Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I love, Love, LOVE Mexico, but A.M.E.R.I.C.A. is my home!

The last two weeks have been nothing short of amazing! To really see a third world country is something (I feel) everyone should have an opportunity to see. As I reflect back on the events that transpired I find myself missing a people, culture, and yes to some extent even those nasty nasty showers we used regularly. Some of the highlights from our trip will be shared below. Some of the days will be from a more current perspective than others, please bare with me and if it drives you nuts... well, stop reading.

The events of the two weeks probably won't be in 100% chronological order, however for the sake of myself wanting to remember this 50 years down the road I'll try to put them in the best sequencing as I can. Also, photos will be coming so stay tuned:

TUESDAY, JUNE 15, 2010
As we all met on Tuesday, June 15th at the Salt Lake International Airport the nervousness in my stomach had finally subsided. I was ready to take off to a country I'd never been to and meet the people I'd spent months preparing for. (I assume this is a little what a missionary feels like as they prepare to embark for their duration of service. Speaking of missionaries there was a HUGE group of them waiting to get their boarding passes and such so they could leave. I think they were headed to Switzerland or Sweden, but I'm not sure.) The whole lot of us kind of fumbled through the check-in process and awkwardly checked our bags. For quite a few of us this was our first international experience, so everything was very new. It was my first time checking a bag too, so that added another layer of awkward to everything... at least for me.

Finally everything was a go and it was time to board the plane. I found my seat and made friends with the girls on my row (we were all part of YouthLinc, so it wasn't too scary). I had a window seat, which I loved! Before I knew it we were getting ready for take off and up into the air. It was such a weird feeling knowing that for the next two weeks my home would be in another country. Everything was feeling so surreal. I tried to stay awake, but quickly learned that my body was exhausted from the excitement that had been building up for months.

I woke up when we were somewhere in Mexico (I assume), but still a good two hours or so before we'd reach Mexico City. I then plugged into my MP3 player and started looking out the window. The thought dawned on me that from that far up the ground looks that same, and in reality the people are all the same. Sure our personalities are all different, we have different skin colors and enjoy different things, but when it all boils down we all want the same things (more or less) and belong to the same Heavenly Family. It was there, thousands of feet above ground that I realized we all live under the same clouds. That the world isn't as big as we think it is and that we should all be able to get along. With those tender mercies rolling around in my head it was incredibly natural to immediately have a great love for the people of Mexico, and in particular the community of Bautista Grande.

The layover in Mexico City is one big blur in my minds eye. Actually, the walls of the airport are decorated with small round windows everywhere. It looks awesome! I wish I'd taken photos. Maybe I can find some from someone in the group to post. By the time we reached Tuxtla (the capital city of Chiapas - our final destination by air) everyone felt gross from traveling and I finally experienced real humidity. The air was so thick and wet there you could almost drink it in. Aside of being tired from the traveling I really enjoyed it.

The Tuxtla airport was significantly smaller than Mexico City or Salt Lake International. I think there are 4 terminals and one luggage carousal. Nothing about the structure was super cool other than there was three levels to it.

When we went to pick up our luggage we found that not all of our luggage had made it onto the plane from Mexico City, but that it was on a plane about an hour behind us. The YouthLinc staff that was with us wasn't thrilled, but what can ya do? We opted to wait it out. As the decision was made we met up with the local rotary club we'd partnered with. They were super nice and despite the late hour they had a good since of humor and teased most of us about our lack of Spanish.

After a warm bottle of water (from a restaurant mind you) and an hour, everyone had their bags and we loaded everything (approximately 114 pieces of luggage and 38 tired American's) onto the bus and headed to our new home called La Albarata, affectionately called the "Compound". At about one o'clock AM Mexico time (which was midnight Utah time) we pulled into the "Compound", grabbed our bags and staggered to our rooms. I think that was the night everyone fell asleep the quickest. From what I remember we all claimed an open bed (in the boys or girls dorms - determined on your gender), found pj's, brushed teeth and hit the sack. I would guess it took about 20 minutes tops.


This morning we were up by about 7:30 AM, had breakfast and headed up to meet the village. The hour bus ride up the mountain was a good time to sleep and after the long day prior many of us did. As we pulled into the village center (the school) the locals saw us coming and the children all ran to the bus. It was heartwarming to see how excited they were for us to be there. I also remember the thought of "there are a TON of kids here" running through my head. (This was later confirmed when we were told that our of the community of about 800 people approximately 600 of them were between the ages of 4-12ish!!) The sight made my eyes get a little teary and my subconscious knew that after these two weeks, I'd never be the same.

The village had planned an Open Ceremony like we'd never anticipated. They had all the kids like up around the basketball court; by grade and then by gender. I think just about each grade had something planned for us, whether is was a song, dance or poem. Our mire sharing of hopes was a meager offering to what they shared with us. (Luckily we made up for it during Closing Ceremonies at the end of the trip!)
After opening ceremonies we started right into our projects: digging, teaching, and evaluating. Our lunches were always provided by the Compound and everyday we ate on the bus. (One of the major problems in Bautista Grande is malnutrition. We found that in order to crave those hunger pains the people eat lots of sugar [suckers, popsicle, and sodas]. While none of them are overweight, they don't get the vitamins and minerals they need from a well balanced diet. THUS we ate on the bus so we didn't have to flaunt our lunches [sometimes good and sometimes yucky] in front of them].

