Okay, I am just forewarning you that this post is going to be long and boring. Mostly because I am writing it as a journal entry for myself as a memento of my trip to Mexico. So if you get bored reading this, you can't say I didn't tell you so. Also, if you are reading this it means that you know me so don't be surprised when I end up going off on tangents not even related to what I might have been talking about in the previous sentence. But no worries, I eventually get back on track.
Day 1: Out in the mist I could see the gorillas...Oh wait, I'm not Jane Goodall. Carry on. Day One: We got up early, we flew, we landed. Fast forward...
After all 80 of us were checked in to the hotel we had a little reception before going to dinner. It was a mixer of sorts so that we could mingle with the people with whom we were going to spend the 5 days. Normally I like to cling onto the people who I know best but Michelle *rolls eyes* is one of THOSE people. You know, a people person, so she made us mingle with unknowns *shudder*. Immediately this other lesbian couple spotted us and like flies to sh, well you know what I mean, they came right up and decided that we would forever be BFF's. At least for the trip. In their defense I know it was awkward for them to be around a bunch of strangers not knowing if people were gay friendly. After all, this was mostly made up of Rotarians and it can be quite daunting. So I put on my friendly face. *rolls eyes again* Look, I'm barely into day one and I have already taken up most of the bandwidth allowed on Blogger. I told ya so.
Night one we ALL went to Ernie Tomatoes for dinner. It's a touristy restaurant in the middle of the Gold Zone (El Centro for tourists in Mazatlan). They play the YMCA and the Macarena and all the white folks get drunk and dance poorly. It's really a good time. I had Kahlua shrimp. Yuck. Don't order that. Ever. My Mom got the Swedish shrimp and that was wonderful. Many of us got a good buzz on that night. My Dad was having a rather wonderful time if ya know what I mean. He doesn't do modern dance any favors but God bless him he has fun. Actually that could be said for just about most people there. Except me. I could join the modern dance conservatory when I drunk dance. It's beautiful stuff. Or not.
Day two: Day two was the day that we were all going out to different schools in the area and the day that we did the city to city proclamation. I'm still not entirely sure what was being proclaimed but it was double long because it was all done in English and then in Spanish and then in English and then in Spanish. Lather, rinse, repeat for the next two hours. In the end my Dad got the key to the city of Mazatlan given to him by the Mayor and the Mayor of Maz. got a Paul Harris Fellowship award from the Foster City Rotarians. (It's a privilege in the Rotary world. The highlight of this for me was that I got to pee in the Mayor's personal bathroom at City Hall. It took everything I had not to take a picture of the moment. My Dad seems to save me in desperate pee moments. I was once allowed to use the bathroom on the 4Th of July at city hall in Foster City because I happened to ask the right fireman. I told him that I never use my Dad's name for gain but I really had to pee and would appreciate him letting me use city hall. As it turns out, my Dad had saved his life in a house fire and he owed him one. Too bad for my Dad that the payback was letting his kid pee in city hall because of long lines at the portapotties. Ooop, got off course. The mayor and his wife are considered rock stars in Mazatlan. The people line the streets to see them and light up as soon as they see them. I have to say that I really am one of those people who believes that ALL of the Mexican government is corrupt and not to be trusted. Well I feel differently after meeting Jorge and Perla. They were the kindest and most down to earth people ever. They honestly and truly care about people and their city. They were gracious beyond words. They had cleared their calendars for the entire week in order to spend time with those of us that came. They took the time to meet and thank each of us personally and bought each of us personalized gifts. Oh wait, I will save that part for down there. *points to later in the journal
After the proclamation ceremonies we over we were heading off to visit area schools.
We went to a school that close friends of our family had sponsored. In a nutshell, that means that they donated money that allowed these children to have a real bathroom, school supplies, chairs and such. When we arrived all of the children were out in the yard dancing and singing. This particular school had, oh crap I already forgot, I think 45 students? They were grade 1-6 and there were three classrooms. Very barren. Each student did have a desk or a chair where they could sit but there was not much more in the classrooms. The kids looked at us with a mixture of excitement and confusion. They LOVE to have their picture taken. You take a picture of them and then show it back to them and they get super excited and put on the biggest smiles. They are so proud to see themselves on the camera. These children are the most well behaved kids ever on earth. There are two teachers for three classrooms. You do the math. Here in the US if there was not a teacher in the classroom for any amount of time the kids would have figured out how to make a bomb out of bubblegum and paperclips and would have at least one kid hanging from their underwear on the wall. Not in Mexico. When the teachers were not in the classroom the children were quiet and well behaved or calmly interacted with each other waiting for the teacher to come back.
