Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cami's Trip to Mexico (Part 1)

My mom let my big brother steal my room and mess up my bed while he's home from JMU for winter break, so I decided to steal her blog as revenge. I hope you don't mind.

I am going to tell you a story about a 16 year old girl. This girl loved nothing more than Christmas. She loved singing Christmas carols. She loved baking cookies until her hands fell off and her jeans didn't fit. She loved sneaking up the stairs past midnight on Christmas Eve to sit and stare at the glowing tree. But most of all she loved being with her family. She loved watching the movie Elf with her siblings. She loved watching her sister scream delighted thank you's as she unwrapped her presents (so loud Santa definitely heard them from the North Pole.) She loved it all... So what on earth was this girl doing 2,000 miles away from her home and family on Christmas?

It all started a year ago when I was eating lunch in the school cafeteria and my friend told me she was going on a service trip to El Salvador to assist impoverished people. I immediately knew I wanted to do a service trip somewhere, someday.... but it was always a faraway dream that I knew wouldn't happen for years. As junior year rolled around and the thief called AP calculus stole my life from me, my dream faded further into the shadows. I had just about decided to wait until after college to check service trip off my bucket list when my grandpa called with the news that his brother Buddy and family would be traveling to Mexico to build house for families in need over Christmas break AND THEY WERE GOING TO LET ME GO WITH THEM!!! Not much else in the world could have actually made me WANT to leave my house for Christmas. Arrangements were thrown together in a couple short weeks (by my wonderful parents, grandpa, and aunt and uncle). It was quickly decided that I would fly to Utah and stay with my grandparents for 4 days before driving to Mexico with Buddy and his family where we would stay in Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) for 5 days.

Before I even knew what was happening, it was just hours before my departure to Utah and I was packing my bags for the trip. That's when the reality of 'missing' Christmas finally hit me like a ton of bricks. I am embarrassed to say I almost ditched the whole thing right then and decided to stay home instead of embarking on my holiday adventure. Don't get me wrong now, I REALLY wanted to go. Like a lot. But I'm a sucker for Christmas and traditions and my family so I almost didn't. I'm pretty sure my mom wanted me to stay home too but being the awesome future teller person that she is, she somehow knew already that it was an experience I needed to have so I let her escort me to the airport and put me on a plane to Utah. 

And so it was that the girl who loved Christmas said goodbye to her family and flew to Utah all alone, just days before her beloved traditions would begin.

The second I stepped off the plane in Utah my fears were put to rest as my Grandma, Grandpa, Nana, Aunt, and Uncle immediately set to work making my Christmas as busy and full of excitement. We baked, sang Christmas carols, played in the snow, and baked some more. The days leading up to Christmas were full of family and fun. I almost didn't even miss my family in Virginia...almost.

After I received my fair dosage of sugar and singing, Christmas Eve morning rolled around with my (great) Uncle Buddy, Aunt Debra, and their kids, Hannah, Ethan, and Isaac picking me up for our adventure. They took 2 cars all the way to Mexico just so they would have room for me, they're pretty much the nicest people ever. Overnight in Phoenix and 12 hours in the car later we drove across the border (I was shocked they didn't even ask to see our passports!) Driving into Mexico was breathtaking. I've been to 42 states plus Canada but nothing can compare to the culture shock I felt driving into Mexico for the first time. You can just ask my poor Aunt Debra whom I battered with questions the full 60 miles between the border and our beachside destination, Puerto Penasco. If you've never been to Mexico I'll let you in on a secret--they speak Spanish. And they build doghouse-like shrines to the virgin Mary on the side of the highway, and they don't have grass, and they have really tall cactus trees, and there are about a gazillion and one stray dogs running around the streets. 

Just as I was recovering from the initial shock of being in a truly foreign country for the first time we arrived at the first event of our service trip: Christmas dinner for the locals.
A local restaurant, Don Julio's, donated the main course for the dinner and all of the families brought side dishes.  We ate at the restaurant later in the trip and it was delicious!)
I was shocked first by the amount of people that were there to help-- more than 20 families left the comfort of their homes for Christmas just to help give comfort to another family.
My favorite part of the dinner was the toys. A toy factory in Utah donated hundreds of wooden cars and trains which we handed out to all the little kids after they filled their plates.

Little kids just have a way of working their way into people's hearts. Watching their faces light up as they received a good meal and a toy was priceless, I was maybe tempted a few times to take a few kids home with me.
I have this theory that nothing brings people together like good food. This dinner was perfect evidence of that. Half of us spoke English while the other half spoke Spanish but as these families lined up to get their food, everyone was just happy. Apart from confirming my belief in food, it made me realize how often I take good food for granted. Every night my mom prepares an amazing, fresh meal and I can't even imagine the chaos that would be my house if we ever missed dinner. These people don't have the luxury of food at all, let alone food as good as my mom's! Seeing all the faces brighten as they filled their bellies made me realize why I so badly desired to go on a service trip-- to try my very best to share the blessings I take for granted (like good food and a house) with people who don't have them. That dinner and the people we met there gave a purpose to the long days of building walls and tarring roofs that would follow...but details on that later.

Stay tuned for Part 2:  Building Houses

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