I spent a while in East Tijuana at Unidos por Siempre orphanage with María and some of the kids who live there.
One night Angelica was telling a story about how there is an evil spirit in her house. I fake pretended to be a ghost and said “espíritu” in a spooky way, only to be corrected very adamantly to not taunt the spirit and if I was going to say the word to say “espíritus” not “espíritu”, because if you say the singular form the spirit will come and haunt you. I also learned that you can tell if a spirit is malicious based on whether it moves objects and whether it will show itself at night or daytime.
I took a couple hours everyday trying to teach Fernando and Stefany the alphabet, as neither of them could read. Probably the most important texts that I have received for a long time were from my uncle (who used to be a special needs teacher) through María’s phone as I had no internet connection, giving me a few tips. After my first tries, much frustration, and feeling hopeless I cut out an extra set of letters to match with my first one. I told the Stefany and Fernando that we were going to play a matching game with a few of the letters and both immediately became more interested in the letters and by the end of my time there though Stefany could barely get through A-F, Fernando sometimes could do almost the entire alphabet. I do not know if I am cut out to be a teacher, but I certaintly learned a lot about patience from the experience. Progress was slow and uncertain and I had to stay calm even when Stefany would forget a letter a couple seconds after she had learned it, or when Fernando would run outside to see what the other kids were doing.
My spanish is good enough to understand most of what is being said and to read simple children’s books, but according to one fourteen year old boy my speech is “cuatro por diez”, or in other words I speak like an eight year old, which may or not have added to why he was so interested in my romantic life. However, language is not the only way to build friendship. Letting a little girl sleep in your bed at night because she is afraid of the dark, or the crowding around of two kids playing connect four can do as much to build relationships as long conversations about why someone’s dad only takes one sibling home for the weekend.
Most of my days were spent playing cards, helping with odd cleaning jobs, lazily reading and laughing at dumb jokes. This week was sabbath living. I was more fully a human being, and less of a human doing.
god was already here before groups came from baltimore
god was already here before I came
i do not need to be here
i am not an integral part of the work being done
the houses that are being built
are they miracles of god?
or white savior trim on blue, green, lurid walls?
i heard a preacher ask “what is god doing through us?”
as if we were the most important part of the story
i saw a post thanking an organization
for the opportunity to recognize the humanity in the people of tijuana
as if her validation had made them human
god was already working in tijuana before tony built this orphangage
god was already here before doxa began
god was already here before gringos came down to build the first house
god was already here before the spanish came and invaded this land
god was in the americas before columbus came
before the inculturation theology westernized and destroyed
someone asked me if i was lonely
how could i be lonely?
there are so many people here
more than you can ever see
more than i will ever see or know
if i chose to be with you and the other americans
it is because i want to
not because you are the only people i know
I always believed that there was something special about the city of Tijuana, and there is, but I idealized the city because I was here with my church, I was here with friends, with a support system. I see now how small my sight was. My idea of the city was just the two blocks around the orphanage. I knew nothing except what I had done, what I was doing.
god is already expanding my vision
god has already made me in the image of the divine
jesus has already died for my sins
the holy spirit has already breathed in me life
and I shouldn’t come down with the idea that I am doing something
god is already doing the work
of making heaven on earth
and I just get to see a little bit of it
I do not think that is common to be vegetarian in Mexico. I am not sure that is common to have dietary restrictions in most countries other than the US and a few other places. This is not based off anything statistical or empirical, just on the reactions of people from other countries that I have visited. It is confusing to locals and often an inconvenience for whomever is cooking.
When I travel internationally, I am often forced to consider whether my ethical reasons for being vegetarian are more important than the culture that I might be disregarding. Food is an important part of a country’s culture, and I do not want to be impolite and refuse what is offered to me.
