It was April 2, 2009 and my mission’s team of 12 started out from Detroit Metro Airport. Two flights and seven long hours later, I was in Mazatlan, Mexico, packed into an old, rundown van and heading for the orphanage, Rancho de los NiÃ±os. It didn’t take long for me to appreciate this new world, and even shorter still, was the length of time it took for me to realize how oddly beautiful Mexico was. We passed many houses, all were squat, windowless, and concrete—most were adorned with graffiti and shaded only by the occasional palm tree. In the yards were chickens, cows, and wild, half-starved dogs. There were piles of rubble, streets lined with windswept trash, and everything was seemingly neglected. Despite these discordant images, Mazatlan was simply captivating.
Even after herding goats and the first of many cockroaches out of our accommodations (a goat pen) at Rancho de los NiÃ±os, the thrill known only to travelers was thus made apparent to me. Even after discovering our shower, a mere pipe sticking out from the wall, and the iguana infestation, I knew that the mission’s trip was to be the greatest experience of my life. Then, when I could have burst from happiness, when my trip was surely at its peak, my life was given purpose—purpose that took the shape of 23 little children. Despite the language barrier, we were soon swept up in games and laughter. Play, I quickly discovered, is universal. Before long, amongst the Crayola and Nerf toys the team had brought for the children, I met my life-changer. Inni was an energetic, loving and beautiful five-year-old girl—unwanted and consequently abandoned to the orphanage.
Our world is full of suffering and little Inni, an orphan in a third world country, has known her fair share. Living in America, it was easy to forget the lives outside my own and to take for granted all that I had. Never again.
Inni once led me to her area, a little bunk beside many others. It was clad in hand-me-down blankets and covered with clothes she had outgrown long before. With a secretive smile and a single finger pressed to her lips, she pulled up her mattress and showed me her most prized possession. It was a coloring book, faded and ripped, left by the mission’s team the previous year. This beautiful girl, content with a single coloring book yet deserving of so much more, broke my heart. I had gone to Mexico hoping to comfort orphans, but when I cried for Inni that day, while looking at her coloring book, she was the one to hug me.
For the next two weeks, in between other projects the team undertook, Inni and I grew very close. I never could have imagined, however, the magnitude of strength it took to say goodbye to her. Sadly on April 11, a day too soon in coming, it was time to leave. Before Mexico, I always thought traveling meant seeing the world: going places few have, the sites, the beautiful locations. Now, when I think back to Mexico, I seldom think of beautiful landscaping. Instead, my thoughts stray to Inni and the other children. Perhaps traveling isn’t so much where you go, but who you meet and the friends you make. Yes, I got to see exotic flowers and stunning beaches; however, scenery, and the memory of it, is fleeting and hardly life-altering. That aged coloring book, smashed under a mattress, was more beautiful than any view, and even more beautiful still, were the little hands that held it.
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