Saturday, July 01, 2006


We all piled onto a coach bus on Thursday morning and traveled to the Copper Canyon, an area of great physical beauty (a bit like the Grand Canyon, but with dense, green vegetation). It is also the home of an estimated 70,000 of the indigenous Tarahumara people, renowned for their long-distance running ability (their word for themselves, Raramuri, means runners). Most of the Tarahumara still adhere to their traditional lifestyle, inhabiting natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, and they struggle with the problems of indigenous people the world over – isolation, alcoholism, poverty, depression. We visited an orphanage for Tarahumara children while we were there.

Unfortunately, what was billed as an eight-hour bus trip became thirteen hours due to many unscheduled stops to see the sights along the way. By 8pm darkness was falling fast, and the driver was having trouble finding the place where we were meant to stay. Finally, we stopped in the right lane of a two-way highway — there was no real shoulder to pull safely off the road. There was a small sign reading “Christian Center,” and a narrow rock track leading through the woods into the falling darkness. We had no idea whether we were in the right place, but the kids had had it – they all scrambled off the bus like caged animals onto a narrow strip of grass between the busy highway and an active railroad track. I was acutely aware of the parents that I left behind at home, promising that I would keep their children safe. I decided to focus on containing the damage — preventing anyone from being hit by a fast-moving, 3-ton vehicle seemed to be a practical approach for the moment.

Finally, we got word that this was the right place and they were sending vans to get our bags. We crossed the kids safely over the highway, sent them off into the pitch dark woods, and started unloading luggage off the bus. One of the drivers told me that they had cooked dinner for 35 people the previous night, and were surprised that we did not show up. Great. Wrong date. I asked, fearing the worst, if there were any beds available for this night. “Well,” he said, “there is an outbuilding that is under construction, if you don’t mind sleeping on the floor.” Mind? How could we mind? We carried all our things over to an empty brick building with a concrete floor and no electricity. The dust was horrendous as everyone settled in, throwing their packs on the floor and shaking out their sleeping bags. The particles in the air were soon so thick that soon every kid with asthma started wheezing. I made my way around the room, confirming that they had their inhalers (two didn't, big surprise), passing out antihistamines to take before bed. It was feeling less and less certain that I was doing much of a job in the “safe” department.

Finally, at 9:45 pm, the food was ready. Three women managed to muster up crispy tostadas (4-inches in diameter) with lettuce, tomato, refried beans and a sprinkling of cheese. There was just enough for each teenager to have two; the adults settled for one.

Brooding silence as we settled in for what we optimistically called “the world’s biggest sleepover.” Everyone was feeling upset, some scared, some angry, one afraid of the dark. Most were just quiet. This trip was not at all what was promised, and “nothing works, but somehow it all works out,” was not a very comforting thought as we faced a long night on the hard, damp floor.

As we settled down into our sleeping bags, a voice in the darkness started talking about Chewey, the little boy from Anapra. "He lives in a cinder block house," said one of the teen. "I bet he sleeps with a blanket on a concrete floor like this every night. And, you know he doesn't ever have much more to eat than we just did - they never have meat."

And with that, realizing that we had been handed the opportunity to live Chewey’s experience and gain a perspective on his life, everyone fell asleep.

No comments:

Post a Comment