Sisters in School

It has been a very long time coming, but finally all 3 of our weekend daughters are in school and we couldn’t be happier.   Here in Mexico children must have birth certificates before they can enroll in school, and the two youngest in this family had never been registered, never been counted, never really existed as people with the right to be educated and employed.  After more than a year of knocking on the closed doors of doctors, lawyers and other bureaucrats, Britany and Pricila finally possess the papers they need to open locked classroom doors.

During the week these girls live at Manos de Amor, Casa Hogar and on weekends they hang out with us – at the pool or at the beach, eating chorizo quesadillas and tacos.  Little Pricila has a medical issue that keeps her from living at Casa Hogar right now, so she is temporarily living with us all week.  It’s been a long time since I took a little one to her first day of school, but I was pretty excited to do so this week.  So was she!  I definitely need some practice on how to create pretty braids and keep white uniform shirts clean,  and what the heck do I do with Spanish homework?  But I’ll learn.  More importantly, finally Pricila has her own opportunity to learn… to read and to write and to dream of a future where she can grow up to be whatever she wants to be.

 

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Maybe our Worst Trip Yet!

It wouldn’t be the first time a road trip between Mexico and Canada clobbered us with challenges and frustrations, but our recent trip last week might top them all.

We knew we would need to take our truck and trailer back to Canada within the next 2 years – our truck was not the correct type or year to be imported – and since Grant’s family had planned a reunion for the August long weekend, we decided that would be a perfect time to drive north. Our intention was to leave Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, drive 2 or 3 days on smooth Mexican toll roads, eat our way through American restaurants, spend a couple of days in my Canadian hometown with my family and some friends and then hop on a plane to Alberta for the reunion on Friday. Somewhere in there we would take our trailer and our truck to a consignment lot and eventually jump on a plane back home. It was a good plan. It should have worked. But…..

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The first snag was that we really wanted to have the trailer painted a spiffy black, so it would look a lot younger than its actual years. Of course, when the painter guy said it would take 2 days, he actually meant 4 days, which meant we didn’t get away until Saturday morning. The driving days would need to be longer, the restaurants more fast food than sit down, but we could still make it. Until Guadalajara. Only 4 hours from home we hit our biggest, and scariest, challenge to date.

Guadalajara is a REALLY BIG CITY and we knew it was going to be tricky driving a truck pulling a 30-foot trailer through there. But the highway goes straight through the city. It really is just put the car in Drive and go straight. Unfortunately, Mexican motorcycle drivers seldom just go straight and, on this Saturday, a young man on a motorbike decided it would be faster if he could just weave in and out between vehicles, making the 2 lanes into 3. What he didn’t calculate well was the width of our dually truck and that trailer. As he tried to drive between us and the car beside us, he scraped against the side of the truck, bounced off the trailer and landed under the tires of a Jeep behind us. We didn’t see this happening, but we did hear the squeal of brakes and tires and when Grant looked in the mirror he saw the Jeep run over the young man. We still didn’t realize we had been involved in this accident until someone beside us yelled for us to pull over.

And that’s when we realized this was serious. It looked like the young man was okay, but we still didn’t have a clue what had happened and no one around us was speaking any English. Immediately we pulled out our insurance policy and called an agent – please come, we’ve been in an accident. It didn’t take long until our agent was there as well as the agent of the other driver. Still, no English. So of course, we did what we always do when we can’t speak the language – we called our friend Francisco. 35 times we called Francisco over the next 8 hours as we sorted this all out at the side of the road.

In Mexico, accidents are basically about the insurance settlement – you don’t leave the scene until the insurance has been settled. For the next 2 hours the police measured scratches and took photos and wrote statements while the insurance agents negotiated. Finally, our agent told us that they had reached a settlement – everyone would pay their own damages and that would be the end of this. Huge sigh of relief. Maybe this would be okay. The motorcycle guy obviously had injured his legs and feet, but basically seemed okay.

And then his dad arrived and decided that he was most definitely NOT taking that settlement, and in fact was deserving of receiving money for his injuries. Now I get that Dad was worried for his son, but the police were very adamant that this accident was the young man’s fault and he did not deserve any cash, but Dad was not having it. Either give us money, or we’re going to court.

