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Published: January 14th 2013
Damage Inc on the Baja
I'll be honest with you, I don't make a very good crisis volunteer. I suspect I'm not the only person that winces at the slightest sight of suffering humanity.
Rather than get your hands dirty, many find it is much easier to throw some money at it, or avoid those unpleasant situations altogether. When disaster strikes, I too get this overpowering urge to morph into Shaggy and exclaim dramatically, “Like, let’s get outta here Scoob!!”
But I don't. I stick around. I see awful things. I help. It's just who I am.
As usual I was minding my own business in Los Cabos when something cataclysmic happened...it rained. And not that run-of-the-mill hurricane rain either. No, this was biblical. Where the hell did I park the Arc?
Just as a beautiful lotus flower prepares for its spectacular bloom, the Baja deserts opened wide to embrace the torrents of rain….as if she truly missed them.
But sand is like a drunken fifteen year old on a Friday night...she can't hold her liquids to save her life. Days of endless downpour saw Los Cabos give way to an epic landslide of mud and debris - all toilet-flushed
Nothing to do but sit and wait
Rains just pounded with no end in sight. Locals had no where to go
towards the sea.
Families living in the arroyo shanty towns lost everything, save their lives.
Now I know what you are thinking. Who in their right mind would build a cardboard shack in a dry river bed?
Well, if you have a moment, I have a story for you.
As the rains blasted down, I spent a few of those harrowing nights at my friend Susan’s casa trying to stay one step ahead of it, her palapa roof had sprung several new leaks. We used every available pot and pan until a subsequent river began flowing down the center of her living room. At that point we drank margaritas.
Then I got the text from Sarai.
Right at the crack of dawn, I drove out to the edge of San Jose del Cabo, and found Sarai. She breezed by me in a blur of lavender fabric and patchouli. "Oh hi, you made it."
As the assistant to the assistant to the English translator for Cruz Roja Mexicana (Mexican Red Cross) she had summonsed me to come help.
"You're going to be out in the trenches." She warned.
I grimaced through my
Where's the General Lee when you need it
Are we going to have to Dukes of Hazard this bad boy?
My subtly quickly noted, she turned back. "Don't worry, it's not that bad, yet."
But it was
Rolling up on the arroyo with about a dozen other volunteers, I prepared myself mentally but it was absolute devastation as far as the eye could see.
Last night, torrents of filthy foamy brown rainwater rushed down the dry river bed. Nothing but debris and chaos. My heart scrunched into a wince. Thousands of displaced people were queued up for the basics at the community center. Clean water, maybe a meal, a change of clothes. Glaringly absent, the party-like atmosphere accustomed to most Mexican queues. Crying children bounce on inpatient hips, a relentless afternoon sun pounds down. No person dare stray too far. We unfolded from our emergency vehicles as their desperate eyes scan us for impending action.
And so, for the next few days I find myself doing all sorts of odd jobs for the three organizations I volunteer for. And this is where my story kicks in.
While registering applicants at our main distribution area, I couldn’t help but feel eyes on me.
Stoic stood Maria. I knew her type from
Hurricane flood level
This is pretty normal once a year, but the slow rotating hurricane out in the pacific just kept churning and not moving
demeanor alone, at twenty-two she was serious and tenacious, her deep chocolate eyes distract from the jagged scar across her forehead. We exchanged a small smile while her daughter Cleo runs directly at me...I bent down for her hearty hug. After five years of marriage she had escaped an abusive husband only to be furiously rejected by her parents. With no where else to go, she stole money from the louse for a bus ticket direct to Los Cabos, her desperation an obvious motivator.
Everyone from Sinaloa that comes to the Baja hopes to earn enough money to better their families. She and her children slept on the beach for a week while she plied the resort hotels for work, children in tow. She proudly accepted a job swabbing the lobby floors of one of the biggest resorts here in San Jose del Cabo.
Like the others, her new employer offered her apartment accommodations with free transportation as part of the deal. But there is a cruel joke in this. The inflated cost of this housing is way beyond her means...she'd have to work for free at least a year just to pay back the damage deposit alone.
Where did everything go?
Well to the ocean, but there is absolutely nothing left of peoples homes.
So like everyone else, she migrated with her kids to the arroyo and commissioned a plywood and cardboard lean-to for about $20.
Things were hard, but she was way too modest to ask for assistance.
I met Maria on a fluke one afternoon last year after I had been to the barrio in the arroyo checking up on an elderly lady named Olga whom was given antibiotics for a bad infection. I saw this five year old girl curiously watching me with a skinned knee. After some coaxing and subsequent bandaging, I learned Cleo was left in charge of her twin brothers while her mother was away at work. They had absolutely nothing. I returned from my car with some blankets, a cooking pot, and a few bags of rice and beans.
When Maria found out what I had done, she marched her brood up to the distribution center to return all the items with furious tears.
Witnessing bruised pride, I casually commented, “You didn’t think I’d give this for free do you? You have to pay me back.” And so we became friends.
Now here she was, queued up with all the others at
Back to Normal
The desert is so GREEN and the sunsets continue to be pink.
the edge of the arroyo. Fate unknown. Three dirty kids not really comprehending the gravity of their situation, Maria looks like the stuffing had been knocked clean from her soul. Ironically, they all greet me with joy enthusiasm and hope.
They go away with what little we can offer, now homeless, their direct future an empty slate. Tonight, many in this lineup will curl up on a dirt floor and sleep with empty stomachs, raw to the elements and insects.
The fairness of this escapes me, yet one thing I’ve learned about Mexico is everyone here understands their place in life. Add a whole lot of corruption, dangerous cartels, crazy laws, and it always seems the marginalized peoples get trampled.
I already YOLO the hell out of my own life, but this is where I have to have a little cry.
What can you do? The resorts need thousands of workers to keep their hotels running efficiently. That's big business for you. Some days I want to yell at the top of my lungs. In a 20 year span, ten hotels have popped up in San Jose del Cabo alone. This used to be such a peaceful
What the tourists don't see
Usually all cleaned up by the time all the tourists arrived.
sleepy fishing village where locals lived modestly and worked hard. Now it's hedonism central for drunken Americans.
These arroyo dwellers from Sinaloa are the same hardworking employees that put mints on pillows and fold the bath towels into some ridiculous animal, smile and nod at the poolside bar when a tourist bellows una mas, por favor
. They make about $4 US per day, and their shifts are 10 to 12 hours long.
After a couple weeks of volunteering for the Red Cross, the rain storms subside and I am shattered. My friend J tracks me down to encourage me to take a drive with him.
Seems something magical has happened while I wasn’t paying attention.
As we sit on the hood of his jeep and stare off into the distance in awe, the desert has come alive. It is as though a master painter took his canvas and playfully swished strokes of kaleidoscope green across a pink horizon. Bob Ross would be impressed.
Woken after four years of paralyzing drought, millions of butterflies swirl as the sun drops dramatically into the sea. Suddenly, I have a renewed hope for this place.
Amazing what a few days of rain can do
I couldn't help but take pictures of all the blooming yucca.
it takes everything I have to get on a plane and return to my life in Canada. I don’t fit there anymore.
While standing in line at the airport amongst a collection of coco-butter tanned millennials wearing those gigantic bug sunglasses, I find myself glazing over as I am subjected to their whiny disdain regarding their rainy holiday. They apparently had no idea there was a crisis here.
The Mexicans always believed that the powerful Pacific Ocean has no memory, and so is true for the life of the arroyo dwellers. Los Cabos survives to live another day.
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