Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seriously, America?

So, I have had this series of posts where I lightly poke fun at the way things are sometimes done in Mexico. In actuality, working in Mexico more often highlights how ridiculous Americans can be. Yesterday, the sort of silliness that I often witness hit an all-time high. I have found a coffee shop in Mexico with wi-fi because I simply cannot wait to share this story with my 4.5 readers.
Yesterday was a big day for arrivals in our Puerto Penasco camp and I spent much of the day running people to their work sites from camp. One of the times I came back into camp, I noticed a Jaguar XK convertible parked along with some other vehicles. A quick trip to Jaguar's website identified this vehicle as having a base price of $89,000. Due to this value combined with it's extremely low profile and limited ground clearance, this struck me as an odd choice for a vehicle to bring down to Mexico on a missions trip. All the same, I assumed it would stay at camp and the gentleman who brought it would hop in someone else's vehicle for the rough, sandy ride out to the work site.
The thing about assumptions is that they are often wrong and it only took a few minutes for mine to be proven incorrect. As I led a group out to the work site, I noticed the Jag at the end of the caravan as we pulled out of camp. At the most convenient opportunity I had everyone pull over so that I could run back to the Jag owner and warn him of what was up ahead. I informed him that as we got closer to the site it would get increasingly loose and sandy and I was concerned about his ground clearance. He asked me, "So you're telling me were going to get stuck?" I replied that it was his ride and he could do want he wanted, but that I did not think it was a good idea for him to continue. He first responded, "I should have brought my Hummer," then continued with "Let's give it a try."
Side note: I hate Hummers. H2's and H3's are the embodiment of all that is evil in the world. They are chunky, expensive and slovenly. I. Hate. Them. The fact that GM managed to take the original Humvee, the vehicular equivalent of a lion in the savannah and turn into a household tabby makes me very, very sad. I am soooooo glad that throwing a bunch of gawdy, squared, boxy sheetmetal on top of a Surburban chassis no longer qualifies as an adequate marketing tool in the U.S.. Hooray for the Hummer name going under and being sold to China.
I was already a little bit vexed by the situation and the fact that I walked away from this exchange actually wishing the gentleman had brought a Hummer further perplexed me. Anyway, onward ho.
I continued my lead in to the site and kept a close eye on the Jag. He held tight and didn't experience any significant problems. As we got to the softest part of the sand (withing 150 yards of the worksite) I pulled over to give him one last warning. I waved everyone else by and awaited the Jag. As he pulled up, the window was down as he began to shout triumphantly and the following exchange took place:
Guy Driving Jag: You just gotta know how to drive like a professional, bro!
Me: That's great, I'm glad you made it. You can see the house around the corner and this is really the area I was warning you about. You might want to just park here and walk the rest of the way.
Guy Driving Jag: Nah, I got it.
(This is what it looks like when an $89,000+ vehicle becomes as worthless as a rock in the Mexican desert.)
I found the moments that followed to be absolutely hilarious. The Jag was buried withing fifty feet of the point at which I tried to advise him against pressing on. The icing on the cake was when the FJ cruiser pictured above first came over to help out. He positioned himself in front of the Jag to help pull him out. Another priceless exchange took place:
Jag Guy: What are you doing?
FJ Helper: Well, I was going to try to pull you out.
Jag Guy: We need to go backward. Look at that sand, going forward wouldn't make any sense.
This is the point where driving your Jaguar Sports Coupe that cost the better part of $100,000 dollars ceased to make sense? Not when you were pulling out of the driveway for a missions trip? Not when you hit rough roads in Mexico? Not when the guy who drives these roads everyday warned you twice? That he finally chose to drive, I mean draw, a line in the sand here matches Caddyshack in it's absurd hilarity.
Despite the above conversation, FJ Helper stuck around to unstick Jag guy. Fully Loaded White Lexus SUV Guy also helped out (this is another vehicle choice that confuses me, but at least this confusing vehicle choice has four wheel drive and a reasonable amount of ground clearance. Despite the frustrating start, this group quickly won me over as the day progressed. They are an awesome group of guys and they don't always get it, but they openly admit this fact.
The truth is, I am a complete idiot. I prove this to myself and those around me every day. Whether it be having a forgetful moment, not connecting the dots on something really obvious or falling short in my moral decisions and execution of my faith, I am constantly failing. There is a strength in admitting and coming to terms with this fact. Many of these gentlemen see themselves as the worst of the worst and the lowest of the low. This is a freeing way to see yourself. It allows you to give and accept grace at a phenomenal rate. And you never know when you're going to need that grace. It could be in the middle of the Mexican desert.
P.S. - I'm having trouble with my spacing whenever I add pictures in blogger. Does anyone know how to fix this? Thanks.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Seriously, Mexico?

