For spring break this year, I decided to go to Tijuana with a group called Charity Anywhere Foundation, that does service for the people down there. It was a pretty spontaneous decision, and I didn't sign up to go with anyone I knew. As it got closer though, I learned about two roommates from this summer who would be going, and 3 boys who I know from classes last semester that were going too. I decided to help out and drive a group down in my car, but didn't know the 3 people who were assigned to my car--but from texting them, I learned that none of them knew how to drive a manual. Luckily, Friday night before we were going to be leaving at 5 am Saturday morning, I learned that one of the kids in my car who had dropped out would be replaced by a kid I know, and who knows how to drive a stick (saving me from having to make a 13 hour car drive all on my own!). So the 4 of us headed on our merry way to Mexico. We had a pretty uneventful drive down, but still had a good time (Hailey's fork randomly snapping into three pieces as she was eating her salad at Wendy's, Sheridan telling us that his dream super power would be to always feel comfortable, or be a master gardener).
We stopped at an outlet mall just this side of the border to meet up with the other vehicles to cross the border together. We each got a map of how to get to a gas station a little ways down the road on the other side, so that we could follow someone to the clinic where we'd be staying for the week. Unfortunately, the car we were following got pulled aside to be checked by the customs officials, so we were left to find the immediate right turn ("Scenic Road") on our own. Well, we failed, and ended up going off to the left. Not too hard to solve though, right? Just flip a U-turn and find another ramp leading to that road. Well we tried that, and missed the turn off from that direction too. Now we are headed off southwest into a pretty sketchy part of Tijuana, with a female driver (me) who obviously has no idea what she's doing (because I'm a girl). Luckily I was able to step up to the challenge that is driving in Mexico, and was aggressive enough to keep us on the road and heading in a semi-somewhat useful direction. It too about 15 minutes (longest 15 minutes of my life) but we miraculously ended up back on the road to get the turn-off that we had missed the second time, and succeeded in getting on the Scenic Road. Honestly, I have no idea how we pulled this off, because at every intersection we might as well have been flipping a coin to decide which way we went. We pulled up at the gas station just as the group who had made it there was about to leave--if we'd been even 45 seconds later we would have missed them entirely. We followed them up to the Clinica San Luis Obispo, parked the cars in a storage garage thing, settled into our rooms and went to bed for the night! (Although it did take a while to get the second half of the group there, who had been in vehicles who had been delayed at the border/turned away and were stuck in the US. Turns out you can't bring dentist chairs into Mexico. Who knew?)
Day 1- Sunday- Day of Rest
We woke up to a fabulous sunny day, but without warm water for showers. A group of us took a refrigerator and stove top over to the house of a local woman who cooked us dinner every night, named Ellie. She had not had a refrigerator or modern stove top, but was making meals for groups of 30 people! After that we went over to the local LDS meetinghouse for church meetings (not all of the group went, as not all were members). It was the first time I'd ever attended church in a language I couldn't understand (one year of high school spanish=vocabulary of a 3 year old), and it was a really neat experience. We went to the full 3 hours of meetings, and Sunday School was the only part translated for us (courtesy of Mirna and Brent).
After church we drove out to an orphanage that we had brought down a ton of supplies for, and would have some of the group helping out at during the week.
They have 80 kids living in a compound with a few buildings, with an area for the girls and another area for the boys. They have no electricity, and only a water tower for the girls half of the compound. We brought a pick-up truck and 15 passenger van (benches removed) of food, cleaning supplies, and clothes for the kids, and it was so awesome to see them so happy to help carry it all inside. This is the back of the truck with all the supplies.
I remembered that I had forgotten to take my chalk out of my car before I left, so I decided what better time to use it? I got a few sticks out of the bucket and brought them over to the kids and within minutes, the concrete driveway in front of the building was covered with names, hearts, and hopscotch games. (By the way, small mexican children do not understand hopscotch. They do however, understand hopping around on one leg a bunch. Close enough though, right?)
While at the orphanage, a few of us made a trip out to a school for handicapped people that Padre Jaime set up. Disabled kids in Mexico are completely ignored and left at home unable to receive any help or education from the state, so a group got together and set up this school to help give these kids (and adults too) some training and skills. Part of the CAF group was here working on digging holes for septic tanks for a housing complex that is in progress, so that the students and one care-taker can stay on site, making it accessible for them to come every day, since some are unable to afford the expensive daily bus fare.
After this, we had a fantastic dinner, provided by Ellie, and then had a nice evening back at the clinic.
Day 2- Monday- First day of Work
Monday morning we woke up ready to work. My group was the Misc. group; we were assigned to a variety of tasks but the first was to help lay sewer line for a family living in a very small, humble house, so that they could, well, have somewhere to send their stuff. Unfortunately, there was some issues with paperwork for getting it hooked up to the city line, and the family whose line they would be joining, etc., so we were moved to another project for the day.
We tore down that patio thing you can see behind us (which is actually a woman's kitchen, complete with sink and metal barrel that served as a stove), and replaced it with something more sturdy and a roof that was more than just the plastic sheeting held down by cinder blocks that it had been. The woman was 71 years old, and her daughter and her family lived just about 50 feet away on the same property. She had two kids, Denise and Santiago, and they loved playing with us and "helping" us out on whatever we were doing.
We helped weed part of this tire path while we were waiting for the cement on the new posts to dry. After that, I kind of moved over to the daughter's house, where Keith Homer was leading a group in putting new shingle sheeting on the roof. Because the house had an array of additions, the water drained into the middle of the roof and down a pipe through the house, but was leaking pretty badly whenever it rained. It was cool to learn how to put do a little roofing work! Plus Keith is just a hilarious guy that I enjoyed working with.
Monday night we were planning to go downtown to Centro, where there are a bunch of tourist shops. Well, my clutch had started to slip during the driving around Sunday, and was getting worse going back from the worksite Monday. I told Brent that I didn't really want to take my car down to Centro, but because we were already running late, and not taking my car would require locking it up, which would be a 15 minute delay to open and close the garage door, I gave in and agreed to have it driven down. I refused to drive it or be in it though. Well I guess my intuition was right, because about 10 minutes away from Centro, Brent and I (in the lead car) can't see Sue (my car) behind us. Bryan (another driver) pulls up to us and yells over that she'd pulled off the highway at a gas station a ways back, as she hadn't been able to make it up the hill we'd just come up. Without cell service, it was impossible to find the kids who'd been in the car. We finally got back to the gas station and the attendants there informed us that they had taken a taxi to meet us in Centro. Long story short, they ended up getting a taxi back to the Clinic and we got my car back to the garage to be fixed the next day (which ended up costing me $320, but for a whole new clutch system and all of the labor, that's really an unbelievable price. So unbelievable that I'm going to have it double checked here in the States as soon as I can). I went to bed Monday very worn out from working and the evening adventures, but having decided that no matter what happened, it had been worth it just to help out the families that day.
I've decided that I'm tired of writing and my battery is dying, but I want to put up what I've got so far, so I'll write the rest of the week in another post!