Vans, Vistas, and Villages

It’s hard to summarize two weeks in a foreign country, distilling people and places down to a single post. I just finished editing pictures, trying to comb through them, and only upload (or borrow) the best ones.  In the images, I keep seeing things which remind me of something that happened that we hadn’t gotten a picture of.  Still other photos are of moments I didn’t realize we’d captured, and which are precious beyond words to me.

I’d thought about posting my trip as a travelogue, giving details of each day in a new post, for a total of a dozen posts on the subject.  But there was so much, and I didn’t want to have people lose interest in my blog because it was all about Mexico.  I’m home, life has to move along, and so does this blog.

With that in mind, I’m encapsulating everything into highlights — which will still be a lot to read and view, I know.  If you’ve been reading this far, my guess is you’re interested in how my trip went.  If you just want to skip the words and go to the pictures… scroll all the way to the end of this post.  If you’re not here to read about my trip… don’t worry.  The next post will be about the apocalyptic state of my clay studio.  Oh, wait.  Actually, I take that back;  the next post will be about my son’s wedding, which was July 23rd!  I haven’t edited those photos yet.

So, back to Mexico…

Certain things stand out about the beginning of the trip.  Humorous things, for example, like being told that we were approaching the end of the town, and there are no bathrooms for the next twelve hours, so we might want to stop at this gas station.  Say what??!! Twelve whole hours?  Nobody said anything about no bathrooms.  That part wasn’t in the trip description, as I recall…

In fact, to put it delicately, restroom facilities were nonexistent during our day trips to the villages on our list.  We quickly learned to treat those outings much like primitive camping, bringing everything with us including food, water, and toiletries.  Most of the time, if restrooms were available, there was no toilet paper, (though you could buy it by the roll inside the station).  So we quickly learned to always have some of our own handy.  Also, here’s a helpful hint if you travel to the region:  the nature of their sewage system requires that nothing but bodily waste gets flushed, so toilet paper goes in the trash can, which was a hard thing to remember coming from an American perspective.

The geography of the area is very mountainous, and most of the  roads are rutted dirt.  They usually go one of two ways:  up a mountain, or down a mountain.  Well, there is also zigzagging along the cliffs.  All of which are done on one-lane dirt roads.  More than once did we find ourselves on a switchback, cliffs to our right and a sheer drop-off to our left, with a large truck heading toward us from the opposite direction.

Our host took it in stride, and so did the other driver –each of them with a smile, reaching out their driver-side windows to pull the rear view mirrors in close, so they wouldn’t hit one another and rip the mirror off.  We estimated the passing distance to be approximately five inches between vehicles, after the mirror was pulled in.  The people in the other vehicle would smile and wave as they passed us, surely enjoying our stunned expressions.

We were puzzled to find sets of speed bumps out in the middle of nowhere, seemingly placed at random along the few paved roads that headed toward the next mountain.  After talking among ourselves to see if we could find out why they were there, we asked our host, who told us they were there because of the cows.

Wait, because of the cows?

Yes, that’s right.  The area has many small cattle ranches, and the roads aren’t usually lined with fences like they are in the US.  The speed bumps had to be put in because of accidents involving fast moving cars and slow moving cattle, especially at night where there are typically no street lights.

So while we were bumping along in our 14-passenger van, our host would frequently need to motivate a cow or two out of our way, by honking the horn and persistently moving forward.  Most of the time, the cows got the idea and got off the road.

In once incident, though, a rather matronly Bessie decided she’d let us know how she felt about being forced to move out of our way.  Her rump adjusted a mere six inches, and she refused to go any further.  Fortunately there was enough room to pass by her, but we could have easily touched her back had the windows of the van been open.

Some of the villages have just recently been given electricity, especially up in the mountains.  So you may find a home made of mud brick, roofed with corrugated aluminum that is held down with rocks, but having television antennae sticking out from the corner of the building.  The visual juxtaposition was startling, especially when seeing their children had no shoes, their clothes were torn and dirty, and they desperately needed dental care.

Speaking of children… On any of the main busy street corners, you can find a variety of pan handlers and window washers.  Young men and women clamber up onto the hot hood of your car, seemingly immune to the engine’s heat, squirt a window-washing solution onto your windshield with a pull-top bottle, and wipe it down with a squeegee — all in the time it takes for the light to turn from red to green.

Small children are usually the beggars, and one little boy impressed me very much.  It was the last day of our trip, and we were on the way to the airport.  At a street corner under an overpass, a boy of five or six was juggling three tennis balls.  I was impressed with how well he did, how clever he was, and the hours he’d spent practicing to perfect his little routine.  Compared to those who just stood on the corner with a plastic cup, he certainly earned the small coins he was given.

Our host told us that many of the city’s children spend their summers off from school panhandling on the street corners;  once they realize they can make pretty good money doing it every day, they will often drop out of school to do that instead.

When talking about what we did while we were there, I’m once again filled with awe at the enormity of the need.  In general, Mexico is a third-world country and we were well aware of this fact as we visited not only the remote mountain villages, but also the city of Fresnillo, which is the largest city in the state, and was our base of operations.

Our team’s contributions were a tiny drop in that huge bucket of financial need, and it made me feel very small.  I wonder if they will remember the Gringos who came to make them animal balloons, give them a face painting, or sing songs to them from a puppet show.

On the one hand, we were all using the talents God gave us, even to the point of acting like monkeys to bring a smile to a child’s face.  We participated in a half dozen Vacation Bible Schools, and tried to give the children something of their very own.. a little matchbox car, or a sucker, or a rubber bracelet.  We also did some small things that were needful, like bringing bags of food, clothing, and school supplies.  But our resources were limited, as was our time, and so I felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more, stay longer, and be of greater assistance.

The polymer clay classes were well-attended and people participated with enthusiasm.  I have the overall desire to share with people the kinds of things that can be done with the clay, and how they can help with the family’s grocery budget by making clay things to sell at local markets, or just open a little stall outside their front door.  But little did I know how important those classes were to be…

One of our hosts is a music minister at his church, and he is in the process of moving across the city next month, to start a new neighborhood church there.  Once he makes that transition, he will no longer have an income, until his own congregation gets started.  It’s a frightening prospect and he’s been spending a lot of time praying about how they were going to survive financially.

His wife is a talented young woman who makes jewelry, and she is wanting to open a bead shop.  After she saw the potential that polymer clay would provide, and the interest people had in obtaining it, she has decided to start carrying clay supplies in her store when she opens it, and already has a list of customers who are wanting to purchase it.  We’re hoping that between the help I can give her from the States and the potential customer base she has as a result of the classes, that she’ll be able to start supplementing their income right away.

There is so much more that could be said, but I think it’s time for pictures to do that.  So I’m going to close this post with a slideshow from the trip.

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  1. Trackback: New Fimo Nail Art Backgroundless Designs | C.A.Therien Polymer Clay Arts

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