At that point our agent told us that the deal had fallen apart, we would be going to court on Monday, which meant our vehicles would be impounded tonight. And they could keep them impounded for up to 2 months if they needed further investigation. Oh my gosh. 4 hours into the trip and our vehicles were being seized.

The negotiating continued. The police and the insurance guys kept pushing the father to accept the deal they were offering. If we indeed went to court on Monday, he would probably lose and then he would be responsible to pay all the damages on all the vehicles. But Dad stayed firm and then he made the call that escalated this all to the next level – he called an ambulance for his son. Now this young guy had been sitting there for 3 hours and definitely should have gone to a hospital, but calling an ambulance increased the severity of the situation – and that is when we got the call from Francisco who was clearly upset. The agent had called him to tell him that Grant – as well as the driver of the jeep and the motorcyclist – would be going to jail for 48 hours. Until court on Monday. Grant was going to freaking Mexican jail. I stood there shocked. 48 hours? In jail in Guadalajara? Where no one spoke English? This was so not good. The police lined the other driver up with Grant and 2 women officers came with the necessary paperwork to process the arrests. By this time our friends in Bucerias were frantically calling everyone they could think of who might be able to help. Shortly thereafter, an acquaintance of Francisco and Veronica arrived to see if he could help. He didn’t speak English either, so we will never really know what went on, but he started negotiating with everyone, pushing them to let us go, trying to find a way to make a deal. By this time 5 or 6 hours had gone by and just when we thought the day couldn’t get worse it started to rain. POURING with giant hail stones. They let us jump in our truck and then the streets flooded. Water to the top of the police car’s tires. Just so dark and dismal as we sat waiting for them to take Grant to jail. We hadn’t eaten since 7 am so we were starving. Our agent had gone to buy us a bottle of water, but we had nothing else.

The police kept going back and forth to the hospital and finally things shifted for us. The police had continued to pressure the boy and his family to make a settlement. They continued to resist until the police said “Enough, this accident is your fault and you’re going to jail. You’ll be paying all the damages as well as paying fines for dangerous driving”. Right there they arrested him and took him from the hospital to the jail. They were still planning to come for Grant and the Jeep driver, but after his arrest, motorcycle dude’s family left him alone – they had had enough of this mess – and he agreed to take a settlement. To pay for his own damages and not go to court. Which meant we would be free to go. It was another hour or two before all the papers were drawn up. We had to agree to:

  • not press charges
  • not ask for damages
  • pay the police officers 500 pesos for all their hard work (negotiated down from the 1000 they asked for at first).

By this time, it was after midnight. It was still raining, and we had to find a hotel. We were exhausted, hungry, scared and just really grouchy. But we were okay, Grant was not in jail and the hotel we found agreed to take puppy.

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Of course, this wasn’t the end of our troubles. Not even close. The next morning, we came out of the hotel and saw we had a flat tire. After changing it, we left the hotel, eager to get out of this city. We had only been on the highway for 2 or 3 minutes when a siren pulled us over. You have got to be kidding me. I don’t know if we were flagged in the system or if it was a coincidence but again we were on the side of the road trying to talk to policemen who did not speak English and did not look happy. We finally understood that we were not to drive on this highway with this vehicle – we could only drive on the side road, the lateral. Fine, we will do that. And we would have to pay a fine. On Monday. 1200 pesos. Oh my gosh. I do not want to stay here another day. Can we pay you here somehow? Well if you give us 2400 pesos we can pay your ticket for you on Monday. So another 2400 pesos down the drain to the Mexican ‘legal’ system. But we were free to get out of town.

Over the next few days we had challenge after challenge. 5 hours inching along in a 106 degree lineup to cross the border into the US. Vehicle problems. Tires wearing. 5th gear shot. Some kind of broken belt. Which pointed to some other part that was needing to be replaced. The realization that it was now August and Grant’s driver’s license had expired in July and he couldn’t renew online because it was time for a new picture. Every day more hours behind schedule.

