Our Monday began with a delicious breakfast of pancakes and bacon, immediately followed by some hard work in the sun. Our first task was to mix cement to line the top of one of the outside walls of the center of operations. This task involved combining buckets of sand, gravel, water, and of course, cement, by mixing and moving a large pile of the ingredients. By the time we were finished, everyone had cement caked on their legs, arms, and even hair. Meanwhile, another group chipped away the rough edges of adoquin bricks so that our construction maestro, Javier, could begin to finish the new driveway.
Around noon, Sam asked four of us (Charlie, Allyson, Kaylyn, and Nate) to join her on a trip to the Oaxaca city dump to pick up our lunch. When we first entered the dump, we were astounded. What we at first assumed to be a small mountain turned out to be piles of trash, stacked hundreds of feet high. At the base of this mountain stood small, one room, cement buildings, brightly painted in all different colors. These houses, built by Simply Smiles, were home to the 30 or so families who lived in the dump, or as we call them, “the dumplings”. One of these houses was owned by a woman named Edith. She was the first dumpling to receive a house from Simply Smiles, and has been able to supplement her income by preparing and selling sandwiches. It was these sandwiches that we had come to pick up. When we entered her home, she and her husband were incredibly hospitable and insisted we sit down on the chairs she brought out especially for us. It was incredibly touching that even though her needs were so much greater than ours, in that moment she was focused purely on our comfort. After talking with Edith for a while, we payed for our sandwiches and returned to the center of operations where we ate them with the rest of the group. They were delicious!
After lunch, we continued work on the audoquin driveway until around 4 when we took a water break and returned to the dump with the entire group. We went back to Edith’s house where she showed us her farm animals which she was able to buy with the extra income from her sandwiches. She had actually been doing so well with her sandwiches that she was able to add a second room to her house as well as a make-shift barn to house her animals. We then left Edith’s house and headed up the piles of trash. On our way up, we met several other dumplings all of whom were overjoyed to see us. Though our knowledge of Spanish is limited, we could tell how happy they were by the way the smiled and laughed when talking to Kristen, Sam, and Zach. At the top of the dump, we met the former, and first woman, president of the dump community, (they have their own self-run government) who told us more about the work the dumplings do.
They wake up at sunrise every morning and hike up the mountain of garbage where they sift through endless bags of trash, bare handed, searching for valuables and recyclables that they can sell for around a dollar per day. In fact, their title for themselves is the Spanish word for “scavengers”. While on the dump, we also met the first president of the community, Luciano, who despite his age was incredibly excited to play in our Mexicans vs. Americans soccer game later this week. We returned to the center of operations for dinner, and hung out with Martín, the son of one of our construction maestros.
One of the most amazing things about Monday was how even with the language barrier, we found effective ways to communicate with the dumplings, even if it was something as simple as a smile or handshake. It was also amazing how happy they were, despite how difficult their situation was. We learned to be happy with what we have and not to take anything for granted. We finished the night with a guitar sing-along and went to bed exhausted, ready for another exciting day.
Mom, Dad, Nick, Grandma, Grandpa, and everyone else:
Wish you guys could experience this with me! It’s soooooo amazing and I really hope to come back some day!
Hey Mom, Dad, Sadie, Carly, Friends, and others,
It's been awesome, I wish you guys could be here! Mom, the food is great and Dad, the scenery is amazing!
A mi Familia:
Mexico has been amazing, the people are great, and my spanish is much better than I thought it was. I am wearing sun screen and hydrating, all is good. Love, Allyson
A todos, Vamos a trabajar con los otros voluntarios de Simply Smiles en el Centro de Operaciones. Hasta luego, desde Mexico!
Signed, group 2:
Charlie, Kaylyn, and Allyson