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LJ Idol Week One Re-Post

I started participating in a writing competition on Livejournal called LJ Idol. A friend of mine had participated in past years, and it looked like fun. Our first week’s topic was “When you pray, move your feet”. Below is my entry for LJ Idol. I landed about 11th in my tribe overall in terms of voting. If you’re interested in voting, you can check the LJ Idol page each week.

We crossed the border into Mexico and were greeted by dirty, sweaty men. The road we were driving on was not paved, there were no lines on the road, no rest stops, and no conveniences. The first night, we slept on the floor of a church. I can still remember the girls not wanting to be separated from the boys, so the girls slept on the stage and the boys in the orchestra pit below us. My friend Alison and I woke up screaming at 3 in the morning because a cockroach was crawling near us. Alison’s boyfriend woke up and smashed the roach inches away from my sleeping boyfriend’s head. The next morning we continued on to our “dormitory”. There were two long rooms set up for us – one for boys, and one for girls. The mattresses were worn and dirty and we were all glad we had brought sleeping bags to sleep in so we wouldn’t have to lay directly on the mattresses. We couldn’t drink the water out of the tap, instead we had to purchase 5 gallon drums of water from the grocery store. This water also had to be used for washing, brushing our teeth, and cooking. Some of us braved using the water from the outside tap to wash ourselves, but most of us relied on a baby wipe wipe down each morning and evening. The toilets flushed, but you couldn’t put any toilet paper down them, so each stall had a large black bin for it that we were responsible for emptying daily. When we turned out the lights at night, all the bugs would come out and crawl all over the floor, walls, and ceilings. You soon learned to sleep wearing your sneakers in case you needed a nighttime trip to the bathroom. This was to be our home while we were there.

Our job while we were there was to provide bible school to some of the local children, and to assist with building houses. On our first morning teaching we met our children for the week – girls barely older than 8 taking care of babies, boys with dirty clothes on, babies who looked like they were in desperate need of a bath or a clean diaper. None of the children wore shoes. There was an old, hard, leather ball outside that served as a football, basketball, soccer ball, volleyball, and kickball. Pregnant teenagers younger than ourselves sat at tables inside the classroom waiting for us. The one thought running through my head was how on earth are we going to teach them?.

My Spanish was non-existent. I studied German, a language which was helpful when I travelled in Europe the previous Spring, but completely useless South of the border. The children did not speak English. I had a piece of paper my boyfriend had made me with some Spanish phrases on it and I had him translate some of the songs I was to teach into Spanish for me so at least the children would know what they were singing about.

It was a mess. The children didn’t understand me, and even though I had a paper full of helpful phrases, nothing prepared me for being left alone in a room with 20 children. I tried teaching them a song I had translated into Spanish with very little luck, so I started singing “Jesus Loves Me” instead. To my surprise, the children knew the tune and they taught me the Spanish words – Jesu, Mi Amo. I tried again with another translated song, this one with movements. I soon had the group all singing and dancing. I gave up on my translated songs and started singing to them in English, and some of the older children taught me some of the songs they knew in Spanish.

My friends outside weren’t having any luck, either. The worn ball that the church had barely had any air in it, and it was so hard it was too heavy to kick. One of the boys finally returned to our dormitories and came back with a ball he had brought with him for our own leisure. The faces of the children lit up at the sight of the black and white ball and were soon showing off their skills. At the end of the week, we left the new ball behind.

The group sent out to work on construction sites met similar problems. Even the people in our group who claimed fluency in Spanish and passed their AP exams with flying colours were having problems following along as they didn’t learn those kinds of words in their lessons. Armed with a battered dictionary and lots of hand gestures, they soon figured out what the foreman wanted them to do.

That evening we headed back to our dorms, exhausted from our day of teaching and building. We still managed to sit around outside in the small courtyard between the dorms to talk about our day. Someone got out a guitar, and we built a campfire and all sang and danced in the warm glow. Despite a horrible beginning to our week, we were sure we would be able to make a difference by the end of the week. That week, we learned that being a Christian was more than just praying on your knees to God each Sunday. It was the work you did with your hands, voice, and feet that also counted.

[This has been an entry for The Real LJ Idol.]

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