Four stories, four sets of relationships, four life lessons. In one short week from January 15-22, 2012, my world was altered forever by the stories, relationships and life lessons experienced on the Center for Jewish Future mission to help build an irrigating tilapia farm for the small Mexican village of Muchucuxcah.
My first story is about food and Cecelia, Maxamillia, Anastasia, Phenomelia, Porfafelia and Claudina, the ladies of the kitchen. All over the world, relationships are built around food. Although food is a necessity, the experience of preparing, presenting and eating the food creates a story that is unique to each culture. In Muchucuxcah, the food was prepared by the kitchen ladies. The food was spicy Mexican. But the story is not about the food but about the experience that surrounded the preparation of the food. The kitchen ladies dressed in the most beautiful and colorful hand made dresses and always presented themselves with smiles that stretched a mile wide. Although I could not speak their language, I managed to build a deep connection with them. We danced together, laughed together and exchanged numerous hugs every day. And I learned from these simple kitchen ladies about the power of gratitude and appreciation. It was truly amazing to see individuals who have so little but still manage to appreciate so much.
My second story is about love and courage and one of the children of the village. I was sitting on the ground taking pictures of the kids playing soccer when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a little girl in worn out clothing with a string in her hand. She asked me in Spanish, “Are you Susie?” to which I responded with a smile, “Yes, how did you know that?” She explained to me that she remembered me from our visit to her school the previous day. This brought tears to my eyes. In my broken Spanish, I asked her what her name was and she told me her name was “Rayena Yasmine.” I gave her a hug and asked her if she wanted to play with me. She pulled out her string and taught me a few tricks on my hand. I was humbled by courage of this eight year old Muchucuxcan girl who stepped out of her comfort zone to create a relationship with me, a 19 year old American girl. We played and laughed until I walked her home. Rayena Yasmine taught me about courage but also about the power of love to break down cultural, religious, racial and socioeconomic barriers.
My third story is about how achieving meaningfulness together with happiness and two modest Italians. One night, we met with Sigues Mundo and his wife, Angela, the directors and inspiration behind El Hombre Sobre la Tierra (HST), the non government organization (NGO) with which we worked. Sigues Mundo is Italian by birth but spent many years of his life traveling, volunteering in many countries in need and educating himself in the real life issues at play in the world. In 1994, he and his wife founded HST to “work with communities in Yucatán and Campeche to promote environmental sustainability and food self-sufficiency, advance the integration of women in the economy and strengthen the capacity of grassroots groups.” (visit ajws.org for more information).
Sigues Mundo is one of those inspiring people you may only meet one time in your life. He told our group that we each have a role in this world a – to lead a life that we love. It is our goal to find the thing that we love doing because only then will we reach our ultimate happiness and since happiness is contagious, we will then succeed in bringing happiness to others. Sigues Mundo loves helping people and loves learning about our world, so he created HST in order to live each day doing what he loves. And he taught me to dig deeply into my own consciousness and find what truly makes me happy. I learned that I love human interaction and I love children and with Sigues Mundo in mind, I am dedicated to leading a life interacting with children to bring meaning and happiness into their lives.
My final story is about the power of one and a man named Rodolfo. Rodolfo is a 30 year Mexican with a wife and a 2 year old daughter. He works for El Hombre Sobre la Tierra and dedicates his life to helping others. Everyday our group would arrive at the work cite and transport rocks with our bare hands from the forest to the area where the tilapia pond was going to be built. Around 2 hours into our work I would always find Rodolfo chiseling at the ground in attempt to extract a rock from deep within the soil.
One day Rodolfo stopped me in the woods and asked me in his very broken English, “Why do you not take breaks?” To which I responded with confusion, “Huh?” He said that he was surprised to see a little girl like me lifting rocks for 4 hours without a break. I said to him that it would be a waste if I didn’t work because that is why I was brought to Muchucuxcah. He said to me again in his broke English, “No, you were not brought here to move rocks. You came to Muchucuxcah so that we can learn to smile like you!” I immediately turned bright red and thanked him very much.
On Saturday night at our last fiesta with the community, Rodolfo came over to me again to explain our conversation in the woods. He said it is not so often you meet someone with a genuine smile who really loves to interact with other human beings. He asked me what my name meant and I said to him that my name is Sasona Simcha which means happiness and joy. He said, “I knew it!” He told me that human interaction is so powerful and that for him meeting our group has taught him so much about himself and about the way he interacts with others. He said he loves to meet people and learn something about them and I really took that to heart. I will always remember Rodolfo as the man who taught me to believe in myself and who taught me that I have the power to impact those around me through smiling.
Four stories, four sets of relationships, four life lessons. But this week in a tiny village in the Yucatan peninsula which I will likely never see again, showed me so much more. By sharing this amazing experience with 18 amazing new friends from the YU community, I learned that by working together, we can truly change the world and make our little neck of the woods more special, more enjoyable and more meaningful.
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