I think it was Wednesday that I ended up going into town (San Cristobal, the city we were staying in - although we lived on the outskirts) with Smitty, the YouthLinc International Coordinator. He needed someone who was over 18 to come witness the money exchange with him (no Spanish skills were needed on my behalf) and I had some personal business (an appointment with a bano) I needed to attend to. When Smitty and I got into San Cristobal (two Mexican government ladies came with us) we made a quick stop at what we thought was a car rental place and then headed over to the main square to exchange the money YouthLinc had send down to be used for projects.

After going to two or three different banks (and running through inches of rain in the streets - my pants were soaked, and I found out later that so was my rain jacket, glad that worked as well as I thought it would...) Smitty and the two government ladies starting getting into a heated discussion. My broken Spanish didn't help me out enough to understand even the gist of the conversation, so in the back of the furniture store where the money exchange was Smitty and the women discussed the financial issues and I watched the World Cup game on a big screen TV.

After about an hour or so of my bouncing back and forth between the game and the conversation we all got up to leave. Smitty explained that there was a payment issue and now our logging was going to cost more that we'd previously agreed to. (The value of the peso had dropped, so they wanted more.) It turns out that the women from the government were on our side, so the Compound was in the wrong.

Post our adventures in the center of town we arrived back at the Compound. Everyone had exciting stories to tell about how cute the kids were and the adventures that they had witnessed that day in the village. We had dinner... I can't remember what it was, but I'd be willing to bet it had a tomatoey red sauce on it, involved potatoes, rice and tortillas. The food was good, but by the end of two weeks it all began to taste the same.
We found out that night that our curfew was 10 o'clock and lights were to be out by 10:30. The first few nights this was a problem but after we'd been there for a few days and really started working in the village, not many people had a hard time observing this.


It rained more today. This postponed construction, so we had about a zillion people in the classroom with us. It was fun to have so many American's there, but I think the kids (on the YouthLinc team) got bored. Slowly they started trickling out and playing with the kids who weren't in classes. (Apparently attendance in school isn't strictly observed, so there was usually kids playing on the grassy area in front of their classrooms.) The lessons that were taught today went well. It was fun to watch the teachers from my team take pride in the lessons they'd worked so hard on. It appears that all of the stress, frustration and irritation payed off. The children in the village LOVED having the American's teach - even when they would laugh at us because some of our Spanish wasn't very good, or when we'd sing songs like Old MacDonald (apparently this is a very American song).

The cultural team also started work on their closing ceremonies project and mural. They'll be organizing and teaching the YLers (YouthLinc-ers) as well as the 4th, 5th and 6th graders a flash mob. Up until the day of the performance I'd never seen one of these done in real life, only on youtube. The dance starts with part of the sixth grade and gradually incorporates all of the sixth, fifth and fourth grades. I was never assigned to work here but I can tell that lots of hard work has gone into it. The mural is going to be a pictorial representation of the community. They farm, have families, and tend animals. The sixth graders are going to be asked to draw pictures of their community. Two of the guys on the cultural committee will then compiled the drawings into a sketch for the mural to be based on. I'm excited to see how it all comes together. We've got a lot of work ahead of us.

When we got back to the Compound today I was pooped! It's funny how just being in a classroom with energetic children will drain everything you have in you out. Despite my exhaustion, I really do love being there with them. I love watching the village children and their excitement to learn. It's also a joy to watch the YouthLinc volunteers be excited to teach and help them. Ahh! I'm definitely in the right profession!

Today I called home to wish Mom a Happy Birthday and Dad a Happy Father's day and was reassured that Mom's b-day is indeed tomorrow. Oops! Oh well, it turned out to be a blessing because I found out that I'm going to be able to go to Korea with a small portion of my family. Making the initial decision to let my brother go instead of me was a hard one, but I'm glad he would have had the first opportunity to go. However I'm super excited to go with him!

The health fair that was supposed to be on Monday was bumped! Eek! Apparently it's going to be tomorrow! Tonight after our team meeting we broke into groups and worked on posters and presenting various parts of each station. I'm in the Cuts and Bruises group. The health fair is directed more towards the women in the community, but there will be children there too so it's important to have things that will be able to engage both age groups. During the health fair we'll also pass out the hygiene kits: they consist of wash cloths, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo/condition, etc. Most of them were compiled by the LDS church, and then purchased for the trip.

FRIDAY, JUNE 18, 2010
Happy belated birthday Mom!

Many of our activities have been pretty similar to yesterday. We've worked on construction (the rain has stopped! Knock on wood!), taught in the classrooms, worked on Cultural things and microenterprise has started working with some of the women in the community to develop new ideas for making an income. (They are hoping the women will come up with ideas of new things [mostly crafts] they can make.) The men aren't thrilled about the idea just yet. It appears they are very controlling, so the women don't open up much to us.

The health fair was today! Despite the short notice everything went great! The presenters were totally on the ball. This took up a good part of the morning so during the afternoon we had a few lessons taught by members of the education team, construction on the bathrooms for the kindergarten and cultural worked on flash mob and mural stuff.

After school was our we started playing new games with the local children. We taught them Ring Around the Rosies, Duck Duck Goose, and the Hokie Pokie. They loved them. Initially the kids were a little unsure, but after trying it once with us they were all sold. I think their favorite is Ring Around the Rosies. Apparently some things don't change across the world. Kids still love an excuse to "all fall down". I can already tell I'm going to have a hard time leaving these little ones. I already love them so much.

