Home again, home again

I am in Portland.

I flew home on Monday night, and have received an amazing welcome from my family and friends. My parents have been feeding me delicious, non-Mexican food, and Portland is experiencing an early Fall season which is okay by me after the heat of Mazatlan.

My time in Mexico was amazing. I definitely recommend immersion if you want to learn Spanish. I have so many wonderful friends south of the border now, and I can't
wait to go back and visit them all. For now,
however, it is nice to be home.

Gitta and I had a lot of fun during our last weekend in Mexico. On Friday night we took a bus 30 minutes out of the downtown area to visit our friend Jesus' family (see picture below). Jesus met us in our neighborhood, and we boarded a bus that was filled with locals who were heading home after work. Gitta and I got some strange looks as we got on the bus- it was headed to a much poorer area of Mazatlan, and I get the feeling that there aren't many tourists who venture out in that direction. Jesus' neighborhood was a different part of Mexico than we had seen before, but I would guess that it was a more authentic representation of how most Mexican people live. His home was a little blue house that he shares with his parents, his four sisters, his brother-in-law, and his two year old nephew. His married sister lives in one half of the house with her family, but the part that I saw was made up of three rooms: the living room, a hallway/bedroom where they all sleep, and the kitchen. I am pretty sure that the bathroom was outdoors. It was humbling to see how happy they all were while living so simply.
We received an incredibly gracious welcome from his family. His mom started laughing when she saw us because she hadn't believed Jesus when he had told her that he was bringing two American girls to visit. They sat us down in the kitchen, and insisted on feeding us Jesus' favorite food- fish cake. Before we had left, our host mom told us that it was important to eat what they offered us, so we ate a good amount of the food and then looked through stacks of family pictures with his family. The whole time that we were sitting in the kitchen, little neighbor kids were running in and out of the house, and there was the occasional adult neighbor as well. It was fun to see such a communal way of living. I guess it would be hard to be lonely while living in such close quarters with your family and neighbors. :)

Mazatlan is a city with culture. There are statues, fountains, museums, and theater performances all available for public enjoyment. During the last two weeks that I was there, a collection of a photographer's work was on display in the Machado- a historic courtyard in the middle of the city. The photos were absolutely stunning, and I took a picture of my three favorites (see picture on right). The Mexican Independence Day was also during our last weekend in Mazatlan so on Saturday night, the Machado was completely filled with people celebrating the holiday. It was kind of exhausting to push through all of the crowds, but there were tons of food vendors, and traditional Mexican dance performances so it was worth the effort (see picture). Vive a Mexico!

My school in Mexico was also a great experience. A gentleman named Verne who has an insurance business in California ended up being at the school for the same weeks that I was, and he was a lot of fun. For the first three weeks of school, Verne and I were in a class by ourselves, and then a girl from Virginia, Ashley, came and joined us during the last week that we were studying. The teachers in the school were wonderful, and I got along with all of my classmates really well (see picture for a reenactment of a typical class session).

Although I am ashamed to admit that I only blogged once after Gitta arrived in Mazatlan, it was so much fun to have her with me. It really wasn't safe to venture out at night by myself, so prior to Gitta flying in, I spent a lot of evenings watching Mexican soap operas with my host mom. That was an important cultural experience, I suppose. The actual Mexican independence day is on Sunday, so a ton of family came over and we had a bit of a fiesta. Ana, a family friend, and Veronica, our host mom's daughter were also having a birthday the next week so we had cake as well which was a treat. We were so welcomed and looked out for while we were living with our host family, it was amazing. Lupita, our host mom, is in the picture on the right in the yellow, and our host brother, Ernesto, is in the blue. The other people in the picture are Lupita's two daughters, Dora and Veronica, their children, and then family friends- Marta and Ana.

I have so many thoughts bouncing around in my head about my time in Mexico, but there are perhaps two main 'topics of discussion.' First, I have been thinking a lot about American privilege, or Western privilege. Gitta and I have so many friends in Mexico who want to come visit the United States and can't. Strangely, it isn't even an issue of money, although having money helps. If you are a young adult, particularly a young guy, it is extremely difficult to enter the United States because they are afraid that you won't leave when you are supposed to. The only prayer that young adult males have of entering the U.S. is if they come from a rich family or can prove that their life is in Mexico (this is accomplished by having a lot of money in the bank, a business, a family, etc...). I had this conversation with our friend Jesus, and when I asked why he doesn't visit the U.S., all he could say is, 'I can't,' and it's true. Everywhere I went in Mexico, I was aware of an unearned sense of privilege. Just because Gitta and I were white, we could walk into any resort in the city and use their pool, beach area, etc... Furthermore, I can travel to Mexico anytime I want because Americans mean money in Mexico, but the majority of my friends cannot come visit me simply because they are Mexican. It just seems wrong.

Second, God has been teaching me the importance of giving my life completely to him. Before I left for Mexico, I did some research online about the different Christian organizations in Mazatlan, and what opportunities there might be for ministry while I was living in the city. I ended up getting in contact with the YWAM (youth with a mission) base in Mazatlan, and was invited to drop by for dinner some night to discuss ministry opportunities. Once in Mazatlan, however, I neglected to follow up on this invitation for the first 2 1/2 weeks that I was there, and only got back on the ball after Gitta arrived, and I started to feel guilty. We headed over to the base on a Saturday, and I soon regretted my procrastination. I was incredibly impressed by the ministry, philosophy and people of the YWAM base in Mazatlan. The base has a house right in the historic, downtown area, and they seem to practice a lot of ministry through relationship. Anyone is welcome to come for dinner in the evening, and they have an entire room full of food, drinks, and supplies in case anyone walks off the street needing help. They build houses for people in Mazatlan year round, as well as having a weekly skateboarding outreach, and a weekly outreach to 'the zone'- the drug and prostitution area of the city.

I loved what I saw at the YWAM base, but sadly I only had one week left to join the wonderful work that they are doing after getting my act together. I have learned, however, that God may open doors for you, but He won't push you through them. He put it on my heart to look for ministry opportunities, put me in touch with YWAM, and then waited for me to follow His leading, which of course I ignored until almost the last minute. I am excited by how God might use me in the future, especially regarding my desire to speak Spanish. One of the YWAM leaders told me that I would be welcome to come back next summer and teach English at the base which would be amazing. I am not sure where God is calling me after graduation, but I intend to actually walk through the next open door that He gives me because He knows what I will enjoy doing, and where I will best be able to serve Him.

Here are a few more of my favorite pictures. :)
On the top- Our friends Rosie, Patti and David. Patti is our American friend who works at the U.S. embassy. This is from a day when Patti took us on a little trip to a small town outside of Mazatlan for breakfast.
On the bottom- Our friend Edgar from Rico's coffee letting Gitta make my latte.

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