Thirty minutes. That’s about how long it takes to get from the border of the U.S. to Tijuana. That’s how long it takes to suddenly find yourself in the midst of a Feed the Children commercial. You know, those commercials that feature mangy children, dirt streaked across their faces, swollen bellies. The poverty of Tijuana was evident immediately. As we rounded the corner to the street of the oblates’ house where we would be staying, I glimpsed a mother watching her pequeño muchacho, clothed in a just a t-shirt and diapers, rummaging through the trash.
But when I looked again, and really looked instead of merely glancing, I found the beauty of Tijuana to be just as evident as its poverty. I wandered around the grounds inside the gates of the oblates’ house and found treasure after treasure. And as I wandered, I overheard one of our hosts, Fr. Salvador Chava, inform us that our neighborhood is considered middle-class, “When I first moved here, this neighborhood didn’t have electricity,” he explained. “Now they have electricity.”
Tijuana is just hills and valleys and every inch of ground is covered with houses. Some are sturdy, others are just shacks thrown together for some sort of shelter. Some are more impressive than most houses of affluence in the U.S. And those can be found amidst a cluster of shacks. I gaze up at the hills, where it seems houses and shacks are practically built one upon the other, and I can’t help thinking one big downpour could easily wash away everything these people own. A sentiment most of those in my group share. Their wealth, or lack there of, seems to be at the utmost mercy of the weather.
There is so much to tell. So much that I’ve seen and learned in just two and a half days. My days are full. What time I can spare, I share with the muchachos; the kids who already greet me with hugs so full of love and excitement that they match those of my sister, Serena.
We must carefully watch the amount of water we use. We are advised not to flush any toilet paper. The cost of draining septic tanks, something I have never even thought about until now, is a large expense for the residents of Tijuana. The city is growing rapidly, at times entire neighborhoods popping up literally overnight. The city’s water system cannot support this rampant growth, so all drinkable water is shipped in from outside sources. No one drinks the tap water here.
The first night I spotted some ninos playing futbol (aka soccer). Of course, I had to go join them. And for my simple interest in playing futbol with the muchachos, I am rewarded with big, warm hugs every time I step outside or return to the house. Those pictured with me are Adrian, Lupita and Toni. Adrian is so sweet and lovable. Lupita has a contagious laugh. Pequena Toni simply stares at us all with a huge grin, darting into our games every so often and darting back out just as quickly.
But that is just one stitch in the tapestry of life here. Forgive me for using such a cliche, but I’m tired and don’t have the energy to be creative with my writing right now.
I can’t wait to share more about our work at the oblates’ Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, hearing testimony from Mother Antonia – the mother of the prisoners, serving food at the Missionaires of Charity soup kitchen, munching on street-side tacos… and more.
Roosters crow at three in the morning… but their calls merely work seamlessly into my dreams.