We had already told our family we would not make the reunion by Friday. But Saturday. We would be there Saturday. Our oldest daughter was driving 2 days from Vancouver, so we were not about to give up. But each day it seemed less likely. Our flight was booked for 5:00 on Saturday morning and Friday at noon we were still in South Dakota. Which meant we had to drive through South Dakota, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. We had to drop the trailer at a consignment lot 40 miles north of Regina. We had to drop the truck at our mechanic’s shop. Which we did. At 2:30 am. One hour before having to head to the airport. One hour to spare. After 1 week on the road with accidents and breakdowns and border delays and police encounters, we had arrived with 1 hour to spare.

I know you’re asking why we keep doing stuff like this. Why do we keep driving back and forth hauling vehicles full of weird stuff, encountering weird people and experiencing weird situations? I guess because we’re weird people who are in the middle of doing something pretty extraordinary. Trying to build an unusual life in the best way we know how. Yes, we could have stayed in Canada until all our ducks were in a better row, until our language was better and our bank account bigger. But then we would have missed hugging little Perla today, would not have little girls who need a safe home living with us on weekends, and would not have realized that the things that are most worthwhile in life are always the most difficult.

“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” – Rising Strong by Brené Brown.

In the end, we had a fun weekend with family from Canada and the US and Sweden. We celebrated being Swansons. We hugged our daughter and played fetch with our puppy and ate soup with Uncle Paul and Aunt Rita and celebrated cousin Albin’s new log home. We told our stories and laughed about the whole crazy adventure. And then we got on a plane and came home – because this is now home and it is indeed all worth it!

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Birthdays, Birthdays and Birthdays

Last week was a week FULL of birthday fiestas – from Cristofer celebrating his very first birthday to Grant enjoying his 60th.    And Mareli who is now 11 but having her very first party with friends and gifts.

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A selfie of me smuggling a pinata on a golf cart – lots of laughing neighbors!

First was Grant’s birthday.  I bought a Minion piñata and a cake and smuggled it into the orphanage on Friday before classes.  The children spent the morning making cards and letters.  Lucio spent all morning using a YouTube tutorial to make a box that exploded confetti when Grant opened it.   We had a YWAM team visiting that day, so they joined in with the singing and dancing and piñata smashing.  The children absolutely loved the surprise and at this age, our celebrations are more for these little ones than for ourselves. That night we took our weekend girls and headed to a pretty restaurant on the canal for a birthday dinner of flaming fajitas.   It was a good day and I know Grant felt the love many times over!

The very next day was Mareli’s birthday.   Although her mom had recently moved to Bucerias, we hadn’t heard from her and we knew we needed to make sure Mareli felt loved and special on this day when her family hadn’t showed up.  Our good friends Francisco and Anita offered us their home and pool for the afternoon.  We bought another piñata – a unicorn this time – another cake, chicken and ceviche tostados and we invited some Manos de Amor friends to come and celebrate Mareli’s day.  She knew we were going swimming together, but the rest was a surprise.  I loved the look on her face when the doorbell rang and 5 of her friends walked in as well as her precious Tia Laura, a caregiver from the orphanage.  Again, face planting in the cake, piñata breaking, and lots of food and drink.  She was thrilled with the MP3 player we bought her to listen to her Soy Luna music.  A super fun day for kids and us adults too.

 

And then one more.  This week was the first birthday for 1-year old Cristofer.   Last year Cristofer was born to his young mom – the second child to the then 16-year-old.   If you remember from my blog story last year, 2 or 3 weeks after Cristofer was born, he still didn’t have a name.  His mom just couldn’t decide, so she asked for my help and I was honored to name this little guy Cristofer Alejandro.  I visit Cristofer every Friday and Sunday  – along with his brother Kevin, and cousin Lupita and lots of aunties and uncles and his grandma.  His 6 year old uncle comes with me to Manos de Amor each week.  It is a full house and although there is not a lot of material stuff in the one room home, there is definitely love and family.

 

Happy Birthday Cristofer and Mareli and Grant!  I never could have guessed that when Grant turned 60, this would be the life we would be living.  It’s a weird combo of missionary social work retirement and we are loving every minute of it!  So Feliz Cumpleanos mi esposo – te quiero!

