Getting up before the day starts to begin the long journey to Chiapas, Mexico, I frantically sort through my clothes trying hard to narrow down what to take. I don’t know what to anticipate as I stand in line, sit, and wait. The weight of my carry-on digging into my right shoulder, no cell service for a whole day, and complaints are heard through the airport about the inconvenience of delayed flights, the never-ending safety procedures, and the long boarding process. Tensions rise due to changed flights, scuffles over who gets to board first, and recalling bags that are slightly too heavy to carry on. Groggy and a little disoriented, I finally arrive at my destination, Chiapas, Mexico.
The second we hit the lobby of the airport, we are welcomed by the warm smiles of a father and a young boy. Piling into a van with just enough space, we travel through mountain terrain with breath taking views. Life, all of the sudden, seems simple. The static noise from our digital world is slowly disappearing as the value of the basics of life becomes more relevant; an immediate adjustment to the way we are used to living. A vast history shines from the walls of the houses and stores, begging to share stories of the past. Even though it is an adjustment from home, the city is alive and it seems that everything necessary to sustain me is readily available; I need nothing more. A sudden bump of the cab jostles me and I am reminded that the journey is just beginning. The same man that welcomed us at the airport is our driver (a friend of OTG who chooses to remain anonymous due to EZLN rebel affiliation), and what he shows us, I believe, we will never forget. We stop first at a University, which doesn’t interest me much until I realize the outside of the buildings look more like a compound. A little intimidating, but inside there is beauty.
The University is a place to instruct students on how to create a sustainablelife, to learn basic skills, and for communities to gather. Why does it look like a compound to outsiders? Protection. The indigenous people are targeted and oppressed, so the University educates them about their rights and provides food for their families. This makes the University a quick target. Even though the violence and pain is clear, peace swallows the facility and a smile is shown on every face. Not far from the University, we visit a few farms where Amavida Coffee and Tea purchases its Organic and Fair Trade coffee. This unravels into an adventure. It is exciting to see the coffee trees and where the beans are dried and sorted, but what interests me most is that I get the opportunity to meet a family who works hard to produce a product that I enjoy so much. We trek up a mountain to check on the water source for the town that was provided by On The Ground Global. I love hiking and camping, but this walk is a lot for me. It is rainy, muddy, cold, and some places prove so steep that I am afraid I will fall. That, I discover, was the easy part. The next part of the trail seems like every two steps taken is another step sliding back. Then, halfway up that road I see a woman with a bucket of water hanging on her back, a baby wrapped on her front, and a toddler at her hand. The family is grateful to On The Ground, because now they are able to get clean water closer to their home. This trek that I complained about was what she was grateful for. Apparently, the previous trail was worse and took the families hours to complete each day.
When we get back to the village, the farmers welcome us into their homes and generously serve food and coffee. I thankfully gulp down the best soup I have ever had. We sit in their kitchen, and I am reminded of shacks and barns that I have seen back home. There isn’t enough room for all of us, and only a small fire for cooking. We sucked down the coffee, soup, and “posh” to warm us. It was amazing how honored they are to have us in their home, to serve us, and to have the opportunity to meet with us. The men joke about how long it took us to get up there and the women shyly hide behind each other while the kids giggle and stare. They are happy because they have running water. No, it isn’t filtered, pH-balanced, spring water, but it is clean. Next, we visit a refugee camp and the memorial site from the Acteal Massacre. The community members recall the story of seeing their people slaughtered in their own church. A man takes us to the grave site and begins telling us about his attempt to help a friend when the massacre began and about his wife and kids being murdered. Only one of the man’s daughters survived, because she hid under the bodies of her family. Everyone wept for the man. I can’t hope to do the story justice by telling it secondhand. Being in the refugee camp peeks interest of the local children and slowly they all creep closer and closer. By the end, we are playing with the children while all the parents gather to watch. All the kids yell and wave goodbye when we leave, and we feel as though we are given hope to be able to help them in some way.
After such a powerful experience, I begin to care less about the clothes I brought and ended up giving things away. Getting back into the airports, it takes effort for me to restrain myself from telling each and every person how grateful they should be for what they have. The static noise returns and I cling hard to the past few days. I have no more reasons to complain about the mundane things in my life; I have the capability to make a difference. The amazing thing is that On The Ground is doing something. I know that by supporting OTG I can bring water to that one woman and her children, among so many others. I am connecting community leaders and educating the indigenous people of Mexico, so that they may fight for their rights. I know that I am able to retell the story of the massacre to prevent others and am bringing hope, value, and a voice to a community that is otherwise forgotten.
By bringing your own cup to Amavida Coffee and Tea, you are also providing water to people just like the woman and children that I met. When you wash your cup from your kitchen faucet, imagine that woman walking through rain and mud to get clean water for her young children. When you drive in your car, think of the people in Chiapas and how trapped they feel. As you stand in line, imagine what it would be like to see your friends and family gunned down around you by your own country’s militia. When the barista hands you your coffee, imagine how you would feel giving clean water to someone in need. Here’s what you can do: