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....:)


  1. Enjoying hearing about your experience in Mexico, Gracie. It makes me want to go back sometime.

  2. Gah! Don't leave me hanging like that! ;-) love your writing, and getting more detail too!

  3. Sounds like though the day may be frustrating to you, that God had a higher plan.

  4. Sounds like an adventure for sure!
    I love the sense of humor sprinkled throughout (e.g., "OMB"), even though it was frustrating and hard.
    (Thank you so much for your encouraging comment at my blog today!)

  5. Wonderful tale of a day in the life of. And good for the extra dose of perspecitve! ;)
    Blessings to you today!

  6. wow,it sounds like a challenging, life changing trip. I think you're doing a good job describing the ups and downs of mission work, with the building and the kids and the sun burn. This was a very interesting read, thanks for sharing!

  7. I know what you mean about seeing the tendency in others to *demand* a handout . . . and I see it looking right back at me in the mirror, too.

    Thanks for sharing about your trip . . . what a journey!

  8. I'm dating myself here, but your ending is kind of like how the old Batman series used end in the 60s – same bat time same bat channel. You're probably not old enough to remember – but maybe you've seen the reruns. And I think of all of this. my favorite part was about the children – and their eager painting hands as opposed to your hands – as opposed to the hands of the woman whose house was being built. That's a profound thing – there are spiritual lessons all over that. And the spiritual lessons of the children grabbing the treats – and at first being cute – but all the grabbing getting tiresome – and the lack of gratitude – and all I could think about was me – about us – we are sometimes with God. Well done my friend. Well done. God bless and keep you and yours.

  9. I know I'm late reading this, but I'm loving hearing about your adventures! Keep writing- I want more!! Please? :)