In The Mexican Mountains — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Jennifer Battcher
I spent two weeks traveling in Mexico with a group on a service learning trip. One day, we visited a family of artisans in their home in the mountains. Their house was one room and the walls were made of branches. The floor was dirt. It was one in the afternoon and the family was just finishing their first and only meal of the day – tomatoes and lettuce. It was very important to them that they provided enough places to sit for all of their guests and, as I sat down on the bed in the corner, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if there were bugs in the mattress. The father of the family knelt on the dirt floor and wove palm branches as he spoke to us about how his family members are artisans. As the branches bent and twisted in his expert hands, he talked about the baskets and other things they made to sell in the city. It was amazing to see all the things they could create by twisting palm leaves.
I was sitting next to their daughter, who was holding her beautiful new baby boy. The father explained to us how they were having trouble affording formula for the baby, which they needed because the mother was unable to produce enough milk. As I looked around at their stick walls, dirt floor, and meager meal, I saw up close what absolute poverty looks like. Of course, I had been prepared to see this. After all, the purpose of our service learning trip was to educate us about these types of conditions, and we had visited other families in other parts of Mexico already. However, I saw something else in that house that I wasn’t expecting to see and it was overflowing from every inch of that one-room home. It caught me by surprise as I saw it on the father’s face, in the mother’s actions. I saw it as the family showed how they make baskets out of palm branches. I saw it in every corner of that dirt floor, every small proud smile of the new mama as she accepted compliments about her baby: This house was brimming with happiness. In the midst of terrible poverty was a calm and steady joy. They were together, they had their family, and they were happy. I will never forget that family and, as I settle into my life, getting older and acquiring more stuff, I keep them in mind. They had such contentment with so few possessions to call their own, so certainly I can be happy without the latest fashions and trendiest styles. This family is wiser than most and understood a concept it takes some people many years to figure out. Stuff will not fulfill your life; material things do not bring happiness. People, family, and experiences bring happiness.
Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Project Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU
For all of the North Star Project Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
The North Star Project Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The Middle Ground Journal will share reports from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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