Day 3 – (3/16/09)

Slept in till nearly 8:30, had some water then some of the 10 Liter orange juice we bought last night.

Addendum to yesterday’s entry, we went to Sorriano last night, it’s the local store. We bought snacks, drinks, and candy. We could not find bagels, maybe not a Mexican option, but John said they have so many other breads. At the checkout we got our money changed into pesos. We also bought some more of those chocolate wafers that Hannah bought and we shared at 2am in the middle of nowhere on our ride to Chihuahua.

The Market

Back to today, we went for breakfast at 9 with the kids. Kind of a quiet morning, we did not talk much. I sat with some different kids today, me and Luis. Then we went down to the market to buy some fruit and sunglasses. The girls bought some mangos and pineapple. Then we saw a clothes store, so the girls went shopping then too and got shirts. Many of the young Mexican men were yelling and whistling at Carmen, saying “Mariana.” One guy even came up and kissed Carmen. They don’t see many black people in Mexico, and especially a young, good-looking lady like Carmen.

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Farming

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Then we headed to the farm when we got back and got to work. We started off with the bunnies, and there were extremely cute. Probably nearly 75 of them in cages. Some of them must have weighed nearly 15 pounds, but there were many babies too. We had to fill each cage with water and food, and then – the best part – cleaning all the rabbit poop off the ground. There was so much poop, we swept and sprayed it all to one end, then scooped it into a wheel barrow and then dumped it in a compost pile.

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Then we moved on to the Cornish hens, and we got in there and there were about 10 hens on the loose out of the cage. I caught nearly all of them, it was a task. Also, in the rabbit cages, I caught 2 rabbits, which was damn exciting. We did similar work for the hens, except I scrubbed the food trays with bleach, and that was a bit of a job. Then we moved onto the chickens and roosters. The chickens were insane, there were a few dead chickens, and we had to pick eggs from under the live ones. We also picked hen eggs earlier with the hens. Then we went on and filled the chicken coups with food and water. As soon as we walked into the cages (there were 3 of them) the chickens crowded around us – chickens pecking at my legs. We filled their water and food, and they went crazy. Luis took the dead ones out and piled them up outside. Then we moved on to the ducks, got their eggs, and refilled their water and food. Then headed back and got some lunch

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Lunch was good, liking all the food here, which is surprising since I’m somewhat picky. We had rice and chicken and some yogurt. All the food here is heavily sugared and sweetened. Another quiet meal, I need to work on improving my lunchtime conversations when we are hanging around the house in the evenings. The meal was good, then we went back to our house and rested for a bit, and the girls ate some mango. Kerry got it all over her face (well, at least around her mouth). Then we went outside and played with the kids.

New Games

First thing we did was play lightening (knockout). It didn’t take too long to teach them, but it was slightly complicated, especially towards the end of the game when there were just 2 people left – that can get confusing in any language. We played many games, and they liked it a lot, especially when they knocked us out. In the first game, it was Martin and Carlos in the final. They did very well for the first time.

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Then we did the races. I lined up on the track. They have a track around their soccer field, about 200 meters I would say. It is new, they built it this winter, so it’s new and nice. They also have about 20 bikes for the kids here too, so we lined up – me on foot, and about 15 of the kids on bike and we raced. I got out fast, and I beat them in a 1 lap race, but they came up really close on me, the last curve and the home stretch they almost got me. The track looked very similar in size to our track in Lantz, except the curves are tighter here – they actually flatten out on the ends. We did that 4 more times, and I only got beat once. Very exhausting, I’m certainly not in top shape. After that we played volleyball, which was great fun. I met Domingo, a great athlete. Most of the kids seem to like us, and I think they like that I go by Raul. The volleyball court worked out well, it’s a cement court that is used for nearly everything, and we just strung up volleyball net and played. Then the kids got a hold of our cameras, and they loved taking pictures – especially Lalo and Ramero. Lalo is a very sweet, he came up to me and asked me to race him, and I was able to comprehend his Spanish – one of the first times one of the kids spoke to me something somewhat complex, and I understood. So we raced again, and a bunch of kids joined. Ramero was very shy at first, but we got him to open up a bit as the day went on – he has a beautiful big smile. Lupita and Marissa were really cute, and they hung out with the girls non-stop.

