Dark Shadows in the City of God or, What I Saw in Mexico (excerpt)

DSC01482I’ve come across some journal writings of a young man that I know, we’ll simply call him Matthew (or Matt). Born to a successful family, he began a job in the finance field after graduating college. He felt unfulfilled in all that he was doing, so he decided to venter into Mexico. The few times he went in college were typically Spring Break trips, visiting the tourist areas of Mexico. He decided to go last year and visit what he calls “real Mexico,” the part that tourists don’t get to visit. 

His journal entries are interesting. I’m sure some of this is written creatively and even Matt might be a part of the creative fiction, but every good story must mix a bit of fiction and truth, for that is the recipe of art. Thus, I present to you his journal, fragmented though it may be. 


July 3, 2013

One of the contacts I made has agreed to take me to the orphanage that I heard about in the mountains. We leave the hostel near the beach early in the morning in his truck. Since a few of us are going, and since I am a bit bigger than everyone else, I opt to ride in the back of the truck. We make our way through town, slowly merging in and out of the traffic in a chaotic symphony, speeding up, slowing down, cutting in and out of anarchic order. The morning is perfect as I feel the sun warming my skin as we drive up into the mountains. We reach the top of a hill and I swear that I’ve never seen a view so beautiful. In the distance is the bright blue Pacific in all its glory with a sea of green tropical trees hovering at its edge. The ocean stretches on for eternity from my vantage point, extending well beyond the limits of human sight and imagination. The city looks like a village from where I sit and quickly disappears behind the tropical mountains. I sit back and enjoy the moment, appreciating that some things simply cannot be explained, only experienced.

It is impossible to drive through Mexico without encountering toppes (speed bumps) and on the way to the orphanage we encounter quite a few. Like many things in Mexico, they are beat up and in desperate need of maintenance. You almost need to know where they are or you risk hitting them at full speed, as many of them are not painted. We approach one bump, but this one is different. On the bump sits a man, right in the middle. His clothes, like the toppe he sits upon, are worn down. He plants himself on a cushion and it’s apparent that he has no legs. In both hands he waives orange flags, warning all drivers to slow down.

As we slowly approach I see that he is also wearing a smile. He is happier than anyone I have ever seen. Like the saints of old, he has found contentment in simplicity. In a world where everyone hurries from place to place, where life is neglected in the pursuit of its imitation, this man lives. He lives more life on this toppe than some men will live traveling the globe. I find myself envious of this man. I am a graduate of one of the finest universities in the United States, I have more money and more of a future than this man can fathom. I have never risked poverty and yet I feel poorer than him, for I’ve never experienced the happiness he shows. I would trade everything I have to hold onto his smile for just a few minutes.

My curiosity consumes me and since we are driving at a slow speed, I decide to yell out to him.

Por qué haces esto?” (Why do you do this?)

His smile only gets bigger and as we drive away, he shouts back, “lo hago por Dios y sus hijos!” A shocking answer. “I do it for God and his children.” Is this man so simple as to just warn drivers about an oncoming bump? Perhaps he is touched by God, a prophet, warning all the sinners of the bumps in life to come. Maybe I am reading too much into what he does, or maybe I do not see enough.

We make it to the orphanage, but the word “orphanage” does not translate well. The place is more a foster home for children that were abused and removed from their homes. The abuse was both physical and sexual and so I’m warned that some of the children might be “off.”

We walk through the gate with the dust of the road kicking up entering a courtyard where some construction has occurred. One thing about Mexican architecture is it seems to be in a state of perpetual construction. This orphanage is no different, though it is far nicer than one might expect. A Canadian couple, former pastors, came down and opened this place of refuge up, in cooperation with the state. The man’s name is John and his wife is Susan. I talk to John, I ask him, “Why did you give up being a pastor?” He just laughs at me.

“Who says I gave it up?”

“So you pastor a church down here?” I ask. He looks at me, measuring me and seeing if he can be honest. He takes a leap of faith.

“I pastored five churches in North America, some in Canada and some in the United States. I got tired of it Matt. The politics, the wanting to be first, the self-centeredness, all of it. This is my church now. These kids have nothing, so I know God is here, he has to be.”

He motions for me to walk into the kitchen area because he doesn’t want to speak anymore on the pains he experienced up north.

As we walk inside I realize we are interrupting their afternoon snack. Typically, in other nations I’ve visited, when adults from a foreign country enter a room the children fill with curiosity. Many of these kids, however, are filled with nothing more than a slight upturn in apathy. We are just a group of white people, gringos, whose presence is fleeting. Some of the kids, however, quickly react to strangers in their presence and come about us, talking in Spanish and grabbing our hands, trying to show us their toys and their rooms. One girl, however, catches my eye. Young and a face full of life, her eyes stare off, unwilling to look at any of the men in the group, unwilling to interact with the stranger. I inquire about her and am told she was removed from a home where the father – and his friends – did unspeakable things to her. She is only five-years-old.

She is a young girl, unable to smile because life has given her no happiness. Sexually and physically abused, torn from a family that didn’t love her, and declared “unadoptable” by the State. In her five years on this earth she has suffered an eternity of turmoil. I try to talk to her, but she avoids me, not trusting me because I am a man. I talk to those around her and she eyes me with curiosity, but I do not talk to her. My mispronunciation of a Spanish word brings a slight upturn to her frown. I smile and apologize for being so white. Eventually, the image of God bursts forth from the corners of her mouth as her smile turns into a laugh; all her pain, all her memories, all her suffering, for that moment forgotten and life reigns supreme.

As the moments go by, she gets closer to me. She begins to laugh more and more at my incredibly broken Spanish. She hands me her tiara, urging me to put it on. I place it on my head and she laughs at the spectacle of my foolishness. She begs to use my phone and to take pictures of this odd white man in her tiara and her smile leaves me with no recourse to object. She laughs as she snaps every picture, calling her friends over to look at me. I have never been happier or more touched to be the butt of a joke. She finally wraps her arms around my neck and then will not leave my side. We take pictures together, she talks to me in Spanish at a pace I cannot understand. I try to tell her that I cannot communicate that well and I cannot understand her, but it does not matter to her. She is around a man who is not here to harm her, and that is all she needs.

As a cool breeze enters our courtyard and the sun dips behind the wall, we know it is time to depart. I feel a heavy heart, not wanting to leave her, but she seems fine. I begin to feel sorry for her, but am reminded that she is no true orphan and is around those who love her. With that I withhold my sadness and can leave, happy that for a moment peace is restored to a small part of this broken world.