November 30, 2004

South of North: Journey to Mexico

Hola, senors, sonoras, and senoritas. No, I haven't become fluent in my five days in Mexico and Arizona, but I have been away. Really away.

For those that don't know what I was doing read this entry to get a little refresher.

This afternoon I crossed the United States in about seven hours, and came in my bedroom feeling like I stepped out of one life and into another--one where I knew where everything was kept. So similar, yet so different. Though this feeling may be partially attributed to jet lag, I will note that something has changed in me. I saw things that I never knew happened so close to home, things that should never happen.

As for the play-by-play of days, I will sum up pretty simply. We stayed in Bill and Fayth McConnell's home in Rio Rica, Arizona, the majority of the time. On the first full day, we began making care packages for the women's prison and orphanages in Mexico.

So what are "care packages"? I could tell you each and every item inside one (I made A LOT: our group of nine made about 900 in a day), but overall they are little gifts like shampoos, pencils, tablets, socks, and everything else that might be given from other groups, stuffed into Ziplock baggies which will be distributed as Christmas presents.

While working in Arizona, I kept thinking that it must be really bad for someone to get excited about some hotel shampoos and a pair of socks. And it was.

The first time we went into Mexico, we walked across the border to a small marketplace in Nogales. Our group was so fast making care packages, that we had some leisure time shopping. I have never been in such a scary shopping situation in my life. We split apart into three groups, the men scattered throughout each group (as an independent woman, even I thought this was necessary), and stuck close--well, except for the time I...oh, I'll go into that later.

Anyway, the bargaining begins. The fine art of haggling. When you go into a shop on a border town they have everything in abundance, except patience for the customer. If one is going to buy something, you are to buy it quick. I felt like I was at an auction in fast-forward.

I wanted to buy a few things for my family here, and friends at school, and well, this is no easy feat for a person that likes to deliberate upon purchases for at least fifteen minutes per item. I do think that I overpaid at certain booths, but overall I think I got some pretty good deals on pots, bracelets, and necklaces, not to mention my new cactus Esteban, (I acquired him at the airport).

As for the scary shopping, Katie, my cousin in-law Becky, and I went into this shop (more like a lean-to) and were looking at the bracelets and hair clips. Two Mexican guys that were running the shop came up to us and started asking if we were sisters. Because Katie didn't want to say more than she had to, she said we were sisters. We all went along with it, but they started shepherding us into a corner. Katie said she had to go see if my mom would let her buy a clip, and promptly exited the lean-to; Becky and I followed.

Eventually we all had our get-out-of-a-sale phrases. Mine was: "No, I'm just looking. Thanks, anyway."

Sometimes--no, most times--this didn't work, and the thing that I was looking at would be clutched in the merchant's hand as he walked down the street following me to the next store. Stalkers. But sometimes this can be a good thing. When they see you walk away, they usually give you a better price.

I even got a glass squirrel. This is turning into an international obsession.

Speaking of plush obsessions, Rainbow Hector was safe, and he even had some fun posing with this cactus, looking pretty posh in his sombrero.


I did get lost once when we were shopping. I was looking at some bracelets, and everyone disappeared. The shopkeepers kept asking me questions as I searched for my group; with every step, I knew they were getting farther away; every moment, I was closer to being stuck in Mexico, living in a shack with the three dollars I had left in my bag. I was finally rescued from the cutthroat merchants by my pastor and then the group. Sheepish me.

Soon after, we met and left Mexico. After being search at the border crossing, I was never so happy in my life to see the stars and stripes sitting beside the x-ray machines.

The next day, we went into Mexico to spend time at the Open Bible church; the guys from our group painted and helped do maintenance work there while the ladies made packages in Arizona. Our church affiliate has a compound there, and that was about the ONLY time I felt safe in Mexico.

At the church, a daycare is sponsored. On the day we visited, there were about 15 to 20 children there. My sister, Katie, is using her experiences in Mexico as a platform for her high school graduation project, and she made a craft with popsicle sticks.

What a challenge! Not knowing an inch of Spanish, we used our hands as guides, frequently pointing and making sweeping motions that probably made the Mexican children think that Americans really like sign language.

While visiting the church, we got our photo taken several times, and while taking one group shot, I felt someone stroke my forefinger, and hold it very tightly. I didn't see who it was until after the picture was finished, and all the children had returned to the play equipment--all save one: Anita.

About five years old, she is a small, delicate little girl. I picked her up, and she wrapped her legs around my waist, and clung to my neck. She has brown eyes, and unruly straight hair that did not want to stay in its pony tail. When I sat down and tried to let her go and play, she would not let go. I thought she was just being funny, but while talking with a daycare worker, I found out that she was abused by her mother; I held her tighter.

