Since this was a Christmas when our married children with their little ones would not be arriving at our house until after Christmas since Charity’s farewell talk will be on December 30th, we decided to take our single children, Josh, Talmadge, Eli and Charity on a service expedition to Mexico. The expedition was organized by Ascend Alliance and the wonderful Garbett Family who have been working with the Mexican people for about eight years. The Garbetts have seven children, ages 29-15 and have been providing scholarships for kids who can’t afford to go to Benameritos, a fine private high school in Mexico City.
After our eggs benedict and Christmas stockings full of work gloves, hand sanitizer and Imodium, we left our house on December 21, in a wild flurry, having lost Charity’s passport, which the church had returned to us in time for us to go on this expedition before her mission. I had absent-mindedly put in the garbage along with a pile of Christmas card envelopes. Being sure that I had put it on her bed it, it was pretty tense for a while with only 35 minutes to go until our departure. but with prayers coming from all directions, I was able to locate it along with her ticket to the Preston MTC, only slightly soggy and in good condition about half way down in the trash compactor.
We needed to leave the house in decent order because we had offered to let the Claytons use it while we were gone since all their children were coming home for Christmas. The left-over eggs we left in the muffin tin in the sink could smell pretty bad by now if they didn’t need to use it, but whatever!
We flew through Las Vegas, where we met Josh who had flown from Gilbert and boarded a plane for Mexico City. After a late start anyway, we sat on the tarmac for another hour because of a blackout at the Mexico City airport and they wouldn’t let us take off until they knew we could land with lights. When we arrived at 2:30 a.m., the last buss to Puebla, where we were meeting our group had left at 2:15. Luckily a little guardian angel showed up who said he had a suburban and could take all six of us and our baggage. We were delighted, but then a little worried as we walked through the parking huge parking lot and then out on to the street to a street corner bustling with drunks. But sure enough, in ten minutes, the suburban arrived and took us to the bus station in Puebla where we sent a wake-up call to David Garbett, who was to pick us up at 4 a.m. and it was 4:30. His alarm hadn’t rung but he was there by 5 and we were snug in our small little beds by 5:30.
Three hours later we joined the group for breakfast and a fun service project with 12 of the high school kids the Garbetts have been supporting with scholarships at Benameritos. They were home for the holidays and required to do a service project once a year. The project they chose was to clean up a community part that was sadly in need of sweeping and new yellow paint. While we worked we enjoyed the Saturday afternoon activities of that fun little community, filled with churches, festivities for a LaQuinta (huge party for a young woman turning 15, bigger than most weddings) plus two weddings complete with mariachi bands and fireworks. It was a wonderful cultural experience, punctuated by a basketball game between the Americans and Gringos which the Gringos won (the hoop was two inches smaller in diameter than the American hoops and the ball was a little smaller which made it harder to manage by the gringos which was okay with everyone)! The best part of the day was going to a sweet lady’s home who had several children, most who begged or sold things on the street so that their one boy could go to school at Benameritos. She invited all 32 of us as well as all the twelve students and some of their parents to her two room concrete and adobe home which had been all set up with tables and chairs (who knows where they had come from) and hundreds of homemade tortillas as well as a large hamburger patty size delicacy made of cactus and dried shrimp with a red sauce over it. She and her family and neighbors had worked hard all day to provide a meal for us and said she said she was so sorry that it wasn’t what we were used to. We did our best to look as though we loved it! A picture of this sweet woman and Talmadge is included.
Getting ready to paint the park
The 15 year old extravaganza!
The next day was Sunday and we enjoyed seeing the farms and donkeys and hard workers in the fields as we traveled to the church. A lovely building in the middle of a slum in the shadow of a volcano that irrupts regularly (Dec. 1st and 15th) with black smoke and sometimes even shoots out red lava! It was so great to feel the spirit of those beautiful people. Afterward, we formed a line and everyone came through and shook hands with all of us gringos as though we were in a wedding line! FUN! That afternoon we toured the pyramid, the tallest in Mexico, across from our hotel and enjoyed the ambience of the quaint little town we were in. Eli and Tal bought giant sparklers and sent home fun messages to their “girls” spelling words with the light on a time exposure on Josh’s camera. Our hotel was nice albeit a bit on the cold side but a great time was had by all!
The next day was another travel day as we drove back to Mexico City and then had an hour flight on to a small airport and then took a big bus to our next destination Chalula, a totally charming Mexican village, teaming with street sellers and churches where we gathered for the festivities of Christmas Eve. There was magic in the air as we saw the actors of the live nativity in a procession to the church and saw the fun Mexican Christmas decorations as we got off the bus. About 10 o’clock, six taxis picked us up and we went to the stake center where we met Erich, the local expedition manager, hired by Tim Evans, who was also one of his missionaries when he was a mission president. His mother and sisters had a beautiful “Pasada” (Christmas feast signifying the welcoming of the Christ Child rather than being told “no room”). Turkey, beans, pasta and Mexican specialties including a wonderful hot fruit drink was enjoyed by all, including six terrific missionaries who were serving in the area.
