The farthest point geographically and culturally that I have been was in the backyard of the United –in Mexico.
I went with a group from my church on a mission trip to build a home. The area in which we were going had a great deal of poverty with people living in cardboard houses. Our mission was to build a concrete block house for one family over the period of a week. I was going as a nurse to work in the clinic because we had a physician coming with us. The mission provided the translator.
We had a class prior to leaving in order to give us information so that we could adapt to their culture rather than going down and expecting them to adapt to us. The women were not allowed to wear shorts and considering that the temperature in Piedras Negras was close to 100 was a no small sacrifice!
We were also instructed not to flash the ok sign or thumbs up with our fingers because in this particular area of Mexico, this was a sexual sign of some sort.
The other limitation and I can guess that this might have been a big one for some was that there was to be no alcohol consumption by the Americans while we were there.
We stayed in a hotel compound and every afternoon after lunch, we came back to our hotel to take a 2 hour rest/nap. And considering that there was no air conditioning in the clinic or working on the house, it was a well-earned rest in the air-conditioning.
Once we arrived in Eagles Pass Texas, I was asked to be the van driver while we were in Mexico. At first, I was worried because I had no idea how to drive a 15 passenger van. I do not remember being concerned about the other drivers in Mexico and once I began driving there, I realized that the other cars were all tiny old models of cars. My van rode high and visible on the streets of Piedras Negras. They saw me coming!
One of the kids in my van asked me why there were so many old cars on the road. I tried to explain the economic differences in Mexico and the US. Of course this was in 2004. The differences between the US and other countries have changed. Healthcare in Mexico was available for those who had money. I remember thinking that our system was better and it was…. for those that had health insurance. I hope we can change our health system so that it doesn’t benefit only those with money.
I was privy to see the families come into the clinics for medical care. They exhibited great love and concern for their family members and gratitude for the health care attention. There were other people in Piedras Negras that were friendly and generous and hospitable.
We ate at a restaurant one night – our entire group and the process took 3 hours. We saw the cook go out and come back from the grocery store with bags of food after we had placed our orders. It was an awareness that money is a resource that many people do not have. In the US I take for granted that the restaurant will have the food before I come in. I take for granted the floors in my house and running water and electricity and access to healthcare. Piedras Negras did not have an abundance of these things.
They have since discontinued the program of building houses due to dangerous conditions for the visiting Americans. A loss for the Mexicans but also the people that ventured into another culture and country and extended themselves. Another end result of the sharp division between those that have and those that don’t. And of course if there is a wall built, I expect we may find that our country will be the one to suffer more than Mexico.
Our world has become global and the idea that we can return to the old ways of doing things may be seductive to some but eventually the reality of that illusion will become clearer and unavoidable.
Walls might change things for a bit, sanctions against immigrants and foreign countries sound good to some people who are scared but turning the US into an inhospitable place will be damaging not just for others but for all of us. Fear and the abuse of differences as wrong has separated us. Neither our answers nor our downfall lies in differences and separation.
Connectedness and caring for each other are behaviors that are found in every culture of the globe.
Those behaviors may look different and repeated in different languages but the idea that we are all human and part of the greater whole is inescapable. We are all holons- something that is at the same time a whole and a part of the whole at the same time. Like the chicken and the egg.
And not even a wall or money or power can change that reality.