This blog has been going through a transitional phase. Originally, I thought this would be a great way for the writer in me to stay active while I merely chronicled my somewhat mundane “day in the life of an expat” here on the island of Cozumel. But, then it grew into a way for those who love the island to “get their fix” when not here as well as encouraging others to live vicariously through my experiences, which seemed to be accumulating on an exponential basis. Lately, however, it has become a format that allows me to give back to a community that I’ve grown to love by giving out information pertaining to what we have to offer. It just seems selfish, somehow, to keep it all to myself. I’ve enjoyed all of these stages and have been gratified to see that responses have remained positive. But, this particular piece will be something different altogether since I’ve just been exposed to a very different side of life here on Cozumel. One that could be (and, for right now, should be) viewed as bleak, but holds such a promise of great potential that I can only hope I do it justice with my words. However, let me warn you that if you turn to this blog only for those fun events with the pretty photos, this will surprise you. Still, I hope you keep reading. Let me explain.
This past Saturday, Tammy Cervantes, a yoga instructor and business woman here on the island, picked me up to take me out to a place called La Esperanza (hope). She explained to me that it was a home for recovering alcoholics and addicts and that it was run by a gentleman with strong Christian convictions by the name of Ricardo Reyes. That’s him in the white hat on your left. As someone in recovery myself (and, no, this blog normally doesn’t address that) I was interested in seeing what La Esperanza was all about for many reasons, some of them personal. So, while driving east on a muggy Saturday afternoon, Tammy informed me that, although the organization has been working with those in need for fifteen years with ongoing success rates, their original location was sold out from under them. As a result, they are starting over on a plot of land that a generous individual has donated to them and they are busy with their efforts at rebuilding. Tammy further explained that all of the participants are not only required to remain clean and sober, but they are also expected to contribute their efforts towards the rebuilding as part of their recovery. I was excited to see, first hand, what it was all about.
After a short while longer, Tammy and I stopped and met up with Ricardo. He then drove us the rest of the way through a jungle labyrinth to the group home. Once we arrived, we were met by one of the members and the group home’s mascot. And, here is where I want to mention that meeting the dog on the left, the one with three legs, was the happiest moment I had for the next hour, or so (and for this animal lover, that says something). I don’t know what happened to cause the dog to lose his leg, but he became symbolic to me of the spirit of survival as he cheerfully kept up with me while I walked around snapping photos. I am also glad to report that he is being tended to quite graciously by his human counterparts who have also been traumatized. But they, too, hold on to the promise of life in spite of their difficulties.
I turned to face the home. It’s, primarily, a concrete block house with the front facing painted in bright whites and purples, a sign with their name, and open air windows covered over with tarps and siding to block out the sun and rain. It is located on a dirt road and is surrounded by the tropical foliage found in jungles along with the typical bugs that go along with the environment. Stray dogs are seemingly everywhere, but it is Negro (the three legged pooch) who is the only adopted mascot. The fact that the others might not be fed by the members of La Esperanza became apparent, and understandable, almost immediately, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Walking up the concrete block steps the first thing I noticed was how clean and orderly everything is kept. Mattresses are piled neatly against the wall, floors are swept, their scant clothing is hung on makeshift racks. The first room is furnished with a table and mismatched plastic chairs, a window darkened by a tarp, not much to see. The middle room has a few homemade shelves, more mattresses, and an occupant in a wheelchair who seemed to want to talk to me, or anyone, but I couldn’t understand him. It was explained to me that he’d been in the hospital after suffering from a stroke that was probably due to his drinking. Since he has no family and no place to go, and he is an alcoholic, the hospital contacted Ricardo who then took him in and everyone helps care for him.
The third, and final, room of the house is where the kitchen will be, once they have a kitchen. Two shelves, with donated items stacked neatly, are against one wall. There’s nothing else in the room except for the group members who were standing about watching me with curiosity. Often I would point to my camera and they would strike a pose for me. Even in that house the hope in their eyes was apparent. Despite their current conditions they were starting a new life. For me, I have to admit that I got some tears in my eyes and quickly walked away after taking just a few pictures. I just pray I wasn’t rude.
