I am so behind here on the blog, with my posting. I am now back in Spain for a few months as an au pair again. However I completely missed posting my February playlist and now I am over a week late in posting my March playlist. But better late than never I guess.
In March, I listened to a lot of Charlie Puth, who I think makes very smart pop music, after all, he did go to Berklee School of Music, and I also listened to Dua Lipa’s new album, of which I really liked “New Rules” and “Be the One”. I also went through a Kate Bush phase again for a couple weeks. Her lyrics are so complex and erudite and her voice is so unique. Anyway if you haven’t heard of her, I highly recommend listening to The Kick Inside, her first album, but really, all of her work is amazing. Other favorites were “Te Regalo” by Carla Morrison and “Motel” by Caitlin Canty. Enjoy!
I live on dog-cheap days
in fading string tied shoes
and children dancing to ranchero songs, so
if asked why I am leaving
in consternation cannot reply
why the constellations
can arrive so soon
the sky is fading gray today
and there is nothing more to do
then jumping through colored hoops
hoping to reach heaven
counting and twisting until tripping
over those same laces come undone
we begin again
showing off tricks like gaudy ribbons
to capture the frame when
feet in air and flashing rope collide
and perhaps I will as well
I feel like I’ve been at Unidos por Siempre forever, but also no time at all. What I said at the beginning of my time here still rings true; the days here all blend together, and if I don’t separate them, they run together, like watercolor paints in a flood. In the vein of paint and water, on Sunday the deluge of rain from the weekend, finally stopped and we recovered, finally getting to dry some clothes, and relax continuing into Monday, because there was no school, for some reason that I now forget. We painted little 8 x 6 inch scenes with acrylic paints, which was a great way to occupy our extra time, in relative peace and quiet. The only requirement that I gave was that there be minimal white space, and I would often ask if the kids could add more details after Melina painted an entire page red and said she was done.
On Tuesday, we were back to our regular routine, but with four new children: Melanie, Daniel, Angel, and David, who were going to stay in the mornings and then their parents were going to pick them up. Kinda like daycare. I am always amazed at how fast friends everyone becomes. Children, for the most part, skip that shy, awkward, getting to know you phase that adults have. Of course, they’re quiet at first, but then they just start jumping rope and drawing in the coloring books. It feels like “Yes, of course, we’ve been friends forever”, and its a joy to see. Wednesday night there was this beautiful moment, where after all dancing together, María had all the kids lay in a circle with their heads together watching the clouds as the sun began to set, and talked to them about how much God loved them, and how God had created them, just like the clouds in the heavens, and how Jesus lives in our hearts. It was a really sweet moment and reminded me of Matthew 6:26-30 where Jesus tells his disciples not to worry.
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!
Of course then on Thursday morning, we had to have all the kids together for a little meeting because some of the new kids were getting hit, and hitting the other children. I think that’s what is so funny about working with children, you have these sweet touching moments, but also the regular chaos of anger and frustration.
I have no good way to transition to the weekend. So I will just say this. It was kinda crazy. Friday there was a dance at the kindergarten and all the kids came home early because María was hosting a big political meeting for the community. Ricardo (I forget his last name, but it’s not Ricardo Anaya), a politician in PAN, el Partido Ación Nacional, came and almost a hundred people from Rojo Gomez. He made a pretty moving speech, and then lots of people got to ask him questions. My understanding is that the reason for the meeting was that there is a lack of clean water, but I was also pretty busy helping to set up lunch. We had agua de piña, agua de coco, and lemonade, pollo and carne asada with corn tacos, rice, pasta salad, guacamole, beans, and of course three different types of salsa. It was really cool to see how connected María is to her community and the influence that she holds politically. We always jokingly say “María conoce todo el mundo”— Maria knows the whole world.
But on Saturday, we met some new people. A group of Americans came from Calvary Chapel Bible College Murietta to do some outreach and hang out with the kids at the orphanage, which was really fun, and also was a reminder to think about how to do good mission. The Americans made Italian food, brought new jump ropes and coloring books which was fun for the kids and they got to play soccer outside which is always a blast. They did a felt story from Mark about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus, because of Palm Sunday and had a team game of laying down palm branches. It was interesting to talk to some of the students and leaders. One of the students, I think his name was Jason asked me something like “Is it frustrating to have a bunch of Americans come for one day and have a big party and then leave?” I didn’t answer very well at the time, but it got me thinking. Because I do think it’s wonderful that the kids get to have a party for a day, and I appreciate that all these people are taking time out their lives to come down and hang out at Unidos por Siempre. I believe that spiritual education of children is important, we are of course called to spread the Gospel to all nations, but the children know the stories from Mark, even if they don’t have Bibles. They know that Jesus loves them.
