Thursday, August 29, 2013


For one week, I live with Raul and Lucila in Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico.  It’s a progressive small town of close to 40,000 about an hour bus ride south of Mexico City.  My day begins by waking up to the ‘gallos’ – roosters – that live across the street.  Depending on what’s going on, the dogs might also be barking or fighting.  Most people have dogs as ‘mascotas’ or pets, but a few have them as guard dogs.  There are many that are strays.  The family, Gabe (another of the volunteers and I) take turns taking showers in the morning.  Quickly because water shouldn’t be wasted.  If the cistern on the roof runs out, we’ll have to turn the pump on to refill it.

After getting ready, we go down to breakfast which is a family affair.  It’s always a hot breakfast and usually quite substantial as well as it often must last until ‘la comida’ at 2 or 3 in the afternoon which is the biggest meal of the day.  Then it’s off to Spanish class for the rest of the morning.  We walk down the narrow cobblestone street flowing with dirty water from last night’s rain, car and truck exhaust everywhere.  Our family stays home – Lucila is a housewife and Raul used to work but doesn’t after his stroke.  Luz Maria, their daughter is a dentist who has an office attached to the house as well as in Cuernavaca. 

After class, we have been visiting one anothers’ sites in and around Tepotzlan.  Sometimes we can walk there but other times we take the bus.  It’s nice to be around each other and have a break from speaking Spanish. 

When we return at the end of the day, we spend time with the family, conversing in broken Spanish the best we can.  We talk about Mexico, the culture, the food, Tepotzlan, what each other did that day.  Lucila will want to know if everything went well, it we have homework, and if she needs to make us a packed lunch the next day.  When ‘la cena’ is over at 8 or 9 the day is mostly over.  Food is cleaned up and the TV comes on.  We watch the news, a sitcom, or a ‘telenovela’ – a soap opera.  Occasionally we’ll watch a U.S. show that has been dubbed – Ace of Cakes is on frequently.

Around 10 or so, we head to bed.  You can brush your teeth with the tap water if you choose or use bottled water to be extra safe.  There’s a bug repeller plugged in to the wall in our room but just to be sure, it’s a good idea to check your bed before crawling in for spiders, cockroaches, or ‘un alacran’ – a scorpion.  None of those will kill you but it’s not an encounter you look forward to having either.  Don’t forget to check your shoes in the morning either.  Falling asleep is the same as getting up – dogs, crickets, cars driving by.  But the bed is comfortable and soon enough you fall asleep.

Friday, August 23, 2013


What do you call someone from the United States?  In Spanish, the word is ‘estadounidense.’  Literally, United States-ian.  In English, there is no word for this.  Some of you are now thinking that certainly there exists a word for this – American.  But keep in mind that America simply refers to one of two continents – North America or South America.  I’ll concede that indeed in Mexico I have been referred to as ‘un Americano,’ but the word isn’t entirely true.  Our country has no name.  It would be like calling Canada the United Provinces of America.  What does it really mean?

America.  Vast.  Patriotic.  Hardworking.  To most of us, this makes sense.  We identify our melting pot of heritages as being of those qualities fairly easily.

America.  Rainy.  Mild.  Seafood.  Catch my drift?  It may certainly be indicative of life in a certain region but of course it is not representative of our homeland as a whole. 

Now let me put it in context.
Mexico.  Resorts.  Poverty.  Drug cartels.  See where I’m going with this? 

When we believe a singular story, we fall into the trap of thinking that one source, one experience, or even one accurate account epitomizes the whole.  It’s a trap we can’t always avoid falling into.  And of course Mexicans do it to U.S. Americans too.  But it is still important to remember not to extrapolate what we know into what we might assume.  As my time in Mexico continues, it is my goal not to pass judgment on Mexico or the U.S. but to merely serve as a conduit for storytelling. 

Buenas tardes,


Thursday, August 8, 2013

A First and a Last

It seems ironic that on today, my very last full day of working for Pine Lake Camp, I received my job placement in Mexico.  Maybe the Big Guy just decided to be cliche today.  I will be working at a place called AMEXTRA which is a non-profit organization in Mexico dedicated to helping students in under-priveliged communities.  It's located in a community called Tultitlan which is just north of Mexico City.  I have yet to discover where I will be living or with whom, but I'm sure plans are being made as I write this.

Alright, back to the here and now.  That bit was just for all of you who have been asking me where I'll be (and so that it sounds official).  :P

A little over two hours ago began the last campfire with campers that I will have been a part of here at Pine Lake.  Of course it's possible that I'll come back for a week here or there over the next couple of years but never again a full summer.  It seemed both nostalgic and routine at the same time.  I've sung all the songs before.   I've could probably narrate the skits by heart.  I knew several campers who have been in cabins of mine.  After all, by my rough calculation I've probably had over 150 in the five summers I've been here.

As we were wrapping up we sat there silently reflecting.  All at once, our program assistant ran up.  She was out of breath.  "The Corral, I need you, now!"  Without thinking all of the leadership staff started sprinting off to that direction.  I hesitated.  Was I supposed to go too?  I'm not really on leadership this year, but I have a lot of experience.  Her tone was serious so I went.  I like helping.  A small emergency was occurring and some campers needed supervising.  The ambulance was on its way.  I met the counselor who was going to meet it out by the highway.  She went with the first-responder and I waited for it to arrive.  After running the entire length of the road and driving down it faster than I have ever driven it before, I met the ambulance.  To make a long story short, everything worked out and the crisis was resolved.  (I know, that was anticlimactic but it's about all I can share right now).

Then I thought about what had just happened and what I had done.  This morning I was upset because I had been working so hard these last few weeks without being thanked for it.  Who's work was I really doing?  Was it my work or was it God's work?  And who was I to accept thanks on God's behalf?  Don't get me wrong, there's a difference between being humble and killing yourself without receiving some gratitude.  Part of my attitude this morning was rightly justified.  But in the end, I cannot claim to deserve more praise if I'm the one asking for it.  Instead, I can take pride in the idea that God must think I'm pretty good if he trusts me with his work.  Amen.