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Day 5

Thursday, Feb 23, 2006

Dedications and shopping

7:55 am

It comes to our attention that we have inadvertently caused some concern with our earlier reference to "oil heaters" to be put in the bunkhouse. What we should have said was "Oil-filled Radiator Heater" which Fr. Dan picked up at in El Paso at Home Depot. They don't actually burn oil, they're electrical—the oil just holds the heat in for longer.

As we wake up this morning (we got to sleep in!) we're surprised to find it's raining! Yup, coming all the way to Mexico to escape Seattle weather has resulted in us shivering in the rain. Fortunately, it's more like Seattle rain (intermittent drizzle) than Hawaiian rain (drenching downpour) so we quickly adapt, although Laura seems to be the only one who has an umbrella handy.

Fr. Dan says that we are at the start of the "rainy season" here in Juarez, where some of the 9" per year of rain falls. This rainy season runs from about now through mid-April, and then it won't rain again until July. We are all very very very happy it waited until today. Apparently, when you get dry wall wet it becomes "muddy, miserably, unusable wall" which would have been pretty much 100% of a drag.

Elizabeth is back from her visit to the hospital! She seems to be in fine spirits and is roundly cheered by everybody as she enters the breakfast room. She reports that the hospital in El Paso serves a very good red JELL-O (red is the best flavor of Jello) which was quite delicious.

10:20 am

We are at the building site, although it feels a little weird not to get out of the van and start hauling out the tools and materials (which were locked each night in the Sunday School). We gather in the living room of Pastor Enrique's new house (and a darn fine living room it is, too!).

Roast Guinea Pig Ed is translating between the Anglais (us) and the Mexicans. As he begins, Fr. Dan's cell phone goes off. "Cingular says hi!" says Carl. Various of us builders share what it was like to build a house for somebody, and Enrique and his family share how they feel about what we have done.

Carl passes around a picture of his family. You can easily tell the progress of the picture, because Carl's family is dressed in clown wigs and clown noses. We're hoping that the Mexicans there understand that Carl is one-of-a-kind.

Jose Limas, the Mexican guy who did all the really hard stuff, shares his thoughts. Since he works for Fr. Dan, he does a lot of these houses. He says, "Each American group has left a sermon in my heart."

We're all getting a little misty-eyed at this point. Ed presents a Bible that we all signed to Pastor Enrique who shows us his current, really beat-up Bible. We say that we hope this one will also see a lot of use.

Then Fr. Jim hands over the keys to the house, which, frankly, we're a little reluctant to part with—rat-bastard chicken wire nails and all. But then we remember that that's really the whole point and he needs it way more than we do.

After some Bible readings in Spanish (translated by Fr. Jim through the simple expediency of having memorized the entire Old and New Testaments), we all say the Lord's Prayer in English and Spanish at the same time, which is pretty cool.

Now that all the mushy stuff is done, we head over to the church for a fiesta! Well, not so much singing and dancing as eating some really really good home made Mexican food. It's called "Gordito" and it's sort of the Mexican equivalent of a pocket sandwhich. A special tortilla is split and filled with a chicken mixture or a bean mixture and then quickly consumed because it's so darn yummy.

Robert tells Fr. Jim that the hot sauce is really mild, so Jim loads up on it. Robert later tries to claim that he wanted to clean up Jim's sinuses, but we're still pretty sure he's going straight to hell for this—or at least a few more years in purgatory.

Certified Mom Caroline is taking Spanish lessons from Enrique's four year-old son. Enrique has three kids: a 13-year old daughter, who's taller than her mom, the son, and a 2-year old daughter. The younger kids are cuter than buttons and race around acting like all young kids (the son thoroughly enjoys trying to gross us out by showing us what he's chewing).

12:00 Noon

We all load into the vans, stuffed to the gills with gorditos and Coca-Cola.

12:15 pm

We stop by the house that Holy Cross built in the summer of 2004 (the last time that a group from HC came down here). This is the house with the electric stucco (and everyone agrees that "Electric Stucco" would be an excellent name for a rock band). It is still standing (yay!) and in great shape.

A flock of kids pour out of it and the surrounding houses and gather to wave at us. Fr. Jim insists that we notice the outhouse, because it's the same one that was there before, and he wants to make sure that we know he wasn't making up the whole "bad bathroom" thing. We all smile and nod politely...

We stop by some other Gateway buildings (including a school that they built with several groups). We begin to notice that when you get close to a Gateway house, there are more buildings that are painted and kept up, and as you get farther away from them, they get less painted and rattier.

Maybe we really are planting seeds.

12:55 pm

We arrive at the local tourist mall, the "Mercado Juarez" which is filled with local vendors selling stuff made in Mexico (and China, in some cases).