Today was a free day. We got to go into San Cristobal and shop. We spent hours walking through the open air market. I learned how to barter and think it's fun. I wish that concept of shopping worked in the U.S. I also wish there were more outdoor markets in the states. It's a great time to enjoy the outdoors for hours upon hours and also do all or most of your souvenir shopping. :) During our shopping excursion we found the BEST little restaurant. They have pork tacos that are a little bit like biting into heaven! Mmm! There is something about pineapple, pork, pico de gallo, and salsa verde all on a tortilla that is heavenly! LOVE IT! I have a feeling I'll be coming back here.

A group of us opted to stay in San Cristobal later than everyone else today so with Smitty's help and company Melissa, Jenny, Nancy, Merrit and I all caught the bus back to the Compound. On our ride there was a family who got on shortly after us (the husband was obviously not Latino) and he said something to us in English.
It was a little shocking but kind of refreshing to hear someone outside of our group of Gringos speaking our language. He's from Canada but moved there and fell in love with a woman there. They now have a little baby boy.

We found the death of me tonight. There is a pandaria down the street from our lodging. (A pandaria is a bakery.) They sell yummy pastries and breads for super cheap. This could become a problem if it's not controlled.

SUNDAY, JUNE 20, 2010
Today is day two of our break from work. In the morning a group of us (those who wanted) had the opportunity to attend a local LDS ward. It was a great experience for me. (More about this is written in a previous entry.)

After Church we went back into San Cristobal (I'll probably refer to it as The City later, just an FYI) and had a few hours to kill. Some people shopped but I enjoyed walking around and taking in the scenery.

We walked up to a Church that was up on a hill. There was about a zillion stairs leading up to it, but the view of the City from the top was beautiful. In Mexico the buildings are very colorful and vibrant. This adds a new dimension of beauty to to the area.

As we wandered through the City we stumbled onto a chocolate shop! Everyone has been craving chocolate pretty much since we got here, so it was like finding an oasis in the desert. The downside is that chocolate is made dark here, so I wasn't crazy about it. Good news is I found my trail mix that night, which has good ole American chocolate chips in it! Hurrah! Thus my chocolate craving was also satisfied.

After hours of wandering and some crankiness starting to surface (I think we were tired of shopping/bartering and hungry) the time finally came for us to meet back at the bus to head back to the Compound for dinner. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see our tour bus and driver!

The rest of the evening was pretty typical. Dinner (probably chicken with some sort of red sauce, potatoes, rice and tortillas), team meeting, some good ole Bananagrams and few rounds of Egyptian Rat Screw then hitting the sack.

MONDAY, JUNE 21, 2010
Our two days off were nice, but everyone seems to be having a bit of a hard time getting back into the swing of working again. Fortunately by the end of the day we were making some positive progress.

I feel a little dorky saying that today was pretty typical of all of our work days here. So much progress has been made on the construction projects though! The trenches for the foundation are just about done (shout out to those who dug on that project!!) and the contracted workers for the well have made tons of headway! (YouthLinc was going to provide the manpower until the well got about 4 feet deep. We left one night - can't remember which one - and it hadn't been started then when we came back the next day all the digging we were going to do was finished! Those workers rock my socks!) It would be awesome to see the building of the bathrooms start to go up before we leave, likewise it would be heartwarming to see water struck... not going to count my chickens though.

The wall for the mural was primed with blue. This will be our base color (mainly for the sky). After the paint dried Mats and Mike sketched on the mural with chalk that we brought. This was all that was done today. For fear of the rain and wind blowing off the chalk we jimmy-rigged up a tarp to help protect the wall.

Microenterprise has made some serious progress with the women in the community. They've decided who the loan will be given to, and are closely working with them to develop business plans. I hope that the loan proves to be a positive thing in their community. The inter workings of the loan would ensure that by the time the women pay back the $150 pesos in three months that 5% of each payment would go into a savings account. This money would then be used for further operations. The brains behind this project was (in my opinion) inspired! I think it has the potential to lift this community and bless their lives.

TUESDAY, JUNE 22, 2010
Since the mural was primed and sketched yesterday onto the wall, it's time to begin painting! It almost feels like everyone wants to get their hands dirty on this project. My feel is that as I contribute that it's leaving a little of me and my flair there. I hope I get the chance. I don't want to be picky, so wherever Merrit assigns me to work is great. (I'm mostly in the schools, so I'm game. :) Hee hee.) The children in the community are particularly excited for the mural. Some of them are even helping us with the painting. The women tend to stand back and watch, I wish they'd open up a little more to us. I feel as though there is so much we have to learn from them. I guess it's similar to how people are here though; something (or someone) new is kind of scary - not because they are creepy but rather because it is new and unknown. In that light, it makes sense.

Other than some major headway on the mural, the other teams were pretty typical in their work. Oh! We found out tonight that the community will be gone Thursday and Friday of this week. Oh joy... This means that not everyone in the education committee will be able to teach all their lessons. I hope that everyone is okay with that, they seem to be.

Our micro enterprise team is truly amazing! They are making so much headway within the community. It's proving to be beneficial for medical, cultural, and of course their own purposes. As they've continued to meet with the women they've found out so much about the way they live and what life is really like for them here in Bautista Grande. The women within a family (traditionally a grandmother, mother(s), daughters, and sometimes granddaughters) all work together to produce something; typically clothing, bags or other goods. Each person takes on a specific responsibility in the process and becomes very good at what she does.