Even when you love your job and the people you work with, sometimes you have one of those days. Some people call it a case of the Mondays and some people call it waking up on the wrong side of the bed. It was not a Monday and what I sleep on in my trailer can hardly be considered a bed, but the last time I was in the field I was just not my normal self for a day. I was a little bit irritable and short tempered. I did my best not to let it show on the outside, which sometimes makes it even harder on the inside. Sometimes when I'm feeling like this, I find it is best to make myself available to the people around me, but busy myself with something that requires a little bit of focus. On this particular day a door needed to be installed in the house we were building, and this fit the bill as the project I needed. I went to work getting my measurements down and my hinges set on the door. Then, I went to install the door in the frame and I had a slight issue:

(My vocabulary is not expansive enough to express my disappointment. Well, it is, but we keep it family friendly here.)

In the above picture, my friend Mary holds the heads to five screws in her hand. The problems with these heads is that they're no longer attached to their appropriate screws. As I was installing them, the heads came off, but left the screws buried in the door and frame. This meant I had to move the location of my hinges and reinstall them. Fortunately, additional screws came in the hardware packaging (this never, ever happens), so I was able to use the additional screws to get the door installed.

This was not a terrible ordeal, but enough to frustrate and irritate me considerably. It is not uncommon that the building materials we receive from our supplier leave a little something to be desired. This is never a big deal, often just a small inconvenience like this situation. Was the door was set properly and I was happy with it, I was very nearly over it. Then this happened:

(Can you tell what's wrong with this door?)

(Possibly the coolest, most artsy photo I have ever taken. Not sure how this happened.)

The problem with this door is there is no hole for the bolt to the door knob. Having already been frustrated with my materials earlier in the day, I sort of reached a breaking point when I saw that the door I had put up was not ready for a lock. I took a little time to myself, recovered and ultimately ended up using a drill and chisel in combination to make the hole. Not the prettiest solution, but it worked.

In the end, everything worked out alright, and I got a good laugh at how pathetically I used a chisel and drill to fashion a whole for the bolt. Just the same, I feel the need to say, "Seriously, Mexico?"



Friday, February 4, 2011

Californians are obnoxious. I am becoming a Californian.

When I moved to San Diego, I was greeted by some incredible people. Friends and coworkers opened their homes and their hearts to me. It was amazing how much and how early the people I came across were willing to invest in me. I quickly made fast friends. Apart from kindness and hospitality, it seemed every last person I met shared one more characteristic. They were irritatingly smug about where the lived.

San Diego may be considered the most desirable city in the country. I remember in the months and days leading up to my departure having so many conversations where others would insist on how fortunate I was to be moving here. People that have visited and live here love the consistent, comfortable temperatures, the ocean, close proximity to mountains and many other characteristics of the city. It's really hard to argue with any of these points, but I came from a pretty awesome place as well. Although I didn't move there until I was 14, I lived in Virginia for half of my life and enjoyed the most vivid, incredible memories of my life there. As I've said before, Virginia is an awesome state that features mountains, the ocean and all four seasons. It also brushes right up against the nation's capital. The area in which I lived offers incredible opportunities to be involved in both rural and metropolitan life. I love Virginia and the only reason I chose to move to San Diego is because this is where Amor is located. For this reason I always got frustrated when people thought I was moving here to just live in a cool place. I became even more vexed when I got here and had to put up with smug Californians talking about how much better this geographic location is. I wore my Virginia pride on my sleeve and my belt and refused to be indoctrinated into the smarmy attitudes Californians have about there state. For a time.