The missionaries at our table told us that they were serving in the high mountains where the addresses were just “1st Mountain, 2nd Mountain etc. They said they didn’t eat much except beans. One had been an assistant to the president and was back out in the field for his last month. The biggest problem for them was that the indigenous Indians they were serving had their own language which was entirely different from Spanish. Amazing! Later we enjoyed watching the breaking of several real clay piñatas in the parking lot and the amazing firework display both sight and sound at midnight. We cleaned the church and parking lot while we waited for the taxis and a great time was had by all!
Christmas Day was one we won’t forget! We traveled by bus to a river and a gorge with a river (thought by some Book of Mormon scholars to be The River Sidon. An extremely fast power boat whizzed us through canyons that rivaled Lake Powell’s, except that there were more trees and the cliff were not red, but higher! Also the wildlife was a little different that than the coyotes who ate our Easter eggs that year. We saw huge alligators, a giant iguana and monkeys swinging through the trees. At one point five of the boys in the boat did back flips off the front of the boat and swam like champs in that alligator infested water (just kidding, no alligators there). It was just incredible!
That night, back at the village, we went to a show in the center of town that was a real cultural experience! It was all in Mayan, which was okay with us since most of us didn’t understand Spanish anyway. It was a mythical story taken from the ancient records in one of the Pyramid cities and though we could sort of follow the story line, it was not exactly the Radio City Christmas Spectacular! The guys gave Charity and I the front row seats so we were delighted to see the scantily clad men and the two-story skeleton puppet (we can NOT figure out the Mexican obsession with skeletons) up close and personal! The costumes were very creative and it was truly wild!
This was at the site across the street of the huge pyramid. This stone table was supposed to have been a place where Quezacotol spoke to multitudes when he came. The acoustics were amazing!
Yesterday we got up and went to a village up in the clouds called Chojelo! On our way up the narrow dirt road on about a 45 degree incline in a van with a very brave native driver, we passed by the two missionaries we had sat by on Christmas Eve! They followed us to the village and help us as we cleaned up a large room in one of the buildings in the run down community center that could be used for a health clinic. The villagers were far away from any health care and the State had told them that if they could get a room ready, they would send in a medical team twice a week. We swept and disinfected walls and then painted the outside yellow and the inside while. The guys also used the tools they had brought to enclose the top of the walls which were open to birds and animals and we repaired windows and even went back down to the nearest village for a soldering iron to fix the metal door.
In the next room three women built a fire on the cement floor and boiled a huge pot of water in which they boiled a hunk of some kind of very tough meat and a vegetable something like cabbage leaves. They were amazing! The missionaries assured us that this was a very special meal (given that they live mostly on beans) and the broth was delicious. We secretly ladled some of our meat back into the picture of “seconds” and we know they were delighted to be enjoying the leftovers last night. They also had corn and blue corn tortillas piled as high as a small Christmas tree, which were truly delicious!
While we were waiting for the guys to come back from town, we took a walk-about and Charity gave candy to the local kids who were either delighted or horrified to see big white people walking up to them and taking pictures of them (Josh got some great shots, as always). One of our helpers was Lucia, a member of the church who was a young women leader. She offered to show us the church so we trekked down the hill and through the corn fields and found a perfectly lovely little Mormon church on a hillside. How they got all the cement there to build that, we have no idea but it was wonderful to behold. Then she took us to her home. With her little two year old peacefully sleeping in his sling on her back she proudly showed us her kitchen with little chicks running all over, a little play spot on the dirt floor for her baby and a small hammock where he could sleep while she ground the corn. The grinder was her only kitchen utensil! Her husband was a returned missionary who had built the three structures on their property himself. The closet consisted of clothes, folded in half over a clothes line and the only picture was a collage of his mission and especially what looked like his missionary district. As Charity pointed out, all those other guys were probably in their cozy homes in Utah or California, with no idea of where their missionary companion had come from! BUT what a view! The air was clean and clear and the spectrum of the scenery from their house was truly a feast for the eyes! I’m not sure that they aren’t happier than those friends living far away with all the comforts of life!
Below: Inside the clinic "after"!
Last night, we were so hungry when we got home! We found a fun restaurant recommended by those in our group and ran on to another family who was just arriving for the trip into the village. It was so fun to overlap, at least by a few hours with them. They brought five kids: a recently returned missionary, two high school kids and a couple of young children who were gagging over the fabulous food we were enjoying after our day in the village. We wish them well!
The Garbett Family was truly an inspiration to behold and the other families were so great too! We loved getting to know them and watching their family dynamics. It would take another whole page to describe all the good things they are doing but we’ll save that for another time!
Garbett Mom and Dad of 7 children, all with them. Their daughter and her husband ran the whole expedition and these are the darling missionaries who climb up and down these mountains all day every day! Two hours walking to where we were and one hour home (downhill). Amazing!
We were sorry to miss the village (although I must admit I wasn’t excited about packing all those sleeping bags and all that stuff for the village). Two more families arrived as we left and they were on their way to build a school ! But we were headed home for something even better! We are so excited to see all the rest of our wonderful children and 10 of 13 of our adorable grandchildren and especially to be in the temple all together on Saturday morning and then hear Charity’s amazing farewell talk on Sunday. It will be so fun to see many of her Jerusalem friends as well as high school friends and college friends. Can't wait for all the Eyrealm kids to arrive tonight! Everyone has better pictures than this, but this will give you an idea of our grand adventure. I can’t believe this is our last missionary! How blessed we are!!!!