Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Trip to TJ--What I learned

On the way back from Tijuana, we were driving through Vegas and we passed a sign for some hotal that said "Stay with what you love". It had a gorgeous woman lying on a bed in a gaudy hotel room, wearing a ostentatious dress with long gloves--all very elegant looking. It hit me in that moment I read it how ridiculous our society has become. These expensive conveniences have truly become what we love, the things that we refuse to live without. The things that this woman couldn't live without stood out in super stark contrast to the world I had just come from.
I had been to Mexico before. I went on a family reunion to Rosarito, and we stayed in some condo's and went downtown to buy stuff in the shops. This time was totally different. (If you haven't spent time in a third world country, I mean really down in the poverty and with the people, not just in a comfortable place nearby.)
When we first got down there, we were on paved roads and were driving through pretty well developed areas. Then we moved outside of downtown, into where Ellie lived-- I believe she told me it was El Rancho de Flores (or as Gordon called it, the valley of the shadow of death)-- and out at the orphanage. I found myself face to face with extreme poverty. And with that, I found myself struggling to suppress feelings of pity-- "these people don't want your pity Erin" I would tell myself. On Monday, working at Abuelita's house, we were playing with Denise and Santiago, and Todd had a water bottle that he was squirting the kids with. As I looked around, seeing a kitchen built up with wire frames and a refrigerator door making part of the wall, sewer lines comprised of 4 in' diameter PVC pipes that stuck out of the eroding hillsides in places, I couldn't believe how different these two kids childhood was different from my own. Denise giggled as Todd squirted her again, and I realized that these kids had never run through the sprinklers on their front lawn on a hot summer day-- they didn't even have a front lawn. I wondered if they even had swimming suits. It was overwhelming! "How," I wondered, "could these kids even call their younger years a "childhood", if they haven't ever run through the sprinklers?!" And yet they were SO happy. It didn't make sense. "If only they knew what they were missing out on. They are naive; they don't know any better." Again, I looked down in pity.
I spent the first 3 days working harder and longer than I believe I've ever worked in my entire life. I worked along side natives, somewhat embarrassed by how weak and prissy I'm sure I seemed to them. As I was being physically worn down, my language skills began to come easier. I had taken a year of Spanish, but had almost forgotten all of it by the time this trip came. I could talk with a few of the locals. I learned more about their individual personalities. I saw each at work, at play, in their homes with their families. I continually was looking at myself from their perspectives, realizing how I must have looked in their eyes.
As we were leaving the second day at the land for the CAF building, the kids who lived across the street and who had been hanging around while we worked had gradual stripped off their school clothing until they were just in their underwear, and had started a water fight using a barrel of water (I'm guessing collected rainwater) and cups. They were squealing and laughing and I almost wanted to join in--all of us were hot and tired from working out in the sun. This time I saw them through new eyes. I stepped off my high horse and instead of looking down in condescension, I saw what a life these kids had even though they weren't surrounded by the worldly goods I had assumed were necessary for happiness. They weren't spoiled. They weren't arrogant, and had no sense of entitlement. They were close to their family, and they really loved each other.
The rest of the week just solidified this feeling. It didn't matter whether these people knew what they were "missing out on" or not, they didn't care. Things weren't as important to them as people. They cared deeply about their families, and even more so about their religion and faith. They knew the value of hard work, and were happy with their simple lives.
As we passed the sign in Vegas, all of these feelings came together and really finally clicked. I had changed. What was it that I loved? I'd spent a week without my phone on me, without a computer and all of the luxuries I expected--all that I'd been cultured to think that I COULDN'T live without.
I wish that our society could get back to these things. Working hard. Less arrogance, more humility. People caring about people. Real homecooked food. Fewer cars--more walking. Gratitude!! These things are so real in every day of the lives of the people I met down in Tijuana. I wish that they were more a part of mine. I want to go back to keep myself from slipping back into my pride and reliance on modern convenience. I want to be more like these people, and I want my future family to be modeled on the kind of families they have. I want to learn how to work hard and be grateful for every little thing I have. It wouldn't have been the same if I hadn't learned these things by really living it--even just the short week I spent down there. And I can't wait to get back!

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