It's a wild and wooly mixture of all kinds of goods, ranging from leather jackets to ceramic figures to Elvis on black velvet paintings to offensive T-shirts to stuffed and varnished frogs in various poses to brightly colored Mexican skirts to silver jewelry to—wait a minute, didn't we see that "hand made one-of-a-kind" object about two stores back?

We wander through the entire place without seeing much that we couldn't live without. Finally, we decide on a pair of earrings (which we can both wear) and bargain badly (from $12 down to $10, which is about twice what we should have spent, but hey—we're rich gringos!).

2:10 pm

We're sitting at the tables at the entrance, waiting for the rest of the group to catch up, as many of them are still shopping. We're drinking the real Real Thing and eating some strange Mexican candy that Robert found that is hot and sweet and spicy all at the same time.

An older Mexican lady with a few teeth left, stops by and offers to sing a song for a dollar. Fr. Dan says she has a good voice, so we produce a dollar and she starts.

About two bars in, our jaws are on the floor. She's got a GREAT voice and she's working it to high heaven as she sings a song of love and betrayal in Spanish (you can just tell that's what the song is about, and Fr. Dan confirms it afterwards).

2:50 pm

Everybody has had enough of shopping, so we pack away our treasures (mirrors and blankets and—hey, we don't want to spoil any surprises!) and head towards the local Roman Catholic Cathedral on foot.

Downtown Juarez is like downtown Pretty Much Any Big City (2 million people in Juarez, so it easily qualifies as a Big City). We hear lots of horns, there's lots of traffic and an odd assortment of stores.

There are people hustling Microsoft Certification Training on the sidewalk that we first thought were Scientology folks (they hand out little booklets and then screen you to see if your engrams can be cleansed with Visual Basic).

3:05 pm

We stop at the local Juarez History Museum. The building that the museum is in used to be President Juarez's office (after whom the whole entire town was named). They are very proud that an American President visited this very building!

We try to nod knowingly when they say it was President William Taft, but frankly, none of us can remember anything about him ("Was he the silent one?" "No, that was Coolidge"). We finally end up thinking he might be the really fat one (but that could be Harding).

The museum is divided into four sections, corresponding to the sections of Mexican history:

  1. Meso-American period
    Known to us as "when the Aztecs were running around doing stuff."

  2. Mayan period
    The most important period that started about 1500 BC. The Mayans covered pretty much all of central America. We find out that they really liked to eat puppy dogs (but a special kind of puppy dogs). They would fatten them up before eating them and there's a statue of dinner (which many people in our group think looks like a fat chihuahua).

  3. The colonies
    Then the Spanish conquistadors showed up and started shooting the natives and stealing their gold and doing all those nasty things that lead to...

  4. The Revolution
    The first revolution was in 1811 when the Mexicans overthrew the nasty Spanish and became their very own country. They were a democracy for a while until the American Civil War, when the French snuck in and took over (we were busy with the Civil War and couldn't really do anything about it). After the American Civil War, we got focused on things again, and the French decided that maybe they had something to do someplace else.

    Then some dictators took over for a while and then there was another revolution and then some democracy for a while until a dictator came into power and then in 1920 or so, there was the "last" revolution (the one with Pancho Villa, whose death mask is in the museum).

    In 1925, the PRI took power and ruled Mexico until just a few years ago when Vincente Fox got elected (that's why his election was such a big deal—it broke some 75 years of single party dominance).

3:50 pm

We arrive at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Juarez, where there's a guy dressed like an ancient Aztec guy with a feather headdress out front. For a mere 10 pesos (one US dollar), he'll let you take a picture of him with you (well, someone else will have to take the picture, but you get the idea).

Naturally, all the teenagers have to get their pictures taken with him, while the grown-ups worry that this might not make a totally appropriate souvenir of the mission trip.

The original church (which ran from 1659 to 1959) is now a chapel next to the current Cathedral. The modern cathedral is all cementy and stuff with modern style stained glass art.

4:30 pm

<ahem> Once again, we've accidentally misled our readers about where, exactly, we're staying. Only this time, as least we can blame Fr. Jim who told us we were staying at St. Matthews. We are not, in fact staying at St. Marks or St. Matthews. We are staying at San Matias, or St. Matthias (he was the apostle chosen to replace Judas). We got this straight from Fr. Dan, so we're pretty sure that we won't have to update it. Also, this is the last night we're staying here, so we can pretty much guarantee it.

8:10 pm

We're having a church service at the end of the day because, well, this is a church mission trip. In the midst of the service, lightning and thunder begin.

We thank Jesus that this didn't happen two days ago, especially when the driving rain starts. We also get a little nervous wondering if our (Enrique's now) roof is going to hold up in all this rain. But we have faith in Fr. Dan's plan and our roofing skills, so we're pretty sure he's nice and dry in his new house.

Robert & Laura
Mexico Housebuilding Trip

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