We were living in Mexico City in 1986. This was just after the worst earthquake in Mexico City’s history. Brittany was a few months old and this was our first family style mission trip.
Way back then, nearly three decades ago, there were no restrictions on luggage and carry-ons. As a matter of fact I think we went down with 15 large bags. We were going to live there so we had to be prepared. I brought a crock pot and a gigantic port-a crib. I even carried a set of steak knives on board the flight.
On this particular trip we stayed in a $2 a day hotel room. It was a very basic room with this wonderful invention in the bathroom for bathing your baby. There was a little fixture right next to the toilet shaped like a very small tub except that there was no plug for the water. You sat your baby in it and the water came straight up like a fountain and then went right back down the drain. I never understood why there wasn’t a plug. It would be years later that I would find out what a bidae was.
It was an amazing time. We met wonderful people who were gracious beyond words despite their poverty. We were humbled by their love and generousity. Near the end of our stay we began to work at the University with a group of college kids. We started sharing the Bible with them, and they were just so eager to learn about the Lord that we would take several urban transports daily to be with them. We were having such a wonderful time with these new found friends that we decided to stay longer. We turned in our air tickets for cheaper train tickets at a later date. We were so glad to have stayed longer.
Time eventually came, however, for us to pack up and catch an all night and all day train adventure through the Mexican desert to Mexicali, then a bus to Tijuana and then cross the border into San Diego by taxi or however we could. We were young and not so smart I suppose. The most difficult lesson I have learned through the years as a missionary momma is flexibility. On a mission trip nothing ever goes according to plan it seems, especially if everything seems just too good to be true.
I must note that the train tickets were much less than anticipated and that we were assured that there was a baggage car for our mountain of luggage. We were told that our little cabin would be quite comfortable for the short trip.
So late one day we went to the station with our translator (this was long before I became fluent) and all of our luggage stuffed into a VWBug and taxi. When we arrived we were very blessed to see that many of the young people from one of the colleges we were working with had come to wave us goodbye. It was an emotional time as we collected their thoughtful gifts for us. Then we checked in and began asking where the baggage car was. We soon found out there was none.
When we were shown our little suite, which we had been told was a double, we were shocked to find out it was barely a single. The door popped open to reveal a small sofa like seat against one wall and an even smaller one on along the other. There was a tiny table, sink and a toilet hiding underneath the smaller sofa seat.
Becky, our translator, was very quick to announce that we should not drink the water. We had brought enough food and water along for the almost 18 hour, air-conditioned train ride.
There was a large hook on the wall and when you pulled it a single mattress came out from the wall and rested over the sink and sofa. The only place to put the luggage would be to pull the mattress out for the entire trip, leaving us nothing but head space, with a little room underneath to store what we could. Everything else would have to go.
I am from California and You did not prepare me for this.
So at the last minute we gave away 6 suitcases, one portable crib, and what would be the first of many crock pots throughout the years. They were our only belongings in the world and we rushed through giving away what did not fit underneath our small personalized luggage compartment.
We had a precious time of hugs and prayers before the train whistle began to blow. Our particular train was built in the US in the 1920’s and given to Mexico when it outdated. This whole experience was looking to be quite the adventure.
They began boarding and we had to situate ourselves in the stuffy room while our friends stuffed what they could underneath us. Reaching over the side and throwing hugs and kisses, we teared up yet again as they shut us in. We were assured the air conditioning would commence as soon as the train started. It was unbearably hot in the small, cramped space.
You had to reach right under the mattress to open the door. We would need to open the door eventually to find the public toilet and when that would need to happen, we were so squished in we would just pop out like toast from a toaster.
We were now sitting face to face with Brittany and a small cooler of food and water in between our outstretched legs. John had the newest Newsweek’s magazine he could purchase in English there, bearing the title “Mexico a Web of Problems”
Soon we heard the old familiar chug chug of the train starting up and the air conditioner finally gave us some relief, for about 10 minutes. Then, to our dismay, it stopped, and as we tried to open the window we were disappointed to find that it had been bolted shut.
Almost immediately it began to stifle. I could not bear it. Years later I would find that I am in fact claustrophobic, but at the time I just thought I would go insane if I could not get either fresh air or space. This was going to be a long trip.
So along we went, rather slowly I might add. Heat and confined spaces does something to the best of us, but more so to a nursing mom I think. I began to get edgy, and I realized that I could, in fact, run faster that this blasted train was dragging me along. Something must be wrong. I tried to be calm, but no matter how hard I tried, I just allowed myself to become more disturbed by the situation.
It was not long before the lights of the city were just a dim glimmer in the distance behind us. Before us stretched the darkness, with the glow of the moon shining upon the cacti that stood nearer to the tracks. There were no sounds other than the rhythmic chugging of the old 1920 engine that seemed as if it was desperately pulling us along with its last breath.
The last thing I remember was that I had been wiping Brittany’s sweaty forehead with water from the cooler. I must have fallen into a deep sleep but was jolted awake by two things, the first being muffled voices, and the next and most curious to me as looked out of our bolted window, was that we were standing still.
There was but one thing to do, try and open the door for the first time. Reaching under the mattress I tried the door and sure enough I popped out onto the floor of the dirty train corridor. Several of our things fell on top of me as John held the baby and asked if I was okay. I spoke too soon, “yeah, I’m okay…. AHHHH” and at just that moment, I raised my head and found myself face to face with an upside down rooster. He was a massive thing and looked like he was dead but from my understanding of the old woman who carried the thing slung on her back like some wee babe, he was asleep. Apparently she was able to rock the bird to sleep so she could travel with it on her back.
I was just gaining my composure when a good sized pig scurried over me squealing all the way. Shaking my head, I murmured to myself, “God, I am from California and You did not prepare me for this.”
Laughter IS the best medicine sometimes, trust me. Sometimes, you just have to laugh about it. Like the time my dearest friend and I thought a massive rope under my hammock was a huge boa constrictor or the time when one of my precious tweens tried to dye her hair blue with a ‘so called’ temporary “wash” and accidentally dyed her WHOLE self bright SMURF blue all the way down to her toes. It lasted for about 12 weeks, during which time we were traveling and I had two speaking engagements. “Yes, I am the mother of Smurfette”, I would laugh. Better or Bitter I always say. How does it affect you? Will you be Better for it? or Bitter for it? Our response is our choice.
Anyway back to the scary train ride. I gained my composure as the other passengers looked oddly at me sprawled out on the wooden floor of the antique train. One elderly man, with a huge toothless grin, pointed behind me revealing the problem. The rest of the train, the most important part I might add, with the old engine that was ever so slowly dragging us into the Mexican desert, was no where in sight…
(end of part one)