Green Toilets, Pink Soap

Saturday night we were serving with a team at Parque Chenku in Merida with Pastor Miguel’s church. Then, the inevitable happened. Someone under 4′ tall with the same last name as mine had to go to the bathroom.
With nearly 150 people in attendance,  pulling Miguel’s wife Alecia aside was not the greatest idea but was my only option.  You won’t find many public parks in the Yucatan with a bathroom. Kary has yet to rig up the back of the truck for such emergencies.

Alecia smiled and put down a five gallon jug of Nestea and said, come with me.

As we walked the short two blocks to her home, we talked about the evening, the big turnout for the program called “Choices” which the group of college students from Saskatchewan had just performed.  She was happy.  Thankful.

I’ve been to Miguel and Alecia’s house before. I’ve used their bathroom. I was not surprised to see the battered plywood door where an animal had likely gnawed away the base, years before. The duct tape holding the door handle was working just fine. The shower tiles were ancient, but they were clean.  There must have been at least eight toothbrushes in a cup next to the sink, a telltale sign of a grandmother who babysits often (two of which, Suri and Elias are in this photo). This is their master bath, their guest bath, the grandkids’ bath, their only bath. Not that there was a bath, just an old shower, but it appeared to be in working order.

Jacqueline stood up after doing her business and surprised me.

“Mommy, look! The toilet is green! I’ve never seen a green toilet. It is so beau-ti-ful.”

I looked at the toilet, water swirling away over cracked enamel.

She then turned to the sink.

“Mommy! The sink is green too, just like the potty! Wow, it is so pretty!”

Yes Jacqueline, you’re right, they do match.

I’m thinking to myself, I wonder what vintage this set is.

Next, the soap.

“Mommy! The soap is pink! It is so pretty with the green sink!”

***

The three of us walked back to the park, Alecia and I laughing over Jacqueline’s keen bathroom inspection story.  Alecia commented that they have lived in this (tiny) home for 27 years.  I thought to myself, there are not many people I know who have lived in the same place for that long. Then again, there are not a lot of people I’ve met like Alecia.

I thought to myself how many times I have been prompted by the sight of old things (read: material things) to a point of, ‘I must change this.’

Our first home had baby blue carpet, disco-fleck ceilings, oak dining room railings, green lino kitchen floors, and Parcheesi board carpet in the basement.  We changed it all, except, ironically, the avocado-green toilet and sink. I think we decided we could live with it.

Green toilets.

Pink bars of soap.

Walking with Alecia, a woman who gives of herself day after day.

And seeing life through the eyes of a five year old.

‘Twas a very good night.

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Contrasts

After a brief stint in beautiful Costa Rica, we are back in Merida preparing to receive the fourth team of the year. This team is a group of college kids and their leader and his family, from Saskatchewan. Normally teams stay at our base in Progreso for 10 days. This team will be staying close to a month, so going in rested and prepared is key.

I will remember our time as a family in Costa Rica as an experience of a lifetime, seeing a country for the first time as quasi Spanish speakers. It makes a big difference when you can read the road signs and the menus, and talk to people on the street and in the hotel in their native language. I was impressed by the level of education of the young people we met. Guides, bartenders, hotel managers, natural park rangers … these are young people in their twenties who have gone on to a government subsidized technical school or university program, and have career plans in hand.  What a difference an education can make.

Back home, having spent the last week in some of the pueblos where our partners are focused, I was sad to jump back into the reality of poverty all over again. The 20-25 year olds in Hunucma seem miles away from their counterparts in Costa Rica. Most do not have jobs, many have not finished high school. A college education is almost a laughable idea for a kid raised in a pueblo. They are dirt poor, struggling, like their parents, for part time construction or other labourer work. We stayed late on a Saturday night hosting a hotdog dinner and outside movie night at Pastor Ricardo’s church with our team from Grand Prairie. A couple of drunk men wandered around, giving hugs and high fives and wanting to talk to anyone who would listen. And of course we all did. “Gloria a Dios para ustedes!” they would say … thankful we had come. Some tried to recruit the young men on our team to come sit on a tire and have a drink with them.  As we drove away down a dark and dusty road of this village known for alcoholism, addictions and high levels of school dropout, Kary watched two teenage boys take their father home on his bike, obviously two sheets to the wind and unable to walk. Meanwhile, Jacqueline continued a valiant balloon sword fight with a new friend, helping to bring a little levity to the moment and distracting the crowd.

I left that night thinking, What will happen to those kids?

Will they be sitting on the roadside with a bottle of moonshine, uneducated, unemployed and depressed like their parents?

Or, will one of these boys break out and become the next top chef, archeologist, tour guide or even governor of the state of Yucatan?

I fear the cycle of poverty does not often spew out such good news stories. We must look for other forms of good news I suspect.

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Morning Has Broken 

Sitting high on a hillside overlooking the jungle and facing one of Costa Rica’s most famous volcanoes, I am struck not by the sight but by the sound. There is fog this morning, a fitting start to Easter Sunday, obscuring my vision from making out the lava flows which we have hiked and the trees and flowers which we have studied on our guided nature walks. I can’t see the monkeys, frogs, sloths or butterflies this morning. 

Instead, the birds have center stage and their music is beautiful.

Morning has broken, and all of creation is shouting the good news of the coming day. The fog is slowly lifting.