Work continued in the other auxiliaries today. We had our last lessons taught in the school. Even though we'll be there on Saturday, school isn't in session so we won't be teaching.


Hardly anyone was in the village today. It felt a little dead without so many of our favorite kids running around. I can hardly imagine what it will feel like after we leave and we really won't be seeing them. *Sniffle*

Without so many distractions (which we all love!) we were able to get a lot of work done today! A handful of guys worked really hard on the bathrooms. Because most of the work these last few days has consisted of mixing cement the girls haven't been much help, other than working on getting the trenches dug for the sewage pipe. It's hard, labor intensive work and I'm grateful that Merrit didn't assign me there much. I'm good to work with the kids all day long, but digging and sifting sand are not among my strengths.

Today we also painted four of the six classrooms on the main "hallway" painted. The teachers choose the color (melon) for the interior. Initially I thought the brightness of the color would give me a headache, but it turns out it looks better after it dried. Along with painting the walls, we also cleaned the rooms. (Dust, brooms, mops, washed down desks... the whole sha-bang!) They looked great! I'm so proud of everyone who helped with this project. It was a huge undertaking and really another chance for everyone to work together and get to know each other.

The final touches and detail was put on the mural today! It looks so good. There is so much talent on our team! It can hardly believe it. It's been fun to see everyone getting a chance to work on it. I feel like that is one of the many ways we'll be able to leave part of us in the village. I hope they enjoy it. It's beautiful!

After a long day of work, we headed back to the Compound with a huge dent having been put in our task list. We still had a good chunk of tomorrow to keep us busy, but there was a lot accomplished.

Tonight at the compound was pretty low key; we had our regular team meeting (where we evaluated the day and made plans for the following day), and shot the breeze.

Today has been very successful. I'm so excited to finish the classrooms tomorrow, wrap up the mural and work on construction.

FRIDAY, JUNE 25, 2010
With all of the hard work that went into yesterday there was only a few hours of work available to us today. The mural was sealed with a waterproof protective coat, the trench was finished being dug, more help was offered and accepted by the contractors that have been doing so much on the bathrooms, and the last two classrooms were painted and cleaned. It was so awesome to see everything come together so quickly this last day.
After all the working in the village we joined everyone from the area in Chamula for their annual religious celebration. The main square of Chamula is down off a hill. When we'd previously wandered through here there were little shops to poke your head into and look around in, this time the streets were lined with vendors and down in the square there was a stage set up and street vendors just about everywhere. The hustle and bustle was exciting, but we were told that many of the men get very drunk and instructed to be careful.

A group of four girls (myself included) decided we'd stick together and eventually make our way to San Cristobal for dinner then back to the compound for the night. After spending about 10-15 minutes in Chamula we decided it was time to leave. None of us were very comfortable there and I felt as though I was keeping a more constant look out for our little group of four. Sooo we headed back up the hill to where the bus dropped us off to find a taxi and were told that we'd already passed them on our way up. Lovely... The small pack of us again headed down the hill, looking for the least sketchy taxi we could find. (At this point I had a rough idea how long it was from Chamula to San Cristobal [about 20ish minutes by car], and was trying to figure out how long it would take us to walk back. Long story short: too long.) A nice, non-drunk man helped us find a bus - which was really a 15 passenger van, to take us back to the city.

The man who owned the van instructed the four of us to climb into the backseat of his van (which was built for three people, not four) and proceeded to heard others in after us. I think total there was 20ish people crammed into the van. Talk about a clown car! It was fun though, and all part of the experience. After one of the girls (who was luckily sitting by the window) got some air her car sickness started to subside. The rest of us were great friends and teased her the whole way back to San Cristobal. There was lots of laughing, freaking out, and talking in English. (Ha ha! That came in handy when we really didn't want others to understand us.)

After several stops of letting more people on and others off, we finally made it to San Cristobal! Hallelujah! The problem was the final stop was somewhere in the city that we'd never been. In fact, we pulled into what also looked like a compound in an area of town we weren't sure about any girls safety, let alone the safety of four American girls who are all under the age of 23. As we all piled out we payed our driver and asked how to get to the city center. Instructions were given (and understood, thanks to Nancy) and we headed off.

Instructions are funny things, in order to get to where you want to be the person giving instructions needs to really KNOW where the final destination is. Turns out this man wasn't sure as to what we were talking about, and sent us to a different square. (Strike one: we left icky about staying in Chamula so climbed into a cab with a zillion other people who thought we were crazy. Strike two: the man who said he knew where the square we were looking for really didn't. One more to go until... well, I don't really know what would happen but whatever it was I knew I had to keep my cool! For the sake of the other girls of course...) So we did exactly what you aren't supposed to do, and kept walking. About six blocks later we asked another man (he looked nice so we all felt okay about it, even though Nancy was doing all the talking) who seemed to also know what we were talking about. We headed in that direction, and then a few blocks later asked a couple of women (who seemed very confused as to why we were asking directions) and they confirmed what the man had said.