When we went into a room, the superintendent(who traveled with us) made all of the children stand up and introduce themselves. Some hammed it up and others were very shy. Ohhh, prior to going to the school we went to Home Depot because the school needed paint and painting supplies to make the school purtier. We all pitched in and paid for all of the stuff and brought it to them. We also brought school supplies that we had bought here in the US. Trust me, these schools need the donations. They have the absolute bare minimum when it comes to supplies. Our ride to the school was in the back of a pickup truck (it did have bench seats for us). May I just say that there are NOOOOOO rules of the road in Mexico. I decided to just pretend I was on a ride at Disneyland so I wouldn't worry about dying a horrible death on the two lane "freeway" of Mexico. There will be more about the lack of road rules later.
Oh, so when we got to the school they were still building the bathrooms that they previously didn't have. Really, that is how bad it is in parts of Mexico. Children don't have bathrooms at their school. *sigh* But again, what a bunch of well behaved, wonderful little children they were.
The school itself is not in great shape. There are three buildings: The bathroom is one and then one building had two classrooms and the other had one plus the teachers room. All in all the entire school takes up about as much room as a 7-11 store and it's parking lot. Pretty darn small. It had no playground equipment. At break time the children just play in the courtyard area either kicking balls or dancing or chasing each other around. There were some balls to kick around but otherwise that was pretty much it.
After the adventures in babysitting we got some free time. We went down to the beach and drank a few brewskies and swam in the ocean. I love to swim in the ocean if for nothing else it is a great exfoliating experience. And also, let's be honest, who doesn't love a good saltwater enema now and again? I love taking on the big waves coming at me so usually I end up with sand in every orifice and of course a great exfoliated facial. It makes me feel like a 13 year old boy, with a good complexion of course. Oh wait, everything makes me think that. Anyhow, it was fun to play in the ocean.
That night we went to a local sports bar called The Dugout. They had on the 49ers/Bears game on the HD tv. About 20 of us hung out there watching the game. We then went to dinner at a place called Casa Country. It is the Mexican version of a country bar and restaurant. Another night of the YMCA and the Macarena and white people dancing poorly except for me. Again, I really am a fantastic dancer. Or not. Well, maybe a little bit good if I do say so myself. Or not.
Day Three: Day three was orphanage day. Oh, and a park dedication ceremony. Mayor Jorge was supposed to be there for this but he had to go to Mexico City to help try and get money for hurricane victims. See what a wonderful man he is? Anyhow, this ceremony really wasn't all that much fun. It was hot out and it was a long ceremony which was interpreted in both English and Spanish and English and Spanish, lather, rinse, repeat.
The orphanage was not as emotional as I thought it was going to be. Dad talks about how moving it was when he went and that made me want to go. We apparently went to two different ones because the one he went to was in horrible shape and sad and the children clung to him. The one that we went to was in pretty good shape and the children mostly seemed happy. One of the older girls gave us a tour of the place and she was happy and smiling and wonderful. she spoke matter of factly about not having any family. It was almost as if she didn't realize that bad things had happened in her life. Everybody there considers everybody there to be family. Except they are polite to one another and like helping each other and play together. Nicely. :)
They were happy to see us and gathered around when we first got there. Ohhh, that reminds me of that bitch, Jan or Janice or whatever her stupid name was. Back story...
There was a man in Rotary with my Dad and we will call him Bob. We will call him that because that is was his name. One day Bob went on vacation and he came back a year later as Leanne. *pause for dramatic effect* Leanne and her lesbian lover...*pause to let you wrap your head around that* were on this trip with us. They were the ones who brought the uberdykes (as Martha referred to them). They were all just very strange people. Very, very strange. so we get to the orphanage and everybody piled the goods that we had brought in a pile. Greg asked us all to grab something and bring it inside. I just picked up the two bags closest to me and started to walk and that bitch Jan or Janice or whatever walked up to me, grabbed the bags out of my hand and said "I brought those" and walked away. WTF??? Bitch, I'm not trying to steal your stupid thunder, I'm trying to help out. For one moment before reminding myself that I am here representing the Rotary and I am at an orphanage surrounded by children, I wanted to kick her in her cooch and call her turdbrain. Where was I? Oh, so when we got there the kids all surrounded us and were so happy when we gave them candy and soccer balls and soccer uniforms and stuffed animals. I ended up not really feeling sorry for these kids because they seemed to have it pretty damn good compared to some of the other stuff I have seen down there.
