Sunday, July 31, 2011

Baja Trip - Part 2

The second part of my Baja trip turned out nothing like I had planned but was still great. My main reason for going was to visit Angel and Martin - the two little boys that I worked with for the 8 months I lived there. When asked to describe it, I use words like bitter-sweet, great, boring, fun, healing, exciting, nice. You get the idea---lots of conflicting emotions.

This half of my trip started when I was dropped off at the bus station in Ensenada. The staff member from Genesis Diez wanted to wait with me for the bus to come but I assured her that I had taken the bus dozens of times and that I would be fine. I got there about 11:45, having just missed the 11:30 bus. I bought a ticket for the 1:00 bus. About 12:30, I went outside to wait for the bus. At 1, it still hadn't shown up. I asked and was told that it hadn't arrived yet. I asked again at 1:15, 1:30 and 1:45 and got the same response--not here yet. About 2:15, the 2:30 bus showed up. I asked the guy in a very American accent if he was going to Vicente Guerrero. He said that he was but tried to explain to me that this was not the bus that I had purchased a ticket for. The number on the bus and the number on my ticket didn't match up. I knew this, of course, but I pretended not to understand his Spanish at all. I finally smiled at him and just got on the bus. He was so flustered with me at that point, he let it slide. There was no way I was going to continue to wait for a bus that was apparently never going to come.

The walk from the bus station in VG to the mission is a mile down a dirt road. While I have taken the bus countless times, I have never made that entire walk. Someone always picks me up and this time was no exception. I was certainly glad to see Sean and Cristin at the corner--especially since Sean was the one that had arranged a trailer for me to stay in.

Saturday night I hung out with Kevin and Dan and got some yummy Quesatacos---something that you can't find in Chicago or Oaxaca.

Sunday I went to English church. After the service, Dirk and Mary took the visitors over to the new day home to see the amazing new building.
Sometimes, it seems like just yesterday that we were making a wish-list of things on the frig that we wanted in the new building someday. I loved seeing the new building but was saddened to learn that Dirk and Mary were leaving for a much-needed vacation that afternoon and that the program would be closed for the week.
I hung around after the rest of the group and had a really good conversation with Dirk and Mary. It was a very healing time for me and just, once again, confirmed to me that I am right where God wants me to be. My time in Mexico was for a purpose but it was also for a finite time. It's taken me a while to really get that truth. (Sometimes, I'm a little dense.)

After visiting with Dirk and Mary, I got the chance to catch up with my dear friend Sharon who happened to be visiting at the same time. I was thrilled when I learned she was going to be there.

Monday I got the chance to work in the clinic with a group of Eye Doctors that was there. I spent most of the day translating in the reading glasses room (while carrying around Kate--Cheryl's beautiful baby). It was a pretty simple job but I enjoyed it. I loved that almost everyone we talked to wanted (better) reading glasses so they could read their Bibles!
I floated to a few other areas when things got slow in the afternoon. I watched a bit of an eye surgery and did some consultations with one of the eye doctors. It was exciting to tell some of the people that their eyes were going to be fixed with surgery but very discouraging that a lot of people were beyond help. The dirt in Baja is very rough on the eyes. I was glad that there were better translators than I that had to deliver the really hard news to people.

After 9 hours in the clinic, I went out with Dan to visit some kids. On the way back from seeing "his" kids, we stopped to see Lupita. I can't believe how big she has gotten. I think I'll always get a little bit chocked up when I see her walking without her walker. I actually heard her coming but assumed it wasn't here since the person was running. How far she has come in 5 years! While I didn't get to see most of the kids I wanted to, her huge hug made the long bus ride all worth it!

A piece of my heart will always belong in Baja but I'm excited to see where I'll leave my next piece.

Next Trip: Amtrak through the night tonight to Buffalo, NY. Oh, boy!

Saturday, July 30, 2011


This is the only other picture I took on the first half of my trip. I mainly took it because the two people I was with were so grossed out by it. Apparently, they've never seen a pig in real life before. Seemed like a great use of the leftover camp food to me!

Baja Trip - Part 1

Last weekend, I flew to San Diego with two coworkers to check out some organizations in Baja California, Mexico that are hoping to open some orphanages for special needs kids in the fall. This was my first trip like this with work so I had no expectations whatsoever. It turned out to be a pretty cool trip.

The two coworkers that I went with were pretty nervous to go into Mexico. I kept assuring them we would be fine. Their nervousness was what allowed me to go on the trip---I went as the official Baja expert and Spanish-speaker. We were supposed to be driven into Mexico by someone from California but he backed out at the last minute so we rented a car. I assured them there was really only one turn and as long as you didn't miss it, you couldn't get lost. Well, we missed it and took a little tour of Tijuana. I thought maybe they should conquer their fears early.