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Gael’s Gets His Surgery

Most of you now know the results of our long-awaited trip to Guadalajara for the Cochlear Implant surgery for Gael. It was the day we had been working towards since late last fall when we first took Gael to a doctor to find out just what was possible for him. Since then there have been many trips to many doctors in Puerto Vallarta and Tepic and Guadalajara. Tests and more tests -MRIs, CT scans, Brain stem tests, blood tests, audiology tests. Hours and hours of research to find the best surgeons, the best implant device, the best sign language and speech therapy resources. And of course, the fundraising. 5 months of events and online crowd sourcing campaigns and Facebook posts and email blitzes and PayPal transactions and bank wires. After many setbacks, many date changes and location changes and device changes, we were finally on the road to Guadalajara to have the surgery. Gael, his mom, his teenage cousin, Francisco, myself, Grant and a big red cooler – all piled into the Blue Explorer SUV owned by Manos de Amor. We had a three-bedroom Airbnb booked for 2 nights, the cooler full of important stuff like coffee and peanut butter, and Grant’s leather bag packed with cash. Yes, we were paying the hospital and the surgeon in pesos – a giant pile of pesos.

The surgery was booked for early Tuesday morning and the doctor had asked to see Gael on Monday afternoon at 5:15 in preparation. We headed out around 10:00 in the morning – certainly better than the 3 am start on our previous trip to Guadalajara. We stopped ½ way for some tortas and gorditas and were just coming up to the outskirts of the city when a warning beep and light came on. An oil light saying oil pressure had dropped. Of course. This day had been all together too smooth to be a Swanson story! Almost immediately we saw a small shop that sold oil and other lubricants – how perfect was that! We pulled in and the owner said he only sold products – he didn’t fix vehicles, but he would call us a mechanic. It didn’t take long for a young mechanic to arrive in his beat up blue half ton truck. He looked, listened and agreed that it didn’t sound good. We better not drive any further. Aargh. This was not in our plan for

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this week at all. On the up side, we had made it to Guadalajara. Almost anywhere else along the way would have left us stranded in the middle of nowhere. On the down side, Guadalajara is giant, and we were nowhere near the surgeon’s office and now we had 5 adults, 1 deaf boy, a bunch of suitcases and one big red cooler standing by the side of the highway.

The mechanic suggested we call Uber and for the next 3 days that is just what we did. In Guadalajara, Uber only uses small cars for up to 4 people so that was our first challenge. And you can’t call a second Uber with your app until the current trip is finished. So we placed our request and within 5 or 10 minutes Ana Patricia was there. Francisco and Gael and mom and cousin jumped in the car, leaving Grant and I and the luggage and of course the big red cooler on the side of the highway while Grant downloaded the Uber app on his phone. I watched as the tiny car on my phone app rushed Gael to meet Dr.

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Macias. They left us at 4:06 – arrived at the hospital at 5:18. 3 minutes late for the appointment we had been planning since last fall. Ana Patricia waited for them outside the hospital – in the end the trip was over 2 ½ hours and it cost $392 pesos – that’s about 20 bucks. For 2 ½ hours. In the meantime, Grant and I had called another Uber and loaded it up and headed to the apartment that would be home for a couple of days.

We had expected to take Gael to the hospital by 7 on Tuesday morning, but instead Dr. Macias decided to admit him Monday night, so he would be prepped and ready for the early morning surgery. His mom was nervous and scared but also excited. She and Gael were given a beautiful private suite with a separate sitting area for her to spend the night. We promised to be there in the morning when Gael came out of surgery.

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The surgery took about 3 hours and the doctors told us it had gone perfectly. While there is never a guarantee, they were confident it had been a success. We won’t know for sure until activation day which will be in 6 weeks. That is the day the device will be turned on and Gael will hear.

We were relieved and thrilled. Gael was carried back from the operating room and his mom and I shed a couple of tears as he moaned in pain. His head was wrapped in a giant white bandage. The nurses laid him in his bed and as I leaned over to kiss his cheek he reached up with his one arm and hugged me tightly around the neck. He was groggy and in pain but still the affectionate Gael we love.

