I have failed to post about my most recent trip to Baja for one reason. It was overwhelming. There were many small experiences, each having so much depth making it hard to express even verbally. So I have decided to start with one of the many experiences and work my way from there. FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS…
My friendship started in 2009 with a girl named Lucero. When I first met Lucero I was on my first house build and my Spanish knowledge was restrained by 3 years of high school courses and 4 years of neglecting the language. Upon moments of our arrival to the neighborhood where we will build for the week, various Mexican curios and trinkets appear, lining the streets surrounding the lots we work on. The vendors sit and wait a short distance from where we work, they wait for the Americans to take a stroll through the dusty neighborhood over to their tables of colorful goods. They wait in the strong winds with their families and bake in the sun. They are diligent vendors. The people selling these tourist curios in the area where we are working are not price gouging. They do not hike up a price to a ridiculous amount of Pesos and in return we do not try to haggle them down to a lower price. It is as if there is a common agreement of respect between the visitors and vendors.
Back to Lucero. I remember the first time I saw Lucero. She and her sisters were setting up tables and precisely arranging their merchandise in an organized manner. They were preparing for the day, just as we were organizing our work site. After we finished organizing and had worked several hours on the home we were building, my husband and I walked over to the tables and began to browse. Lucero and her sister patiently waited for us look (no pressure sales). I chose a simple woven bracelet paid 1 dollar and went back to the house build.
During lunch time I noticed that there was a group of women standing in a circle around the Van that Lucero’s family had transported their merchandise in. There was cooing and awing along with soft whispers. With my PB&J and Oreo cookies in hand, like a true outsider, I walked up to the van to see what was going on. There lay in the arms of one of my female team members was a 1 week old infant. My mother who was also on this trip was asking how old the child was and when our trip leader asked what the child’s name was they said she (the infant) had not been named. The family started to ask us what our names were in an effort to find a name for the baby. They laughed as they tried to pronounce some of the names we gave, and we laughed with them. As I looked around at that moment in time I saw women at their best. Women nurturing a child. The baby was Lucero’s youngest sister.
I spent many of my breaks throughout the rest of the week near the stand. Occasionally my time was spent looking at the baby and other times speaking broken Spanish with Lucero. I asked her how old she was – 15. I asked her if she went to school – Yes she did. I asked her where she lived – Triki and I asked her how much the bracelets cost – $1.
After the last nail in houses we build is driven, we give our teams a day off and the opportunity to explore the little town we work in. There is a small flea market in the park where paletas and churros are sold. It was there that I noticed a familiar face. It was Lucero. She and her family were selling their merchandise there. We timidly wave hello to one another and I bought one last bracelet to bring the trip to an end.
The following year in summer 2010, I helped to build a second home. As usual we began with organizing our work site and like clock-work the vendors showed up, only this time I saw her and recognized her. Lucero smiled at me and waved. I began to remember the baby and the van and the bracelets from the year before and walked straight to her. I went through the basic greeting and smiled, and soon I ran out things that I was able to communicate to her, leading to awkward nodding and hand gestures that make very little sense. The ability to communicate is very important in any relationship, but it is not always necessary.
I returned one last time that same year in Autumn (2010) and of course Lucero and her family were there, waiting for us and the team we would bring. At the end of the Autumn trip I told her I would return the next summer but I did not. Life took hold in the form of a new job and I could not make the trip in 2011. My husband would go on 3 trips without me from 2011 to this summer 2012. Every time he saw Lucero she would ask for me, and when he would try to buy me a bracelet she would refuse his money and give the small bracelets to him for free. It broke my heart that I could not be there to see her and thank her. It broke my heart that I was not able to see this friend that was asking for me and it broke my heart that I could not be a part of something as big as this. It made me realize that although, we are there for only a week at a time, and although it is like a sprint the entire time we are working and helping, we truly are making an impact. Many times we are making an impact in ways that we may find to be unlikely.
Even more than all good things we try to do, the trip has left a lasting impression on me personally. It has created a friendship that would have not been possible. I am not the only one who has a friendship evolve despite language barriers on this trip. I see it happen every time we return, team members will tell us how they are looking forward to visiting or finding a person that they met on the trip the previous year.
This summer when I journeyed back to Baja she was there, waiting for us all to return. Waiting for the opportunity to sell and maybe even to meet up with me again. When I saw her I could almost say for certain that time stopped that moment. Up and down our feet left the ground and finally we embraced with laughter. Had she thought as much about me as I had about her? Maybe. But what mattered the most at that moment was that I was back with a very important person. I tried to give her as much of my time possible this past trip, and she did the same for me. She attempted to teach me how to weave the bracelets that she sells and laughed happily at my feeble attempts. I grinned the entire time. As I began to leave she asked my favorite color, she grasped my forearm and tied the purple and black bracelet to my wrist. There it sits today.
When I left this time we both cried. I cried because I cannot promise I will be back anytime soon. I cried because she fills my heart with joy, as it is her who passes through my mind in my memories of these trips. She is 18 now and from the cell phone in her hand (we have her number now) and the smile on her face an in her heart, she is doing better than most who live there. I hope to return one day to my friend Lucero.
This friendship will be greater than the miles between us and whether we live to see one another again, I will remember to the end her friendship bracelet.