It was very telling that American group needed to use our water bottles, and our gas to make their food because they didn’t realize that we don’t have drinking water. It was wonderful not to have to prepare food, especially after hosting the political meeting, but there isn’t any more propane. Often times we (Americans) come into a community thinking that we know what they need but can cause real harm. I certainly am guilty of that in my time here. For example, I wanted to get a dishwasher, which Unidos por Siempre does not need; it is a waste of electricity, and we have enough time to wash our dishes by hand, why would we need a dishwasher? It is important to ask what a community needs. After the group left later in the afternoon, Maria asked me “Why didn’t the Americans bring any food?” (It turned out that they had brought two large boxes of bread, so the question was somewhat answered in this). I didn’t know what to say. I tried to explain that they were there for the spiritual education of the kids, to which she replied “Food for the spirit is good, but we have to eat too,” which may have been the most pointed remark I’ve heard her make.
If I’m honest, I am not doing good mission either. I am only here for a few months, and I build relationships with the kids only to leave them soon afterward. I am not a good role model for success in life because I am not Mexican. Being a white American, and growing up in mostly functional family hinders me in my work here. Kena and Rosa are good examples for the children. Kena is studying to be a nurse and Rosa is in high school and helps the kids sometimes with the alphabet and practicing math. The children need a teacher, a real teacher. Someone who can be here, year-round to tutor the kids and help those who don’t know how to read, and don’t know how to multiply numbers. I am not that person. I do not have a teaching degree. I am less equipt than many. That being said, I don’t think my time here is a net loss. I’ve built friendships here with the staff and with all the children, with Maria’s family and hopefully, through God, I’ve helped a little bit to teach the kids a little more of the alphabet, a little more of the numbers. I came here because I felt like God was calling me, because I couldn’t get my visa to go to Spain, because Tijuana is in my bones, or at least the collage of Tijuana, that I have experienced. And so my response is that it’s better to come one day than to not come at all, and who knows, even if they don’t remember your names, the sparkly stickers that are on the whiteboard and the stairs, are here to stay. The kids love them.
I haven’t written poetry or a blog post in a while, and it’s not just because we have lost Wifi. I’ve been pretty busy.
I spent five days in Pedregal de Santa Julia, visiting Rosa and her family and also working with a house-building group from Union Church in Seattle. Those few days were surprising, both in how welcomed I was by the group from Union and the generosity of the family we built for. Lubia, her sister Gloria, her daughter Diana and her little nephew Axel were an absolute joy to work with, as well as her boyfriend Alfredo, who put up with a lot of our bad nailing. On Saturday, Lubia gave roses and handwritten notes to everyone on our site (the men just got carnations, for cultural reasons, one wouldn’t give roses and notes to the opposite gender). That gesture is one of the sweetest, I have ever seen in any of the houses I’ve worked on. I personally think that Doxa does a good job of avoiding the neo-colonialism that can occur in house-building trips because the families are such a big part of the process. Every day that we arrived on site, Lubia and her family were there hammering with us, painting and putting up the roof. There are lots of house-building groups in Tijuana, if you do a quick Google search, one can see that there are lots. And to be frank, I don’t know a lot about them, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Doxa even for just a few months.
After that I went across the border and got to see a friend from Camp, I also fell off a truck, but that’s another story for another time (I’m fine by the way). Since then, we’ve been doing tons and tons of stuff at Unidos por Siempre. We have finally finished getting new beds for the girl’s room, painted both the girl’s and boy’s rooms orange, painted the stairs, painted the sala white, gotten new doors for the bodega and the girl’s bathroom. We’ve also had our fair share of rainstorms. When it rains here, the children do not go to school, because there are no paved roads and it becomes dangerous to walk and drive in the dusty mud. Normally we watch some movies, play games, I do a lesson on math- we’re working on simple multiplication and advanced adding and subtraction right now. One day we covered the table in plastic bags and all of the children got to paint, which was really fun. Today, Sunday, we’re hanging out in the post-rain sunshine and enjoying ourselves, after the cold that seems to have crept in.
I’m going to try to get back to posting weekly vignettes for the last two weeks that I am here, before heading back home for a little break.
The power went out today, and honestly, I didn’t really notice all day because the sun was warm and I was busy. In the morning, we were practicing multiplication and division by 2. The kids get multiplication pretty easily but division seems to be much more difficult for whatever reason. I need to think of some new strategies for teaching that skill. The day passed, however, at about 6:00 pm when the sun began to set, and the little breeze from earlier began to turn into the dry mountain wind that seems to creep into my bones, it really set in that we might now have power for a long time, and because my phone was dead and the internet was down, I had no way to contact anyone. Of course, I could have borrowed Loba, the cook’s phone or another one of the adults if I really needed to. But this wasn’t an emergency, and what would I have to say? Nothing that important.
I relish time without technology, and honestly on a day to day basis in Tijuana, I don’t use much of it. When I do go on my phone, I am usually 1) looking up a word that I don’t know in Spanish 2) talking to my family or 3) writing about what I see and hear and breathe and smell and taste so that I can remember my experience. Today, I used nothing, no games on my computer to help with the math I was teaching and when I was trying to ask for nail clippers, I had to use the words I already knew and mime the action.
