Juarez- Trip #5

Juarez Travel Blog

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On the right is the young girl who asked me for money.
January 2008

Dear Friends & Family,

I recently returned from my 5th service trip to Juarez, Mexico. This trip did not fail to disappoint me. The poverty shocked me more than it has in the past- I remember thinking that I seemed to be “numb” to it because I had seen it before and was perhaps getting used to it. But not this time. I’m glad it struck a chord with me. As I sit in my 1,270 square foot home and worry about some of my “problems”, it is a good reality check for me to have a recent, in-your-face taste of what life in much of the world is like.

The family we built the (450 sq. ft.) home for is, according to many of the volunteers, one of the poorest our group has ever built for so far.
I'm not sure why, but I really like this shot of the completed house. (photo credit: Nan)
The family consists of a middle-aged couple who are both unable to work, and two teenage sons. The mother has been in a wheelchair for a year and has no feeling in her legs. I’m not sure why the father is unable to work but he made it sound like it’s because of his diabetes. The two sons, ages 17 and 19, work in the factories, or maquiladoras, to help out the family. We did not see much of the sons, since they were working, but the parents were there the entire time. The mother did not speak Spanish but we were told she understands most of it. They are from the state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, and so her main language is Mixtec (?).

There were quite a few neighborhood kids we played with.
Some of us played soccer with the next-door neighbors the first day. I think it was the second day that some more of the neighborhood kids came around. There was a particular group of mostly young girls who made an impression on me- especially one of the girls who had a strong personality and was maybe only about 5 years old. The first time I saw this group she said to me: “Money?” I was speechless for a few seconds because I was surprised that she was so bold for her age and also that she knew the word for money in English. It’s always kind of tough knowing how to respond to solicitations for money or other things. I just said, “Oh, hablas ingles? (Oh, you speak English?)” or something like that and then she got a little flustered because that was probably one of the few English words she knows.

This group of kids challenged me mentally/emotionally. Their neediness was really intense. For example, one day they were asking us to spin them around, helicopter-style. We started spinning them but they just kept asking us over and over again. Maybe this is not unusual for kids, but the physical exhaustion of the task made their insistence seem like more than the average request. They were always asking us for stuff. I felt challenged because they were starting to annoy me and I was losing my patience with them. I love kids and enjoy spending time with them, so the fact that they were testing my patience says a lot. We gave out a few books one day and so they would ask us for more books, apples, toys, or for us to play with them.

One day some of us were taking a walk and we discovered where a bunch of these kids lived or hung out.
They asked us for presents and I think I said something like: “What about our presents?” because that was around the time I was starting to be annoyed by their neediness. After that I believe one of them gave what seemed like, due to the playful expression on his face, a joke gift of a beat-up teddy bear. I told them that maybe we could just be friends who didn’t give each other things. When I gave them the teddy bear back they started kicking it around like a soccer ball. I felt a little bad/weird about this interaction but one of the other volunteers told me that I handled the situation diplomatically and that made me feel better.

It seems that these kids were not going to school. The father of the family we built for said that they sometimes stole things.
He was hesitant to loan us the soccer ball one time because of this. On the last day I went over to the place where we had found the kids hanging out, to give them a bag of apples we had left over. They were excited and walked back with me to our van, holding my hands. When one of the little girls saw Rachel, another volunteer, she said “Oh, there’s my friend!” They gave me one of the apples and I ate it on our way back to the compound.

Some other random memories from this trip…
• The neighbors held a cockfighting competition in their yard. Luckily the roosters (?) didn’t seem too interested and nothing much happened.
• It was nice to be up on the roof. Crista graciously gave up her spot on the roof for me. I love being up there, mostly for the view I guess.
In the winter it’s also nice because it’s warm.
• We noticed that some of the houses have bottle caps serving the same purpose as the metal disks we used to hold the edge of the rolled roofing down (nailed into the side edge of the roof). This is one of the things I like to see when I’m in Juarez- the way people reuse things that we would simply toss in the garbage.
• One of the Mexican workers, Anair, has a wife who had just given birth before we got there. The baby was sick, though, and Anair had to go on a wild goose chase to find the medicine the doctors recommended for his baby. (The sickness had something to do with the wife being anemic, I’m told). The director of Gateway, Dan, said that if Anair had not been such a stubborn guy his baby would likely have died.
Here is our group!
The doctors say that many of the parents give up when they have trouble locating the medicine. I wonder why there isn’t any of this medicine for sale at the hospital. Also, Anair will be paying off the bill for the extra time at the hospital for a while, because it was so expensive.

I spoke with another of the Mexican workers, Hector, quite extensively. He’s a pretty interesting guy. He lived in the United States for four years, beginning when he was about 14 years old. He was living with his father and working. At that time he wasn’t very interested in learning English, but now that he’s back in Mexico he is… He went to a technical college (university) in Juarez for four and a half years to study computer programming (or something like that). He could afford it because he had a contracted government job.
However, when the contract ran out he had to drop out because it was too expensive. I think he said it was a 6-year program. Now he is working in computer repair when he’s not working for Gateway. He is currently waiting to get a visa to visit the United States. I think it’s really hard for many people living in poor countries to get visas to the U.S., however, Hector seems to be seriously trying because he was explaining to me many of the steps he needed to take, such as prove that he owns a car and has a good job (things that he would want to go back to). Jose Limas, the lead Mexican worker, was teasing Hector about his supposed marriage goals- saying that he wants to marry a woman who can take care of herself (or something like that). Hector says that if he gets married, he won’t be able to live the way he wants because in Mexico the man has to pay for everything.
Jose Limas believes that the husband and wife should both work and says that his wife does work.

Now I am back in Santa Fe, studying Spanish with a renewed vigor. I’m also setting a goal of thinning out my collection of stuff. I would be somewhat embarrassed for someone from Colonia Anapra in Juarez to see the size of my house and the quantity of my possessions. Maybe I’ll take some of the extra stuff down to Mexico on my next trip!

Gracias, y hasta la proxima!

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On the right is the young girl who…
On the right is the young girl wh…
Im not sure why, but I really lik…
I'm not sure why, but I really li…
Here is our group!
Here is our group!
This is the outhouse we used on th…
This is the outhouse we used on t…
The mother of the house is on the …
The mother of the house is on the…
Chip is stuccoing.
(photo credit:…
Chip is stuccoing. (photo credit…
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Here I am with my large, mismatch…
photo by: ahtibat17