Friday, September 26, 2008
Tiptoeing Through Tijuana
A few years ago, my family had the opportunity to travel to Mexico during a trip to San Diego. It was my first time of traveling outside of the United States. Friends who had already made the journey to Tijuana had given me the heads up about a few things. They had warned me that the poverty I would see would break my heart. They commented about the bargains to be found in this location, and suggested that I should be on the lookout for pure vanilla---a treasure worth its weight in bottle form.
My husband and I set out on this adventure with our three sons, who were all in their teens, and my mother. Excited, we parked the car near the crossing point and boarded a bus that would take us across the border into Mexico.
My friends were right. The poverty I saw along the way broke my heart. By the time we reached the bus stop in Tijuana, my heart was a bleeding mess. This is why when I stepped off the bus and I was approached by a man who wanted to sell "the pretty lady a nice T-shirt," I bought it without question, ignoring my husband's counsel that I could have bargained for a better price.
We entered the bus terminal and saw several small shops there. My mother immediately was drawn to a tiny store that advertised the desired vanilla. She purchased a large bottle and we waited for the menfolk to return from their journey to the mens' room. They came out with disgusted looks on their faces, sharing that they had had to pay money to use the facilities. Something about the stall doors wouldn't open until the appropriate coins were placed in the appropriate slots.
Wandering out of the bus terminal, we walked down the crowded sidewalks. I was immediately drawn to the colors, sights, and smells that surrounded us. Authentic Mexican cuisine was cooking all around us. Colorful shawls, capes, and woven bags lined walkways and shops. We entered one shop that caught my husband's eye; it offered a variety of beautiful chess sets. Jewelry and trinkets inside other shops beckoned. Deciding to explore a bit before we made further purchases, we walked around and found this beautiful civic building. Since none of us speak Spanish, we weren't certain what it was called.
On our way back toward one of the outdoor restaurants we had spotted along the way, small children came up to us, begging for anything we could give them. Their hopeful, dirt-smudged faces tore at my heart and I gave them money that didn't seem to mean anything to me anymore.
Suddenly we saw a disturbance. It looked like two American teenage boys were being roughly apprehended by law officials. When these young men were thrown up against the side of a nearby building, my husband glanced at our sons, and suggested that we head back to the safety of our own country. We weren't sure what was taking place, but it didn't look good. Feeling uneasy, we altered our plans and practically ran back to the bus terminal. There we boarded a bus heading back to San Diego, and received an unauthorized tour of the slums of Tijuana. Never have I ever witnessed such poverty. People were living in cardboard huts, or shacks made up of mismatched pieces of wood and tin. Some were cooking over simple campfires, as others lay in the shade of whatever they could find. Children ran around unclothed, again with dirty faces and unkempt hair. Tears streaked down my face as we drove past these makeshift communities of misery.
We stopped at the border and had to pass through a security check. It was a little unnerving, but all we had to do was to show our ID, verify which state we had been born in and display the items we had purchased while in Mexico. Since only my mother and I had bought anything (the t-shirt and the bottle of vanilla) it didn't take us long to pass through. Then we boarded another bus and began to cross into the United States. That was when I experienced something totally unexpected. A huge embrace of the Spirit. An impression came to mind: this country is truly a blessed nation. It's an affirmation I will never forget. That sweet feeling stayed with me for quite some time, bearing further witness that we do indeed dwell in the land of promise.
I know that our country is facing a lot of problems right now, but we still enjoy so many opportunities and blessings that other nations and people will never savor. Freedom is a gift we must never take for granted. Gratitude for all that we have been given must fill our hearts if we are to survive the days ahead. Sometimes we get so caught up in all that is wrong, focusing on the negatives, we forget the long list of positives that exist. That is the challenge I'm extending today. Count your blessings. It may indeed surprise you what the Lord has done.
Return to the Neighborhood