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.