It was the first time
I’d seen poverty like this.
The conditions were so horrible,
it couldn’t have been missed.
As I worked, the hot sand
whipped and stung my face.
I thought to myself, Thank God,
I don’t live in this wretched place.
About a week before the trip, I realized how much the anticipation was killing me. It hit me that I was going so far as Mexico to help those in need. The day was finally here! My mom and I had woken up at 3:30 in the morning to meet everyone at St. Ambrose Church. We drove for about 4 hours in coupled vans, to LaGuardia Airport for our 7:15 flight. As soon as I got in the van I fell asleep, and woke up to the sound of my youth minister’s voice telling us that we needed to hurry up otherwise we’ll miss the plane. I had been on mission trips before and was particularly excited about this one, but when I left the airport, I really had no idea what was in store for me. Our first stop was Chicago, Illinois. We waited there for about an hour or so until we boarded the next plane destined for El Paso, Texas. When we arrived in El Paso, we were greeted by the most eclectic group of people I had seen yet.
After we had said our hellos to our new friends, we all headed to the basement of the church, where our hosts showed us a traditional Mexican rain dance. Each was dressed in these elaborate costumes, sewn with multicolored thread and decorated with bells and beads. The dance lasted, for what I felt, seemed like an eternity. When the dancers had finished their performance, they joined us upstairs for dinner, where we exchanged some incredible stories and quite a few side-splitting laughs.
When we had finished eating, we each made our way into the church, for a special mass in celebration of our mission. As I walked in and out of the pews, trying to find a seat, I glanced up and saw the most striking image I had ever laid my eyes on. It was a stained glass piece, directly above the altar, that had en-captured Mother Mary in her most serene perfection. The rest of the church reminded me of an old Mexican ruin. The rustic elements and the Spanish flair of the building, made me feel like I was transported to another century. Everything from terracotta tiles and the authenticity of the masonry, to the wrought iron and the antique wooden beams that hung from the ceiling had its place and each looked as if it had been there for years. When we got out of mass, little did I know that I would be standing on the intricately carved podium, lecturing next Saturday’s vigil.
After our fabulous dinner, we departed to the hotel to check in. The hotel was elegant and very spacious. It had over a hundred rooms and lots of places to sit and relax. I found my spot to relax, on a cute little bench, next to the lobby. When we were done unpacking our things, we all went down to the pool for an overview of our upcoming week. We decided that we were going to split up into two large groups for each house, and that the girls were going to get the upstairs when we got to the “Casas por Cristo” establishment.
-Across the Border-
Now driving across the border is definitely no picnic. The men holding these insane machine guns, seeing if we, sixteen, and seventeen year old kids, matched the profile of a suspicious terrorist, terrified me, but I managed. We were now in Mexico, and unfortunately made a lot of wrong turns in getting to Casas por Cristo. Who knew that it was located in the most remote section of Juarez? After many “you were supposed to make a right….no really a left..” or “you’re going the wrong way…” we finally made it. A man with relatively long hair and somewhat filthy work clothes, greeted us at the gate. His name was Todd, and it was apparent that he was going to be leading us throughout this mission.
-The “Other Hotel”-
Okay, I’m not going to lie, it was a huge mistake for the girls to get the upstairs. First of all, it was annoying to get our bags up that ancient staircase, all for what was considered the “nicer” bathroom. Whoever made that statement really stretched “nicer”. Over all it was cute, in a “at
least I have a place to sleep” way. But that’s the sacrifice you make to help people right? We had a long day ahead of us, so we desperately need a good night sleep for the first work day.
-Our Building Site-
The next morning we got ready to go and went to work. We came to our building site and were shocked at how impoverished Juarez really was. Houses were built literally from scraps of metal and doors were just a piece of cloth, nailed over the entry way. It made me feel awful to know that I had good food to eat and a decent roof over my head while these people starved to death and had no money, no job. I knew that our first day was not going to be the easiest, nor the hardest, but I was not expecting the rest of the week to be working 16 hour shifts. The first thing that we did was that each of us needed to form an assembly to get our tools. That took us no less than 20 minutes. The rest of the day was spent on all of us laying and leveling the foundation. Throughout the week, people were building the walls, putting up the frame, insulation, and then dry wall. The last things that we needed to do, included, putting stucco on the exterior of the house, finishing up the electrical stuff that I didn’t know a thing about, a manning the roof. When I wasn’t working, I was enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the mountains, and playing with the cute, little kids during our lunch breaks. As the week went on, I felt so good that this was going to be someone’s home and that I took part in building it.
We had finished the house sooner than we thought, so Todd took us on a field trip to the local market—not the food market. There were so many items that interested me and that I wanted to buy. But there was this purse that really caught my attention. It was green and red with some sort of floral design. I told the lady who was running the vendor that I had only twenty dollars and she was selling it for thirty-five. She asked where I was from and I told her New York. I was then referred to, from the time being as, “Yankee Girl”, for my Yankees sweatshirt.
It felt good to leave Juarez knowing that I had made a difference in some body’s life, and that’s all that I really cared about. It was only a matter of time before I’d be home reflecting on my time here and thinking about all the wonderful people that I had come across on this trip. Looking back now, I think that through all the drama and the struggles we faced that it was truly worth it and I would have done it all over again.