I think that it might be time, after a year of being vegetarian to reflect and consider my choice. It might be wise to veer closer to veganism in the United States so that when I travel, I can consume meat and experience cuisine more fully. In any case I am eating fish here in Tijuana, for the first time in a year and I did not miss the taste, nor was I disgusted by it. Food is one of those topics that is so personal; it is tied to our early memories, and important moments in our life, but can also be just mindless eating, or pre-packaged and cheap. Food is life, and community, and a daily ethical practice. So let us consider what we eat, and how we eat, and what happens when our choices crash into one another.
I am constantly in awe of the creativity of the women who help Rosa out with Day Camp. On Wednesday and Friday we revamped these old coke bottles using egg shells that the kids had brought, glitter and string. The children got to chose the colors that they wanted and when their parents showed up, many were super excited to show them.
On Thursday, the summer camp took a field trip to CECUT, which is an entire cultural experience distilled into one campus area. There is tons of art, a history of the Baja California area, a small aquarium, and something similar to an IMAX theatre. I wish I could have spent more time wandering around the exhibits, especially a series of black and white photographs from the last seventy years.
Friday night Alex took the preteam from Christ Church of Oakbrook out to their housing sites and I tagged along. My grandma (and recently passed grandfather) go to Oakbrook and getting to meet their youth pastor and other leaders was a very God-inspired moment of connection. We got tacos and shared some stories before digging into the logistics of house building and staying at the orpha.
These first few days have been overwhelming at times and a real exercise in being an outsider in a tight knit community. Walking the streets with Rosa, everyone says hello to her and she knows everyone in the colonia. At the materiales store as she went to pay for a part for a sink the vendor said that it was a gift for La Profe. It’s incredible to see the relationships that she has and the ways that Doxa is integrated into the community.
I arrived in Tijuana with Alex Knopes, the Executive Director of Doxa, yesterday morning and became almost immediately immersed in the act of listening and working and the yoke that is easy and the burden that is light. I reintroduced myself to Rosa who was organizing for summer camp before heading up to my room on the fifth floor in Casa Hogar de los Niños. Alex and I then went to load up his truck with supplies for a group that is building three houses, but will be based out of a different orphanage in east Tijuana. It took a long time to load, but after playing a game of enlarged Tetris we managed to fit everything in.
The drive to east Tijuana is a little over an hour and as we drove Alex explained the context that I was entering. Hogar de los Niños who has been working with Doxa for over fifteen years has decided that the organization can no longer operate on their land. This is well within their rights as Pilar owns the land, and even isn’t the most negative thing as Doxa has outgrown the courtyard annex space. The toolshed and building supplies will likely stay but Doxa needs a new home for their community work. In the past Doxa’s vision had aligned more with the orphanage, but now they have fundamentally different purposes. Doxa is focused on building community and creating opportunities through housing and education, whereas the orphanage is more focused on caring for their children and desires a closed environment, however the housebuilding trips do provide income. Doxa’s connection with Hogar de los Niños will not stop, but it has changed, and because of this Doxa is looking to partner with Unidos por Siempre in Rojo Gomez in east Tijuana. This requires staring from square one all over again both logistically and missionally.
When we arrived at Unidos por Siempre, we had lunch with Maria, the orphanage’s director who is also known as La Madrina (the godmother). As an aside Rosa is known as La Profe (the teacher), and I found these ‘names’ to be so telling of the women’s influence in their community. Unidos por Siempre orphanage is much smaller spatially but has around the same number of kids as in Hogar de los Niños. The walls are bright sunshine yellow and the orphanage feels cozy and homey. The kids were making fidget spinners out of coke bottle caps and toothpicks. We unloaded quickly thanks to one of the older boys who did most the heavy lifting. On this side of the city life seems to move more slowly. There is little sense of rush here. I couldn’t keep from thinking that this orphanage needed the resources that are at Casa Hogar de los Niños much more, but that’s not my job.
There are a lot of complex relationships that I have little to no understanding of. There is a lot to process and even more that I have left out.
This morning I will just appreciate the sounds of the rooster calls, the birds chirping and the leftover slice of bread that I am eating. I know that Christ is with me, that Christ goes before me and after me and is at my left hand and my right hand and that listening can be as important as loading up a truck with construction supplies.