Hi, everyone....no, I have not dropped off the edge of the world, thank goodness! I just wanted to check in and let you all know that we are *back* from Project Mexico! I meant to post that we were going, but just as I was about to, *someone* said that he needed to use the computer for his book. More on that later!
Project Mexico is an organization that's been building houses for poor families in the Tijuana area since 1988. We got to know Greg and Margaret Yova, the founders, when we were first becoming Orthodox. When they'd been doing the house building for awhile, they realized another need was urgent--housing for orphaned boys in particular, because girls often had other avenues, but the boys often got put out on the streets when they entered their teen years. They now have some 23 or so boys who live there at the orphanage full-time and have become a family.
The orphanage is where we stayed last week, in group housing that is just like the houses that are built for poor families. We had no electricity and though we did have flush toilets, we couldn't flush toilet paper down. One day we had 40 mile per hour winds, which made our work quite difficult. "We" is a group of high schoolers and chaperones from our church who went specifically to do building projects during Spring Break in Mexico.
The work we did: most of the days we stayed on the orphanage and did two projects there. One was building a staircase on a hill that's between the buildings and their recreation area. We were lucky to have someone on our team who does construction and he masterminded the whole thing. I hear it came out beautiful (the kids and I had to leave early because we were driving and wanted to get home for Palm Sunday). The other project was to weed out and plant a hillside that keeps up their soccer field. They are fighting erosion and want iceplant to cover the hillsides. Some had been planted, and some of that had died, and needed a general weeding and second round of planting, which I enjoyed doing.
On Thursday we went out into a colonia, a small town which had lots of varying degrees of poverty evident. Last summer a house had been built by Project Mexico for Javier, Thelma, Monica and Vanessa, and they've moved in, but the house needed stucco outside to weatherproof it. So, that's what we spent the day doing. I don't think I'd ever done stuccoing and I enjoyed it. Also, Hibi and I had found some bilingual storybooks before we left and brought them along. She and I went in and read one of them to the children, and left the books with them as a gift. Late in the day, when only a few workers were needed (including the most skilled among us) I noticed that below us on the hillside there were children who'd evidently just gotten home from school and were coming outside, looking at us, and giggling. I called "Hola!" to them and they replied. We started calling to each other, and eventually they worked up the courage to come up the hill and meet us all. We got out the crafts that the Project Mexico people bring along for just this opportunity and colored with them and played with frisbees and bubbles. I've taken three terms of Spanish classes since last summer, in addition to my two years in high school, and I felt great to be able to converse with the children at least a little.
Thursday was a beautiful warm day, the first one that week, and it was such a perfect day! I felt good that it had turned out so perfect and sad that Hibi and Zac and I were leaving that evening. We wanted to get across the border, since we didn't know how long it might take, so we could keep on schedule for our driving back to Portland. But we left on a good note and are so grateful for the week.
We did a lot of thinking about the subject of "how much does one person need?" I discovered in this week that I really don't need a whole lot. If I have enough to eat, enough sleep, and am warm enough, it is enough. Even the one day when they ran out of coffee we were all fine with the strong tea they offered instead. Hey, a consistently hot shower would have also been welcome, but I did live without it. I hope I can remember the fact that I don't need all this stuff I have around me.
We got back last night, even in spite of having *two* flat tires yesterday, just in time for Holy Week. If you are not Orthodox, and have never been to Holy Week services, I'd encourage you to try it out this week. Holy Week services are way over-the-top in the Orthodox church, but are so beautiful and meaningful. I'd especially recommend the Thursday evening service, but beware that it lasts 3 to 3 1/2 hours. The Friday night service is also sadly sweet, as we sing the lamentations for our saviour who has died, but we know he will rise from the dead even as we sing the mournful hymns. Saturday morning is joyful, as it is actually an Easter service--it used to be the first of the Pascha services (Pascha is the word we use instead of Easter in the Orthodox church) and bay leaves are thrown all over the church! Of course, the crowning moment of the whole church year is Pascha itself, celebrated at a midnight service that usually runs from about 11 pm to anywhere between 1:30 and 4 am, depending on how much of the service your church does. :-) Possibly a more accessible service for those not accustomed to staying up all night is the Agape Vespers on Sunday, in which the gospel is read in as many different languages as we can find people to read it in. All of these are very special services which hold much meaning to me and my family.
A blessed Holy Week to all Christians! Also, a good Passover to my Jewish friends. :-)
Oh, yes, I almost forgot! Paul and his book. Paul has been doing translation work for some three years now. He's translating four of St. Basil's homilies, and has a publisher for the work (St. Vladimir's Press). His deadline was October of 2005.....and obviously he missed it, but now, he is finally done! The homilies focus on poverty and wealth and social justice. He's finished his part and is waiting now for a preface and then he'll send it to the publishers. Woohoo!
And I leave you, at the end of this already long post, with a story. This morning as I watched Zac serve as an altar boy, holding a palm, I was reminded of when he was four years old and we went to church on Palm Sunday. I always brought things to occupy him when he was that age. I usually brought crayons, and usually shied away from markers, because of the quick damage they can cause. But Paul had packed the bag that morning, and he'd put in markers. As I was standing in church, Zac was behind me on the pew. Suddenly I heard a gasp from the people behind me. I looked around at Zac, and he was covering every inch of his hand and continuing up his arm with green marker! "Zachary, what are you doing?" I asked him. He replied in the most joyful voice, "I'm a palm!"