I expected him to be dopey and in a lot of pain all day, but it couldn’t have even been an hour before he sat straight up in his bed, grabbed Grant’s phone and started playing Candy Crush. It was as if nothing had happened. Soon he was out of bed, entertaining us and playing with the 2 trucks the hospital had given him. He was concerned as they took his IV line out, didn’t like the teensy drop of blood that was on his hand, but he was amazing and strong and brave and was proud of his bandage when I showed him his picture.

About 9:00 that evening he was released from the hospital and we made plans to go home the next day. Except of course we had no vehicle. After many conversations with the mechanic it was determined a timing chain had broken but he promised it would be repaired by Thursday at noon. Guaranteed. We really didn’t want to keep the whole gang in Guadalajara. Our suite was not available for another day and we couldn’t all fit in one Uber so we had to take 2 cars every time we wanted to go anywhere. So on Wednesday morning Francisco, Gael, mom and cousin headed to the bus station to take a bus back to Bucerias. Grant and I found another suite in the same apartment building that was available, and we moved our suitcase and our big red cooler down the hall. We would stay for one more day – have a mini vacation – and bring the car home on Thursday.

Wednesday was a fun day. We went to the giant Guadalajara zoo and had a romantic dinner in a nearby restaurant. I was ready to be home, but this had turned into a nice bonus day together.

On Thursday morning we called our Uber, loaded our crap into the trunk and headed to the mechanic shop to get our vehicle. He said he was on track – it would be ready by noon. The first problem was that we didn’t really know where the shop was. The address he had given us was super vague. The Uber guy couldn’t figure it out. We knew the general vicinity of where we had pulled over when the whole problem started, but the mechanic had towed the truck to his shop and we weren’t sure where that was. Finally, thinking we were close, we told the Uber driver to let us out and then we piled our suitcase and briefcases and the big red cooler on the side of the road and started asking people if they knew where this shop was. Turns out we had quite a way to go and we weren’t even on the right side of the highway. Luckily there was an overpass to walk over the highway nearby, so we started the long walk to find the shop. Along the way we kept asking people where this shop was, and we got all manners of directions – all of them different. 5 more blocks. 3 more blocks. You’ll have to turn left and go one block. No, it’s on this highway. No back the way you came. We just kept walking. We piled the red cooler on top of the suitcase which promptly hit a hole in the road and dumped the contents of the #*(#**@ red cooler all over the road. Just as we were getting frustrated and a bit grumpy, we came upon the shop. In fact, we almost walked right past it until I spotted the car right out front. Still being worked on. Not quite done.

Fine. I was happy to sit for a while and wait. After a 1/2 hour or so, the mechanic guy got in and started the car. He stepped on the gas. And then we all heard it. A weird knocking noise. It didn’t sound good. Long story short….. the car wasn’t ready. It needed more work. Maybe Monday or Tuesday. Not today.

And that is how we found ourselves boarding a fancy 2-story bus heading back to Bucerias. I laughed when Grant frowned and said, “We’re not really bus people”. No, we’re golf cart people and this bus had huge reclining seats, flip out foot rests, individual TVs, and a free sandwich. A big upgrade for us!

As always, the week had more challenges than expected. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. But we arrived at the correct destination unharmed. Gael had the surgery we’ve been dreaming of for a long time. If all goes as expected, his life will never be the same. The course of his future has completely changed, and we are so grateful for your generous help and God’s provision and protection. And of course – even in the midst of celebrating, there’s another bumpy surprise! The day after Gael got home, a red rash broke out – he now has chicken pox! Oh Gael….

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The Timeshare Dilemna

So the big question….. drum roll…… what do you do with your Timeshare when you move to the place where you own the Timeshare?

