This past January, a group of Carroll University students traveled to Xiloxochico, Mexico, with Team Leader and Community Partnership Program Manager, Grace Janssen. During the experience, students were asked to share their reflections in a rotating Team Journal.
1/12/2017 Today we left Puebla in the mid-afternoon and traveled to Cuetzalan. Mountains and palm trees surrounded our hotel and we received our first taste of the city. It seems that here that the “everybody knows everybody” saying holds true. After exploring Cuetzalan, we had dinner with our “family” and ended our long day of travel with card games. We spent the night laughing and taking in the spectacular views of the surrounding hills.
1/13/2017 Rather than working on our first day in Xiloxochico, we attended a local funeral. I was a bit nervous and thought to myself how funerals are a very personal endeavor in the U.S. Upon arrival we were greeted with smiles and delicious food. We toured the village and hiked high up into the hills. The view was amazing—standing up there made me feel so small. After the hike, we attended the funeral. The entire community was involved in the procession and local women created beautiful flower arrangements.
1/14/2017 Good morning! Today is our third day in Cuetzalan. After our morning breakfast, which consisted of fresh fruit, sweet breads, eggs in a tomato-based sauce, tortillas, salsa and coffee or tea, we were finally on our way to start our adventure! We hiked two or three miles down the mountain to catch our combi to drive us to Xilo. During the ride I admired the lush greens climbing up the mountainsides and felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. The combi was crowded and at times, we struggled to make it up the steep mountain roads. Our “family” laughed in disbelief. When we arrived safely at the school in Xilo, we met the children. We enjoyed playing many games of football, soccer, hopscotch, jump rope, and of course, there was tremendous amount of laughter.
1/16/2017 Hola! We went to breakfast to find the gas was out and everything was going to be a little bit delayed. We were grateful that we had been able to take a quick morning shower! After breakfast we got to work on the retaining wall for the park’s soccer court. Grace urged us to take plenty of breaks and after a bit of rest we were able to transport a large portion of the materials that were needed. I was surprised how easy it was to work with not only the “family” but with the locals in the community. Though we were thoroughly tired, our project brought us even closer together.
1/18/2017 When we arrived at the school today, the locals had already started extending the retaining wall. We assisted in groups of four and took turns digging, while others helped transport sand. We learned how our lunch was prepared today and helped out in the kitchen. We watched tortillas being made—grinding pre-soaked corn to separate it from the dough, patting the dough into a flattened ball which was then passed through a wooden contraption and later skillfully placed on a hot, flat pan. We learned which herbs could be picked from the back yard to add a peppery flavor to our chicken soup. We were in awe over the amount of preparation that went into the meals. After dinner we participated in a local cleansing ritual.
1/19/2017 It’s the eve of our last day in Cuetzalan! After picking up pinatas and candy in a little shop, we boarded our combi bus to the community. After playing with the schoolchildren we were taken into a classroom. We were offered homemade food and heartfelt words of thanks for our visit. There was a long goodbye and a celebration with dancing and soccer matches.
1/20/2017 Regardless of the language barrier, we all managed to communicate. The last time down the mountain was bittersweet. When we got back to Puebla, we couldn’t stop talking and reminiscing. I think it shows how much we truly enjoyed each other’s company, and how much we had bonded as a “family.” As today comes to an end, I can’t stop thinking about our amazing adventure!