ASB2010 in Mexico

Students are traveling to Xalapa, Mexico, as part of Alternative Spring Break 2010 to work at an orphanage, serve food and help at a clinic with the nonprofit organization Caritas.

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Sharing lunch and friendship

An update from Katrina:

Right now I’m sitting in Rodrigo’s studio, content on the floor, with Pepto Bismol running through my system, listening to Rodrigo’s five-man percussion ensemble rehearse a piece written by John Wyre in 1999. It’s a very eclectic piece, and wonderful to listen to. It’s the perfect way to end another beautiful day in Mexico.

This day started out kind of rough – I didn’t sleep much last night because of the insanity going on in my body. At breakfast we once again had fresh fruit and fresh orange juice and those little flat pizza-looking taco things, but I just ate a little piece of bread with some water. My body was really unhappy for the duration of the day, so I just ate lightly.

We rode in the truck to Caritas – I got to ride in the back! Sitting on the edge of a truck and being in such a beautiful place and getting to soak up all the scenery without a window or door or car in between me and everything was pretty great. Of course it didn’t feel so good on the tummy, but it was so worth it.

We arrived at Caritas a little before 9:30. We unloaded the boxes of donations that we had brought, and received really no response to that. It was kind of strange. The director of Xalapa’s Caritas is in Norway on business, so the assistant director gave us a tour of everything.

In the very front room when you enter, hay es una recepcion, farmacia y consultorio. Further to the back through a hallway hay es el bano. Beyond that es el cocina, where 100 people per day are fed. Beyond that is something really strange – a coffin! People donate coffins so that when someone dies, the coffin can be used at their funeral before the body is cremated. I thought that was odd and sad.

Near there are the places where men and women stay – the rooms look like large dorm rooms with bunk beds. When we arrived there were no men or women in there; they were out doing laundry and working and doing whatever it is that they do during the day. Further back and upstairs is where los ninos are, and that was just something else.

The minute we walked into the room where the children play there was a ton of excitement in the air from both us and them. Some children ran right up to us with their little square blocks with pride, others stayed away because they were shy. Either way, almost every kid warmed up to us immediately. One nino whose name I can’t remember for the life of me has these crazy little eyes and ran around everywhere showing everyone everything he could get his little hands on. Lots of the kids were really fond of Tomas y Jose y Bernardo, pero ellos hablan mejor espanol.

Eventually though, all of the kids kind of loved all of us, and we formed great connections with them all. First we played a lot with their little cubes and toys, and then it was time for cake. The kids all had to sit down on the mat in the room before they were allowed to get any cake, and they did so without much difficulty. A couple kids crawled off the mat and toward us with mischievous little eyes, which was adorable but not allowed.

After cake it was time for a nap, so we led them all to a different room that with two large mats. The bigger kids slept on one mat and the little ninos slept on the other. We rubbed their backs while they fell asleep, and it happened rather quickly. One of the little boys I was with, Raymundo, was the last to fall asleep. He kept touching the faces of the two next to him: Daniel y Erick. He wouldn’t leave them alone, and he kept tossing from side to side, touching their faces, touching their arms. He fell asleep holding Daniel’s hands. It was adorable.

After this we had an hour and a half break, in which we walked around and explored the surrounding area a bit. Everyone got some delicious-looking popsicles (Shnide and Saira got pistachio, Tomas got peaches and cream, Jenna got strawberries and cream) while I kind of, well, DIDN’T, because my stomach was angry. After that we traveled along the streets and found a movie rental place, but decided after about twenty minutes not to rent anything at all. At this point Tomas had plantain chips, which were yummy, and the first thing with flavor that I had eaten at all at that point.

We returned to Caritas a bit early and hung out en la cocina. I think I fell asleep for a couple minutes with my head on the table before we got ready for the huge lunch rush from 1 to 2. The food that the cook made smelled delicious. Each plate had half white rice and half of the spinach stew, which had ham and other random delicious-smelling things in it. There were also to be four corn tortillas on top of every plate. There were multiple bowls spread out on the table with iceburg lettuce inside so that tacos could be made. The table was filled with almost 100 percent men (because it is really not part of the Mexican culture for women to be homeless, I was told today), and many of those men reportedly are alcoholics and/or drug addicts.

People would request frijoles while eating, at which point we would take their plate and put frijoles negros inside. Everyone there pretty much knew the drill. When the frijoles ran out, we put sopa o vegetables (vejegas?) into their bowls. Many men professed their love to me, which was really not as weird as it would sound. One man in particular said, “I love you, lady” to me four times.

When people were done eating, they took their bowls and cups up to the front de la cocina and handed their bowl and spoon to whoever was cleaning dishes. Every single person said thank you. Then they had their cups filled with yogurt, which they drank and then handed to the people washing dishes again. Everyone was so grateful. It was just really nice.

I was refilling a lettuce bowl at one point when a guy with a ponytail and a guitar came up to hand me his dishes. I said, “Tu tocas la guitarra?” He said yes, and then we started talking (en ingles) about our favorite bands. He likes Dream Theater as well! He told me about his favorite band from Argentina, and we had a nice little conversation. I felt really sad after he left when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to look him up on Facebook so we could talk again.

Funny story is, he came back with the name of his favorite band written on a piece of paper and then came back a second time half an hour after the kitchen was closed to give me a piece of paper with his name and email address on it so I can send him musica de estados unidos that he may not be familiar with. Hooray! I was later told that by accepting that and giving him my email, I am probably leading him on, so if I see him again I’m just going to lie and say that I have a boyfriend so that he doesn’t get any ideas.

After we were done working in the kitchen, Aurora took us to a restaurant called La Sopa approximamente tres bloques away from Caritas. In order to get there, we had to go down an alley that was FILLED with people selling goods. I can’t wait to go back with more time so that I can get some brightly-colored clothing and earrings!! I want to give those people money. I have to exchange my 500 pesos bill for smaller bills though because I can’t exactly buy anything with that.

Lunch was great but I couldn’t eat much. I picked at some rice after my delicious lentil soup. I sat by Tomas y Sarah and we had good conversation. I got to sit at the head of the table and witness all of the wonderful people on this trip interacting and getting along and sharing food and sharing stories, and it was a time when I realized how fortunate I am to be living this life and to be in this place right now. It was a great

When we got back to Caritas, we played with los ninos some more until they all got picked up to go home. The walk back to la casa de Rodrigo was intersante por que nostros got lost (kind of). OH! But we definitely participated in a peaceful protest!

The people in Xalapa are angry at their governor because he’s taking away their land, or won’t give them more (or something along those lines), so they set up a huge DANCE PROTEST in front of the chapel that we went to yesterday. From what I gather this is the most popular part of town because EVERYONE gathers here, and el parque is quite filled with people all the time.

asb1.png We danced in the protest after visiting in the park and seeing the beautiful landscape. It was so great! (to the right is a picture of Tomas and I dancing – I’m the bright blue shirt and he’s in the beige shirt) Sanaz was the most fun to watch dancing; she pulled some moves that I had never thought she would be capable of because she’s normally pretty reserved.

We got home and kind of all parted ways, and I’ve been working on this blog ever since. I’m still surrounded by la musica de Rodrigo y sus amigos. It’s quite wonderful. I love this place. I can’t wait to see if I feel better tomorrow and to go back to los ninos and to feed more people. I really could do this all day. Xalapa is a wonderful place and I feel really grateful to be here. Really, I can’t complain about anything except:

• lack of toilet paper in bathrooms
• my upset stomach
… Yep, that’s about it. A mi me encanta Mexico!

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