a serious hike. Most of the supplies were loaded into the truck and the cement mixer was strapped to the back. Certain lucky dames got to ride in the cab and Sisco climbed on back to keep a watchful eye on the cement mixer attached to the truck bumper via rebar. The second location was pretty good. a straight downhill shot to the house. 

After that was completed, we loaded up the truck, but this time we headed to LUNCH. Oh delicious, well earned lunch. Today I was actually hungry. My stomach has decided that Mexico is okay minus the super spicy fare. We had burritos. Just delicious tortillas, rice and beef. So good after working so hard. We had a little down time. I borrowed Toby's knife to make a dog bowl out of the bottom of a water bottle. Rambo and Matty had no idea what I was doing. I had to splash water on them for them to get it. It seems like the dogs and cats have to make do and find water where they can. 

Sisco found a baby. That sounds strange, I know, but He seriously wandered back from the yard with a baby no older than 6 months. A beautiful baby boy. Donna got her baby hold on and then most people went off to meet the mother. I hung around with the dogs a little longer. It was nice to see them start to act more like dogs from home. Wandering up and rubbing against a leg for attention.

We all decided that this was the day. We would complete the remaining 5 floors in one day. 3 down 2 to go. They were on opposite sides of the "city", if you will. The 4th home of the day boasted some adorable children, helpful occupants and some great dogs. The house and surrounding area was very well kept. The doorway to the site was NARROW. Certain wheelbarrows couldn't be used, which slowed things a little. The temperature was climbing. The mixer was getting harder to with the oil drying up. I went to drink my water and I could have made tea, it was so hot.

UNO MAS! One more floor. Something we kept repeating. Uno mas. Supplies loaded up, I felt like I was going to pass out... I opted for shotgun in the truck to give myself a break. Paco took it easy through the very uneven terrain. I swear the first things to go one cars around here must be in order:

1) Breaks
2) Suspension
3) Transmission

We made it to the last site and it seemed easy enough. Then we had to figure out how to get the mixer in position near the supplies. Paco did his best to get the truck turned around in the narrow street. The mixer jackknifed and flipped on it's side. A group of us ran down to right it. Luckily it had been attached with rebar, which had a lot of give, the bumper was shockingly not ripped off. I guess there is something to be said for FORD trucks after all.

The last one went pretty smooth. Good team work. Decent route to the site. There was a building blocking the sun and a place to stand in the shade. People busted their butts. The closer we got to done the more the pace picked up. Finally, it was the last mixer load. 5 of gravel, 5 of sand 1 half bag of concrete. All counting it down in spanish as the ingredients brought us one step closer to completion. 

When we were actually finished Lisa decided to dump a bucket of water on Gardencio, like at the end of a football game. Sisco decided to invite the guys to the hotel for pizza and beer. 

We are all tired but we are all proud and we are done.