I've been reflecting on my recent visit to Mexico and have been wanting to share some reflections. I've decided to use the format of observations that come through the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, hearing, and intuition/spirit. Today I share some observations that came through the sense of sight.
- Variety of color. One line of demarcation on our journey into and out of Mexico was the visual border of color. Upon entering Nogales, we noticed a change in the color of buildings, and particularly houses. In America, the predominant color was white and adobe brown. In Mexico, the color changed to a wonderful and wild array of bright oranges, greens, purples and a host of others. The signs on the shops were vivid, though often hand drawn or painted, the use of catchy color was abundant. On our way out of Mexico our missionary guide told us one reason for the array of color in Mexico was a large paint giveaway a couple of years ago. Whatever color one received, they put it on their house. That's a wild and fun experiment, one that I think is paying great dividends.
- Cement Block buildings. The Church we stayed in and worked in was a cement block building. The buildings that surrounded it were cement block buildings. Everywhere you looked, cement block was the flavor. Cement block doesn't give way to termites and other little critters that like to gnaw on wood. Buildings that didn't look like cement block, had stucco over top. The buildings that were not cement were often constructed out of an assortment of wood pieces. These were temporary dwellings. Many still existed in the neighborhood we were in.
- Chinese restaurants. Within 1/2 a mile in either direction from the church we stayed at there were 2 Chinese restaurants.
- Dish Network. It wasn't surprising to see Dish Network satellite gear installed on homes and businesses. What took me by surprise was the dish that hung on a temporary home that was within sight from the church. It reminded me of a statistic I heard in Kentucky in the 1990's. At that time in Kentucky 99% of households had at least one television, only 93% had indoor plumbing. In the neighborhood we were in, my guess is the disparity would be greater.
- Mountains. The place we stayed at was at an elevation of about 4000 feet. Looking to the north from the church parking lot was a valley filled in with houses in some state of development. On the other side of the valley a mountain careened into the sky. We were probably near the summit of a short mountain. The road in front of the church would have made a great ski hill. When driving north on the road it descended for more miles than I could count.
- Sunday morning street sales. When we woke up Sunday morning, Brian MacDonald looked out the window towards the street and proclaimed, "Shelly's going to be happy". Shelly was the lone female of our group and she has an affection for garage saling. Out on the street were vendors, a street full, offering clothes, old televisions, games, corn on the cob (not sweet corn), tools - just about anything you could find at a garage sale in your neighborhood. On our trip from the airport in Tuscon to Nogales, Arizona we passed several pick-up trucks stacked about 10 feet high with used furniture and garage sale stuff - it was headed for Mexico.
- Grocery store. Up the street, but south, from the church was a grocery store. It looked like a local grocery store in many of our small towns. It had the offices up in the air, off to the side of the cash registers, like many an older store in the states. We saw a lot of food and beverage that looked familiar. The Pepsi and Coke beverages were in more slender bottles than in the states. They had two and three liter options, which made a very tall and slender bottle. The prices on food and other items in the store were not significantly different than what we would find in our grocery stores. We would discover in a number of other places that the prices of material are similar, if not higher in Mexico. The cheapest place we found to shop was on the American side of the border, in the shops that carry a host of goods imported from China.
- Trucks and Cars. The church sat on a recently paved main thoroughfare. The vehicle traffic was immense. The vehicles ranged from old VW bugs, to new Chevy's. The water truck that came to the church was a 1972 Ford. Also working the street were new International semi-trucks. The older cars looked to be in great shape, they had survived the speed bumps which kept traffic moving slowly on the street. The speed bumps weren't solid bubble strips like in America. They were more like upside down kitchen bowls, spaced out about every 6 inches across the street. Word is they can bang up a car good if you hit them at a high rate of speed.
- Home Stores. Sunday afternoon we walked to a store owned by Blanca, a lady in the church who came and helped prepare our breakfast. Blanca's store was about a mile walk from the church, to the south. Once we arrived at the crest of the hill we were on, the walk was downhill. Along the way we passed a couple of parks, but mostly homes. Many of the homes sat close to the sidewalk. In many of them were little shops. Most sold some kind of food; hot dogs, coke, corn. One sold batteries. The shops weren't big, but they were frequent. You couldn't walk more than 30 yards without coming across another store. It would have been fun to take a day and visit each one.