After the orphanage we got to go back to the hotel and spend time at the beach again. More exfoliating. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee. *shakes sand out of bathing suit*
That night we wet to Senor Frogs for dinner. We were all kind of disappointed. the last time we were in Mazatlan the SF was located more towards downtown and it was smaller and all one level and it made it a bit more intimate. as intimate as you can be at a SF. They were the originators in Mazatlan of the Ymca, the Macarena and white people dancing poorly. Except for me. Or not. One of the things that makes SF fun is being able to watch other parties going on and even join in. It's fun to get on the stage and everybody dances. Anyhow, the new one is now split level, no balloon hats, no other parties around. The service was horrible, the food was mediocre and the entertainment sorely lacked. Goodnight.
Day four: Wheelchair distribution day and the purpose of the trip.
We started the morning by taking buses to a distribution center. Which was a basketball court, with cement stands to sit on and it was covered by a permanent structure. It is their version of a small stadium. When we got there, there were a whole lot of people sitting in Patio type chairs on center court. to the side were the boxes with the wheelchairs in them. People who are hand picked by Mayor Jorge and his wife and have the means to get to the stadium do so. They are given a number which is the size of the wheelchair that they will receive. There were ceremonies in English and Spanish and English and Spanish, lather, rinse, repeat. Mexican officials are VERY big on ceremonies and speeches. One of the speeches was given by a little girl in a wheelchair and she spoke directly to Mayor's wife Perla. Back story...History is that the mayor's wife job is to head the DIF. This is the US's version of Social Services. Normally it is just a title and nothing more. But Miss Perla is so loving and giving and caring that she decided she would not be director just by name. She is very, very involved. She gets up every morning and goes to work at the DIF office and out into people's homes and involves children in their lives. They also have 5 children of their own.
Anyhow, this little girl gave her speech looking directly at Perla. Perla was crying, most of the dignitaries were crying and most of the Rotary was crying. It was during her speech that I had felt something crawling on my face. As dignified as I can be about something crawling on me, I lightly swatted at my face and realized that it was not a bug but tears. Without me even knowing it this little girl had brought me to tears. After the speeches came assembly time. All of us ran to the chairs and started to put them together. Even Elaine Pitts the coolest 92 year old woman you could ever meet. she is a member of the rotary club and insisted on taking part in every single event. Including assembly and later going out to homes. It took about a half hour for all of us to get the chair assembled. At this point we went out into the audience and talked to the recipients and got their stories. Most of the cases came back to lack of good medical care which is why these people need the chairs. Whether it was a lack of help as children with polio or birth defects or lack of care as an adult for ulcers on their feet or diabetes or other illnesses or old age. As we talked to people we would take their number, go get them a chair that would forever be theirs, bring it to them and then assist in putting them in their new mobility. there is nothing like helping to put someone into a wheelchair so that they can now feel as if they are a productive part of the world. Imagine being stuck in your house with no use of your legs. None at all. Imagine having to rely on other people to help you get around. To go to the bathroom. To go outside. To just get off of the couch. While I agree that there are weekends when the couch is my best friend, I in no way want to have to rely on anyone and everyone to assist me every time I wanted to leave the couch. So let that sink in for a minute and then imagine getting to be the person who hands you a wheelchair so that you can get around on your own. I admit selfishly that it felt great to be that person.
After the center we were split up into 10 groups of 8 people to drive out to remote homes to deliver chairs to people who were picked by Mayor Jorge and Miss Perla and approved by the DIF.
Oh god, before leaving I had to pee. I will never complain about a gas station bathroom again. Never. The center had bathrooms and lucky for me I had gotten good ole aunt flow (happy, happy, joy, joy when you are in a 3rd world country). I went into a stall and had to look for the garbage can because in Mexican public bathrooms they don't flush toilet paper, or other girly bathroom products for that matter. So there I am squatting (dude, I don't sit on public toilets in the US, there is zero chance of me doing so in Mexico), I look about 3 feet in front of me and there is a grandaddy cockroach the size of a small car staring at me. Glaring actually. No, really more like laughing at me. I swear I heard it say "girl, you are in the squat with your pants down and I have your chicken ass trapped here." My belly hurts just talking about this. Needless to say it was kind and did not eat me for lunch.
