Running 1,952 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, the
U.S.-Mexico border is unique in the world because it separates two countries
with such wildly disparate standards of living. Here, the First and Third Worlds
lie pressed together, cheek to cheek… (Ken Ellingwood, Hard Line)
Last week I joined two of my younger brothers and their youth group on a trip to Reynosa in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. It’s just across the border from McAllen and Pharr, Texas and looks kind of like this:
(There are lots of pictures on this page, by the way, so it may take a long time to load… sorry – I linked some of the pictures in hopes that would help.)
This is a water tower of sorts – tanks elevated to provide enough pressure for showers and flushing toilets. Upon arrival at the orphanage, we were greeted by this fellow – who, in accordance with St. P’s Day tradition, assessed each individual’s green-ness and pinched accordingly (‘No green, no green!’):
After a really great meal of tortas we went down the street to the orphanage’s school buildings, where we stayed for the week. Hershey acts as guard dog for the school, though I don’t think I’ve ever met a calmer (lazier? read: not scary) dog in my life (exhibit A)… Guapo holds down the fort at the orphanage’s main property (where the children spend most of their time), and he pretty much seems like a big softy too. There is no shortage of awesome dogs in Reynosa.
The neighborhood where the orphanage is located mostly consists of government housing, so many of the houses share a similar design. Some are painted in pastels while others are left their original beige-ish color:
Other houses are left unfinished – or, perhaps it is that the owners are in the process of adding onto the existing structure – because this way they do not have to pay the taxes for owning a finished house:
While the roads aren’t gravel, they’re not exactly paved, either. If you’re Mathias, walking around the neighborhood looks something like this:
When he wasn’t busy scratching that itch, he translated for us if we needed it – having lived in Argentina, he was by far the best Spanish-speaker of our group. When it comes to speaking Spanish, it turns out I can’t really get by as well as I thought I might… back to the books for me…
The first full day in Reynosa was spent tearing down fencing, removing tree stumps, digging a 1’x1′ trench and preparing the rebar where the sidewalk would be poured (the trench was dug so they can add a wall beside the sidewalk afterwards):
The guy in the yellow shirt next to the tree stump cut those branches off with a machete, totally hardcore…
That’s Salvador (‘El Jefe’), who oversaw the concrete-pouring and generally made sure things ‘ran good’…
Day three we mixed and poured a concrete slab for the foundation of a building that will be used to provide sewing classes, computer classes, and more to the community. The rebar had already been laid, so all we needed to do was mix and pour, but it was a larger area so it still took a good part of the day to finish…
The next day (I guess this would’ve been Friday) we visited one of Reynosa’s colonias – basically, a sort of shanty-town neighborhood on the shore of an irrigation canal a little closer to the border. This was my favorite part of the trip, and I wish we’d been able to spend more time there.
Most of the houses in these neighborhoods have been patched together from sheets of plywood and other lumber scraps and have tin roofs, probably leak and lack any sort of insulation. There’s no electricity here, and running water has only recently been made available and is inconsistent at this point. However, several local organizations are working to be able to provide running water to all the houses on a daily basis, will be installing windmills and solar panels to provide some houses with electricity, and are even providing a school in the community…
Driving into the colonia:
The Regents School in Austin sends, a few times a year, a group of about 60 ninth-graders to build new homes in the colonias. They’re still tiny, one-room houses but are really well-insulated, have electrical sockets installed in anticipation of the electricity they don’t have yet, and are hurricane-proof! The most recent group sent down by the Regents School built three homes like this one, which appears at the end of that video clip:
Once we got out of the vans, good times ensued:
Those are two brothers – Josmar (5 yrs. old) and Juan (11 yrs. old) – Josmar demanded to be swung around again and again (‘Otra vez, otra vez!’), and they took a few pictures with my camera – those turned out pretty funny. Unfortunately, we were only here for a few minutes – I hope to visit the colonia again, though.
Went to a mall, ate, got a book in Spanish – a brief history of democracy in Mexico – and a Pedro Almodóvar film, though I haven’t yet had a chance to enjoy either of them.
After the mall we went back to the neighborhood where the orphanage is located and played soccer in the park with a bunch of kids who were enjoying their day off from school (it being Good Friday and all):
Friday night was our last night in town, so we all hung around the orphanage and neighborhood, got one last ‘sangria’ soft drink, played basketball, packed… early Saturday morning we were on the road back to Fort Worth.
So, I really didn’t want to leave – that’s a feeling I’m familiar with (seems like any time I travel someplace new I feel that way)… but I plan on going back to the orphanage and the colonia whenever possible… it will probably be a few months before I can visit again, but I’ll add to this whenever that happens…