- Dogs & Fences. The place we went to had been described to us as a squatters community. One of our missionary hosts told us that 40,000 people lived on the hill and the valley of this squatters community. Resources are sparse and valuable in this neighborhood. To protect those resources homes and business will have one and sometimes two means of protection. A fence with lockable gates & or bars over the windows, and a good dog. Those who can only afford one means, will have a dog. I saw more Pit-bulls and German Shepherds in a week than I've seen in all my life. They were almost always on a chain. They looked like they knew what their purpose was.
- Under Construction. Many of the business and houses, the church we stayed in, were all at stages of being under construction. We did see parts of Nogales where the building was "completed". The first two Free Methodist churches in the city were at this state, and they looked from the outside, very attractive. We visited a home for orphaned girls that the churches are sponsoring and it was finished with tile floors, stucco walls - all the amenities of a smaller home in the states. But many of the neighborhoods we drove through, the place where we worked, was under construction. It reminded me of tales of America as it grew as a country, going through many transitions - from forest to settled land, Mexico, or at least Nogales had a visual sight of being under construction, and wanting at some level to be similar to its northern sister city. Of course when things are under construction, there is dust. We had lot and lots of dust.
- Street clothes. When I visited the jail I was very surprised by the lack of uniforms. The only ones wearing uniforms were the guards. The prisoners wore street clothes. Those who came to the chapel for worship looked very much like the brothers and sisters in Christ who came to the church the day before.
- Flags. In the church sanctuary hung flags from a variety of countries; China, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, Columbia, USA, Spain. That was the predominant visual as one looked on the wall. No other symbols, but those spoke dramatically, in a church sitting amidst a squatters settlement, with needs a plenty, there was a vision for of the ministry of Jesus for the world. The flags represented a global perspective and dreams that are closing in on being as big as God.
- Junk pile. On our first day of work, we began cleaning out a portion of the church building that had been storing lumber, wire, and pipe. It was to become a new residence for Pastor Juan Carlos and family. When we started to handle the material we wondered what we should do with the "junk." The short pieces, the unusable scrap - as we thought of it. A pile was in front of the church already existed and we began adding to the pile, aware that what many of the things we'd throw away or burn, was saved and wouldn't be put on the junk pile. The pile grew on Monday as we cleaned. By Friday, the pile had shrunk. It shrunk not because someone set out the junk for the trash, or we'd made a little fire. It shrunk because through the week we'd find ourselves needing something, and we'd head to the junk pile. It had a short piece of pipe, a small piece of wood, styrofoam insulation that could be stuffed somewhere. We used the junk pile, and discovered that we discard many things quickly in our culture. In Nogales, they redeem the stuff, sifting it, sorting it, using it to its full capacity.
- People. The most treasured sight of this trip were the people. They smiled, they laughed, they loved. One home we visited was very small, it was about 12 foot by 12 foot. The home was occupied by people from the church and they had 6 kids. Mother was 27 and the eldest girl was 12. On the night we visited it was brutally cold, down into the teens. The had very little insulation, no heater, one or two lights. Five of the six kids were lying in a bed, snuggled under blankets trying to stay warm. We went to their home to bring a heater and a canister of gas. They were welcoming and full of joy. On Saturday they were going to begin laying block for the next stage of their home, a block house. It wouldn't be big, but it would be a vast improvement physically. What we noticed with this young couple was something different, they had joy regardless of their circumstances. The father is a hard worker, earlier in the day he showed our crew how to lay a block window in 30 minutes. Our crew had worked a couple of hours on one. He was skilled. He was a good block layer. Louis and Viki were like the vast array of people we saw, we came to call by name and love; they were gifted, talented, bright and loving, and full of love for Jesus. They are a hearty people, with much to overcome, but they are industrious, amazingly creative, and many are living under the shadow of the Lord's wings, they are soaring and learning to fly.
These are some of the sights of Mexico. I'll write more tomorrow.