Important lessons learned in Mexico
Aspen CO, Colorado
Recently I was awarded a large Ex Ed scholarship of which I am truly thankful. I was lucky enough to be put on the trip of my choice. When I found out I was going to Mexico with the program Beyond Borders, I was thrilled ” but it was financially unreasonable for my family. I knew about the scholarship program, as I have been awarded before, and knew it was the only way I could possibly afford the $800 trip. Due to the help awarded by this committee I was able to go on a trip that not only provided service to a small village in Mexico, but an experience that had an impact on my life as well.
In Aspen, we live in a community of wealth and material. The dusty little town of Ejido Johnson ” at the mouth of the Colorado River ” where we made voyage, didn’t have even a post office. Running water was a rarity and showers were heated by the sun .
Each student stayed with a host family. My host-father, Juan Butron, was the “mayor” of the ejido. He sold bottled water and gasoline on the side. He was also the ecotourism director and had the warmest heart of anyone I have ever met. We spent a day on the Cienega de Santa Clara (a large lagoon made by U.S. agricultural waste water, which is home to some rare and endangered species of birds and fish) and he told us fishing stories and guided our small group through the labyrinth of swamp grass with a gentle voice and a Spanish tongue.
That night I met my host-mother Magdalena, a short, round woman with a rolling belly laugh, who cooked a simple meal which we ate with our fingers beneath a thatched roof patio. Magdalena was absolutely the sweetest woman I had ever met ” patient when deciphering my bits and pieces of broken Spanish and loving all the time. She laughed at my bad jokes and Juan made me laugh with his good ones. We played guitar and told stories about our polar-opposite lives. They couldn’t believe I didn’t own a cow, horse, flock of sheep or any goats. I marveled at the fact that they lived with at least five spiders in each room (to eat the flies).
Every day I had a Spanish class, with a tutor from the ejido with whom I explored the language and culture these people share. We would walk through the village and surrounding fields and simply talk. I shared my stories of snow and mountains and she taught me how to make tortillas. I learned more about the Spanish language and Mexican culture in that one week than I have in any high school course.
I spent a good deal of time with the children of the village as well. When the sun would go down, we would play futbol on the chipped concrete basketball court. I watched and played; I made friends and formed a bridge between myself, the big gringo, and these native children. We were able to let down all pretenses and just be people together. They accepted us as people of the village and welcomed us into their culture with open arms.
The trip for me was a cultural immersion; a beautiful way to connect with people and share experiences that are impossible to have in our valley, or even in the states. Being able to participate in what I see as the most unique and exceptional program that our school has to offer was made possible by the scholarship I was awarded. I love this program and I am truly grateful for the support of the committee.
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“My first home was on the Elkhorn Ranch in Woody Creek. My dad was 26, my mom 20 when I was born (the same year Lifts 1 and 2 were built on Aspen Mountain). It’s difficult to imagine what my parents were thinking when they put it all together,“ writes Tony Vagneur.