We reached the destination our Mexican friends had sent us to, and surprise!... wrong church. :( At this point we were lost, tired, and h.u.n.g.r.y.! As we looked around the church one of the girls recalled another team member talking about a church beyond the outdoor market we often shopped at. So we did the only thing we could and began walking around the perimeter of the church to look for signs of familiarity. We found some white people (with hopes that they weren't lost and spoke English), but were saddened when their faces looked all confused as they studied a map (side note: we didn't think of even looking at it. Oops!) and spoke something the sounded like Swedish, and after hours of being squished in a taxi/van, wandering around the parts of San Cristobal that I'm glad my mother never knew about until now, and running away from a gas truck (yes, a creepy man in a gas truck was following us... well not really but he kept going the same places we did and looked at us with those eyes. Creeper!) we found.... drum roll please!... THE MARKET!! In order to run away from the creepy gas man we quickly walked into the inner part of the market. (Ha ha! Sucka!)

It's funny how a place that you've only been a handful of times can be so homey. Ahh... After finding the exit to the market (which can be tricky) we made our way back to our favorite pedestrian street, inhaled the BEST tacos from our favorite taco shop, and indulged in strawberry pops (best thing ever!) and yummy yummy churros. Despite all the yucky from the day, the caloric intake at the end seemed to make everything better. Oh! And we found a toilet with a seat. Can I just say I love Dominoes Pizza?

After an hour or so of being back in our comfort the four of us decided to pile into a taxi (a real one this time) and head back to the compound. I've never been so grateful to see that place. While we waited for everyone to get back from Chamula we ate way more Chips A-Hoy dipped in peanut butter and nutella (best thing ever, by the way) than we should have and laughed harder than I have in a long time. When everyone else finally arrived back at the compound we thought we'd had the craziest experience, but it turns out that they'd had an "adventure" of their own.

Needless to say after all of our adventures everyone slept really good tonight.

This morning when I woke up I showered, got ready, had breakfast, brushed my teeth and headed to the bus for our last trip up to San Cristobal. I can't believe we're leaving tomorrow. It's been such a blessing to be here with these people. They've taught me so much about happiness and the things that truly matter.

Today was also our closing ceremonies. As we mingled for an hour or so before the ceremonies started I was overjoyed to be amongst the people (particularly the children) that I've come to love so much. I even started to get what Nancy calls "cry baby eyes." Somehow I was able to hold back the full on waterworks, even as we sung John Denver's, "Leaving On a Jet Plane." On a lighter note, seeing the older kids (the fourth, fifth and sixth graders) dance with us was something to be noted. Withing the coming days/weeks I hope to be able to link to the video of that. I'll never hear the Black Eyed Peas' song, "I've got a Feeling" without thinking of Bautista Grande.

When all was said and done I couldn't handle lingering in the village knowing that our good bye was being drug out, so Nancy and I headed to the bus to wait for the others. Before everyone started to slowly trickled on a few of the village girls brought Nancy some flowers. It was incredibly touching. There was no doubt in my mind that these children didn't only have a life changing impact on only my life, because there were lots of tears shed as we said our good byes.

One of the girls in our group had another commitment on Monday so she also left today, along with one of the mentors. We'd meet up again with the mentor tomorrow after she along with the Rotarian's got the student to the airport and saw her off.

I think today we went back into San Cristobal. Most of us needed to get pesos for Sunday as we'd be responsible for our own dinner that night. We had a few hours to kill and the group I was with opted to do a little shopping, but mostly indulge in those heaven sent strawberry bars and churros! I really can't describe the goodness that is packed into those suckers. When the time arrived our little band was more than happy to see the bus again. No one had the emotional strength to handle another adventure in the City.

Tonight felt like the day of reckoning. Meaning that is was time to face the music that we were only guests here and it was time to pack up and head home to America. In the morning we'd be leaving San Cristobal and heading to Tuxtla for the night (for some of us it would be for the last time we'd see each other in mortality, as well as the last time we'd see the part of Mexico we'd come to love). It was a reality check for me that this time of my life was coming to an end. I've learned and grown so much from the people here and the team I've been working with. It's funny how something you think will end up being a "good experience" will become something that is life altering. Talk about tender mercies.

SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2010
This morning came earlier than most of us wanted. Although if I'm remembering correctly it was sleeping in compared to some of the days prior. After getting ready, finishing the packing and having breakfast it was time to say another good bye. This time it was to those who'd graciously taken care of us during our two week stay. Hasta luego La Albarata (aka the Compound) and staff.

Our awesome bus driver Casimero miraculously wiggled all of our luggage back under the bus and we headed off to Tuxtla. The drive to Tuxtla is approximately an hour to an hour and a half. During the ride we
decided that due to the rain we wouldn't go on the boat ride as was written into our itinerary. This meant that we did some rockin' money exchanges amongst each other as Smitty payed everyone their 120ish pesos as a refund. When we arrived in Tuxtla we met up with our missing mentor and some women from the Mexican government that we'd been working with.

We were given an hour to kill at the center of town and we walked around the square and perused the shops. (It was surprising to me that even here, in Tuxtla the women all make the same things!) We all met up, soggy but warm and headed to our hotel (that's right, after two weeks of summer camp style sleeping we had beds. Full size beds, with multiple soft - not lumpy pillows!!). We quickly dropped off everything and changed out of our wet clothes and zipped out the door to meet the Rotarians for a late lunch.

The food at the restaurant we ate at was so good. We had barbacoa, these taquito things, and drinks. I got a horchata. Oh how I love a good horchata. Mmmm! During dinner the Argentina vs Mexico game was on so of course we had to watch it. I might point out that Argentina won! Woot woot! It was kind of fun to be cheering for the opposing team in Mexico, in a safe environment.

