Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Mexico

I know it has been a bit since I last posted, but finals are over and that brings a close to this difficult quarter. I have one more quarter to go and then I am officially graduated. Whew! Why does it seem harder this time around? A question for another time. I hope you enjoy my latest post. Thanks for reading.

Recently, my boss asked "where were you born and where do you call home?"  I was born in Ukiah, California but I believe home is where my family is, so for me, it's true to say home is where the heart is. This answer is always true.

There are times I have an additional answer to this question. La Gloria. La Gloria is a small town near Tijuana, Mexico tucked into the dusty yellow hills 20 minutes outside Rosarito, close enough to the pacific ocean to smell the salt and seaweed scented breezes. Cool mornings touched by fog are the relief as the sun climbs high and the temperature soars, scorching in its intensity, .  I love it. I have been to La Gloria 16 times over the course of 9 years. For two weeks every summer, La Gloria was home.

It all began with an uneventful Sunday morning. My oldest daughter, Courtney and I were sitting in the crowd of parishioners.  I know I was not really paying attention.  I was busy thinking of all that needed doing. The laundry, finishing up school shopping, getting a plan for the coming holidays... I admit, I wasn't using my God-given time wisely.

Sometimes the homilies speak directly to me and I pay full attention because there is a bit of wisdom tucked away in each of those carefully written talks.  At the time, it was Father Gary speaking and at the end of mass, he didn't release us.  "Please be seated. Eileen is here to talk about her recent mission experience in Mexico."

United States vs. Mexico
I imagined a collective groan from the room full of Catholics who had done their time, ready to move on. Courtney and I sat and listened.

Eileen talked about serving our young people by being involved in the Esperanza program at Holy Disciples. She talked about experiencing the challenge of helping people build a better life. She talked about the grassroots program that empowers people to work towards the common goal of a close-knit thriving community. Low interest loans, payback programs, community involvement... and she talked about Mexico. It was interesting.

I was in my early forties and I began thinking about how I had always wanted to travel, join the Peace Corps and make a difference in the world. I didn't grow up in a household that worried about what was happening outside of our own country or even beyond our neighborhood, so I was easily discouraged from this yearning. I went down a different path instead.  That all turned out good but I couldn't quiet the travel bug.

So when Eileen talked, I listened and thought "I could do this. I could finally go somewhere." Yes, travel was the bait.

The Neighborhood built on a dump site. This picture was
taken from the clinic that was built to help the community
resolve their many illnesses due to toxins from the refuse.
I looked at Courtney and she looked at me and we said "lets do that."  So we did.

It turned out to be more than an opportunity to travel. It became a calling.

My first trip in 2002, in which I was a chaperone was so profound, it was beyond explanation. The entire experience was rich in culture and struggle. I couldn't get enough of the scenery and the people. I found a sad beauty in the blue tarp communities and took hundreds of photos. I loved the families we met and learned to communicate with very little Spanish... and there was the hard work, the extreme heat and limited conveniences. It was all very interesting.

It felt so good for me to do this... I was part of something important and our first family was wary of us, having had a previous group that didn't talk to their children, complained about the food the family served and made the construction crew wait in the car while they ate lunch at a McDonalds.

We won them over, though. Before long the kids were singing songs with our group and we were exchanging recipes in the kitchen...  and fixing up their house... it was just like home.

I think the Esperanza International program is a smart, grassroots program to
teach communities how to care about their surroundings. The families accepted into the program must hold jobs to pay back very low interest loans on a cinder block space that can be added onto in later years. Unlike the wood structures, cinder block homes do not catch on fire or get washed down the hillsides.  The 2-3 foot foundations keep them firmly in place. They are also very good in the heat, providing much needed shade in 100+ temperatures.

The program is built on the theory that friends within a community will work together to make it a better place and want to stay.  Each family can be on the waiting list for a home for two years. During those two years, they help and support other families while their homes are being built. When it is their turn, the people they have helped, then help them. It is a "pay it forward" philosophy.

The work was long and hard and tiring but what I enjoyed most was learning about their lives. This always happened with the moms in the kitchen, usually a room made of parts found in the junkyard: a garage door, old lumber, barrels, and roofing materials housing a cook-top electric stove powered by wires crawling across the lot to be joined with other wires in the street that ran down the side of the road to the nearest working utility pole.
The progression of the foundation.

When water ran down the street, I could see the sparks snapping as children ran around and jumped the wires as they played. I remember one volunteer could not get past the U.S. code violations: "They would never do this in the U.S."

He didn't love the experience, which I think is fine. Some people like to get down into the trenches and work till they drop when natural disasters devastate a town, community or region. Some like to go on managed missions to make a difference. Other people like to send money. All of this is good.

Ladies of the community preparing food for the workers.
One of my favorite memories of the kitchen talks, was when I sat and listened to a mom talk about her challenges to use holistic methods of dealing with her family's health. It was like being hit over the head. The daily life in the ever expanding edges of Tijuana is so difficult that I never considered there would be time to study alternative lifestyle choices and yet this mom was totally motivated and excited about this. She expanded my narrow thinking.

My family and I have spent many summers traveling to Mexico through the Esperanza International mission program. this was something we looked forward to every year. I couldn't wait to go back... year after year. I loved every minute of the experience. I loved working with the youth of our church as each person changed and grew in one way or another. I loved meeting the families and hearing their stories... watching the children get to know each of us... helping in the kitchen... building.

I miss it.


  1. Yea, Darcy. Good to see you here. I've missed your words.

    I'm so grateful that Eileen shared the Esperanza project that day. And that now you are sharing it here for others to learn about. Who knows who might be reading here with that same restless longing to make a difference but are not sure what to do about it.
    I admire that you followed your calling.

    Thanks for posting.
    ~ B

  2. Mom - Reading this brings me back to the smells, sounds and colors of our beautiful second home. I miss it so much! You and I built some amazing connections and memories down there. So glad we have this to share together. Love you lots. Let's go back soon, eh?