Out to the homes...Our group had the longest route of all of the groups. We also left last. Bad scheduling people. Most of the homes were about 30 minutes off of the paved road. many of the dirt paths into these villages are barely drivable. Oh, this is where I mention again the lack of road rules. Also, Martin, our driver, looooved to dance. Mexicans dance with their hands. he is driving. Look ma, no hands. Oh fer heck Martin drive with your hands ON THE WHEEL, and WATCH OUT FOR THAT COW. *deep breath* Martin was frightening. He very rarely watched the road and never looked behind him after hitting something or finding the deepest hole on the road.
The first couple of houses were busts as far as the wheelchair part. The first place was a woman who would not let anybody but her sister touch her and unfortunately her sister wasn't home. We left the chair and went on our way. But we did give out clothes and candy to the children of the neighborhood. The next house was also a bust. They lady was at the doctor and wasn't home. we left the chair with who we think was the sheriff. He said he was the sheriff and the people around said he was. He wore flip flops and shorts and polo-ish shirt but didn't have a gun or a badge. We don't need no stinkin badges. *giggle*.
The next house was a lady who knew we were coming. She had been in bed for 6 months with bleeding ulcers on her feet. Since she hadn't been out of bed, she had not been outside in 6 months either. When we got their she was so happy to see us. She told us that she knew we were coming and she got up early and had her family bathe her and make her pretty for us. She asked us if she looked pretty and we all smiled hugely and told her that she was beautiful. She was the most grateful and happy woman. We then wheeled her out of her front door and into her front yard. yay!!!!
The next place was a woman who was both physically and mentally handicapped. She was pretty frightened by our presence and had a mini meltdown. Michelle offered her some candy and when she understood what candy was she got super happy. At that time a few of us walked away because she was overwhelmed by how many people there were. Those of us closest to the road walked back to the car so the others could give her the chair.
The 5th house was about an hour away and all on dirt paths. When we got there the lady told us her story. she had injured her back and has trouble getting around and can't get into the "city" for her doctor's appointments because she isn't mobile enough. She thanked us a million times for caring about her and for worrying about her and for helping her. Her porch area was very small and there were a lot of us so I didn't get to spend much time with her. Also, unfortunately the day had not gone totally by plan and it was getting dark and we needed to get back to our people. We were already about an hour later than we should have been so we didn't spend as much time at her house.
These houses are huts. They are generally one or two rooms total and house numerous people. Imagine living a space about the size of an average living room and doing so with 7 or 8 other people. Imagine your toilet being a pot over in the corner of that room. The best way I can describe the neighborhoods is to compare them to the old west but not as luxurious. If you can imagine. We really are quite lucky to live the way that we do here in the United States. I would never wish to live like these people.
After we got back we had to hurry because we were two and a half hours later than we were expected to be. We got to go to a fireworks show on the beach and then the Mayor's Fiesta. Mayor Jorge and Miss Perla had rented out an entire restaurant for us and treated us to dinner and more ceremonies. It was at the after dinner ceremonies that we got our gifts. We each got a Mazatlan baseball hat with our names embroidered on the side. We also each got a Mazatlan pen and some form of a feather. The feather means a great deal to the people of Maztlan and so to give that as a gift is regarded as something special. The women were given feather earrings and I'm not sure what the men got. We were also each presented a certificate of gratitude from the Mayor, the city council and the Mexican Rotary Club. This was basically a reception line where we got to shake hands, hug and cheek kiss Mayor Jorge, Miss Perla, the President of the Mexican Rotary and a couple of other very important people. And this ended all of the official business.
Sunday we got to do a little bit of shopping and then it was off to home...
The things I am taking from this trip: These people really have nothing. And when I say nothing I mean nothing. Barely a pot to piss in and when they do that pot is many times in the corner of their living space. They haave all the reasons in the world to complain and in most cases they do not. It doesn't mean that my problems aren't worthy and it doesn't mean that I don't have the right to piss and moan but I need to remember this trip, keep things in perspective and think about what I am complaining about. I hope I can retain that perspective. I also learned about the mutual value that goes with doing charity. Not just writing a check but actually getting involved and doing hands on type of charity. Writing a check is nice but being able to interact with the people who you are helping is priceless. I was not going to push Michelle into doing this again if she didn't want to. I wanted to do this at least once for the experience and if we didn't do it again I would be fine. But Michelle is the one who said she wanted to go again next year and that thrills me. If money and time allow, we will be doing this again next year. It feels wonderful to be able to make a change in people's lives.
I know there are things that I am leaving out and will later remember. So I imagine that I will be adding "P.S." things as I remember them. I also think that I will do a separate post with pictures. Trying to position them in this post through Blogger would just be a huge headache.
And so, like sands through the swimsuit, these are the days of our lives...
Pictures are below this post.