12 years ago, we took our first big trip to Mexico with our daughters and like many tourists, we went home with the dreaded Timeshare purchase.  It had been a great week at beautiful Paradise Village – as soon as we had made the *gulp* expensive purchase on Day 1 of the vacation, they had moved us from the crappy cheap hotel at the Marina to the 2-bedroom beauty on the beach.  We fell in love.  Not only with the hotel but with the ocean and the bay surrounded by the mountains, with the people, with the food, with the whole Mexico thing.  But when we got home, well I just thought we were probably dumb. That we would never use this crazy impulsive purchase.  I was wrong.  Every year since then we have spent at least a week or two in this favorite spot.  As soon as we drive in the entrance, I feel the stress melt and the smell of the lobby just makes me happy.  We used the Exchange program to travel to many other places around the world, but every year we were drawn back to our favorite spot on the Bay.  We brought family, we brought friends, we even brought a few missions teams who appreciated the peaceful surrounding after a long day of painting orphanages and chopping down fields with machetes where churches would be built.

In fact, we loved that Bay so much that eventually we sold our home and our business, and we moved here for good.  We definitely don’t live in a 5-star resort – we live in a modest home on an unpaved street full of chickens and potholes.  But we are surrounded by those mountains and a 5-minute walk takes us back to the Bay. So what are we going to do with 7600 points at a Timeshare resort 10 minutes away?   At first our plan was to exchange those points for visits to new destinations.  But then it hit us….. STAYCATIONS!  We can skip the airports, the layovers, the lost luggage, the customs lineups…. we can throw a bathing suit and a toothbrush in a grocery bag and head to paradise.  For a long weekend or a whole week.   And that is just what we did last weekend.  This time, we shared the fun with our two little weekend girls who have never stayed in a hotel.  We had a blast.  I think they had as much fun on the elevator in the hotel and on the escalator at the mall as they did at the pool with the crocodile slide.

We ate ice cream and nachos, we spent hours in the pool and then swapped for hours on the beach, we collected shells full of tiny crabs and boiled little white clams, and in the evening we watched the dancing entertainment in our pjs.  I felt the same magic I had felt on the very first visit to our favorite spot, the same joy I always feel here.

 

On Sunday night, we left to pick up children and return them all to Manos de Amor and then we returned for one last night alone.  We ate a picnic and watched the sun set and reflected on how our lives have changed since our first visit 12 years ago.  We both agreed that if we hadn’t found this place, if we had stayed at the cheap crappy hotel, we probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with Banderas Bay, probably wouldn’t have found ourselves here, probably wouldn’t have little children hanging on our necks every afternoon and living in our home most weekends.  On this crazy journey, we’ve found that sometimes dumb is actually smart and expensive is actually a bargain.   (Ok I’m not talking Economics here – then expensive is just expensive!)  So we’re keeping the Timeshare – and the next time you can’t find us, well we might just be in Paradise!

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Miracles on the Road

Everything that is good….. is also hard

After our disappointing trip with Gael to Guadalajara last month, we are back on track! But none of it has been easy and I realize that good stuff is sometimes just hard to pull off. You must believe deep down that it’s worth it or you might be tempted to cry or scream or quit.

You’ll remember that last month Gael absolutely refused to allow the audiologist to do the essential brain stem test at the hospital in Guadalajara. He wouldn’t put the headphones on, he wouldn’t let her look in his ears, he just wouldn’t cooperate. She told us he should have come sleepy or asleep, but no one had told us that. She did suggest we try to convince him to wear a hearing aid for a few months to get used to the idea of a device and miraculously he loves his blue hearing aid and wears it all the time.

Gael Goes to Guadalajara

We were pleased when we found another audiologist who could do the test in Tepic. That’s 2 ½ hours from here, as opposed to the 5-hour drive to Guadalajara. It’s an ugly, windy, curvy, narrow single lane road through the mountains, but a couple hours shorter, so we set an appointment with Dr. Veronica and set off.

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Narrow curvy mountain roads

The appointment was at 5:00 in the afternoon – which meant we had to figure out how to be sure Gael was ready for sleep at exactly 4:45. On Wednesday night the orphanage director Veronica took Gael home and kept him busy playing and dancing until 12:30 am. She then woke him up at 4:00 and took him back to the orphanage at 6:00 to get ready for school. After lunch he had his mandated shower with no fragrances or gels and at 1:30 we hit the road for Tepic. He was tired…. really tired…. and we kept him busy with tablet games and sandwiches and bananas and juice and anything to keep him from falling asleep.

