Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tonajuyu - Helping out the Village

I have never met a person who does not need help. Neither have you. Unfortunately, however, I have met people whom I have not helped (consciously anyway). What’s the deal with that??

When Marissa and I venture into the city together, or into the country, or into a touristy place, or simply into the next room over, there’s invariably someone who has suffered the effects of a disaster, whether it be natural, manmade, or some creative blend of the two varieties. I have a feeling that when we venture back into the United States together, the rather diminished frequency of such encounters will completely take our breath away. At which point, we’ll rapidly inhale and preach about how blessed our homeland is and what a weighty responsibility we each have because of our favored position to offer assistance to others in whatever capacity and to whatever degree we are able.

Last Friday, Halloween night, all of the kids, all of the workers here, Guillermo, Marissa, and I had one of those beautiful experiences where you’re able to do something for someone else that brings them hope and rekindles their faith in the people of this generation.

Instead of spending much time on the usual Trick-or-Treat-time traditions, the kids worked to put together temporary care packets for 40 of the families who have been suffering to get by ever since a devastating landslide in their very rural mountain community destroyed their one real passage into the town below.
Water supply spoiled, crops destroyed, lives buried – for me, the proximity of it all contributes to the surrealism. Moreso, however, the fact that I was the one who spoke on the phone with our contact in that community when the catastrophe had just barely begun (before we realized how serious it would be) and heard a voice coming directly from the situation pleading for help and support. Then to make the phone calls and emails necessary to inform Guillermo (who was in the U.S. at the time) so that he could plan for providing them aid (as he is surprisingly well versed in responding to disaster). The first few days were incredibly anxious. There was little we could do immediately, so frustration also had its hay-day. Once Guillermo returned from the U.S., however, he brought the resources we’d needed and mobilized us to action!

On November 1, the day after we’d divvied up the provisions for the families, Guillermo, Marissa, one of the kids, and I went to deliver it all and do what we could to brighten their days.

After miles of winding dirt “roads,” climbing high into the mountains into a town called Tonajuyu (spelling=questionable), we pulled the forerunner over to a welcoming committee of men, women and children in traditional garb, just smiling and excited to meet us.
We then walked with them through corn and dirt, turkeys and dogs (which more resemble giant rat skeletons with cloth coverings than actually animals), drinking in scenes of folding hillsides, verdant valleys, and miles of obviously well-toiled land.
After about a 20 minute walk from the car, we arrived at a clearing where stood a few stick-walled shacks on foundations of straw and dirt. Strangely enough, as we walked into the center of the homes, where we were to have the festivities and what-not, there was some random hip-hop song (a recognizable one at that) blaring from one of the shacks. Trippy little short-lived culture-clash moment.
And, oh what fun we all had! Guillermo had even provided toys and candy for piñatas (by which I mean smashable clay pots that were just lying around) to entertain the wee ones. Well actually, the moms were more fierce candy-hunters than the kids. Interesante…
The whole experience was amazing. I wish we would have had more time to spend with them, but we scurried off within an hour or two. Not before accepting the most delicious corn on the cob ever known to the human race along with some sort of spiny fruit with a mashed potatoe-like filling. And, of course, the traditional beverage of the rural mountain dwellers: Pepsi-cola. Yep. Keepin´ it real in the aldea.
Look! Dos Marías:
...nevermind that half the country is named María

I wish I had time to explain every aspect better. From walking over the landslide, to seeing holes from which bodies were recovered, to the unbelievably happy face of this toothless old man in a cowboy hat who escorted us around town, even a more thorough description of the dirt road would be an interesting subject from this excursion. Unfortunately, I must cut all short and save the details for face-to-face conversation.
In the meantime, I´m looking to raise a total of $100 for immediate aid to these people. If any of you are willing to help in that, please please PLEASE email me ( Thank you so much!

p.s. When the planning for this was all first starting, Marissa, some other volunteers, and I went to meet María de la aldea at a park some 15 minutes away by chicken bus. Because of some funky communication, we didn´t meet María. However, we met a whole community of people who need major assistance because of a devastating flood a couple years back. Long story short (for now, anyway), Marissa and I ended up returning a few days later with some extra clothes from the orphanage and handing them out to the kids. There wasn´t enough. My was that unfortunate. I´m hoping to find ways to help them out more as well.
By a show of hands, who´s up for saving the world sometime soon?
And Heaven knows we need saving!

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