After dinner (since the rain had let up) everyone, minus a few, decided that we indeed did want to venture the canyon boat trip. We didn't have time to run back to the hotel to change, so everyone wear what we wore to lunch. Our favorite Casimero took us to the boat dock where we paid for our trip, life-vested up and climbed onto our little boat. Our driver was very nice, but didn't speak a lick of English. Thus our English tour guide (Smitty) climbed up to the controls to give us the the translated version of the tour.

The canyon was breathtaking, but even that doesn't really do justice. (Just as these photos don't.) As we progressed up the canyon we saw waterfalls can came out of the middle of the rocks and 300 foot cliffs on either side. One of the little cave-like things that eroded away has the Mexican country colors seeping out of the rocks, along with a shrine dedicated to a Saint. At the end of the tour there is a park with several things to do; rock climbing, zip-lining, kayaking, holding a toucan or other animals and other activities. The park was closed (because of the rain) by the time we got there, but I was okay with that.

As it was raining in the canyon I was amazed to feel the water (which has crocodiles in it) and note how it was warm. Almost too warm to swim in, but not quite that of a hot tub. Good thing no one brought their suits. ;)

On the way out of the canyon, back to the dock, we were flying! The water would pelt your face and it hurt like... rocks. Most of us had turned backwards for the whole ride back, which wasn't a total waste because the view backwards is cool too.

After we got back to the dock we took a group photo and quickly climbed back onto the bus. Smitty asked Casimero to not turn on the air conditioner, so all the windows were super foggy the whole way back to the hotel. On our many bus rides we came up with fun games like; bus surfing (which is where you have to balance in the isle without touching anything or anyone on bumps and turns) or E-True Hollywood Stars (which is where you choose a movie and a character from it and describe part of the plot from that characters point of view. - Very popular, mostly because large groups can play). This trip back to the hotel was no different.

Before we were even close to the hotel everyone was 'dubs'ing the shower first. I told Nancy (my roommate for the night) she could have the shower first if I could change out of my wet clothes. Soon after she vacated the bathroom I zipped in and jumped into the shower (without shoes on mind you! Oh lovely!!), turned on the water and waited for the heat. Alas... it didn't come. You got it, a luke warm shower... again. Oh well, at least it wasn't cold.

An hour or so after our showers Nancy and I ventured out to find Merrit and Kelly. We were up for 1) FOOD and 2) a good time. Just our luck! We were able to find both in the hotel's restaurant. I think nearly everyone ordered a hamburger (yeah I know... a hamburger in Mexico, get off my back) with fries and a water. I wish I would have gotten the club sandwich though, it looked and smelt better. Slowly our group went from about 10 to nearly 15ish. It was about 10 o'clock, someones time, and I decided I'd had about all the excitement I could handle and headed to bed. That was the best nights sleep I'd had in nearly two weeks!

MONDAY, JUNE 28, 2010
Today came incredibly early. Then at approximately 5:45 AM (15 minutes before we were to be at the bus) Smitty hit us with a wake up call. Luckily Nancy and I were both already awake and nearly ready. Shortly after we met up with the rest of the group who was congregating in just outside the hotel, by the bus. Casimero worked those magic hands and again squished everything underneath his bus - which was nothing short of a miracle.

We made it it the airport in great time and security was a breeze! Everyone started buying over priced coffee and pastries, and I was also tempted to. Then I remember I'd purchased my food storage earlier the prior week: Crackets, the equivalent to Ritz crackers. Mmm! I inhaled an entire sleeve of them, with the help of a few others and indulged in one of my remaining granola bars! Mmm! (Thanks Mom!!)

The flight to Mexico City wasn't too exciting, which is good... I guess and we made it with loads of time to spare. (That 5 hour layover didn't have anything to do with it though...) After we'd checked our luggage in Mexico City everyone scattered to the food courts. (It was noon-ish at the time.) A group of girls and I found a pizza joint and welcomed back the flavors of America; sausage, pepperoni, cheese, crust, and tomato sauce. Yum-o!

In order to kill that much time in the airport we played several rounds of Bananagrams. After the last round, and just before we said 'hasta luego' to Nancy and Merrit for two additional weeks I bent down to pick up a bottle of hand sanitizer that had fallen during our intense game and smacked my face on the table. Can you say ouch? I hit the edge of the table (which luckily wasn't sharp or anything) right on the outside of my right eye bone. As everyone was saying good bye I was holding my face and trying to fight back the tears. It was my turn to hug good bye and my eyes couldn't hold back the pain. Nancy told me not to have cry baby eyes (she thought I was really shaken up about our separation) and I informed her it was because of my new injury. Well... I'm disappointed to report that after a week, I got no bruise, not really even a mark. What a let down.

The flight from Mexico City to Atlanta was good, long but good. Likewise was the flight from Atlanta to SLC. With only an hour and a half to get through customs and back through security we weren't sure we'd make it, luckily we did. It was fun to call my family from the Atlanta airport where I didn't have to dial a country code and it was just long distance, not an international call. Not going to lie, I may have gotten cry baby eyes as I read my first text back home, "Call when you get to the United States. We are excited to see you again. We love you." from my family. :)

I'm finally home! It's kind of a strange concept to thing about even after this short of a time. Hearing the Spanish language everywhere (even though I don't understand 80% of it) seems so... natural. My heart breaks a little every time I think of the community, particularly the children we were able to interact with and influence. Oh how I miss them, the good news is I'll never forget them. They've left a heart print that will effect me everyday for I hope the rest of my life.

