Guadalajara, Mexico, in summer of 2000. I was there to take my Spanish to the next level and to assist missionaries in their outreach to college students. Both happened quite differently than I expected, and both happened in the context of a country unexpectedly beautiful.
I pictured poverty and cardboard shacks and drug cartels, for that’s the Mexico we often think of in the USA. But what I found was extravagant wealth, beauty in the hospitality of the people who were patient with our very broken Spanish and who embraced us because we came to love them. I found a land rich with break-taking sunsets, tropical foliage, and markets bursting with handmade goods of talented artisans. Of course, there were also the pockets of poverty – of a family of 6 living in a room smaller than my dorm room, of the black market CD’s and movies that we just didn’t ask too many questions about as we purchased them. How is this movie already out here when we haven’t even seen it in the theaters back home?
I remember ear-to-ear smiles of the people whose church we helped to whitewash. I remember the generous Mexican family who invited me and a few of my gringo friends into their home. I remember the waiting and the waiting for dinner as our stomachs growled and we tried to be polite in this Latin take-your-time culture. (I don’t think dinner was served until 9:00pm). I remember that I really knew Spanish by the end of that summer because I had conversed in it and built relationships through it, which became a lifelong motivation to continue with it.
Will I return to Guadalajara? I don’t know. But it will always stay with me – the loveliness and hospitality that I hope to emulate to others among us who don’t speak my language or call the US their first home.
[to read the entire series of 31 days of five minute free writes in 2014, click here]