When it was time to leave the mission, I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and dropped a few tears in the sand. It is so easy to love them. You hold one close, and they take your heart. I wanted to cry even harder when I had to practically pry her legs from my waist. I wanted to just hold her there. I was even running scenarios through my head--maybe I could have a kid and still go to school, but no...

After that experience, all I really wanted to do was go back to Arizona and cry--maybe sort out my emotions or something. We still had lots to do, though.

We visited the men's rehabilitation ranch. They grow CACTUS! On the ranch they have dorms and kitchens. They wash their clothes outside on a stone. It was a crazy mix of the old and new. A cement mixer next to a chicken coop church. Let me tell you...

Then we went to the women's prison. We were stamped by a beefy guard before we entered the steel doors. I kept hoping that I wouldn't sweat the stamp off. They must use really good ink because the visitor seal still brands my wrist after about ten soapings.

We met the prisoners in an open area that had plastic furniture. While you might think that the desert is always toasty, the temperature that day was about 30 degrees. And we were on lawn furniture. :-D We sang songs, and shared our testimony about being a Christian, and I broke down when it was my turn. Their strength amid everything... A Mexican prison is not like in America. They can keep you as long as they want, and can keep you a year before even sentencing you. They have such strength that I can only attribute to God, because I know that what we have here is not enough. The ironic fact is that we were to uplift them, and instead, they brought strength to us, the visitors.

I only went into Mexico two times, and surprisingly, I was thankful. Mexico--the real Mexico--is not Cancun, the resort cities. The Mexico I discovered is shacks. With a few pieces of wood here and there and some castoff aluminum, one would have a pretty nice home in the border towns I saw. I don't intend to make light of the situation either. When you see the poverty firsthand, you lose the numbness; it is replaced by awe and pity.

When we were headed back to the States, I saw a drunk man being stripped of his jacket by a woman in 30-degree weather. I saw young men waiting in the hills to charge the U.S. border gate. I saw a drug-detecting dog pee on a tire. I saw so much.

Then I breathed when we got the green light to pass into the gate. Into America. We are so lucky to be United States citizens. I can't stress that enough.

And I do not regret one minute of missing class or my life here. I mean, I love my life and everyone in it, but I know that if or even when I am ready to take on something like this again, I will go.

This blog is rather personal, and I hope that you will comment with a certain respect to what I have said. I don't bare my soul often, and I am hesitant even to post this, but I have, and I know that what I have written is honest.

Mexico, I've learned, is just another homeland of mine; it is spanse on the map I will return to someday by plane, but for now, everyday in memory.

Just a little F.Y.I.: I have never eaten so well in my life. I checked the scale and I did gain three pounds. The tacos, quesadillas, rice, beans, and everything else was TO DIE FOR. We ate Fayth's cooking and restaurants, too. I don't think I will ever go to Taco Bell again.

In an amazing twist of turkey fate, I did have the traditional delectable meat for Thanksgiving. Fayth, angel that she is, made our group a 22-pound turkey dinner, complete with the trimmings, when we arrived in Arizona on Thursday night.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at November 30, 2004 8:35 PM

I am glad to see that your eyes were opened so much by your out of country experience. I only wish that someday i could be so lucky to see the real side of Mexico, the side you saw, and at the same time be able to help those in need. However, although i usually keep my emotions in tow, at least the ones relating to tears, i have a really strong feeling that in seeing some of the reality you saw would make me bawl. Truly, truly bawl. The little girl, makes me sad just reading it, i myself have never been in an abusive relationship, but i know many who have, and although i will never(at least i hope never) truly have to experience what its like to be abused, i still can't imagine what those people go through. I often wonder are they made stronger, yes, some are, but then again, some are reduced to feeling like worthless pieces of garbage. Your entry gave me chills, and i remember a particular entry last year where you said you had much to learn from the learning curve of me(regarding courage), well Amanda, what you did, as well as writing about it, ( I agree you hardly ever bare your soul) took a hell of a lot of courage. You, are an amazing person for what you did, im glad you got to eat thanksgiving dinner, and its good to see non-academic entries. Its great to have you back dear. We missed you.

Posted by: Lori at November 30, 2004 10:42 PM

Hey, Amanda!! I'm soooo happy you guys are home and safe, I worried and prayed. I missed everyone sooo much on Thanksgiving I even cried. :( ......Such an awesome entry!! I must say that I am envious of you, of all of you and I am proud, so proud of my family. I hope that maybe next time or someday, I can go with you. The story about the little girl KILLS me!! I could not imagine at all, I love children and I would have wanted to keep her. I shed a tear or two just reading this. Us Americans have nothing to be depressed about, huh? Can't wait to hear more and see you guys. Tell Katie I miss her too!! :) Love you!!