I've now been home for just over a week and it's been interesting looking back on my experiences. The friends I've made may or may not continue into the future, but I'll always consider the Mexico 2010 YouthLinc team some of my good friends. I hope that in my sharing this/these experience(s) that somehow these people and in particular the children may have made a difference in your life, just as they have in mine. We're a blessed people, don't every forget it. If you have heating, air conditioning or running water you already have more than so many people in the world. Tonight do me a favor, thank your Heavenly Father for the blessings you have. Then tomorrow do something to show your gratitude. You don't have to leave the country, or even your community, home or office. Just do something for someone else. If we all did a little something everyday, the world would be a much better place. ...just a little food for thought.

Welp, there is my story and I'm certainly sticking to it. :) So until next time, keep your stick on the ice.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More of Mexico

I´m not really sure when the last time I blogged was... oops! And since I´m paying by the minute, I´d rather not find out.

In the last few days we´ve had so many great experiences! On Saturday we spent most of the day in San Cristobal shopping and sight-seeing. I stuck pretty close to Merrit and Nancy, the two of the girls I´ve become good friends with. I got some fun things, including jewlery and a dress that I´m pretty excited about.

Sunday had the amazing opportunity to go into San Cristobal again to go to a LDS ward. The people here are so nice and were very welcoming to the huge late group of gringos that showed up right before the sacrament was passed. After the meeting they let us use one of the unoccupied rooms to have a brief testimony meeting. It was such a great experience to be in a room, amongst new friends, in a new country, where I can communicate very little, and know that we all have the same beliefs. The spirt was strong and I´m very greatful for the chance I had to partake of it. After churhc we went into San Cristobal again, for more shopping and sight-seeing. Most of the group bought more things, but I tried hard to refrain. Although, I did break down and by some juices from the corner store near the compound we´re staying at. (More about the compound later...)

Monday we went into Bautista Grande and worked with the people. Because I´m on education I spent time in the schools and got to teach one of my lessons. (Bubbles for those who were curious.) In the morning we were in the preschool classrooms, which are 4 and 5 year olds and in the afternoon they taught in a 3rd grade... I think. Spanish is a second language for the community we´re in, and the children learn it in school. Which is something we didn´t know before. Luckily the teachers of the preschool were super nice and were willing to translate for us. It was definately a tender mercy!

This week there is a HUGE celebration in Chamula (a city between the village we´re working in and San Cristobal - where we are staying) so most of the village went there to worship their Saints and party. From what we´ve been told there is a huge party with lots of drinking and dancing. Earlier this week they were talking about going, but I´m not sure that we really will. I hope not...

The place we are staying is a trade school. It´s called La Albarata. They train students in quite a variety of trades, including baking, woodwork (which is beautiful, yet very simple), technology, metal work, and some others that I can´t read on the walls. It´s pretty nice, and we really can´t complain much. They feed us three meals a day (we take lunches with us to the village), have showers (which are sometimes hot and sometimes cold - and are terribly short! I´ll bring photos.), have bathroom facilites, a computer lab, kitchen, garden areas, an auditorium, and some other facilities. The beds are all bunk style and in a room the size of our living room, kitchen, and family room there are about 9 sets of bunk beds. Things get a little squishy for about half of the girls from our group that are in my room, but it´s okay. We all seem to get along pretty well.

I wish I could express all I´ve learned since coming here and seeing the poverty these people live in. I think the one thing that continues to strike me as super important is that I´ve been terribly blessed; not only to have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, but also to have been born in America, to a good family, and have so many material blessings, and also that the people here are children of the same Heavenly Father that I am. As I keep these two things it mind as I work along side with and serve them, I find my heart breaking knowing that after this trip there is a chance I´ll never see them again until after this life is over. Last night we practiced the songe we´re singing for the closing ceremonies in the village (Leaving on a Jet Plane¨¨by John Denver) and I started to tear up. Oh how I love the people here!!

This experience has been so perfect for me. The dynamics of the group and the people we´ve been able to interact with has changed my life forever! I´ve been provided opporunities to share my testimony both formally and informally and hopefully been a good representative of the Church. I´m exicted to see you all again, and take a nice long hot shower without anyone else in the same room. :) I´m definately staying safe and enjoying all I´m learning here. I´ll try to blog more frequently before we come home, but I look forward to seeing everyone soon.

Love you all!!

Friday, June 18, 2010


Well, I finally l made it! I've got a stamp in my passport and for the next week and a half-ish I´m in Mexico! :) Oh happy day!

Over the last few days we've spent three of them working in the village (in the school, microenterprise projects, building a free standing bathroom, and preparing for a medical fair - which will be this Monday!) The children here are beautiful and I already love them so much. They have so little, but are also so happy with what they do have. It´s a pitty many Americans don´t get the opportunity to see the poverty that many in the world experience. I wish I´d brought my photo USB drive so I could post photos for everyone to see... I think that was the one thing I forgot. Oh well...

