My Experience in San Luis, Mexico - My Family Travels


An Unanticipated Lesson

The dilapidated bus shuddered and shook down the highway. It had overheated five times and run out of gas an hour ago because the fuel gauge was broken. It was the first day of spring break and I was traveling with my youth group on a mission trip down to San Luis, Mexico. Because the ride was 20 hours long, we passed the time talking about random topics. Popular conversations included “If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?” and “How is plastic made?” It was the epitome of boredom. My feelings about the trip were mixed—would my break be better spent sleeping on a cracked concrete slab in a foreign country for ten days or snowboarding with my family on Mt. Shasta?

When we crossed the border checkpoint, it was as if we had stumbled into a different world. What had been paved roads became sand streets littered with broken glass and sticks. The blaring commercial advertisement billboards and golden arches of fast-food chain restaurants became the humble signs in front of family-owned tiendas and shops. The contrast was stark. Conversations on the bus quickly ceased and we silently absorbed the new environment. We unloaded from the bus and stepped onto the hot sand, grateful to exercise our cramped legs and sore backsides. Our group set up a large tent roof over a cracked concrete slab—what would be our bed for ten days. Several neighborhood children had gathered to curiously watch us from the edge of the fence near our campsite. I approached them and attempted to explain—using Spanish language skills learned in class at school—why our group was here. When I told them that we would be holding a children’s carnival with games later that week, their faces lit up like Christmas trees.

Ten days have never passed so quickly. We built a house for a family who was homeless, held several neighborhood carnivals for children, and cooked a feast for a neighborhood of Mexican families. I will never forget the young boy, Diego, who ran over two miles in bare feet on the hot, glass-littered sand to attend one of our carnivals. When I asked him why he ran in bare feet, he simply shrugged and stated, “No tengo zapatos.” But Diego’s poverty didn’t prevent his exuberance; he padded off to enjoy the carnival games that we had set up earlier that day. As Diego scurried away, I felt a revelation overcome me—happiness without acquisition was something foreign to my culture.

I crossed the border back over into the States with a new outlook on life. I had realized the commercialistic and superficial nature of American culture. I had traveled to Mexico with the idea that I would be serving the Mexican people with my experience; however, I had become a student of another culture. Sometimes the most valuable lessons are not taught through teachers and textbooks. Diego had taught me that happiness is achieved through attitude and not through materialistic pursuits. I wanted to break free from the archetypal mainstream to apply my new perspective on life. I wanted to be like Diego—more concerned with the beauty of life itself rather than its worries and setbacks. I wanted to remain joyful in all circumstances—even if I was sleeping on a cracked concrete slab.

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