Wednesday, May 14, 2008
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.
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
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
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
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The skin is wearing through on the tips of my fingers. They are rougher than they have ever been. Mixing and pouring concrete for a few days in 90-degree heat will do that I guess. We completed 6 floors today. We are over half way done.
When we go to the community center we were greeted by Paco and some of his students. Walter and I were greeted by Rambo the Boxer, during his morning petting session Rambo put a paw on my leg and another massive paw on my chest so I could better pet his chin and chest. Walter was drooled on as he pet the pups forehead. It’s kind of interesting that the dogs there seek us out for affection more so than the local folks.
Megan spoke about how she had the overwhelming desire to locate a team of vets and a set of clippers to fix up the pups. They are all so sickly looking and matted.
Then it was off to our first house. There was a steep hill and a sharp turn in the route to the site. For a little while we thought we may have to chain gang 5 gallon buckets of cement through the narrow opening and up the steep hill. But there was a back way around and we ended up being able to use the wheelbarrows. It helped to have a couple of guys with crowbars hooking the wheelbarrows and helping guide them up.
When that was completed, we had to move the mixer up hill to the next location. We gathered up the concrete bags and set to work. This one was done in pretty short order. Good teamwork and clear shot to the location helped out a lot.
I realized, after being lovingly mocked last night, I called out everyone by name except Megan and Nicole. Megan’s mom actually called her and asked if she was sick because she didn’t see her mentioned in the blog. No. Megan and Nicole were not sick. They busted they butts taking a hand at every type of job they could. They did the same thing today. Sorry Carol… your daughter ROCKS be proud. Same to Nicole’s momma.
Anyhow, the third house was a little different. Odd layout. Narrow path to the site. We set up and did the best we could. The guys helping us are amazing. Seriously amazing. I think their names are Jose and Lorecio. They don’t talk much but they are both wonderful men. Jose has a beautiful 2 year old daughter. He brought her to play with Pablo at lunch.
Lunch smelled good, I ate a little, chicken sopa with green sauce. My stomach has decided it has no idea where I am and it should shut down a little until it figures out my geographical location or I return home… whichever happens first. Everybody else ate up. I played with Pablo. Then there was a small rest and back to work.
The next house was more house-like. Neat, well kept. A high solid fence blocked it off from the surrounding homes. The floor we poured there was small and we finished it in pretty short order. My arms felt like jelly from running the mixer, “driving” as Gardencio calls it, I managed to dump a bunch of concrete the wrong direction and bang up my thigh on the machine. We were able to get a large amount of the spilled cement up, but I still felt like a putz from dumping it.
We moved the machine and started on the last floor of the day. It was in the home of a kindly older woman whose plot was well kept and had a decent view. The belt broke on the concrete mixer half way through. She was so greatful that we were there and even more grateful considering we did the last half of her house mixing concrete by hand. Sisco was a champ today. He organized the concrete mixing after the mixer went down.
It was back breaking and I felt pretty ill so I sat out the part of that. There was really only so much room and too many cooks really messed up the rhythm. We all cleaned up our tools and after some pictures, at the request of the kind woman, we headed back to the community center and then back to the hotel.
We have gone out to dinner the past few nights and it has been great. I really appreciate the fact that Rejuvenation is taking care of us… but tonight I just want to upload photos and eat my Odwalla bar that magically made it through Customs.
Monday, May 5, 2008
We got up around 7 30 am and had some breakfast, some of us more than others, my stomach decided to flip flop on me again. Paco picked us up around 8 30 am, and from there it was to the job site.
We stopped first at the community center where Paco works. Classes are taught there, there is a dental office and a small medical clinic, modest but enough. We met some of the kids who go to school there. Got a tour of the facility and then it was off to ACTUAL work.
We grabbed wheelbarrows, shovels and buckets and treked a short way to the first location we would be working at. We met the families we would be helping and got to take a look at their homes. It was a shanty town. The air was thick with the smell of burning trash. There were chickens, some pigs, a few very sweet dogs, and some great cats and kittens. It amazes me how different the animals look here. More angular and thinner. A little more sad maybe.
Then it was training time. 2 buckets of water. 5 buckets of gravel. 4 buckets of sand. Half a bag of concrete. Mix well. Dump into wheelbarrows. Rinse and repeat. Sisco coordinated the troweling inside the homes. He was awesome! Donna and Lisa did a ton of shoveling. Toby, Channy, Christopher, and Steve manned the wheelbarrows for the most part. Walter and I manned the cement mixer and muscled the ingredients into the mixer. It was great when we got a system down. I think we finished faster than even we thought we would.
After taking care of our tools, cleaning up and taking some pictures with the families. We trucked our supplies down the steep hill and headed back to the community center for lunch.
You ever want to try soemthing fun... try rolling a huge cemennt mixer down a hill by hand. It´s awesome for the adominal muscles and forearms.
When we got back to community center we were early for lunch. We played soccer with Jose, an awesome 12 year old boy and a member of one of the families we did work for. He was a huge help, loading sand into buckets and getting water from huge 50 gallon drums. I played a little but I cuold tell he was going soft on me. I told him I knew he could ¨school me¨if he really wanted to. Walter had to explain what ¨being schooled¨meant. That was fun.
Lunch was awesome. A home cooked meal. Super simple. Super filling.
After lunch we had to wait for our ride. Which meant more time to play basket ball, hang out with the kids, and pet the dogs. Walter, Donna a Sisco played a game of HORSE. Explaining the ¨rules¨HORSE was interesting... but like all things, it worked itself out and people had fun. Great pictures to come soon.
Driving home, the van stalled going up a steep hill. Paco had to turn the van around and go the wrong way down the street because the van just couldnot make it up the hill. No one honked. Some other drivers look confused. But all in all, we needed to do it... so we did it.
Now we are back at the hotel. Showered. Freshly clothed. Drinking a beer or two. Soar and tired but some how I feel better than I have in years.
I got into my room. Took my shower and then couldn´t stop crying. Might sound kinda funny. Ian in Recieving may make fun of me when I get back to work... but I am glad for what I have at home. I am glad that my work gave me the chance to do this. I am glad that we all work so well as a team. The kids were amazing and the people smiled and were so gracious.
What a day.
Seriously. What a day.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Unfortunately, pictures may have to wait. The wireless is pay-per use here and the credit entry is not secure by my computers standards. So it will have wait.
Today was tourist central. We went to a cathedrial built in the 15 hundreds, a free museum full of Myan ruins, had lunch at a roof top cafe over looking the square, and shopped in an open air market near a giant park. It is all pretty intense and I was really dioriented this morning when I woke up after sleeping nearly 15 hours. My room over looks a HOME DEPOT parking lot. This world is strange.
Tomorrow we are up early and truck off to the job site. We will be split into groups and are expected to do 2 concrete floors per day. If we can go at that pace, we may get friday off to explore some more.
PS I am tired and may have misspelled things... sorry Greg.