vignettes: march 18 – march 24

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.

Our paintings

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.

Watching the last of the sunset

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.




all the things, all the time

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.

Thanks for following along!


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.

Thanks for reading!

vignettes: january 28 – feburary 7

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.

Street Market
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.
Fernando and Adiel, with Jacumi in the backround
Ididria and Itzayana

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

vignettes: january 22 – january 27

On Monday, some of the kids started to trickle back from their relative’s homes where they were over the weekend and the week passed relatively uneventfully. I am slowly making progress with Fernando and Elmer in learning all the letters and the sounds of the alphabet. Hopefully, in the next two weeks, we will be able to move onto small words which will be really exciting. I am going to order a parenting book called The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child from Amazon, to get some new tactics for managing the children when I am the only adult around. Shout out to my psychologist who recommended that book to me!

Friday and Saturday the Doxa Board had their meeting here in Tijuana, which I was lucky enough to sit in on. We started out in Maria’s Orphanage on Friday and had around four hours of meetings split by an amazing lunch of tamales with all the toppings made by Panchita. The Doxa Board is in an interesting time of transition because for many years the Doxa Board was not only governing the organization but was also in charge of the day to day work for Doxa. Now the board is now transitioning to more of a traditional nonprofit board, governing the organization rather than actually doing the work to run the organization. Because Alex Knopes was brought on as Executive Director in 2015 the board has slowly been moving some of its previous responsibilities onto Alex. Alex used the metaphor of mountain climbing to describe the different roles of the board and the Executive Director. The board can choose what mountain Doxa is going to climb and gives the Executive Director tools to climb the mountain, but it is Alex who actually climbs the mountain.

Whiteboard notes
All of Doxa Board, with Maria and Panchita

After lunch the board discussed financials, and fundraising as boards tend to do. We also looked at two properties that Doxa might possibly look into buying in Rojo Gomez. Currently, Maria’s orphanage cannot host housing groups larger than 30 and when groups come, it affects a lot of the children as they have to stay with their relatives or stay in Maria’s small apartment, as the sleeping quarters are being used by groups. Doxa wants to invest and expand their program in the east side of Tijuana, which would entail buying land and constructing new buildings, but that is a decision for the future.

View from Casa Hogar de los Niños
Soraida’s baby, Mateo with Andrew Schein, Doxa Board President

Late afternoon we piled back up into trucks and vans and headed over to West Tijuana, to Pedregal de Santa Julia, where I first became acquainted with this city through spring break trips. A huge group went to go eat dinner at Tacos El Frances down in Las Playas. The whole board was there as well as Rosa’s family, Doxa employees, and their families. It was one of the first experiences I’ve had of seeing the two parts of Doxa come together. On one end of the table were all the people who could only speak English– American board members, in the middle were people who could speak both, and on the other end were people who could only speak Spanish– Mexican Doxa employees and their families. And then a few people were moving back and forth between both ends. It was such a lovely night to catch up and connect with new friends and old.

Model of the new community center
Architectural plans

Saturday morning we listened to a presentation by architect Aaron Gutierrez of Amorphica Design Research Office as well as Gina Muñoz, Roberto Gutierrez, and Aldo Cano about the community center that will be built in Pedregal. It was really exciting to see the plans, and hear about Amorphica’s mission and vision in Tijuana and across the border as well as the way that their firm has approached the design for the community center. There are lots of classrooms, a Zumba dance room, and my favorite space, Siempre Juntos Todo el Tiempo– always together all the time, on the first level. It is so exciting to see this dream start to come true and I cannot wait for what is coming for Doxa’s educational and community programs in West Tijuana.

Overall it was such a busy, yet joy-filled weekend to see how God is acting in Doxa on a large scale!

vignettes: january 16 – january 21

I am spending a few months working with Doxa, a nonprofit that focuses on education, community and house-building in Tijuana. I am staying at Unidos por Siempre, one of the orphanages that Doxa partners with, where I stayed for a week during my work with Doxa last July. María runs the orphanage, but all the children here call her “Mama” or “Madrina” and being here has been like returning to a distant relative’s home. I know it, yet everything is still new. I am getting to know the children who were not here over the summer and María’s extended family, indeed how this orphanage is run.

The days here ebb and flow, with the coming and going of the children and with the light. Even without an alarm, I wake up with the sun and at 6:00 pm it is already dark and I begin to get sleepy. When the younger children go to school in the afternoon, the whole orphanage gets quieter and when they return in the hours before dinner there is a great commotion as some of the children try to do their homework and the others play and yell outside.

at Unidos Por Siempre

Some of the children remembered me from the summer- especially the girls who I stayed with- Camila, Ididria and Sabrina as well as Fernando to whom I was teaching the alphabet. I have restarted that process, but it is a daunting task because there is so much to learn in order to be able to read and write. However, I think Spanish is much easier to teach than English because there are fewer letters that are silent or have multiple sounds. Often I have to remember that my goals must be small and attainable and that success will not come overnight. I have found encouragement in Romans 8:24-25 which says “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” I am trying to wait patiently, to continue working a little bit every day with the children.

In the meantime, I have been learning about the all the different little things that make up this community in Rojo Gomez. On Wednesday, I went to the pharmacy with María to get anti-lice shampoo, combs, and gel because I had shown her the nits- los piojos in Camilla, Ididria, and Anita’s hair. Over two days Panchitas and an assortment of others picked out all (or at least almost all) of the nits in their hair. Camilla’s was by far the worst. She may have had a nit on every hair on her head. Then on Thursday, the man who sells movies came and I was amazed to find DVD discs of films that are currently out in the theaters. I’ve now seen Jumanji and Coco both of which are currently playing in cinemas. This underground dissemination of illegally copied files, which travel to all the houses in the neighborhood is fascinating. The collection of films was also quite interesting. Besides the movies out in theaters now, there were small indie films like L’Amante Double, which is a French film that debuted at the London Film Festival in 2017, and lots of children’s animated movies.

the illegal DVDs

On Saturday a lot of the children who went home to their families for the weekend came over in the afternoon and some friends of María’s came by with clothing donations. Just before they left, they threw a whole bunch of coins for the children to run and collect. It was fun to see the joy on the kid’s faces as they counted the monedas but I was hyper-aware of the sense that it felt exactly like treating poverty like a game, and felt very condescending,

The week so far has been immensely freeing. My responsibilities take lots of time and energy and patience, but they are simple, to help with whatever is needed and to hang out with the kids and teach them to read.

hola, que tal

I’m living in Madrid now. I’ve been here for a little under two weeks, and it’s such a beautiful city. Everyday I wake up and feel as if I am living in some dream. I have met so many kind people, got lost in the metro, and even visited an Egyptian temple. I’m a little lonely and homesick even though I don’t really want to go home. Some days I have tons of adventures with all the new friends that I am meeting, and others I would give anything to be back in the Pacific Northwest rain.

One of the things that I have so appreciated in my time here so far is my host family. They welcomed me with open arms and have been so helpful in making the transition to Spain. The girls that I take care of may fight a little as all siblings do, but we have so much fun playing games and trying and failing to make food. I am grateful for everything in my life that has lead me here, and I hope to make the most of Madrid.

I want to write more about what has been going on but for now I’ll leave you with a video that I made about my first week here.

spain week 1