Forty-eight hours by train to San Diego and a two-hour drive across the border to our campsite. We opened the doors to our vans and stepped onto a windy, dusty, desert plateau in Tijuana, Mexico: our home for the next five days. For months I had been looking forward to this Mission trip with my church to build houses for families in need, but at that point I was ready to dive back in the van and head home.
Instead, I was immediately bombarded with tent equipment to set up, so I gave in. In the first couple days it seemed impossible that out of this little dirt lot we were to construct a complete new home for a Mexican family. All we had were a pile of wooden planks, thousands of nails, a few hand tools, and bags and bags of concrete.
Little by little, however, our house started to take shape as we watched each wall come up. We felt so accomplished at the end of each eight hour work day. About halfway through the week after a breathtaking and overwhelmingly passionate evening mass at the local Mexican Catholic church, our youth group of 80 dirty and dusty teenagers poured into the street and waited to pile into the vans to go back to our campsite.
My new seven close friends and I couldn’t contain our excitement any longer because of the amazing opportunity we were experiencing, so we burst into dance. Obviously, we must have looked pretty ridiculous, because after a minute or so of spontaneous strange movements that we considered wonderful dancing, we heard laughter from across the street coming from three little Mexican boys who were enjoying watching us make fools of ourselves. We used what little Spanish we knew and managed a ‘Baila conmigo!’, and soon enough we were teaching Paco, Miguel, and Carlos how to do ‘The Sprinkler’ and the ‘Hand-Jive’.
They were about nine years old and didn’t speak any English. We didn’t speak any Spanish, but we jubilantly danced together on that street corner in the middle of their little town in Tijuana. It was one of the best moments of the whole trip.
By the end of it all we were exhausted and dirty, with blisters on our hands and heels, but those were just the battle wounds we were more than proud to show off. We connected with people we, otherwise, would never have met if we hadn’t each saved $825 for eight months to travel 1400 miles and build a house in five days so a family could have a place of their own. It was incredibly difficult, but worth every blister and ever-lasting scar.
There’s nothing like traveling out of your comfort zone to force you to realize how you fit into the world around you. My 10 day journey into Tijuana showed me that life isn’t about the things you have, but it’s what you make of what you got. (Cliches are rooted in truth.) As each day passed I began to notice the beautiful details in a gate and appreciate the amount of work someone must have put in to painting their house a beautiful pink and turquoise.
On the first day I seemed to only notice the dilapidated buildings and pot holes in the dirt roads. What inspired me most, however, were the people that we met in the town where we built houses: the little boys we danced with in the street, the woman who lived next door and played ‘American music’ for us and gave us fruit punch, the neighbors who helped us lift up the roof on the new house; they were all so happy and filled with life even with the little that they had. I try everyday to live as they do.
I fell in love with the pride I felt after the house was finished and when we gave the family their own house keys. It was beyond what I expected. I’m devoted to achieving that level of pride with everything I do. With that and my enthusiasm for living a fulfilled life are the life-long lessons I learned from this experience. I now carry those lessons through in the way I live and I hope to share them with the people I meet along the way.
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