A Cement Floor Isn’t So Bad

Our second day of work on the house was intense. We passed buckets of cement from person to person for about four hours. The cement maker had to be set up on the outside of their wooden gate because the entrance was so small. So our bucket passing line stretched from the street all the way across their front yard and up their steps. It was very repetitive work so everyone got into the rhythm and learned to work together quickly. We were able to work with the family whose house we were building more today, as well. They helped pass buckets with us.
The experience of working with the family was very unique. I don’t speak any Spanish so working side by side was really the only interaction I could have with them. It was frustrating to not be able to communicate with them verbally. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask them. Normally when I travel or meet new people, we can both speak English and that is really the only way I have learned to get to know people. Not being able to use language as a tool to communicate was a challenge for me. Yet, I still feel very connected with the family, more so than many people I have met and been able to talk with for hours. I think the reason for this is because we are working towards one goal: to help build their house and eventually their community. These families are also letting us into their homes and are allowing us to see and experience something that is very personal for them. Many Americans would feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help on their home. So much emphasis in the United States is placed on material things: the size of your house, your income, how many cars you have, and so forth. So if you don’t have these things, it’s a personal reflection on you. In Mexico, this is not the case, especially since poverty is a norm. This family, and in Mexican culture, the emphasis is not placed on what you have. This is why I cannot say that this family has nothing; although, if you look at a picture of their home you would probably want to say that. This family is so happy, positive, and welcoming. They are so close and open with their neighbors. Their family works together, loves each other, and loves their community; something very rare for many Americans. I have learned a lot from this family, even with our language barrier.

local school girls
Local school girls

The materialistic U.S. culture I grew up in has also taught me to consider many things rights, when they are actually privileges. On this trip, I have not been able to put toilet paper in the toilet, it has to go in a garbage bin or the toilet will overflow. Many toilets don’t even flush or are 200 feet away from the family’s home. I have never been so grateful for toilets and good plumbing in my life. Also, we worked the entire day on pouring a cement floor for the family so that they no longer had to live with a dirt floor. In the States, we are accustomed to carpeted or hard-wood flooring; cement flooring would just be out of the question. This family was so appreciative to even have a floor. Even taking out the garbage, something I consider a chore is actually a blessing. There are major issues with dumping garbage down cliffs or ravenes and littering because there are not proper garbage and recycling regulations in place in Mexico. Working toilets, comfortable flooring, and taking out the trash are just a few of the expectations I have as a U.S. citizen. Coming to Mexico, the first developing country I’ve visited, has helped me to understand the gap between the rich and poor and the impact of materialism and consumerism. It has also helped me understand the importance of family, solidarity, and simplicity.
-Alyssa

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