The Humanitarian Experience: Not Necessarily the “Hot Stuff”

 Miguel knows best. Miguel is the best! In 2009, I was a part of my first house build for a poverty-stricken Mexican family who resided in Baja California, Mexico. I was not the first one to do this in this area nor will I be the last. As we drove up to the neighborhood where we were building, you could see all the homes that had been built by the charity that we were working with. They were all similar except for one thing. The homes all had the brightest colored exteriors that I have ever seen.  From home depot orange to pepto bismol pink the dirt roads and dismal yards faded into the dusty background of Mexico. The sight of what we were going to build by the end of the week excited me and was a great encouragement to get to work.

I grew up with a father who made a living in construction, which meant that we never called a handy man or paid someone to fix something. My dad was always encouraging my brother and I to help him work around the house, willing or unwilling we helped. Mostly unwilling. Because of this I am no stranger to the hammer or the shovel (just to clarify my father was on this trip). As we began to frame the house and build the walls we all took a hammer and began to work our little hearts out.

Miguel ready to show us how to work, photo cred. TDevoll (2009)

 As I happily swung my hammer and laughed with my comrades, I was thinking I was the “Hot Stuff”. I noticed that there was a little pair of eyes staring at me the whole time. I kindly smiled at the child who was around 8 years old. He looked at my dad who was working near me and said something in rapid Spanish.

Although I am of Mexican decent I can only speak high school Spanish, 3rdgeneration Americanism often leads to this. My father on the other hand spoke Spanish as his first language. I looked at my dad who now was laughing and saying something back.

“…trabaja…” oh I know that word it means, “work!” In my head I thought, “Hehe, he thinks I am good at working, and since I am a girl it must be even more impressive.”

“What did he say to you?” I asked my father. He laughed and shook his head again. “What!?!” I continued to ask.

Next thing I know the hammer that was in my hand was being pulled and within moments the child was slamming the nails into the 2×4 at an extremely fast and accurate rate. He finished my line of nails and handed me the hammer. Apparently he was not commenting on my fine skills instead he was pointing out how I handled a hammer like a 7-year-old.

Instead of just showing me up and dissing my handy work, he began to show me the best practice for hammering a nail. He went slow and then handed me the hammer to me to try. Of course the nail bent. He took the hammer, pulled out the ruined nail and set me up for the next try. I began to practice with him and once he thought my work was adequate he moved on to the next poor aid worker who thought they were the hottest thing around.

Miguel is his name and at 8 years old he humbled me. That week I saw him fix a broken bike and take care of his little brother. I saw him play baseball and help paint his neighbor’s house pepto bismol pink. Miguel is the handy man of the neighborhood. Miguel knows best when it comes to the technique of hammering a nail. Miguel is simply the best.

Miguel 2009 photo cred. TDevoll


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