Our main contact was at Genesis Diez ( Their main ministry is a summer camp for kids from orphanages in Tijuana and Ensenada called Rancho Genesis. We were told that there are 98 orphanages in Baja California Norte. Most of these children are placed by social services and are not true orphans. We got to be at the camp for their Friday Night Bonfire. It was really special to share that moment with the campers and with the work group that had come down.

In the fall, Genesis Diaz is hoping to open a 6-bed home for children with special needs. Kim and I stayed in the home that isn't quite finished yet. (It was interesting to shower with no shower curtain in a bathroom with a door that doesn't close.) We were able to meet two of the kids that will be a part of the home. (I really wish I had taken more pictures but everyone else was taking so many. I didn't want to look like the paparazzi.)

On Saturday, we met with two other groups of people that are starting group homes for kids with special needs. One in Rosarito called Catherine's home and the other in Ensenada on the property of the Calvary Bible Chapel Bible Institute. (Sadly, I can't remember the name of the home. Both groups have great visions that will really help the children of this area. I'm really excited to see this partnership develop and to see these dreams come to fruition.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Here is a blog I tried to post from my phone on Friday. Guess it didn't work. (More to come later....when I fully wake up.)

When working with kids with special needs in Mexico, it's always hard to get a hold of diapers. So, when my mom mentioned that she was getting diapers that don't fit my brother, I gladly offered to take some off her hands. Each of the three people on the trip are checking a box of diapers along with their luggage. (Got ta love 2 free bags on Southwest!)

When I was checking in, the lady asked what was in the bag. I confidently told her diapers. She lowered her voice greatly and told me she was really sorry. She must have thought they were mine and that I had just revealed my deepest, darkest secret! I quickly explained that I was going to Mexico to work with kids with special needs. This elicited all the comments that I hated about what a wonderful person I must be. Nope. Just love my job!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Leaving Again Tomorrow

It's hard to believe but I'm headed back to Mexico early tomorrow morning. I work for a Christian, special education school that is starting to get into international missions. They were looking to send a couple of people to Ensenada, Baja, Mexico to check out four small programs that are working with children with special needs in the area. The goal of the trip is to see what the school can do to support these ministries and how the school can help these ministries work together and support themselves.

When the "powers that be" found out that I used to live in Baja, that I speak Spanish, and that I was familiar with one of the ministries involved, they asked if I'd like to go along. I never say no to a trip--especially one that comes with free airfare--so I quickly agreed to go. I changed my ticket to return a few days after the rest of the group so I can go to Vicente Guerrero to visit friends and the children I used to work with. There was no way I was going all the way to Ensenada and not to the mission!

I'm excited to see these ministries and to see what God is doing in Maneadero. I'm also super-excited to see these two adorable little boys again.

The trip should be pretty interesting. The people I am traveling with are very nervous about going to Mexico and even more nervous about leaving me alone in such a scary place! They hate the idea of me taking the bus to VG by myself. Maybe I'll wait until I get back to tell them all my travel stories.....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Week in Oaxaca

I had a 2 1/2 week gap in my summer that I had planned on filling with a trip to Oaxaca. I looked for tickets multiple times a day, every day, for months. The prices wouldn't budge and they were just too far out of my budget to be seriously considered. Last Thursday, I found a great price on a last minute ticket so I packed up and headed to Oaxaca late Monday night/early Tuesday morning.

My time in Oaxaca is generally pretty relaxing. I get to spend time with my sister and some of my favorite people from my time in Baja. Since my last visit, several new little baby boys have been added to the group. I spent a lot of time with each of them and with their amazing mothers. It was fun to both catch up with them and to relieve them of their adorable babies for a while so they could get their other jobs done.

The weather was not ideal. It poured every single day that I was there. (I definitely did not come back from Mexico tan!) Every morning and evening, I walked from the visitor center to the main part of the mission. It was always a little tricky to decide what the best path through all the mud was.
I brought so much mud back on my shoes I thought I should probably declare it at customs.

I am continually amazed at how quickly Celina is growing up. She's come so far since she was brought to the mission as a sickly baby. She has the best Spanglish I've ever heard. She can constantly be heard saying things like "Voy a teach him" or "Solo mi mama puede reach it" She defaults to Spanish until she doesn't know the word and then switches to English. I also love when she translates for herself. She was carrying a milk carton and told me: "Natalie, pesa mucho." I just looked at her because I didn't believe the little milk box was heavy. She then said "Is heavy." She will do the same thing if she asks you a question and you say no. She'll translate it to English hoping you didn't understand.
Celina: "Tia, miramos una peli?"
Janelle: "No. It's late."
Celina: "A movie, Tia!"

