The colorful houses were like a messy box of paints, the sky like watercolors on a soggy canvas, the streets like crumpled paper, with anti-geometric cobblestones. San Miguel was an art studio.
Under the threatening clouds, we journeyed toward our home for the week, Antonette’s Hotel/Spa. The owner, Antonette, is a gracious woman and an incredible hostess with a generous heart. She gives discounted accommodations to missions groups like ours, and runs a program to feed the homeless elderly of San Miguel.
Like Antonette, San Miguel is charming and authentic. A typical house on San Miguel’s narrow streets is burnt red or mustard yellow with flowery vines dripping out of windows and off the roof. The doors, shutters, and gutters are dark wood, giving the small city townhouse a southwestern-ranch feel. The ornate doors beg you to enter and you come very close to acquiescing and exploring the treasure that is sure to be found inside.
Quarter Finalist 2010 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
During our first two days in San Miguel, we explored the city’s beautiful architecture and history. We rested in the jardin, or garden, which is more like the town square. It contains a gazebo, which is filled with weekend music, trees sculpted into cylinders, benches, and salesmen soliciting those with a peso in their pockets. At night, the jardin comes alive with lights, dancing, street performers, and laughter.
Outside the enchanting streets of San Miguel, our work began. We drove an hour everyday to a Chichimeca Indian reservation, where the houses are not made of burnt stucco, but bleak cinderblock, and their decoration is limited to graffiti and painted advertisements for Budweiser beer. There is no dancing, and no music. There is tired, uneasy silence, personified by the emaciated stray dogs who plod through the dust.
When the conquistadors came to Mexico, the Chichimecas were among those who resisted their cruel takeover. That stubbornness and strength has carried to the present-day Chichimecas, who are resistant to charity and suspicious of strangers. Many of the Chichimecan men travel to the United States to find work and send money back to their families, but some of them do not return, abandoning their families to the ravages of poverty.
Our team partnered with an organization in Mexico, Forgotten Child International. As a team, we ran a “Christian Carnival” for the children in the reservation, and put a roof on the previously uncovered church. I worked within the Carnival helping the children make crafts. On the first day of the carnival, the children were shy and quiet, but their smiles, laughter, and chatter grew as the week went on. I was amazed at how easily they could forget their worries by launching water balloons, painting rocks and singing songs.
If you ever have the privilege to go to San Miguel, whether to help out, relax, create, or explore, make contacts with a local, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. The people we encountered in San Miguel were hospitable benefactors, whether they were welcoming us to worship at one of the few English-speaking churches in San Miguel, (Antioch Bible Community), recommending a restaurant like “Burrito Elito” (which was even delicious for me, a girl who detests anything spicier than Doritos!), or sharing churros at the jardin.
I was captured by the people of Mexico, in San Miguel and on the Chichimeca reservation, and I will never forget my trip.
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