Jody Rinderknecht - Oaxaca, Mexico
When I found out I would be participating in the Los Niños de Oaxaca program so many thoughts filled my head. How was I going to survive in an unfamiliar city, with an unfamiliar language, unfamiliar culture, unfamiliar food, and actually enjoy the experience? Soon after arriving in Oaxaca all my worries seemed to drift away...
Within moments of arriving at Josefino, which is similar to a children's orphanage, I knew this experience was going to be unforgettable. We stood outside the iron gate anxiously waiting to be let into the yard where the children lived and played. Unsure about what lay ahead, we slowly moved forward in a mob, entering the alberque. We only made it a few steps in the gate before we were welcomed by 20 to 30 children who were screaming, laughing, and smiling as they clung to our legs, held or hands and begged to be held. In that moment we instantly knew that our time in Oaxaca was going to be precious, not only for ourselves, but for the children as well.
We spent day after day returning to Josefino to do arts and crafts, read books, play games and spend time with the children. It will probably be one of the only times in my life where I won't mind running back and forth, jumping up and down, and giving piggy-back-rides for hours on end. One of the best parts about working with the children was that they did not mind if your Spanish wasn't that great, or if you even knew Spanish at all. They wanted someone to play with, spend time with, and someone to give them attention. Play is universal.
The Market was a place to find all the little souvenirs and trinkets we would be bring back to the U.S. with us. But it was also so much more than that. Venders came day after day and set up their stand with homemade jewelry, hand-woven blankets, wood creations, called "alibrijes," with the most detailed paint job I have ever seen, authentic Mexican dishes, and barrels full of fried chapulines (grasshoppers!). It was a place of business - a way of life for so many locals. At the Market you could find whatever you might need, from household goods, to fancy clothing, to the town butcher!
Excursions -San Martin Tilcajete to Monte Alban:
As part of the program we were taken on several cultural excursions throughout Oaxaca. One of our first stops was to San Martin Tilcajete where we were invited into the home of a local artisan. We watched Jesus turn a block of wood into a beautiful mystical creation. While hearing stories from Jesus and being awed by his talent, the ladies of the house were in the kitchen cooking an authentic meal, complete with a pumpkin flower.
Days later we toured the ruins at Monte Alban, which was the ancient capitol of the Zapotecs. Our tour guide, Ester, lead us through the ancient ruins, being sure to reenact parts of the story as she told us the history behind Monte Alban. These excursions were a great way for us to begin to understand the culture and history behind this amazing city.
After spending week after week with the children at Josefina I realized that although I thought I was coming to Oaxaca to help these children, they helped me in more ways than I ever imagined possible. I encourage everyone to embark on a journey like this because you will learn so much about yourself and your world when you are forced to be apart of the unfamiliar. The experiences I faced while in Oaxaca can really only be understood by those who have had the incredible opportunity to be a part of this program and have experienced the joy of Los Niños de Oaxaca for themselves!