...Patriotic Red and Green "My 25th Mexico Anniversary"
Twenty-five years ago this summer, I made my first trip to Latin America. My excitement was brimming over as I boarded that jet at La Guardia Airport in New York City, ready for my assuredly colorful Mexican adventure.
Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity International via my awesome college alma mater has always been one of the highlights of my life. I will always remember my wonderful fellow volunteers, and the appreciative beneficiary families. I will also always marvel at the dazzlingly raw energy of Mexico City, and the quietly beautiful wonder of Cuernavaca, Taxco, Alpuyeca, and Xoxocotla. It was all a gorgeous dream, that now forms part of this grateful forty-something's soul.
Below is an essay that I wrote for one of my classes upon my return to the States. After all these years, this essay has stayed with me, on my computer, and in my print portfolio. I'm now excited to share it here, also as it's a testament to my growth as a writer. Thank you, Mexico, for all the treasured memories. I can't believe it's been twenty-five years!
Two Weeks in Heaven
In May 1996, I was sent to Xoxocotla, Mexico. I boarded a plane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City and began my aerial journey to this tiny Mexican village, located approximately three hours south of Mexico City. Now I must clarify that I wasn’t actually “sent” on this potentially exciting journey. I was more of a volunteer, one of ten, who had been picked to represent my college on a mission. And what mission was this exactly? I was going to build houses for the people of Xoxocotla. As trite as this may sound, it would, however, prove to be a mission I would never forget.
Xoxocotla was an aesthetically beautiful village with aesthetically beautiful people. I vividly remember walking down simple dirt streets where the smell of fresh corn tortillas permeated the air. You could almost taste the deliciousness of the tortillas, and revel in the fact that they were being prepared in the “authentic” Mexican way. On that culinary note, every day my fellow volunteers and I ate our afternoon meals with the beneficiary families and I remember us being very happy. We embraced the simplicity and innate friendliness of Xoxocotla and its people. It was so different from anything any of us had ever experienced. I also recall us being most happy in realizing that we had become a part of it all. We were working, talking, and now eating with the people of the village. They had invited us American “outsiders” into “their” lives. It was a touching revelation.
However, as beautiful as this all was, there was a distinct physical poverty in the village that could not be ignored. Although the spirits of the people and the atmospheric charm of the village were rich, there was a deficiency of indoor plumbing and electricity, not to mention a deficiency of food and clothing. This state of destitution was painful for me to see throughout my stay; therefore, I was never able to forget that I was on a mission to help build houses. After all, the inexistence of adequate housing (let alone indoor plumbing and electricity for their housing!) was a huge problem in Xoxocotla.
I can say that the effect of having put myself at the service of Xoxocotlans, and in the position to become friends with them, truly humbled me. I was able to explore the meaning of the word “friendship” while in Xoxocotla. I feel as if my fellow volunteers and I were able to leave there with proof and understanding that friendships can exist under any circumstance, under any governmental, economic, or linguistic barrier.
Finally, while on the topic of linguistics, and on a more personal note, Xoxocotla provided a wonderful opportunity for me to practice speaking my school-learned Spanish. I remember never having a dull moment while translating Spanish to English for my fellow American volunteers, who were “periodically on the verge of a linguistic breakdown.” (Only two volunteers besides me spoke Spanish.) For instance, if a volunteer’s attempt to introduce herself to a new person came to no coherent fruition, I would be called over to help. One day we were actually trapped in a schoolyard with about fifteen eager and bemused Xoxocotlan ten-year-olds. I have to laugh just thinking about it. I was like a ping-pong ball liaison going back and forth from Spanish to English and then back again. Wow! It was also personally rewarding speaking Spanish on our worksites because there was a great sense of cooperation and commitment to building the houses; therefore, I truly felt that I was making a difference and getting results every day that I translated instructions.
I have so many good memories of my stay in Xoxocotla. The village and its people were absolutely breathtaking to partake. The poverty, though difficult to witness, ultimately became a vehicle for serene contemplation for me, one that would ultimately hail the wonders of friendship everywhere. I was also given the perfect opportunity to speak Spanish. I will never forget my trip to Xoxocotla. What’s more, there are more houses standing in Xoxocotla, Mexico, today. And that is a good thing.