A Smile Big Enough to Break a Hamster Ball | My Family Travels
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For the first sixteen years of my life, I could have been described as a hamster. I’m not referring to the fact that I have slightly big cheeks or that I often display the twitchiness of a rodent, I’m referring to the way I used to view the world. I live in a little county called Goochland where I’m related to half the population, everyone knows my grandpa’s name, and poverty is detachedly defined as little African children on infomercials, begging for twelve cents a day.  I literally was living in a hamster ball, a perfect, blissful confinement unaffected by the woes of the dangerous world outside. However, all that changed when I took my first leap outside my bubble. As the tiny plane containing my youth group unceremoniously slammed down on a dirt runway in Oaxaca, Mexico, my hamster ball was irrevocably shattered.

Our mission was simple: love the people. So, for the next ten days, we lived in remote Mixteco villages with people who literally had nothing. As in, they lived in tiny mud houses like the ones replicated in Jamestown, they only had one pair of clothes, and they slept on the ground. We worked and ate their…delightful food alongside them, spending hours out in the infinite fields weeding with the women while trying to avoid the burning acid plants, killer bees, and scorpions. I played endless bouts of “bote” with the children, which, as far as I could translate, was a variation of tag involving an empty coke can, before they abandoned the game to braid flowers into my hair. After begging my youth pastor to allow me to go despite being a girl, I traveled with the men to a village called Juxtalahuaxa to undertake the grueling, exhausting task of digging wells with a hand crank to provide families with fresh water. The villagers were so grateful that they slaughtered a goat to provide us with a meal of goat intestine stew. We were all extremely sick with “the whammy” at this point, and no one was really feeling inclined to eat the stringy, grass containing meat mixed with cactus. However, after learning that a goat was worth a year’s wages, we humbly received their selfless gift and asked for seconds.
One of the most touching experiences I had were the days I spent teaching a health clinic in Spanish in a little “village” which was actually an abandoned airstrip called Campo. The community was mostly made up of orphans who lived under a few pieces of tin propped together. Poverty had become a reality to me so quickly it literally had hit me in the face; it was no longer simply something in a book; it was real, tangible, looking up at me with huge smiles and begging for a hug. We taught them about washing their hands and brushing their teeth while handing out as many hygienic and clothing packets as we could carry. To see an eighty-year old man’s face light up to get to hold a crayon in his hand and color for the first time was adorable yet tragic at the same time. Words can’t describe what it was like to meet those beautiful, dirty, raggedy kids clad in donated Pokémon t-shirts and clamoring to simply hold my hand and experience what it felt like to be loved. Their smiles were what saved me from my life of complacency, and their selflessness was what inflicted me with a passion so fierce that I will never be able to return to my comfortable life as a hamster ever again.

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