Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oh Me, Oh My! Southern Bells in Mexico

If you take some sophisticated women with fare skin, bubbling laughs, and an appreciation for cleanliness and detail, and stick them in a foreign country where you can’t brush your teeth with the tap water or throw toilet paper down the lieu, your tasks must come second to relationships, and drug war rages throughout the country, you are likely to get a mixture of chaos and hilarity that makes memories fit for posterity.

Oh, and don’t forget the language barrier.

For starters, in an attempt to copy the pattern of women of old who would come together over quilting to socialize and produce heirlooms for their families, Karen Parks, Ashlyn Sealy, and Emily Park, organized some sewing and cooking projects to give us some common ground with our Latina sisters in Monterry, Mexico.

Though we often picture the pioneer women, sitting stoically in a circle, working on their allotted space, while one woman read a passage from scripture or another shared gossip, it is possible that our imaginations have set us up for a catastrophic downfall. But if this were an accurate picture of what it was like, perhaps those women missed out on some good laughs and some good memories. As our sisters in Mexico taught us Southern Bells—socializing always comes first.

The first afternoon, the community project was a flag that reached floor to ceiling to hang behind the lectern in the church. The loud Spanish chatter of our new friends filled the sanctuary as we attempted to divide up different parts of the flag between them. But as we began to work, it became apparent that perfection would not be the rule of the day.

The combination of the high energy of the Latin women, the distraction of children running in and out, wanting to help but losing interest after 2 seconds, and the momentary pauses for breaks or to share an exciting story, made straight lines crooked and caused a semi-lopsided cross in the center of the flag.

Even so, we shared some good laughs over Sonia—the woman with the bad eyes—and laughs over Emily trying to remember the Spanish word for scissors “tijeras” and Denise (one of the members of Vida Nueva) trying to say the English word, but never quite getting it right.

It took some extra work on the part of Karen, but eventually the flag was completed and looked very nice hanging in the newly painted sanctuary.

The next afternoon we had a cooking class. The first order of business was a taste test of Strawberry Pretzel Salad. Marta, the wife of Rafael, one of the church planters, remarked “How wonderful! Now you are able to get married!” to Ashlyn after she had handed her her plate.

We were off to a good start and it looked as if the cooking class would be uneventful—for about 20 minutes. Then, about a dozen children came running into the house asking for water and for a taste of the salad. I had been helping translate for Karen when the influx of children began. In the midst of the frenzy, I at one point turned to Karen and began giving her instructions in Spanish. The bewildered look on her face told me I was doing something wrong. We were quite loopy by this point, and when we realized the magnitude of the craziness, we both began laughing.

The following day was our final sewing class. The project was personal t-shirts for each of the women. These women must have known it was our last day so they attempted to just enjoy our company and each other’s. Time was of no importance to them as they chatted away and calmly went about their task. Our repeated reminder that we didn’t have much time left, dinner was at 6, we needed to hurry or we wouldn’t be able to finish, had little affect on the speed of the project. No stress revealed itself. They were in no hurry. Time had little meaning.

This important lesson of time, and going with the flow, would come in handy in the next day or two. We had yet to experience the largest lesson in the importance of time that would come at the very end of our travels.

Day 8: the day to surpass all other days. Goodbyes had been said with tears and laughter at a party the church threw for us the night before. We brushed our teeth with bottled water for the final time and gratefully threw the final wad of toilet paper into the trashcan.

We arrived at the Monterry airport, brimming with excitement over the stories we had to tell our friends and family when we returned home. The 11 team members, with luggage in hand, gathered in the line at Continental Airlines counter.

Then, a heart-stopping phrase was heard above the sound of announcements and other passengers. “The flight has been canceled. There are no other flights today.”

We looked at one another in bewilderment. What would we do now? Over an hour passed with rapid discussion with Continental and several other airlines. The final result: half the team would stay in Mexico for a few days, the other half would cross the boarder in Laredo and fly out on the following morning.

3 of the 5 Southern Bells would be in boarder-crossing group—Karen, Emily, and myself. A little excitement accompanied our time-sensitive adventure as we crammed 7 people and luggage into a minivan and headed for the Mexico/Texas boarder.

The next bump in the road was the 2-hour line of cars we had to wait in to make it to the boarder. We watched the American flag in the distance slowly creep closer and dreamed of sweet-smelling bathrooms and comfortable hotel beds.

When we finally reached the checkpoint, we were told our visas needed a stamp. We would have to go back as we had missed the passport office as we were crawling forward in the tight line of cars.

To make matters slightly stickier, we were asked to pull over. We had been selected for inspection. Thus followed our diminished team standing in the cold wind as security guards carefully inspected each article of luggage and then scoped the entire car. They left us to put our luggage back in the car.

By this point it was nearing 9 o’clock. We were becoming loopy again and each new disaster only caused us to laugh and wonder what was going to happen next.

Once the difficult task of finding a place to leave the car so we could walk back to the passport office was completed, we donned our spare jackets and made the walk back across the boarder, from whence we had just come. During our pitiful trek backwards, two of our Southern Bells discovered that they had to use the baƱo, after asking several people and taking several detours, no bathroom was found.

In awe, we finally reached America with stamped visas and no anticipation of having to go back. The lights of the hotel loomed as celestial gates and the strangeness of not having to ask for the elevator in Spanish slowly began to take affect.

Yes, it was chaos. Sometimes so chaotic that it was hilarious. Though Southern Bells and Chaos try to avoid one another, sometimes they meet each other by chance. When this happens, sometimes the only reaction is to laugh—hard.

But there are other reactions, too. I didn’t mention the tears we shed. Neither did I mention the times we sat on the benches in one or more of the airports with open Bibles in our laps. I didn’t mention crying out to God for wisdom, for reasons, or for peace. I did mention looking in the face of strangers, wondering if we would find the reason in their eyes.

I don’t know that I personally learned any great lesson from the experience. And maybe that wasn’t the point. Maybe the point was time—more time spent talking to Jesus. More time in the unknown and waiting on God.

It was certainly a lot more time laughing.

There were a hundred times over the course of the several days in Mexico where I had to tell God I trusted Him and I knew He was good—all the time. It was more a reminder to myself and a truth that was tested. Over and over. Did I really believe it?

There will always be times where we shake our heads in bewilderment and shrug our shoulders. There will always be times where we say, “God, what’s up with that?” There will be times where no reason seems to exist and no answer is found.

In such times it is good to remind ourselves that God is worthy of trust and that His mercies endure forever.

Then, we must chuckle to ourselves, look around at our friends, shrug our shoulders and say, “Wow, that was just plain crazy.”

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