We left in the dark at 5am. We passed through Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. I distinctly remember being jealous of anyone whose license plate indicated that they were going home. Throughout the hours of driving and on every night this trip we were all just longing for home. After all, that was the purpose of this trip...to be able to come home for good. We felt sharply the love and prayers of those we left behind. Mane. Novio. Mango's parents. And many, many friends. Not knowing how or when you'll be getting home has a way of bringing things into focus...sharply.
The drive to Mexico was fairly uneventful. We spent the night in Amarillo on Saturday. Vespera took pictures of sunrises and sunsets, cows and abandoned houses. She kept a journal and sketchbook of the trip for her art class back at school.
Then we met up with this blessed missionary couple in El Paso. They took us to the little school they run in Juarez and invited us to use the kitchen, the bathrooms, the beds, sleeping bags and whatever else we might need. The dorms were empty, as they are typically used for volunteers helping with the school. The children who attend the school all live in the neighborhood. There are 150 students in grades k-6. They are all provided with uniforms and lunch when they attend the school, things no children receive for free in the public schools in Mexico. Parents all volunteer 5 hours per week cooking, cleaning, or helping in the office and classrooms. The school is well-run, and it is evident that God is at work in this tiny school.
The neighborhood was jarringly impoverished. Vespera struggled to wrap her mind around the poverty and how we should respond. We spent a long time talking about how none of us can do everything but each of us needs to do our part. We need to heed the calling of God in our lives and do whatever it is that God calls us to do. There is no really good answer to how we should respond to world poverty. Maybe it's because there isn't just one answer.
On Monday we went to the medical clinic for Vespera's exam. We called at 6am to be sure they were open since it was a holiday. They were open, and we arrived at 6:30am. A long line greeted us when we arrived. The clinic had an enclosed, secure courtyard for waiting. They didn't allow anyone inside, except the people who were there for exams. I wasn't prepared for that and nearly started crying in the middle of the crowd. Over and over I had told Vespera I wouldn't leave her. She was very nervous about the exam, and I didn't want to leave her alone. I've never heard of people not being allowed to bring whoever they want to a medical appointment. So, it was unexpected and frustrating. I watched Vespera put on that look of resignation and determination that she wears when she has to tackle things beyond her years and experience. It broke my heart. She's spent so much of her life being too grown-up, having to take care of people and business. And Mango and I have tried so hard to give her the chance to be a kid, to not have to be the grown-up, to be cared for instead of caring for everyone else.
With a voice ragged with unshed tears, I rejoined Mango and my parents outside the clinic to wait out the hours until Vespera returned to us. There was a huge tent in the courtyard with chairs and some of those outdoor heaters. It was cold anyway, though...much colder than we expected for Mexico. We tried to stand out in the sun, but the security guards kept herding everyone back under the tent. At 11am Vespera finally reappeared. They gave her 4 vaccines, one of which was for chicken pox, which she's already had. Another was for tetanus, which she didn't need. A third was for HPV, which was not on the list of vaccines that she needed for her visa. The fourth was pnuemoccocal (or however you spell that), and it's possible that she actually was due for a booster on that one. *sigh* If only they'd let her mother in with her. We took her back to the dorm and tried to get some rest.
At 4pm we had to return to the clinic for the results of the tests (blood test & chest x-ray). The line was long, but she was in and out in about half an hour. She got the medical exam & blood test report in a black sealed envelop, which she was required to bring to the Embassy unopened.
Tuesday and Wednesday were free days. Mr. Missionary (sorry, I still won't be giving out real names here) took us on a drive to see part of the city of Juarez on Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon we went shopping in the city. We went to the less "tourist-y" shopping area. It was still full of people and vendors. We found some small presents for the people back home and then ducked into the huge cathedral on our way back to the car.
When we entered the cathedral, Vespera handed me her shopping bags and told me she was just going to say a quick prayer. She knelt down at the back pew and began to pray. Mango and I followed her and laid hands on her shoulders as we prayed also. She cried quietly, and when she got up I held her tight. My fingers wrapped in her coarse black hair, my forehead leaned close to hers. I told her it was going to be alright. Oh, please, God. Let it be alright.