TITLE: The Car Trip (temporary title)
By Debbie Sickler
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Sitting in the cramped, backwards-facing seat of the car, I felt as though we had been traveling since the beginning of time. The afternoon sun streaming through the side window cast shadows across our faces as faint snores drifted to my ears from the middle row passengers. I could also hear quiet chatter between the driver and his wife up front, though the actual words were unintelligible. Squeezed between my two best friends, I sat there staring absently at all the other cars heading north. Having already slept away as much of the trip as possible, boredom got the best of me and I became restless.
I saw my teddy bear sticking its brown furry head out of my bag on the floor. Some of the boys had really given me a hard time about bringing him, but I didn’t care. I never slept without him, even though I know I’m way passed the age of having a lovey. Impulsively, I picked him up and started poking his face up to the window of the car. I discovered that if I pinched his underarm in just the right place and wiggled my thumb back and forth, I could create sort of a waving effect with his outstretched arm. My friends and I thought it would be great fun to see how many people we could get to actually wave back at a teddy bear.
Wiggle, wiggle, the tiny bear arm waved a happy little hello to the stranger driving the pale blue Toyota behind us. I’m not sure if it was the bear itself, that driver’s own boredom or the smiling faces of three teenage girls staring at him, but he chuckled as he rewarded our efforts with a small wave of his own. We were instantly hooked on our new game and played ‘wave at our bear’ until the wiggle spot under his arm was so smashed I thought the poor thing would never recover. God only knows how many smiles we brought to the various motorists on the Grapevine that afternoon. All I know is that we couldn’t keep track, but I’m sure it wasn’t as many smiles as the ones we created back in Mexico.
Our youth group had spent Spring Break in Encinada to build a new church and have Vacation Bible School for the disadvantaged children in the area. Most of the guys in our group had decided to help with the construction, preferring the idea of sweltering heat and manual labor to the sticky fingers of loud children clamoring for attention. Despite my blue eyes, sun bleached hair and total lack of skill in speaking the language fluently, I felt perfectly at home with the idea of working with the Mexican children.
As the dust stirred up from our van’s arrival had slowly settled, I was shocked to find no one there. Our youth pastor said a short prayer and we all piled out onto the concrete play area. The homes around us could barely be called homes by American standards. They were simple shelters, some only plywood and tarps. The facility we would be using for the week was nothing more than a crumbling old shell with a few child sized benches forming rows inside.
We began unloading our supplies and setting up. All this activity created a little curiosity in the quiet neighborhood and a few children sheepishly watched from a distance as we brought in a puppet stage, along with life sized puppets, and toys for playing games. Through our own infantile attempts at Spanish and the help of one interpreter we were fortunate enough to have on staff, we cheerfully approached the children with an invitation to join us.
They happily ran off to ask permission and brought back siblings and friends as we got the games underway. We formed a circle around a huge, brightly colored parachute and tossed the material up in the air, still holding it by the edge. Grabbing a child by the hand, we took turns running under the canopy it created, before it came back down on our heads. This was definitely an attention getter!
After the short play period, we all hurried into the small room that was to be our sanctuary. During the weeks before the trip our group had attended training classes to teach us puppetry, among other things. A few of us would be taking turns performing the puppet shows each day. The leaders showed us the importance of moving the puppets' mouths in time with the recorded tapes we were going to use. It was also important that puppets didn’t just appear in the scene. We were instructed to bob our arms up and down in a stair step fashion to make an entrance or exit. Now we were about to put these newly acquired skills to the test.
I sat on a pew with children of all ages crowded around, staring in anticipation at the stage. The music started and the first puppets made their entrances. They lip-synced to several songs and a short skit all in Spanish. My friends did pretty well with the rules; there were only a few unplanned disappearing acts and a couple of arms showing above the curtain. The kids weren’t critiquing nearly as harshly as I was though. They loved every minute of it! I could hardly wait for my turn tomorrow.
After the show our pastor spoke to the crowd through our interpreter. We also gave them snacks and did a faith based craft before sending them home for the day with the promise to return with more fun and excitement. Proud that we were being used to bring God’s word to such wonderful children, we left that first day and headed back to camp.
Our home away from home for the week was a small RV park, but we weren’t allowed the luxury of an RV for ourselves. Several tents of various sizes, shapes and colors made up our gypsy village. Coming from a lower income family, I didn’t have a tent to bring, so was forced, I mean lucky enough, to use a borrowed tent the church provided for me and a few of the other girls to share.
Someone apparently left some of our tent polls laying in the church parking lot back in California, so it was suggested that we tie the top of the tent to the cement wall surrounding the RV park. That served as a mere glimpse of things to come for our stay in the poor tent. When you think Spring Break, most people think of beaches and bikinis, but someone forgot to relay that picture to the Mexican weatherman. Our first night in our new makeshift home began monsoon like storms that through the course of our visit would only lighten up occasionally. We quickly discovered that our aged tent was no longer waterproof.
We had also borrowed a lantern from one of the chaperones. One night, while digging through a suitcase, one of us set the kerosene lamp a little to close to the door of the tent. A large lantern shaped hole was instantly melted and crumpled into the thin material; the tent was getting more weather resistant by the minute.
To top it off, a mange-ridden mutt decided to go camping that week as well. He wondered around in hopes that we would share a few morsels to fill his pathetically thin body. The rodent like creature was drenched and covered in caked on mud from the rain. With so little meat on his bones and even less matted fur to keep himself warm, the scoundrel used our newly installed ‘doggy door’ to make himself a comfy spot to rest, right on top of our sleeping bags. The tent reeked of dirty wet dog and he left behind fleas besides!
Despite the foul weather and sleeping arrangements, this was still the trip of a lifetime for me. It was the first time I’d ever been so far away from home and the relief of the break couldn’t have come at a better time. People back home were still talking secretly about my father, though they were careful not to let on to my family that they had any clue about our circumstances. Being around children’s laughter and spreading the word of God brought back hope into my heart.
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