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Avril & Papas Especial

Somehow, a girl named Daniella, had Avril Lavigne lyrics for Girlfriend, so Janiene and the girls talked me into singing it. It was pretty wild; I got into it and got all punky like Avril. The kids loved it and laughed at me, but it was really fun. I had to censor myself with the curse words, but one of the girls later asked what one of the curse words meant, Hannah just told them it was nothing. We hung out for a little longer then Janiene asked if we would like to go out to eat. I told her I’m sure the girls would want to, and I’m glad we did. We went with Luis and Janiene to a hamburguesas stand. We had Doble con queses y papas especial – double cheeseburgers and mashed potatoes with corn and butter and some other stuff (chili, sour cream, cheese) – It was great! Best food I’ve had in a while, and all the food we have been eating is good. Then we stopped by a hole-in-the-wall grocery store and some people bought Cokes, I bought a bag of chips. The coke here is Coke + Sugar to make it taste extra good. Then we headed back to our bunk house and finished eating. Everyone was pretty tired and wanted to skip through the reflection, which I don’t appreciate. I was hoping to spend more time in reflection. I think we need to make that a bigger part. Reflection was about carrying the light and how things are better with 2 people. It’s always better with someone to help.

Before reflection Madre Ana Ramirez came and talked to use about the Rarámuri (Tarahumar), the natives here in northern Mexico. For the Rarmuri, everyone else is Chibago. Madre Ana is a very great woman, so inviting, and loving – it was certainly a privelage to meet her and listen to her share her wisdom and knowledge with us. A very loving woman who spoke to us about the Raramuri and their culture. She read a book on them which will hopefully help them understand the kids better – many of the kids are Raramuri. She then told us a story about a Canadian sister who came down to Chihuahua to stay with her for 3 weeks. Ana Ramirez was going to a funeral, and the Canadian Sister came with her. And just having the Canadian sister there was enough to bring the bereaved family to tears. Very touching story, it nearly brought me to tears. Quick shower then off to bed.

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March 15th, 2009 Part 2

Woke up at 8am (10am CDT) after a great sleep in a nice bed! Took a nice warm shower in a shower that was about 8 X 5 ft, quite large. Got up and had some cereal – Zucritas – it is essentially Frosted Flakes, but with MORE SUGAR!! Everyone liked it, and it does not get soggy like American Frosted Flakes do, so I liked it better. I was the first of our group to wake up, John & Mary were already up and going. We sat around the table talking and having breakfast. The girls started to filter in, around 10:15. Everyone in was in good spirits after our odyssey. That’s the one thing about our group – very high energy level. Also, everyone gets along really well – well as much as can be expected. At 11am, we went to the chapel on the grounds and Janiene & Luis showed us a PowerPoint on La Granja Hogar that some of the sisters made. Very informative, hopefully I can get a copy of it for my notes.

Church

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After that we went to iglesias (church), just about 4 blocks down the street. It was a very, very beautiful church – big stone walls, high ceilings, beautiful artwork and statues. I took pictures, so I will not even try to describe it further, although my guess is the pictures may not even do it justice. The mass was very cool, last about 1:20. Janiene gave us Spanish-English church books, so we could follow along. It was exactly how I had seen it in movies. There were about 6 altar boys, all wearing the red shirt with the white robes, very ornate. Incense was used during the whole mass, almost before anything could be done incense was shook over and blessed. We were able to follow the mass until the homily, and then we were on our own. And it was a long homily – maybe 20 minutes. Then, I almost took out a kneeler, I was sitting with Kerry & Hannah and there was a lady to my left. Kerry and the lady had both gotten down on the kneeler, and then I got down and that thing bent and felt like it may collapse. Oh, side note: the kneeler was all wood, so pretty hard on the knees. Then communion was not organized – you just go up there when you want, so we just jumped in line. They also had 3 lines, which we didn’t realize, so people were cutting through the middle of the 2 standard lines and I had no idea what was happening. Also, only take communion by sticking your tongue out, and I was most certainly the tallest person in church, so when padre put the wafer out, it was at my chest – then he looked up and saw me, and lifted it up. The music at the church was beautiful too. Some of the same songs that we are used to back home were sung; except they had a nice Spanish guitar and their singers had beautiful voices. Mass finished up, then we got some pictures of our group and the church. It was very nice outside, sunny and warm.

First Meal with the Kids

We walked back to La Granja Hogar, and we had our first meal with the kids. We had spaghetti & salad and also a potato patty thing, and it was very good. We walked to the cafeteria carrying our own bowls and spoons. I felt pretty basic just easting my food out of a bowl, and only having a spoon. We also spread ourselves out among the kids, so we could mingle. The first meal went decent; we tried to talk a bit. The kids – and us – still shy.

The River

After lunch, we had a walking tour of the facility – although we did not make it far because Sister Maryimar asked us to go play with the kids. The kids along with Paco – the leader of the 1st-3rd graders, is a very nice man, I have much more to say about him in this journal before the end. All the kids love him, he is very playful and fun, he lets the kids do what they can, but keeps them safe. He was in seminary for 7 years, but then decided to get married. We walked down to the river, just across the street from us – out the back gate of La Granja Hogar, past the farm (see Appendix A: La Granja Hogar Map). We went down to the river, and some of the children already crossed on a fallen tree. So the rest of us decided to cross too – which made for an adventure. Also, great experience to start connecting with the kids.

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A big part is that there are only about 30 kids at La Granja Hogar right now, another 100 or so will be coming tomorrow. Monday is a holiday here – Juarez day or something like that – some sort of former president. So, it was a good sized group, really allowed us to get to know the kids better that first day with only 30 instead of 130. Crossing the river was fun, I got to carry Marissa across – she is one of the cutest little kids I have ever seen, she is 5 and adorable.

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She was a little shy and first, but she embraced me and trusted me to walk over a river on a log. I was pretty scared taking her across the river; I was afraid I would drop her or put both of us in the river. But I had good balance and got us both across just fine. Carmen was wearing a type of heeled shoes and those shoes got torn apart from a day of playing in the gravel. She had to crawl across the log. Once we all had crossed, we walked a ways and stopped at the foot of some large mountains. I forgot to mention how beautiful the mountains are here, large, and everywhere. We got into a circle and starting hitting a soccer ball like volleyball. There were about 15 of us in the circle, and we counted as we hit the ball – uno, dos, tres… We also started learning some names. I was running everywhere, trying to hit the balls that fell in the middle. The ball also went into the river once, and I was going to try and reach and grab it, but it was too far out, so I jumped in quick, grabbed it and jumped out. I was only wet up to my shins, so not too bad – but the kids liked it. We played some more, then we quit and the kids did other things. But then Martin, one of the kids – asked to teach me futbol. So we hit the ball around, and he would hit the ball off his knees and foot and head – and would count as he hit. Then he would have me do the same. I, of course, was not very good, but I did get better. Then he threw the ball at me, and I did headers back.

Then we started to head back, we had to relive the river crossing experience. Then we walked back to La Granja Hoger, and went for dinner. Can’t recall what we did for supper, but we mingled with the kids again, and I sat with Margie, and we talked a lot with the kids, just about our names, etc.

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Evening

Then we went back to our bunk house and hung out and talked with Janiene, Luis, John, and Mary. It was a nice evening. We are so blessed to have John and Mary here – I feel bad about their bikes breaking down, but I think it was a God’s plan for us to meet these people. They are true examples of service & love, and they have great stories to share and great perspectives. They have done so much in their lives, and have a different perspective on life then the rest of us, that really added to our group and I think we all grew from each other.

