This caused an immediate rush of adrenalin since I was due to leave our house at 6:30 AM. But because my little alarm clock that "Never-Sleeps-A-Minute-Past-6:00-AM" didn't wake up, neither did I. Thankfully, I had packed my bag of supplies the night before so once my eyes fluttered open and I looked at the clock and quickly processed that I was supposed to depart in THREE MINUTES, I flew out of bed, threw on some clothes, raced a toothbrush across my teeth and bolted out the door.
The purpose of our trip was to drive down to a village just south of Ensenada, Mexico and have a Christmas Fiesta with approximately 5,000 local people. All told, there would be a caravan of ten vehicles crossing over the border packed full of volunteers, supplies and individually wrapped Christmas presents for each of the children that were expected.
The people that I traveled down with have an organization through which they send shipments of food and clothing to Mexico several times a week. One of the recipients of that food is a place called, "Village of Hope" (VOH), which is a camp located in the foothills of Ensenada that is funded by a consortium of California-based churches.
The primary mission of the VOH is to serve the Mixtec people.
The primary mission of the VOH is to serve the Mixtec people.
What I didn't know - but learned on this trip - is that Mixtecos are indigenous to Mexico, predating the Spaniards by several hundred years. Mixtecs do not speak Spanish, but their own language, Mixteca. Infact, the Mixtec language and culture are as different from Spanish as Navajo is from English. Because they cannot communicate with people beyond their own community, they are culturally and linguistically isolated and disadvantaged. They typically live in extreme poverty and lack basic provisions such as clothing, food and housing.
The VOH, or as it is known locally, "En Campo De Esperanza", was our first stop and is where the Christmas Fiesta was set to be held. I'd like to add that this place is so close to our house in San Diego, it actually takes me longer to drive to Los Angeles than it takes to drive to this camp. And I don't know how to describe this place except to say that it is an absolute oasis for the Mixteco people who live and work in the farm land, nearby.
From what I could see, all of the people who work on the farms live in shacks.
Although I doubt some of these 'homes' even meet the definition of shack.
This is where the Mixteco people live.
This is where their children live.
This is the stagnant water that they use to clean, bathe and drink.
This is their restroom (the small white structure in the foreground) that might service 100 or more people.
This is how they wash their clothes.
This is where they cook their food which typically consists of nothing more than corn tortillas and perhaps some beans.
The farmers who own the land, pay the workers approximately $8.00 a day and if the workers are lucky, they are provided housing which might consist of corrugated metal walls and a roof. When I looked inside, all I could see were some blankets on the ground. No mattresses. No pillows. NO NOTHING. As if that wasn't bad enough, the cost for living on "the property" is taken from their meager pay.
After we unloaded all of our gifts at the VOH, we drove around the countryside and made a stop at a place called ... Jon and Arlene's house.
Jon and Arlene once lived in northern California. But several years ago, they traveled to Mexico to buy a boat. A 45-foot catamaran to be exact. But on that trip they met a woman who was running a children's program and they almost immediately felt their hearts pulled in to an entirely new direction. It took three months for them to decide that they needed to sell off everything and move to Mexico. Now they live south of the border full time and run what is considered a daycare. Arlene said numerous times that the sole purpose of their operation is to keep families together.
They recognize that people need to work - but what do they do with their children?
One option is to take the children in to the fields with them. The babies are strapped on to their mother's backs and will spend hours upon hours in the field under the hot sun. Sadly, some babies spend so much time strapped on to their mother's backs that their muscle strength and development are severely delayed.
Babies are placed on the ground where they will remain all day. And sometimes, babies are left alone in the shacks, frequently under the care of a three or four year old sibling.
(The women and small children in the photo below were picking carrots which are shipped to the United States where they will undoubtedly be refused by my children. The notion of throwing food out bothers me even more now than it ever did before.)
Children any older than that are usually put to work. We saw this sweet boy who was no more than seven-years-old herding a flock of goats. In the background, the Christmas Fiesta was going on at the VOH. But he couldn't attend because he had a job to do.
Quite often, people make so little money working in the fields, that they decide to migrate north. But it isn't quite so easy to cross international lines when you don't have a visa or work permit. Out of sheer desperation, people will leave their children behind. Sometimes with a smuggler, who might promise that they will eventually reunite the illegal immigrant with their child. Many of these children that are left behind either end up dead, in the rampant child sex trade, or if they are lucky, an orphanage.
That's what Jon and Arlene are trying to prevent.
Jon and Arlene provide a true safe haven while the parents are off working. Currently, they have 10 children living at their home and watch 11 children every day. Surrounding their home are several shacks for the Mixtecan families that were built by a California church group that sponsors all of their activities. According to the people that I traveled with - this is a huge improvement over what was here. Up until very recently, the people that congregated around Jon and Arlene's lived on the property in 'homes' constructed of nothing more than shredded tarps and plastic trash bags.
In addition to providing free daycare services, they have a small school on their property and are able to provide basic food to the people who live nearby.
Food that it turns out, is also provided by the Hilarious Givers.
After we visited with Jon and Arlene for a few hours, we returned to the VOH and helped to serve food and hand out Christmas presents to the more than 5,000 people that had gathered. There were games, music, a church service, and an opportunity for people to get a haircut.
The VOH had posted fliers all around town inviting people to the Fiesta and they came in droves by stroller, bicycle, foot horse and bus.
We left the celebration after the sun had set and took about three hours to drive home. We stopped along the way at a Mexican Costco for some supplies that cannot be purchased in the States. Then we stopped for gas. And then we stopped for fish tacos. I was extremely hesitant to eat the Mexican tacos, seeing as I had packed several Uncrustables and I have a digestive system more temperamental than a ... I dunno ... wet cat?
But I ate them and oh they were so delicious.
And then, while we were stopped in line waiting to cross the border, we bought several bags of churros. And they too were oh so delicious. (At least for a few minutes.)
For the first time in the 15-years we have lived in San Diego, I have never before been so thankful that we live so close to the border. Because no less than 10 minutes after arriving home, the entire contents of my stomach were ferociously catapulted up and out of my body.
I cannot remember the last time I was as sick as I was Saturday night. The words "Death and Dying" crossed my mind no less than one hundred times as my body rejected every molecule I had consumed over the past six hours. And while I desperately held on to the toilet bowl with my feverish head resting on the nice cool seat, I kept thinking, "Why God, WHY ME?"
Why is it that I am so lucky to have been born in to such an abundantly prosperous country?
Why is it that I am so lucky to live in a wonderful house that although I might sometimes think is too small and lacks sufficient closet space, it keeps my family dry, warm and safe?
Although I was violently chucking up my
It is estimated that more than 1 billion people around the world live in shacks similar to what I saw during my recent trip to Mexico. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and draw the conclusion that despite whatever issues you might have going on in your own life ...