We also took a set of headphones like the ones the audiologist would use. In case he wasn’t asleep, we wanted to make sure he would be cooperative, and our German friend Manuela looked hilarious wearing the headphones that were connected to nothing. He liked them and was happy to put them on during the drive. Unfortunately, that led to our first challenge of the day. To wear those headphones, he had to take off his hearing aid and his mom, who wasn’t carrying a purse, wrapped the device in her shirt. And then we stopped at a Pemex gas station to use the bathroom and buy some drinks and an hour or so down the road when Gael decided to put his hearing aid on it was nowhere to be found. We searched every inch of our van, but the hearing aid was definitely not there. We knew the gas station was a possibility, but it was too late to turn back – and who could even remember which of the one million Pemex stations we had passed might the be one we had stopped at.

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Maybe?

After arriving in Tepic, we got on Google maps and Google Earth and narrowed down where we thought we had stopped. I remembered the nearby grocery store, we knew it was on the edge of a town (but was in Las Varas or Zapulcan?) and we remembered the general shape of the building. Once we felt confident where it was, how could we contact it? The internet only had a 1-800 number for Pemex in Mexico, no local numbers, and I am not kidding when I say there are millions of them. Every couple of miles. They’re everywhere. And then I remembered that our church has a sister church in Las Varas. I only knew that because our team from Canada had done some work there a few years ago. I messaged my friend Pastor Fredy and his wife Michele and begged them to contact the pastor in Las Varas and ask if someone would go on a hunt for us. Which of course they did and within a ½ hour they messaged – they had found the hearing aid. They had it. We could stop on the way home and pick it up. Disaster narrowly averted. That was Miracle #1.

By that time, it was about time for our appointment and just at the right moment, at exactly 4:45, Gael snuggled into his mom’s arms and fell asleep. Deeply asleep for the next 7 hours. Miracle #2. The test was done. The findings confirming once again that an implant will work for him – his brain function is good. The audiologist told us we are working with one of the best surgeons. We had the green light we needed to move on to the final step, the MRI which we can get done in Puerto Vallarta next week.

With the test complete, the hearing aid found and Gael asleep, we headed for home. It was already 7:30 in Bucerias and we weren’t thrilled about driving the curvy roads in the dark, so we decided not to stop for supper. We would stop at a gas station or taco stand along the way for a quick bite. We should be home by 10:30ish. Except we totally weren’t.

About a ½ hour into our drive it started to rain. Not good news for already dangerous single lane roads. At first it wasn’t a hard rain, so Grant calmly flipped on the windshield wipers – only to find that the wipers on the van we had borrowed from Manos de Amor were completely worn out. No rubber whatsoever on the wiper. Just a metal noise scraping on the very wet window. I panicked as the rain distorted our visibility. And then Miracle #3. The road widened with room for us to pull over. We were not in or near a town, basically in the middle of nowhere, but there was a tiny shop right there. Right there. And it sold car oil, and belts and windshield wipers. Within 5 minutes we were back on the road. And then we weren’t. We were standing still. For the next 3 ½ hours we stood totally still. And watched as 9 ambulances and a fire truck passed us. We knew it was bad.

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Waiting …. hoping the rains would stay away…..

We were starving by then and when Manuela saw a light far in the distance she decided to walk down the highway to investigate. Sure enough, it was a Pemex (I told you … they’re everywhere!) and she returned with sandwiches for all. And a cockroach. Whatever.

accidente

Eventually we were able to move ahead slowly, and we saw the devastating accident that had stopped us. Today we heard the details. A semi’s trailer had shifted as he rounded a curve and the truck tipped on to a passing Tour Bus which flipped on its side. 32 people were badly injured. It was sobering and scary and sad and the rest of our ride was quiet. Today I read that shortly after we had finally passed through, a crane that had come to help move the overturned vehicles had lost its brakes on the hilly road and tipped over on its way back to Las Varas – the same place we were heading – and the highway was closed for 4 more hours. Perhaps Miracle #4 is that we had moved through in the small window of time before this next disaster and we had not been nearby when it happened.