Then we had our reflection time as a group, our first reflection. Mary joined us. The reflection was decent, but it did not go as well as I hoped. No patience in our group, they cannot handles reflective silence, and went through the questions really quickly. I was hoping to get God more involved, but maybe in future reflections – it is only the second day with each other, and our first reflection, so I am sure they will get better. I ended up with a nice closing prayer – then I took a quick shower and went to bed.

-Nate


Chihuahua - Day 1 (3/14/09)

Just woke up from an 8 hour sleep after nearly 24 hours on the road. We got here to La Granja Hogar de Los Niños last night about 2:00 AM local time 4:00 AM central daylight time. Janiene and Luis greeted us last night at the bus station, very kind of them to sit in at the bus station and wait for us at such an hour of night. They drove us about five blocks back to the farm and brought us back to our rooms. There was already an older couple staying in the bunk houses – John and Mary. They volunteered at the farm for a year before Janiene & Luis were there. They are very nice folks that were traveling by bike through Mexico and their bikes broke down. So they caught rides and hitch-hiked and got to La Granja Hogar.

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We got in and had some cookies and cereal. They bought us some ‘Frosted Flakes’, and we had powdered milk warm, but it was very good, especially after our long journey. Then we split up – girls and boys, and slept in nice warm beds.

Day 1- (3/14/09)

Getting Started

Our Journey started at 5am in little Charleston. Roy met us at the Newman Center, and Carmen was going to meet us in Chicago at O’Hare. Margie was quite late, almost 6am until we left, and we needed to leave at 5:30! So Roy did work behind the wheel of the Newman Mini Bus.

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We got to O’Hare just in time, about 8:45am. I got us all checked in and got our tickets – except I could not get Margie’s ticket. First, Doris put Margie separate on the tickets. All the girl’s were under my name, so I printed all our tickets off at once, but Margie was on her own. We tried to swipe her passport, but the darn thing was expired. But on page 23 of her passport was a written year extension, so we had to stand in line to check her in. We told the girls to go on through security and we would meet them at the gate. At this point I was slightly concerned about making it through security on time, but everything worked out. I bore my cross that had been blessed by Fr. John on Thursday – blessed to give us strength & security. I also bore the emblem of St. Christopher on a chain around my neck to guide our travels – both gave me strength, patience, and trust. Normally, I would get really agitated and irritated by this situation, but I felt calm. Margie and I got through security just fine, and met up with the girls in the terminal. We found our gate, and our plane was already delayed – mechanical issues with one of the engines. So we got some breakfast at McDonalds. Our plane did not leave until 12:45, originally scheduled for 10:30. But this downtime provided good time for our group to get to know each other. Everyone seems to get along, a very good group of girls. Some people thought I may go insane with girls – but so far, after 1 day, no problems – it’s actually been really fun.

Flying

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The flight to Dallas was very smooth, but we were all scattered throughout the plane. Hannah & Victoria were only a few seats behind me. I had a window seat, and the view was spectacular. I was trying to figure out where we were by looking at the roads and cities below us, but I think we were farther west than I realized. I think we flew over Peoria. Since our plane departed late, our connecting flight in Dallas to El Paso had almost zero layover time, as we arrived at Dallas at 3:30, and our flight left at 4:20. We grabbed a quick sandwich, I got a big beef & cheddar from Au Bu Pain, and it was delicious. Hannah went to McDonalds, ordered 3 cheeseburgers and got 4. She ate most of them after we boarded the plane, and I’m not sure how she made it through without puking. We got on the plane, and we were in the last row, and as we looked out our windows for a good view, all we could see was the side of the jet engines. Victoria, Hannah, me, Jennifer and Carmen were in the back, and it sucked. It was loud as crap, and we had a lot of turbulence this ride. So after my big sandwich that I wolfed down, I almost puked it back up when we were landing. Jennifer looked at me and laughing she asked me if I was okay. I just opened my air up and lay back – and she laughed even harder since when we got on the plane, I was joking about the puke bags. When we hit the ground, the pilot put the jets in some sort of super after-burn, cause they got some damn loud and they changed the pressure. All of our ears popped. After all this, I don’t know how Hannah had survived just fine – she ate 4 cheeseburgers from McDonalds, and her ear’s were really bothering her, like hurting bad – and we landed and she was better off than me!

