I told everyone I knew about my first trip out of the United States. I felt like something changed in me after I had been living in Tijuana for a few days. The terrain was less menacing, the language less foreign, and the walks of life less strange. Of course the biggest shock was driving from the I-5, the same freeway I’ve taken in both Washington and California, into a dusty highway that in no way resembled the roads I grew up around.
The US-Mexico Border class that went with me on this journey stayed with me at Esperanza’s Posada, located in La Gloria. While there we ate at many local shops including a panaderia, a taqueria, and a dulceria. What was special about living here for a week was the quality of the meals we received. Everything was homemade from scratch. At the taqueria we ate at one night I watched tortillas being made hot and fresh by hand.
The mission of the trip involved our cooperation with Esperanza International. They gave us a place to live in La Gloria and in return we offered our strength and perseverance in building a more dignified home for a family living in one of Esperanza’s communities. We worked for a family in Cumbres for a total of five days. Initially I was worried that I wouldn’t be strong enough to help, but everyone on the team was flexible. We were told that “being” is more important than “doing.”
I really took that instruction to heart. When my muscles ached from shoveling dirt I spent my time with the children of the community. We would bond over drawing and taking photographs of one another. I came to Tijuana with almost five years of experience learning Spanish so everyone seemed to understand me, but no one as much as the kids. It felt like some cute girl was always asking for me to draw them una sirenita, like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I drew ponies, dragons, basically anything that they could imagine. But we also talked about their lives in Tijuana. We talked about their school and their families. They were all so excited that I knew Spanish as none of them knew any English.
Playing with the kids was the fun part. The real work came with shoveling dirt and transporting that dirt across the street and down a hill. We started our work by staring at a 15 foot wall of dirt wondering how so few of us would ever make this look like a foundation for someone’s home. However after five days of sweat and tears under el sol, our group managed to move enough dirt to create a trench and begin leveling the earth to begin the building process.
It was hard coming home and explaining to people that I hadn’t actually built any houses, per se. I’m sure my friends and family expected to see me covered in cement and/or bruises from mixing and applying said cement. However the work that we did was exceptional. The days were hot and long, but everyone found their place. It was even flexible enough that one day I was able to shovel dirt and bend metal into place with equipment that I had never seen before in the same day.
Talking to the kids also made the work worthwhile. I realized how different our childhoods were: my own and the children of Cumbres. Where they loved to get dirty and share things, I remember myself to be more of an indoor creature. I loved books and puzzles and clean hands, but these children loved to laugh loudly and run barefoot. My cheeks hurt at the end of each day from smiling so much.
My body was tired, but my mind was on fire. So many connections were made in such a short amount of time that I thought I couldn’t take it all. I got a bit anxious on the last few days in Tijuana, wondering how this trip would effect me in the future.
I’m still not sure how this trip will manifest itself in my future work. All I know is that I felt something very real and very strong in Tijuana. I felt it while holding a mother’s one-year-old baby. I felt it while I was playing soccer with the neighborhood boys. I felt it when I watched the children finally break open the Mickey Mouse piñata we got for them on our last day in Mexico. I may go on without knowing what this feeling is exactly, but I know that I have been inspired to action. Community service changed me as a child, but now world travel has changed me as a young adult. I see the two becoming more important to me every day.