I had some minor issues with traveling:
*The security guy in Mexico took my contact solution because it was 105 ml and you are only allowed 100. Ugh! That stuff is expensive.
*I had some major delays in Atlanta yesterday but that's almost routine with me. At least they gave us food vouchers.
*I got sent to secondary inspection while going through Customs in Mexico City. The lady there mocked me for bringing coffee into a country known for its coffee.
*The Immigration guy in Atlanta asked me several times what I had purchased in Mexico. Apparently, he didn't believe me when I said absolutely nothing.

Next Trip: Baja!!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Post coming tomorrow. All about Delta and their eternal delays.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I wonder if I could travel without packing....

I am surprisingly bad at packing. You would think I'd be good at it. I do it all the time. I'm not and I hate it. I've gotten better at packing my carry-on. I used to bring more things than I could possibly do in a flight. 3 or 4 books; magazines; ipod; snacks; portable dvd player; movies; work stuff---and whatever else I could fit in there. I now bring an ipod; 1 new book; 1 snack. My suitcase is another story.

Last June, Anna and I went to Costa Rica for 8 days. We knew that we would be bussing it and staying in hostels so we wanted to pack light. Plus, we had to be able to carry our backpacks. I packed a little better than Anna. (She somehow neglected to bring enough underwear.) We had both decided that we would only need one pair of jeans since we were going to a tropical country. We didn't realize that it would be cold and wet each night and we would need those jeans. We also needed them for zip-lining and horseback riding. Because it rained every night, EVERYTHING we owned was damp and would never dry. After the horseback riding day, the jeans were pretty rank and we paid dearly to do a load of laundry.

Even after the load of laundry, our luggage still stunk. I felt bad for the lady that had to search our bags at customs---and the friend that picked us up at the airport.

This trip was followed closely by a trip to Baja, Mexico for a wedding. We thought we knew how to pack for Baja. After all, we had both lived there. We know how hot it gets in July---except that this time it wasn't hot--at all. We froze. We both took cute little summer dresses to wear to the outdoor wedding. Then, we put hoodies over top of them until someone wanted to take a picture. We would peel off our layers, smile for the camera through our chattering teeth, and quickly re-layer. Packing failure strikes again.

My most recent packing failure involved my last trip to Oaxaca to visit my sister over spring break. She and I were spending a few days at a resort before going to the children's home where she lives. I had never been to a resort. (I travel a lot; I don't vacation.) I had no idea what to pack. I did know that I would need different clothes for both parts of the trip. I ended up WAY over packing. I didn't realize how much I had over packed until the airline lost my bag for 8 days. I had a multi-page list of items that were in that bag. I pretty much needed a whole new summer wardrobe. Thankfully, the bag was recovered after being declared hopelessly lost.

Maybe I should stop blogging and start packing....

Saturday, July 9, 2011


The problem with traveling as much as I do is that I leave a piece of my heart everywhere I go. A huge part of me will also be in Vicente Guerrero, Mexico. The mission had a huge part in my life for almost 5 years. The amazing people I worked with and the wonderful children I got to serve will be in my heart forever.

Today, I mourn the loss of Javier. He was one of the first "students" in the day home and I'm sure the first one of the kids to introduce himself to me when I started working in there. Javier was probably the most genuine person I've ever met. He truly understood faith and love in a way that was amazing to watch.

By our standards, Javier had a very rough life. His family was poor. He and his brother both had Muscular Dystrophy. His mom wasn't around. The only time he ever left his house was to come to the program 4 days a week. Despite all the odds being stacked against him, Javier was one of the happiest people I've ever met. He got genuinely excited each day when he saw his friends--and everyone was his friend. He loved to talk about God and loved to sing praise songs. He had an amazing faith that was and is an example to us all.

Javier joins Katy and Krzysztof in heaven and in a special place in my heart. The losses never get easier but I have learned from each of these amazing young adults. May they never be forgotten.

Javier refused to say "goodbye" to anyone. You were only allowed to say "Hasta Luego" because he knew we would always meet again.

Take Two...or Maybe Three?

I used to be really good about blogging. Then I went through a major life change and didn't feel like sharing my thoughts or ideas with people for a while. When I got over that, I moved the operation over here and blogged a few times about my crazy job. Well, now I'm not allowed to mention that crazy job ANYWHERE. EVER.

So, I'm going to try and start again. The current plan is to blog about my crazy travel experiences. I read a book recently about bad travel experiences and most of them didn't stack up to some of my stories. My crazy summer travels start Monday night/Tuesday morning. Yep, that's right. Once again, I fell for the awful flight because it was a little bit cheaper. Who gets on a plane at 1 in the morning???

Stay tuned.....