The food here is delicious, well... everything thus far minus lunch yesterday. We had plantains with this nasty smelling cheese on them. I couldn't bring myself to even try them, but two of the girls I've become good friends with did and they confirmed what my nose already knew. At every meal we have coffee and herbal tea served to us. The tea is non-caffeinated so for the first few days I drank it. The problem is for the rest of the day you smell this tea everywhere; in the compound where we stay, in the village, and on your clothes - it´s not bad, but definitely not my favorite drink. They also serve black beans (yummy!) and rice (which is also very yummy) at almost every meal. I don´t have a problem with this, but I think some of the kids are getting tired of it already. Sad day. :(

Today we had the opportunity (after spending the morning working in the village) to go into Chamula. There were lots of little shops selling all the same products; shirts, dresses, bracelets, etc. This is HUGE problem in the area because the that´s all the women know how to make, so the market is really saturated and then nobody can provide for basic needs. Many of the children, and adults are malnourished. They eat a lot of junk food and drink Coke and alcohol. It´s super sad. In fact yesterday on our way to the village we saw a man passed out on the side of the road. He was totally wasted. Lots of the kids on the bus were laughing and taking photos, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Ahh the joys that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings to your life. I definitely feel privileged to have the knowledge I do.

Well, I've got to go. My half hour is up! I hope to be back tomorrow, after I change my money in to pesos.

I love you all! Thanks for the support and prayers!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Running Realizations

Ugg! Have you ever been wanting to post something and save it to draft and accidentally delete it? Not just once, by twice? Alright 3rd time is a charm so lets give it a go.

Last night I found myself needing to get out some feelings of frustration and uncertainty. After calling a friend (who was otherwise occupied) I decided to go for a run. I had high, almost desperate hopes that I'd be able to find solace and healing emotionally as well as spiritually, as I pushed myself physically almost to the breaking point time and time again.

After stretching and charting a course I was off. Since it's been a while since I've run I found myself setting short goals (i.e. just to the corner, just to the mailbox, just to the top of the hill) to accomplish my ultimate goal. As I reflect back, I realize that this was a principle that I needed to have retaught to me. It's great to have lofty, achievable goals but if you have no way of getting there (i.e. no short-term goals) the likelihood of getting to the larger goal is slim to none. (Sorry, just a thought that popped in and figured it needed to be shared. Back to my running...)

After running for a bit I got to my local track to run a few laps before continuing on the asphalt. I remembered a post I'd read on a friends blog about barefoot running. As I initially glanced over these posts I was a little skeptical, but as I read the research and watched several clips I was intrigued and wanted to give it a go.

Lap one with run with shoes on. The track was much more cushioned that the asphalt I'd been running on and I felt it was harder on my knees to run on it that anything. For lap two I decided I'd give this barefoot running thing a go. If nothing else I'd get some funny looks from the other runners and I'm sure more funny thoughts, which would make it worth it. I was so surprised how comfortable it felt. My body naturally straightened up; head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, and knees over ankles. (Normally I run slightly leaning forward.) The best part was, the shin splints I felt coming on were quickly dissipating, and never returned during my run. LOVELY! I finished up my shoeless lap, put my shoes back on, ran another and finished up my run.

As I got home I stretched out and found myself noticing that I never got an answer to my questions. I never got an overwhelming sensation of my problems being gone, however I did feel that as I turn them over to a loving Heavenly Father that they will be taken care of. That I would be given the strength to handle my frustrations, sorrow and uncertainty. What a perfectly loving realization. What a wonderful Father! I've again come to know that there isn't anything in my life that I can't handle without His help, because He's promised that temptation will not exist "above that ye are able" (1 Cor. 10:13).

I've come to realize that this life is all about strength. Not necessarily physical strength, but spiritual strength. You've got it in you. You're a child of God. Exercise just a little more faith and persist a little while longer. Relief will come. Of this I promise!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's Summa' Time 0'... '10?

Summer has always been one of my favorite times of the year. There is always so much going on, but none of it seems very pressured - which is why I like it so much more as opposed to mid or late-semester. (Go figure.) This summer is one that I've found is holding so much more within it than normal:

  • One of my younger brother just graduated from High School (congrats buddy!)
  • Camping/road trips
  • PARTIES (going away, coming home/back and just cause-ers)
  • and Mexico!! (Which by the way is only 11 days until take off!!!)
I find myself excited beyond belief for all that is in store, but also hesitate about it all happening too quickly. You see, this next year I graduate.... from college! I know this should be an ecstatic time of my life, but I find myself terribly nervous. School as been the norm in my life for the past 18 years. I know I'm pursing teaching so I'll always be 'in' school, but really it's a whole new ball game. Life is about to change and turn a totally new direction. A direction that contains additional responsibility and truly leaving my childhood in the past. Wow! It's weird how reality will slap you in the face, even while blogging.

On a lighter note, I've set a new goal for myself. Who needs January 1 for goal setting? Not me! I decided that it's time to get back into running. It's been about ... uh... well never mind how long its been, lets just say too long. My recently graduated brother has taken on the role of my motivator and we'll be running on a regular basis. I'm very excited about this and hope to eventually run an entire 5k by the end of the summer. We'll see how that all works out. In the mean time I've stumbled across a blog called
Running Fearless. The host of it is one of my friend's husband (did that even make sense?? oh well...) who is miles ahead of me in his training, but is able to share the process he goes through in such a way that it applies to me. I hope it's of worth to you. And if not, then don't follow it.

Keep your chin up friends!