Hello again from Oaxaca, Sam here, after my first full week in Mexico with Pete, Emma and Zach. We have had quite the busy week getting ready at our Center of Operations, and we just got back from Santa Maria Tepexipana. There, we cleaned up our campsite as much as we could after the hurricane swept through two weeks ago, and I was able to catch up with old friends who I haven’t seen since last August.
On our way down to the jungle, we stopped at Pedro and Maria’s alebrijes store, and were served Maria’s delicious scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions, with beans and her corn tortillas on the side--a meal I have been reminiscing about since August. Also, the last time we stopped for a meal at Pedro and Maria’s at the end of last summer, Maria told me that she was pretty sure her son was going to name his newborn baby girl after me, because of all the joy we (the Simply Smiles staff and volunteers) bring to the world. Obviously, this nearly made me die with happiness, only to find out yesterday that they decided to name her Eileen instead. Samantha really doesn’t sound great in Spanish, I will give them that, and I guess being runner up to having a baby girl named after you isn’t too bad, but it was still a bit of a letdown.
Anyway, after the rest of the six hour drive, we finally reached Santa Maria. It was scorching hot, so even taking the first trip up to our campsite was tiring. However, we found Juan, Elute, Javier, and a few other men from the town helping to rebuild our palapa that the hurricane knocked down, so bringing our supplies up the hill seemed a tad less difficult. The heat in Santa Maria always surprises me the first time I go each summer, so as Zach, Emma, Pete and I continued our trips up the hill, I couldn’t help but think of a letter that Mahelet, my ten year old sister, sent me last year during my internship in Mexico. She drew a picture of me holding a basketball, sweating profusely, with the caption: “Hard workers sweat, just like you. I miss you!” Even though it was the most ridiculous, back-handed compliment I have ever received, it did win a few laughs, and to this day it is tacked up in the Center of Operations down here in Oaxaca, just so everyone knows that I am a hard worker. Albeit a little embarrassing, thinking about it made the trips go by a bit faster.
After we tidied up and finished securing the bunk-beds in our new dorm, we went down to say “hi” to all our friends in the center of the village. I saw Ana Cristina and Mari Cruz-- two of my closest friends from last year who are a few of the sweetest, hardest working girls I have ever met. I saw Pinque, Martin’s puppy that has grown 20 times its original size since we gave her to him last August, and I was able to sit down and talk to Cristobalina, Ana Cristina’s mom; Carina, Mari Cruz’s sister in law; and later Matea and Don Aron, Mari Cruz’s parents.
On my very last night in the jungle last August, Haley and I went to say good bye to Cristabolina and Matea, and ended up staying in their home for almost an hour just talking about the summer, sharing words of thanks, and laughing about all the good times we had together over the past few years since Simply Smiles started working in Santa Maria. When I came back to Cristabolina’s home, it seemed like just last week that I had said goodbye.Zach, Emma and I talked to Don Arón about how nice it is to be able to converse in a common language, and we talked with Cristobalina about the upcoming preschool and primary school graduations, and she brought out the program for us to see. She took it out of its plastic cover, handed it to us, and I almost started crying on the spot: Santa Maria Tepexipana named the pre-school graduation class, “Generación Simplemente Sonrisas,” or “Generation Simply Smiles.” After just three years of being in this village, we have been able to have such a big impact on this community. Not only have we made lasting friends, they believe in our ability, as a Simply Smiles community, to change the lives of their youngest children, so that they can fulfill their dreams. This is our true goal. With every penny we raise we hope to strengthen the communities we work in while focusing on building friendships. We care about the smiles we create, we care about the futures we build, and it is obvious that we are successful. Through seeing this project grow over the last three years, I can’t describe how amazing it is to be such good friends with the families in town, to find kids and adults (who were originally very shy and reserved) warm up to us all and bring us into their homes to chat like old friends, and finally, for them to name a pre-school graduating class to all of us. I cannot wait to see what “Generation Simply Smiles” is capable of, and how Santa Maria Tepexipana will continue to grow stronger in the future.
Another update soon about the St. Luke’s and Rangatoto group that arrives tomorrow!