Posted by: Stacy at December 1, 2004 8:15 PM

I just decided that rainbow hector looks better in Mexico than he does in Dr. Jerzs office.;):0 Or maybe im just trying to stir up trouble*grins and winks*

Posted by: Lori at December 1, 2004 8:25 PM

Oh my, Lori.

After jumping into my life today, I couldn't help but think about everything, and how much I want to go back someday.

While I want my little life and to become a journalist, I learned that there is more out there than me, and that I am needed...

Posted by: Amanda at December 1, 2004 10:46 PM

"That's the best Rainbow Hector picture I ever saw."

Posted by: Peter Jerz at December 1, 2004 11:01 PM

Woo hoo! Thanks Peter. :-D

Posted by: Amanda at December 1, 2004 11:19 PM

I never said it wasn't a good picture..i liked it too! :)

Posted by: Lori at December 2, 2004 9:50 AM

Amanda I really do like to read your blog today as I read it I could hardly beleive that you are so grwn up and into so much life. I have been to Mexico three times but never had the expierences that you had, only the hagglers at the shops. I did really enjoy the peace and so glad all of you are safly back in little Mt. Pleasent.

Posted by: grammy at December 2, 2004 10:12 AM

Amanda, I'm thrilled to read about your experiences, and I'm even happier to see evidence of you having fun ;) Certainly the mission part of mission trips is packaged as helping lift others up; however, consider that "love one another" carries weight that demands the emotions and changes that you inspire to affect you also.

The Rainbow Hector picture is really nice! Where did you find that tiny sombrero?

I'll have to share my first-hand "I-don't-know-a-lick-of-Spanish" art class teaching experiences from governor's school. I taught high school immigrants, the majority of which spoke no English, about printing, portraiture, and architecture. I'm happy that you and Katie had such a great opportunity to delve into such a situation--you can get such an adrenaline rush!

Heart-breaking story about the little girl, dear. What strength in a child, what sadness. I know it's silly to wish for world peace, but I just can't help it... why do people have to live this way? And trying to help can sometimes only leave an ache in wanting to help more, feeling uncapable, that even giving all of your energies and gifts would never be enough. But we're not asked to help the world, but help our neighbors--do what we can :)

Posted by: Karissa at December 2, 2004 11:47 AM

The tiny sombrero is actually an ash tray, but my mom bought it to put her rings and jewlery in the brim. Smoking--ick.

Posted by: Amanda at December 2, 2004 2:08 PM

Ash tray

Posted by: Amanda at December 2, 2004 3:56 PM

I am glad this blog ended at some point. Not that it was a bad blog, but I was beginning to feel like Amanda Cochran, and I had a sudden urge to do my homework early. Never again, never again. Maybe a trip to Maine would be just as fun as Mexico, it's certainly just as far away.

Posted by: Ten Months Later at December 2, 2004 7:32 PM

Oh Stephan, you'll never learn... Amanda's lengthy blog was with good reason.

And she doesn't do her homework early, she does it so it's on time :-p

Maine trips may be in order over an upcoming break. FYI.

Posted by: Karissa at December 2, 2004 10:51 PM

Long blogs are the spice of life. :-)

Posted by: Amanda at December 3, 2004 5:58 PM


Posted by: Karissa at December 4, 2004 12:54 PM

For the longer blogs use the body link! That way we aren't scrolling forever!

Posted by: Tiffany at December 5, 2004 12:19 PM

Go Amanda! Glad to hear this trip was a great learning experience. I like this honest and personal account of your travel. I found out that I will be going to Monaco this January after all. (WOO-HOO! PARTY ON!)

Anyway, I am scared and excited at the same time. (I hope that's normal...) I will probably have a blogging hiatus for a while. }: But I'll be back into the blogosphere--at least the American blogosphere--about the end of January (we probably will not be allowed to communicate in English for this course). Vive les francophones!

Posted by: Evan at December 5, 2004 6:53 PM


READ: bring sugarpackets from Monaco! I don't have any from that region of the world at ALL... :)

I would be forever grateful.

Posted by: Karissa at December 6, 2004 1:06 PM

I have sugar packets from Mexico, Tucson, and Denver for you, Karissa, but, alas, they look the same. Apparently, the same sugar company is pretty popular out there. :-(

Posted by: Amanda at December 6, 2004 6:09 PM

Amanda, Great photo of Rainbow Hector! I am glad that he can get out and see more of the world from time to time.

Posted by: rosemary at December 7, 2004 3:55 PM

Thanks Rosemary. Hector kept going on and on about how he hated the dusty display box that Jerz puts him in. ;-)

Posted by: Amanda at December 7, 2004 7:22 PM
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