Friday, January 26, 2007

Playa del Carmen, Peru, and some Pondering...

A few years ago, I went on a Mission Trip with our senior class to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, a city about 45 minutes south of Cancun. Originally the town was established as a temporary place for workers to live while they built all the luxury hotels along the gorgeous Cancun beaches. These workers lived in poverty while they built exquisite hotels and mansions for the wealthy to party in. As the years passed, the temporary worker village became permanent and the worker huts became home to thousands.

I and two others took about 20 seniors to this now full-blown city to work mostly in the barrios surrounding our hotels. Beautiful restaurants and hotels lined the even more beautiful beach, while blocks away people lived in treated cardboard and stick huts with no electricity, water, windows or bathrooms.

Some of our group worked in the Red Cross clinic, some in the dental clinic, some built cement block churches, and some (my group) visited in the homes, bringing clothes and trinkets for the families and children.

The living conditions were shocking to most of our group. None of us could imagine living in such situations. And yet over and over our kids were struck with how happy everyone seemed to them. At the time, I thought our students were being a little naive. After all, why would anyone be happy in such conditions. If they were, it was only because they didn't know anything better.

It was the same thing I thought when, five years later, I took another senior class to Peru for a mission trip. Again, we saw people living in the most extreme poverty. One day we took a boat ride out to the middle of Lake Titticaca to the Indian tribe that live on floating islands (yes, they float). Now truly, I think those were the poorest living conditions I've ever seen. And yet we were totally charmed by them, they were so different from anything else we'd ever seen. But again, there was no electricity, no running water, no plumbing, just straw (reeds) and lake water. And the people seemed happy. Not being fluent enough in the language of these Pereuvians or the Mexicans, I was unable to have enough conversation to discover their happiness on any level. We only had their surface joy at meeting and mingling with us.

Looking at their faces, they seemed happy. Comparing their living arrangements to what we know, it didn't seem possible that they were content. Faces were chapped and burned to cracking. No shoes. Raggedy clothes. But beautiful smiles, loving personalities (I was kissed so many times by children with the dirtiest faces!).

The answer, I suspect, lies somewhere between the two extremes. Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, "It is well, it is well with my soul." Put another way, there is something to be said for finding a way to be content with your situation in life, especially if you cannot change it (providing it is not dangerous or harmful to your life and health). Both times, my young friends left those impoverished places with a new respect for their own lives, but also a healthy suspicion of the dangers of materialism. They questioned their need for things after seeing so many seemingly happy people who did without what we consider necessities.

That's not the reason we go to such places for mission projects, necessarily, but I do think it's an added wind up appreciating your blessings but also realizing that there can be happiness with less...far less.


Heidi said...

It was good to see the pictures of Playa and remember again the impact it had on me. The impressions gained abroad have a way of fading until something triggers the memory again.

Rondi said...

I was thinking you might enjoy the memory! I know I did.