Here's the thing, Southern California IS better than where you live, unless where you live happens to be Southern California. It is awesome here. You may ask why, here are a few reasons:

1. Avocados. Avocados are everywhere. They literally fall out of the sky. Well, as long as you happen to be standing under an avocado tree. They are are on sandwiches, in wraps, on salads, with sushi and absolutely anywhere that you would purchase groceries. You may say, "Hey Clint, they put avocados on stuff everywhere." This may be true, but they're not always good. In California they are always in season. I have lived here eight months and I have not had a single underripe or out of season avocado. Avocados are always delicious, but they are even more so where I live.

2. All other kinds of fresh produce. Andy and Erin Lyde had Nick and me over for dinner one evening. They served us a homemade salad. All of the vegetables looked and tasted about as fresh and perfect as they could. I remarked on this and Andy sort of puffed out his chest and responded, "Of course they are, welcome to California." I hated his smug air of superiority at the time. Now I spend a significant portion of each day pitying people that don't have awesome produce all 12 months of the year.

3. Aren't you in the middle of a blizzard right now? I keep hearing about snow and inclement weather and how most of the country is being subjected to storms that are apocalyptic in nature. Do you know who hasn't seen a single apocalyptic snow storm this year? Me, that's who. I've heard repeated jokes about earthquakes and how one day California will fall off into the Pacific. This is false. This is what people say to feel better about themselves when they don't live in San Diego.

4. Temperature. Sometimes it gets really cold here at night, and by that I mean the mid 40's. Year round, nearly every day the temperature hovers between sixty and eighty degrees which is kind of the perfect temperature to do everything you want outside. I went back to Pennsylvania and tried to keep up my running regimen. It was twenty-five degrees in the "heat" of the day. I gave up. Working out and playing when it's cold does not make you more awesome or tougher, that's simply what people say when they are forced to work out and play in the cold due to their geographic location. If you're into winter sports you probably think you've found a loophole in this argument. You are wrong. We can drive to snowy mountains just a couple of hours away. Even if you live where it snows, how far do you usually have to drive to get to a decent resort? That's right, a couple of hours. When I initially moved here, I complained and said I was a person that always wanted four seasons. Then I learned a universal truth: Winter is dumb.

5. Sunsets. If I feel like it, I'm going to go see a sunset on the beach today. Why? Because I can. If I can't because I'm too busy or something that's cool. Because I can do it tomorrow. I can watch the sun set behind the Pacific Ocean under a beautiful clear sky most days of the year.

6. The Beach. Some people think the beach is overrated. I used to be one of those people. Those people are wrong. The beach is awesome. It has sand and the ocean, both of which are sweet. You can run and jump and fall on sand and not get hurt like you do on hard ground. The ocean is super fun to play in. You can surf or kayak in it or you can just swim, wade around and play with your friends. Also beach volleyball is really, really fun, even though I am terrible at it and have been made to look like a very small, weak, whiny girl at the net.

7. Radio. The radio here is awesome. The best stations are not limited by their genres, they just play good music. Gone are the days when I turned on my favorite rock stations and heard the same old tired playlists interspersed with some new stuff that was typically terrible without exception. Since moving to San Diego, I have been introduced to a lot of new music. I love music and the way it can compliment and affect my moods and feelings. I can honestly say that my life feels a lot richer with a better, more diverse soundtrack.

8. Food. The restaurant scene is incredible. I don't get the opportunity to eat out at a lot of really nice restaurants, but I have certainly sampled quite a bit of cuisine. I can walk out my front door and hit nearly 89 authentic Vietnamese restaurants with a rock. There is a ton of fresh fish and sushi. There are also many different types of ethnic food. There is a lot of baja style food and tex-mex from the influence of our neighbors to the south. Many of the restaurants have an Asian influence as well. Sushi and fresh fish are everywhere. It is a food lovers dream.