The backyard is fairly expansive and dotted with a few makeshift buildings. I could see where they wash their clothes, which is in a long sink propped up on concrete blocks. When I asked where they got their water from since I didn’t see any taps, I was taken over and shown a well that they had been digging. Unfortunately, after many hours of work, they’d hit rock and were going to have to choose a new location.
So then they pointed to a group of buckets filled with water just lined up in the back yard. It seems that, for now, a neighbor is letting them borrow his well. So, every morning they grab buckets, go down the road, and get their water supply for the day. Yes, that’s what’s in the recycled paint buckets, their water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. I turned away and Tammy began to talk with Ricardo in his native tongue. I went over to the side of the house and discovered that they indeed have a kitchen. I first noticed a table with very old, but very clean pots, but, when I walked past those, I saw that they had built a structure in the old way with trees and dried leaves to help them cook in inclement weather. Again, everything was orderly and spotless, but, again, it was disturbing to this expat since I realized that I was finally seeing what was meant by the phrase “third world.” And, let me add, I will never complain about my lack of modern appliances again.After a while, Tammy and Ricardo walked over to where I was taking some photos and we talked about their vision for the future of La Esperanza. I started asking questions while Tammy busily interpreted back and forth. At one point, and with great excitement, Ricardo proudly showed me the plans they had for the group home. A professional had donated his time and drawn up an architectural design for a small, but sleek facility based on their current grounds and housing. But, as happy as Ricardo is with those plans for the future I learned that, for now, he just wants to raise the money for the materials for a new well and some other necessities. I continued to ask some questions and that was when he also made a point of showing me their newly dug septic system, again with great pride at what they’d accomplished. You can see that result on your right. Finally, when I asked how they were able to eat, I learned that a few businesses such as a local bakery helped out by donating food stuffs. I mentioned I was curious about whether or not their families could help too. However, unfortunately, so many of the group home members come from impoverished families, if they have a family at all, that help seldom comes from that direction so they often have to rely on themselves, or the locals, for all of their needs. There’s no governmental money to be had here.
That was when I asked what they did to accomplish that goal, raise money. It turns out that Tammy has been raising funds already through special yoga classes where she donates the proceedings to La Esperanza. While she was talking I remembered taking a pic of one of those classes on Malecon Market Day. I went back through the archives and dug it out so you could see. That’s Tammy with her class on your left. They also told me that there is going to be a brunch held at the Tiki Tok restaurant on Melgar (August 3rd at 12:30), with the proceeds going to the group home and, finally, it was also mentioned that the men in the home do light construction, painting, and various other home repair projects in town under strict supervision. If anyone local would like to know more about that, I’ll put some contact information below.
At that point it was time to head back home. I said my goodbyes, shook the hands of a few, and got into Ricardo’s car. He and Tammy were talking about different projects, but in Spanish, so it was easy for me to just try and process what I’d just seen. That was two days ago and I still haven’t been able to do that. I did come to the realization that it takes very special people to continue to have hope in the midst of such utter poverty. Once I got home I gave my dogs some extra love, looked at my tiny kitchen with brand new eyes, and started thinking about how to write this. Again, that was two days ago. I just don’t have that kind of talent. Still, I hope that I’ve been able to paint a picture of a life unknown to most of us, and leave you with this quote by someone far smarter than me. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
p.s. if you’d like to help, there are several ways to do so…….attend the brunch at the Tiki Tok on August 3rd where you can get more information (and the proceeds will go to La Esperanza), or hire the guys to do some work by contacting Ricardo Reyes at 987 119 6795 (Spanish only, always supervised, and references will be provided). And, if you want to know if they do good work, take a peek at the pic of the mattress frame leaning against the wall. That’s handmade from the trees and saplings they found in the jungle.