I could have sworn I woke up this morning without any arms.
Luckily it was just a bad dream; I’d been sleeping on them all night long, criss-crossed under my face. But the muscle aches that greeted me when my limbs eventually woke told me they might as well have fallen off – they certainly wouldn’t be much good for work, that’s for sure.
Every morning this week, my body has been paying the price for physical labour we’ve undertaken to build Juana’s house. Mixing concrete, carrying hundreds of bricks, and pounding holes through a cement floor is as exhausting as it sounds. By the first day I already had blisters on my hands and what felt like a sunburn on the bottom of my feet, thanks to the stifling rubber boots I’d been tramping around in all day. I have discovered muscles I didn’t know I had. I’m not sure I’ve ever worked this hard in my life.
So I was thanking the heavens when I found out we had today off to visit an archaeological site outside the city. It was a much needed mental and physical break that brought us to the Mayan ruins at Xochicalco.
At first glance, I realized the pyramids were different from what I had always pictured they would be. That’s probably because my earliest interpretation comes from watching Disney’s El Dorado. I expected one or two towering pyramids on a bright green square of grass. But I should have known better — just like everything else this week, my experience surpassed expectations.
When we arrived at the Xochicalco museum, we walked up a stretch of road to the entrance of the archaeological site on top of the mountains. With a winning view teasing us from the mountainside, our entire team must have thought we’d already reached the highlight of the excursion. Layer upon layer of rock glowed blue against an even brighter sky, and otherwise tall forest appeared shrunken against the expanse of the landscape. The best part was realizing we hadn’t even entered the site yet.
We entered the ruins through the most vertical staircase I’ve ever ascended, and three stone pyramids rose out of a plane of yellow grass. These were not the soaring gold towers of El Dorada, but they wowed me nonetheless. One hefty staircase later, and we were standing on top of a pyramid, looking out across the expanse of the rolling hills, and breathing in the fresh sky.
But even still, there were more pyramids to climb until we met the highest point of Xochicalco. Each set of stairs we conquered brought us to another layer of the city, and each time we turned to take in the view, it didn’t seem possible that it could get any more beautiful. At the throne of the ancient site, miles of rolling hills stretched across the panorama, little farm houses and trees dotted the fields, and a crater of water reflected the pristine colour of the sky.
I felt a sense of magic standing on top of those ruins and admiring the beauty around me. The sheer magnificence of nature is something that often brings me to peace with my thoughts and helps me weigh what’s really on my mind. Looking out at Xochicalco, I think many of us experienced that state of calm and were better able to reflect on the trip at the end of the day.
I, for one, realized that ASB has been about so much more than just community service . The people here have taught me that what’s really important in life are having the basic necessities to survive and a community that functions as a support system. Even more, I never expected that I would learn so much about myself as an individual. But stepping outside my bubble and into the rest of the world has put my career goals into focus and showed me what I value most in life.
When we returned to CCIDD for the afternoon, we met a group of local artisans who inspired me just as much as the scene we had experienced that morning.
On blankets and tables across the yard, they had laid out handcrafted jewellery, embroidered clothing, and carefully painted art. We huddled around to introduce ourselves to them, and one by one they told us their individual stories. Some of them were families who grew up learning the indigenous tradition of weaving beautiful bags and clothing. Some were mothers selling embroidered baby clothes, dolls, and home-made cards which they created from home so they could also care for their children. More still were jewelers, who create intricate earrings, bracelets, and rings out of simple materials such as wire, leather, and natural stones found in Mexico.
But together, they formed a cooperative of artisans working for themselves —eliminating the middle man. As a group, they travel to local schools, churches and places like CCIDD to sell their work. By doing this, they retain 100 per cent of the profit they make and empower themselves. To me, their courage was inspiring.
The quality and uniqueness of their goods was astonishing, even more so were the prices. Compared to the mass-produced, over-priced junk we buy at home, these hand-crafted goods sold for nothing. I couldn’t help but feel guilty that these people weren’t receiving more for their labour and talent.
It brought me back again to those moments of reflection at the top of Xochicalco, when I realized how experiencing a different culture has changed my outlook on life. Every day that I’m here in Cuernavaca, I see my teammates and myself growing from our experiences. I see that our tolerance for our materialistic culture is depleting, and I see that we are no longer satisfied with the impact it has on the world. I hope that when we return home at the end of the week, we can be courageous like the artisans here today and empowered to resist the extravagance of our culture.