9. Chill Vibes, bro. You know sometimes I just like to vibe out on the chillwaves. Or chill out on some vibes. Maybe vibe down to the beach. You know, listen to some MGMT, Foster the Children and The Temper Trap and just vibe out in the car. Chill.

10. Everything. Let's face it, it is just flat out awesome here. The music scene is great and talented bands come through all the time. The beach is the perfect place to hang out. We have gorgeous desert and mountain camping and hiking spots close by. The city is fun and exciting. There is a lot of interesting stuff to do. We've got great farmers' markets. We have historical (but touristy) old town. You can hang out in the hood or visit beautiful, elite neighborhoods (until they figure out you're a lowly commoner, then they throw you out). When it's all said and done, this area of the country is a big huge bowl of dragonsauce with side of incredible.

Right now, I couldn't think of a much better place to live than where I am. Pretty much everything about this place is the best. There is only one downside to being here. That is smug braggarts, of which I am now one. Deal with it.



Tuesday, February 1, 2011


This past week, I had another incredible trip to Mexico. I worked with one of the most interesting groups I have ever had and also got the opportunity to train a new Amor intern, Mary. Training Mary was exciting and interesting because of the preexisting relationship we have. Mary was part of the same family camp that initially introduced me to Amor. She and I participated in one trip together and last year she was part of a trip that I led as a field specialist. After being part of the same group, we have stayed in touch occasionally. When I initially sent out support letters, she was one of the people on my list. Even cooler, she was one the the people who responded. Interestingly enough, this means that I, a full-timer with Amor, am training Mary, an intern, while she is financially supporting me. Weird. And Awesome. In addition, when Mary began considering an internship with Amor, she used me as a resource to find out more about the job. I was able to share with her a lot of the highs and lows of being a field specialist and I hope this helped prepare her for her time with Amor.

Training Mary was an extremely humbling experience. She did her job as if she had been at it for a very long period, rather than a first timer. She was exceedingly encouraging to everyone around her, stayed on top of the project, and built relationships with group members and the family for which we were building. Working with her throughout the week was awesome, but there is one moment in particular that I will not forget anytime soon. As we sat around the campfire one evening, everyone had the opportunity to share something they had experienced during the week. Mary chose to share that throughout the week she had moments where everything just felt things were "perfect." Despite the brokenness around her, she was able to see fleeting times of perfection. I have to believe these moments came at many different times and in many different manners. She probably saw this perfection in the way that group members worked together to build the home. I'm sure she also saw it in the way that the group related with the Mexican family. I'm sure she saw it in the determined but humbled eyes of the builders and in the grateful, hopeful eyes of the family receiving the home. Finally, I'm sure she saw it in the beautiful, blooming mountains that surrounded her as she drove back to camp each day. I am confident that these moments of perfection abounded throughout her week in the above instances and many more.

The reason I can hazard to guess what exactly drove Mary to this joy, revelation and sneak peak into perfection is that I have felt these moments as well. To be honest, the proliferation of these events in my life since I move to San Diego and started work in Mexico is staggering. It has become commonplace for me to be moved to tears by the sheer joy that I feel as I look around me. Seeing life come together in front of you, serving others and being near God can do that to a person, I suppose. I am so thankful to Mary for succintly describing such a simple but difficult to identify feeling. Later, I got to discuss her observation with her. I encouraged her to try to hold on and remember as many of these times as possible, but I was also able to offer her a little bit of reassurance. The fact is, even if you can't hold onto every one of these moments the way you would like, they happen frequently. It's even gotten to the point now where I see many of these "perfections" when I am back home simply living my life. This weekend was full of them as I spent time with friends and even saw one of my best friends perform with a brand new band. I got outside, rode my bikes and played volleyball. The moments of perfection have continued throughout yesterday and today. This is a profound blessing and I will try to store up as many of these memories as I can.