We arrived home at 3:00 am instead of 10:30 pm. A one-hour test had turned into a 14-hour adventure. But the lost hearing aid was found, the windshield wipers were intact, we were safe, and Gael was cleared to move ahead with Miracle #5 – receiving his gift of hearing.

I like to think I’m stubborn. That I can persevere. But I am so grateful that I don’t know the details of each step of my life before I walk them. That I don’t know the frustrations and the mistakes and the pain that will be there. That I just trust that it is worth it. That life is worth it. That loving others is worth it. And that on the tough days, there will always be Miracles.

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UPDATE: Today we drove the hour back to Las Varas to meet the kind people from La Fuente church who had found Gael’s hearing aid. Turns out the aid was found in the parking lot but wasn’t run over or damaged at all. That’s Miracle #6!

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A Week of Parties

The hotter the temperature rises, the quieter our little town becomes. Most of the tourists have now gone home and many of the local restaurants and shops have either closed for the summer or reduced their hours.  The ones that are still open are offering great discounts.  We are enjoying eating out more, supporting the locals who are hoping to hold on until the tourists return.  Yesterday at Los Tejabanes we had a full lunch with vegetables soup, rich and delicious Chile Rellenos with rice and a drink for only 70 pesos –  $4 CDN.

The summer slowdown definitely does not mean the Mexicans have stopped partying however, and we had two great parties this week.

First was a surprise birthday party for me at the orphanage.  I am usually not there on Wednesday afternoons, but I have some new English teachers and was showing them the ropes.  We held our 5 classes – 3 hours of singing “Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes” while teaching body parts (when did I stop being able to comfortably touch my toes?) and I really can’t believe that none of our little students gave away the secret.  While we taught the oldest class during the last hour, the staff and younger children were busy blowing up balloons, decorating the house, stuffing a piñata and putting a LOT of candles in the cake.  Just before 5:00, the classroom door opened, and Grant came in carrying a cake followed by a crowd of little ones wearing crowns and masks and yelling “Happy Birthday Karen”.  We spent the next 2 hours singing and dancing and eating cake and piñata candy and of course the obligatory Mexican tradition of smashing my face in the cake.   This is called “Mordida” – literally “taking a bite” – everyone yelling “Mordida, Mordida” while the birthday girl or boy takes the first bite of the cake.  Gael thought it was hilarious to really shove my face in that delicious chocolate icing.

The next day I looked through all the cards that the children – and the grown ups had made – and I was moved by their love, their openness and their artistic abilities.  They had worked hard to make beautiful messages of love and I am so grateful.  Perhaps my favorite came from Mareli who is one of our weekend children.  This is the card she wrote:

This is the translation:

“I love you and I give thanks for all that you have given us Karen. I love you very much.  Karen with all my heart I thank you for giving me the opportunity to go to your house.”

Sometimes it’s hard to love children who have really tough lives and families, who struggle and who can never truly be my own, but this message just made it all worthwhile.  Not because they are grateful for the ‘stuff’ we give them, but because they feel loved and are able to share love.  That is good for them and also super good for us.

On Friday night we were invited to another party.  You remember Gloria?  I told you about the house she built and the pit her husband dug to be an oven for their birria.

Gloria Builds a House!

Well this week Gloria invited us to come and share the deer that one of their friends had hunted up in the mountains.  I have never seen a deer in Mexico, but apparently they do exist.  Gloria and Adrian put the gifted deer meat in a large pot with chilis and spices and slices of oranges and buried it all in the ground with hot charcoal and wood and waited a few hours.   It was exciting to watch Adrian take off the coals that had been heaped on top, remove the metal covering, hoist up the hot, heavy pot, unfold the layers of foil to finally reveal the meat.  The mouth watering smell hit us first and although I wasn’t very hungry and hadn’t planned to eat much, I ended up with a heaping plate of beans, tortillas and tender shredded deer meat.  It was a feast and of course the night ended with karaoke and laughter and I even blew out my shoe dancing!

 

Thank you for the many birthday wishes I received this week from all over the world – Canada and the US and Sweden and Mexico and Cuba.  I couldn’t be more excited to see where this new year takes Grant and I.  All I know for sure is there will be children, there will be delicious food, there will be adventure, there will be love, and there will be DANCING!

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