Guest Blog by Jason Ahlenius
It has been two months since I have seen my friend Andrés and his brothers and father pull away from our apartment complex in their red pickup. Now I am sitting beside him again in this same pickup on the other side of the border headed for Capacuaro, Mexico. There is so much to say and ask on the first day of such reunions that it is often easier to say little of anything at all.
We have reached Capacuaro and drive off the main street to the narrow, dirty streets lined by houses with walls of brick, cement, or simply vertical wooden planks. Rebar pokes upward out of the cement walls of the houses into the starlit night sky. Our truck soon pulls to a stop outside one of these houses with a vertically sliding metal garage-like door facing the street. A dim light reaches us from inside. As I step out of the truck we are met by a crowd of people, young and old, who help us out of the truck and take my baggage for me. They lead me to Andrés’ bedroom for the moment to sit down and wait as the various members of the family come from their houses down the street to greet me.
For once, I am the stranger.
The next day Andrés informs me more about his life in Capacuaro, Mexico. He tells me about his plans for his house. He had constructed the brick and mortar structure, comprising his shop, two bedrooms and a hallway, entirely from money he earned in the United States. I can hardly guess what his home was before. Working the small store out of the front of their house now, he is able to make only enough money to feed his family and cover other basic living expenses. In time, he hopes to build a workshop in the back of his lot for carpentry. I want to help him, but don’t know how to ask. With only a week here, I feel that all I can really do is listen to the many voices of Capacuaro and not speak so much.
Besides being driven around by Andrés’ family to see the sights of the countryside, I have had a lot of time to talk with the different people of Capacuaro. I am surprised by how many of the people I meet have spent time in my own town outside of Chicago. Most have spent at least five or six years in the United States, many in my own neighborhood. It is common for them to move to the United States for a couple of years at a time and bring back what money they make in order to build additions onto their homes and buy such materials as carpentry tools to sell furniture in Mexico. In time they may return in order to further develop their homes.
I can usually guess how much time certain people have spent in the United States by the size and completeness of their houses. Andrés’ father has spent more than 10 years working in the United States. He has an extensive house with many bedrooms and a kitchen in the back of his lot. He even has the money for an indoor bathroom, a luxury in town. Others’ homes are skeletal frames of wood with crooked planks acting as walls, and scrap metal for roofing. No one of this town has running water. All of the drinking water is bottled water brought in from the city.
Still, I am struck by both their extraordinary hospitality and their happiness. Although they want better lives for their families, there is no trace of dissatisfaction. They give to me with open hands as to an honored guest. I find that I must look back on my own life. Have I given so freely as they have, opened my arms as wide as they have? They have made the stranger like a member of their own family. I must admit that I hesitate to consider what such generosity would look like in my own life. It is difficult to imagine.
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