Each wrong turn we took led us closer to where we were meant to be all along.
We met another young family with a small boy named Damian during an afternoon on the beach. Damian was a three-year-old kid interacting with our daughters Katie and Columbia. We introduced ourselves and dove deep into all sorts of exciting topics with his parents Jose and Dora. We immediately became friends. Jose had a huge smile, a laugh big enough to fill a room, and an incredible amount of life in his eyes. His presence in the conversation was outstanding, and we were soon invited to their home to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos on the second of November.
Jose and Dora live in Rio Grande, about 20 minutes away from Cacalote, where we were staying.
We caught a ride in the local transportation, and Jose picked us up in his uncle's Tuk-Tuk. He drove through town and up the dirt roads to the outskirts of town to his little family property.
"This is my home," he proudly said, "it's very humble, but I built it myself, and it's ours."
Over the next few hours, Jose, Dora, and Damian shared all they had to share with us. Their little cabin made from scrap wood was what we would consider a tiny home in North America but without the trendy gizmos. They showed us their Day-of-the-dead altar to honor their deceased and gave us a tour of the scrap metal pile he had collected that week. (His job: metal collector and reseller.) He showed me how he waterproofed and termite-proofed the bottom few feet of his cabin with burnt oil and shared his vision for his lot.
Day of the dead shrines are as typical and revered in Mexico as we would consider the Christmas tree back home in Canada. They are set up outside the house and decorated with a flower similar to the Marigold. Like the Christmas tree, gifts are a part of the occasion, the only difference is that instead of going under the altar, the gifts go in it, and instead of being for relatives that are alive, they are for relatives that are dead! When the families finish building the altars, they remember their dearly departed by placing pictures of the deceased along with their favorite food and drinks.
The legend states that the spirits of the dead come to visit their old homes on the night of the second of November, and they can enjoy their favorite meal before leaving again until the following year. People will place a line of candles from the entrance of their property leading to the shrine to guide the ghosts to their meals.
Tradition is fascinating to us. We appreciated learning this firsthand from such a beautiful and generous Mexican family. They opened up their home and created a truly authentic and memorable experience for us.
After a really special afternoon of walking to and swimming in the river with all the kids, we ate tamales made for us by Jose's mother, picked some lemons with them from their lemon tree, and said our farewells with hugs and kisses.
Jose's mother's delicious pot of turkey tamales. Not too spicy, juuuuuuuust right. Tamales are a corn or rice dough pie stuffed with meat and chili that are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until firm. They are sold regularly on the street corners by old ladies and are a very safe street food to eat fresh as the temperature required to steam them properly is extremely high.
I mentioned in the last post how giving they were. Generous would be putting it lightly. We left Dora and Jose's property more inspired than ever to follow their example of absolute unbridled giving.
Over the following 2 weeks, Christina and I dreamt up and organized a community project that would be able to bless and give back to this family in a way they would never expect. While on their land, Jose told me about their dreams for the property. One of the projects on his to-do list was rebuilding a fallen fence.
Organizing a community project in a foreign community within weeks of being somewhere for the first time is a challenge. However, meeting the right people with big hearts made all the difference. It came together with a little effort!
In our first week in Mexico, we met and connected well with 4 other Canadians: one couple named Alexandra and Jason and two single guys from Vancouver, Kadi, and Lowell.
I pitched our idea of rebuilding Jose's fence to all four of them, and everyone was more than happy to contribute their time.
Kadi and Columbia became buddies right away.
Another family that we got to know and actually hung out a lot with was the Bullock family from Australia. Aaron and Angela are quite possibly the coolest cats we've ever met. Super chill, loving family that loves to surf and serve others.
When I approached them about helping build a fence for someone they had never met, Aaron and Angela agreed immediately and took charge with planning. We settled on a date and began organizing the materials and tools.
Aaron used his connections at the Christian missionary base to source most of the tools needed, and he drove me around to Jose's and the lumber yard to pick up the posts and cement the day before the project. All in all, it came together quickly and beautifully.
Many hands make light work.
The Canadians arrived the night before to bunk up at our house. We shared stories and time around the table. Simon told jokes while we all ate a big tray of baked zucchini. (I don't know why I feel that's an important detail, but it's zucchini, and zucchini is no small matter.) We finished the night with some campfire music, a bonfire, and some cheap Mexican fireworks in the backyard.
We tucked in, and Allie and Jason slept in the kitchen to make it all work!
Up early the following day, we were off to build, and Simon (11) came along to join the team. We created a gate, pulled out the rotten posts, and replaced them with new sturdy 3x3 lumber. It was so fun to see everyone pull together and get something done that would've taken a single worker a lot longer. On the last day that we visited our wonderful new family friends, we presented little Damian a piggy bank with some cash as a pleasant surprise for the day in the future when it gets smashed.
To me, this is what the Giving Experiment is all about. Community, giving, and receiving. It's about trying to love our neighbors as ourselves, not just on an individual level but internationally as well.
We hope you find this story as inspiring as we do! We played but a small role in all of it. We are so thankful that there is always a bigger picture at play than what we can see in a moment.
COMMUNITY CHALLENGE: make an X and O's game grid and place a little picture of a house in the middle square. That house is your home. The empty lots on all sides of your home are where your neighbors live. Fill in the names of all the neighbors you know. Learn the names of the ones you don't, and then talk to them enough to learn about something you can do to help improve their lives! The goal is to fill in all the spaces right-left-front-back-diagonals.
Put it on your fridge, look at it often. (I did not make this up, it was a challenge I once learned ages ago but can't remember where.)
Special thanks to everyone supporting our journey and for this project in particular: The Brauns, the Peters, the Bullocks, Lowell, Kadi, Jason, Allie, my wife Christina, and son Simon for making this project possible.
Are you enjoying this blog? There are many ways you can contribute to the success of our chosen lifestyle as a family. Subscribe to a plan to contribute financially, share the blog link, or simply comment to let us know how you enjoyed the read! Thank you in advance for being a part of this fun family adventure.