After waiting in the Mexico City International airport for seven hours, riding in a car for an hour to get on a four hour bus ride only to be take to the "edge of the civilization", the nine of us were greeted by cattle trucks.
These pickup trucks with cattle cages over the beds drove four hours deep into the Uxpanapa valley where we committed to spend two weeks helping a small village of ninety people to build an irrigation system in the main plaza of the community.
We were greeted by many of the village who informed us that they had a treat for us down by the river - paella made in a pot deeper and wider than the river that we were invited to swim in.
After we gorged on the paella and bathed in the sun, we were taken to our host homes where we would stay for our duration. Chon and his family were my host family and their cinder block home was off the main road but not far enough off the road to avoid being noticed by the wild chickens and dogs.
The home had crude electricity, no running water and four rooms. Chon and his wife slept in the master bedroom that was sealed off by a sheet from the kitchen/dining space. The rest of the house was the living room, where the three children slept, and a storage space, where I anticipated I would sleep.
The family greeted me then the children promptly collapsed their sleeping cots from the main room and moved them into the storage space. Chon set up their best looking cot in the center of the main room, just below the only light of the space. This was my bed. They handed me a blanket and then we all prepared for a good nights rest.
It is written in some ethereal law that college kids cannot wake up prior to 8 a.m. and this was the case that first morning in Chon's home. What made the experience unique was the fact that my host family was all gone and desayuno on the kitchen table: eggs, black beans and cheese.
Rushing to get to my group's work I forgot my gloves. We were to remove the top soil of the large plaza, install drainage and irrigation ditches and lay sod. I was glad to get my gloves, because at the end of the day I was exhausted and sore all over.
To our dismay, the host families each came to see our work each afternoon bringing a Coka (bottled Coke) and invited us to lay in the breezeway hammocks. Never had sugar tasted sweeter nor woven cords felt so soft.
Chon's children brought me water each night prior to bed. Not to drink, but to take a shower with. They carried the water in the morning, while I slept. The only time I saw them carry the water was the morning Chon woke me up at 5 a.m. to invite me to come with him to his place of work.
Going with him was the least I could do! The man had rolled out the red carpet for me and forced his kids to carry my shower water. I had no idea what Chon did but I was more than happy to help him.
Chone drove his well worn truck out to the edge of the village and beyond the dirt roads into the center of a large field. We did not exchange any words as he drove but it was clear by the mood in the car that we were going to do some serious work.
About 200 yards in the distance was what looked like a cow grazing next to a barn. Chon got out of the truck and I followed. Asthe dawn broke I noticed that Chon wore dark blue jeans and a white long sleeved shirt. His clothes looked like "church clothes" compared to my muddy grey pants and torn t-shirt.
When we made it to the barn, it was apparent that the cow was tied to the barn with a long rope. While I examined the thickness of the rope and the rust on the barn, Chon rolled up his sleeves and pulled a tool bag from the barn.
The "tools" were knives. My heart quickened. The cow's eyes looked scared. Chon said a prayer. Three different creatures of God stood under the barn covering, unable to communicate but in that moment we all understood wat Chon's work was.
Modern American slaughterhouses are more of a assembly line with thousands of corn fed overweight cows pushed through double doors only to be electrocuted in the skull, slaughtered, then stamped with a meat grade all within a few hours. Chon's slaughterhouse was, well, different.
Spanish words came from Chon as he placed his hands on the belly of the cow and for a moment Chon the butcher looked more like Chon the priest. While I watched Chon, my college-aged brain began to wake up to the reality that I was there to help Chon slaughter a cow.
I was glad I had not had breakfast.
Next post will continue...