As the darkness set in, we lit candles- velas in the kitchen, and it reminded me both of singing Silent Night at the Christmas Eve service at my home church and of camping. I had the idea to roast marshmallows over the candles with toothpicks. The kids loved it, getting all flustered, trying to make the marshmallows toast while not incinerating them, but also taking such glee when the blue licking flames would burst upon the marshmallow, burning it to a crisp. I think it is an almost divine experience to light candles in the dark as your only source of light. You feel the power when the match strikes and all of sudden those words in Genesis, “Let there be light” are no longer just words; the flames flickering and slowly devouring the tepid string of the candle and melting the wax. The huge shadows dancing and glinting on the walls. We were subdued and exhilarated all at once, bathed in soft candlelight, but relishing our sugar high, our fingers sticky sweet, and everything was a little more frightening and quite a bit more funny that night.
Finally at about 8:30 pm the power came back on, but if I’m honest I was a little sad. I quite like to live by candlelight, although of course LED’s are much more convenient.
That’s all I can manage today. No recap of the week, although hopefully one is coming soon.
First, I would like to apologize for this post being so late. We lost internet at Maria’s, so I am squishing almost two weeks of content into one post.
The week started off with some of the best chicken I’ve ever had, and I don’t say that lightly because I’m usually vegetarian. Maria, Panchita and Panchita’s mother Claudia and I went to a pawn shop east of Rojo Gomez to buy an electric saw as Maria is getting new beds for the girl’s room. After buying the saw we went and explored the flea market just outside the mall complex and went to buy some fruits and vegetables for the Unidos por Siempre. By this time it was lunch so we drove down the street to eat lunch with Maria’s friends, Maggie and Gordo (whose real name I didn’t quite catch), who are street vendors of some amazing chicken. It came with the customary beans and tortillas and was really quite delicious.
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday passed as normally as they could, except now I have new students to teach. Over the weekend Unidos for Siempre gained five new residents. Mara and her children, Jose Eliazar (Jacumi), Melina and her four-month-old baby, David. She was being sequestered by her sister, who was supposed to be helping Mara take care of the children. Unfortunately, her sister is addicted to meth and was not at all helping Mara care for her children. Mara was found by the police in the area between Tecate and Tijuana and then brought to Unidos por Siempre. To be honest, I have heard the story three times now and I still do not totally understand what happened, but it is very sad. I think her son Jose Eliazar, was learning how to steal things instead of going to school and the whole family was obviously in a very bad place. Both Jose Eliazar and Melina do not know how to read. My other new student is Adiel, who is six and came here because his parents were physically abusive. I was talking to Alex on Thursday about how I wish I had a little clone of me so that I could teach more kids at the same time. I usually try to work one on one or one on two, because I am not a teacher and all the students are at different places in learning how to read.
Alex and I also discussed the bad translation of the word orphanage for casa hogar. Unidos for Siempre is not an orphanage in the traditional sense, indeed most ‘orphanages’ in Tijuana are not true orphanages. Most of the children who live here do have a family, it may not be their mother or father, but there are family members in their lives. This is why some kids stay at the orphanage leave for the weekend or stay with their families for extended periods of time. Camilla and Ididria and Pepe are a good example of this. On February 3, the girls went to stay with their father and will be there until March, while Pepe is still staying at Unidos por Siempre. Maria is a steady presence in these children’s lives, whether they live at the Casa Hogar or they just receive meals and tutoring.
February 5, there was no school to celebrate Constitution Day, and a lot of the children were still at their relative’s homes, but on Tuesday all of the kids came back and there was school again! … Or so I thought, it turned out that the second and third graders didn’t have classes because there was a problem with a wall. I’m starting to become a little suspicious of the public school, as there seem to be quite a few days where there is no school for no apparent reason. Tuesday morning a hairdresser came to cut the boys hair, which was exciting and a little scary for the boys– a lot of them closed their eyes and were a little scared, but once they saw their new haircuts, they were overjoyed and kept asking ¿eres guapo? and looking in the mirror. Later that day two prospective donors, Nancy and Anna, from San Diego came to visit the orphanage and took lots of pictures. We flip-flopped English and Spanish as Anna could speak a bit of Spanish, but Nancy spoke hardly any. I often wonder how Maria meets all these people and donors but its lovely to know that her work resonates with other people.
Tuesday ended up being a really busy day. That night, a family of nine from Guerrero arrived after a four-day bus ride. Guerrero is an extremely violent state due to narcotics trafficking. Acapulco, the previously glamours resort town, is now the murder capital of Mexico. The teenage daughters of the family had gotten mixed up in the trade through their boyfriends, one of whom had been shot and the family fled north, to an uncle who works for Maria’s son Abram. They are going to stay in the house that Abram recently bought for a month until they can find work. Their story is really heartbreaking, and I got the sense that Maria was holding back as she explained. The demand for illegal drugs in the United States has fueled a culture of terror and violence in Guerrero and in many parts of Mexico and is extremely saddening. There is a time for strength in the face of such harsh realities, but to me this was a time of grief; mourning for this family, for those affected by drug and cartel violence and for the lack of care, the purposeful ignorance of those who create the demand for these drugs in the United States. It is heartbreaking.
I will not leave you with any encouragement. I will not romanticize what is happening, what has happened and what continues to happen.
“This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.” – Lamentations 1:16