El Paso

We were the last ones off the plane, so we went to grab our baggage, and there was Sylvia to meet us. I did not even have to call her, she recognized us. Sylvia is a friend of Doris, and they set this up. We picked up our luggage, including what we now called the “Body Bag”, the 47 pound piece of luggage with all the supplies we bought for the kids plus 2 backpacks full of stuff from Janiene’s parents. Sylvia was very welcoming and excited to see us. We all piled into her red mini-van. She had a 12 pack of iced tea for us. Four of the girls squeezed in back – Hannah, Kerry, Carmen, and Jen – and Victoria and I were in the middle, Margie up front with Sylvia. We drove to the bus station to buy our tickets to Chihuahua that we were going to take that night at 9:30pm. This was my first experience with Spanish, the station was packed, body to body. It was just me and Sylvia, and I was able to use a bit of my Spanish – I was pretty happy with my basic communication skills. I got our tickets and we got out of there. Then we headed to Chicos Tacos, a Tex-Mex restaurant. Even in El Paso, everyone speaks Spanish. The food was excellent, I bought a hot dog, which came as 2 hot dogs sliced the long way, in a hamburger bun with chili in it. There was a small Mexican child there that was extremely cute; we played with her through the glass windows between our booths. When we arrived at Chicos Tacos earlier, a homeless man came right up to our van, it was kind of creepy, but he meant nothing.

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We left Chico’s and went to the bus station. When we got back to the bus station, it was completely different – It was nearly empty, much calmer. We got there nearly 2 hours before the bus loaded up. In the bus station, we met a man named Saul, very nice man who spoke decent English. He helped translate when we needed it during the bus ride. We got on the bus, and began our 6 hour bus ride. We only rode about 5 minutes and we had to unload and cross the border. They randomly checked people crossing based on chance. As we crossed we pressed a button, if it went green, we could go, but if it went red, we got searched. Everyone in our crew got green, so we re-loaded the bus and pretty much fell asleep darn quick. I put my mp3 player on and had some nice music playing softly. Jennifer and Carmen had a laugh fest; they started giggling and went for about 3 hours it seemed. I heard them in and out as I slept. I woke up on the bus about midnight and they were still giggling, and Hannah – sitting across from me – had her head at about a 90 degree angle (the joys of sleeping on a bus).

No one in this group is afraid to be themselves, and that’s refreshing to see. I think that’s why Carmen and Jennifer became friends so quick – there was no guise to their greeting and they took each other for what they were. It’s not just those 2 either, none of us were afraid to let our true colors fly right from the start.

We made a stop for about 20 minutes at a small gas station with a restaurant inside. I went outside for some air – and it was cool and crisp. I got back on the bus and Hannah had to use the restroom, so I went back off the bus with her, and walked around in the gas station. I talked to Saul for a bit, he said he was from California and he travels around. He actually had been to Springfield, IL to work with horses. He is also a follower of Jesus Christ he said, and he quoted some bible verses. A very nice man and I believe one of many people that God put on our journey. Then Hannah and I got back on the bus, only after Hannah bought some chocolate wafers, and we dominated those – nearly the whole 8 pack before we got back on the bus. Got back on the bus and slept some more. It was amazing, when I looked out the bus windows, there is absolutely nothing but desert everywhere. No lights, no civilization, only mountains and sky. I suppose it’s almost the same as Illinois, as we only have cornfields lining our highways – except we have the occasional farmhouse. We finally got to Chihuahua about 2am (4am CDT) and Janiene and Luis were there to pick us up. Very kind of them to wake up in the middle of la noche to welcome us, it was excellente! We piled into their VW van, which was pretty awesome – it had to fold out seats on the ends of each bench seat in the back. It was cool that night, but I suppose that’s the way it is in the desert. It was only a 5 minute drive back to La Granja Hogar de los ninos – the house farm of the children.

-Nate