Cassandra Carland's Learning Story


I had been in Mexico for about a week. I had moved here to do a volunteer Bible education work for English speaking people and I was physically ill but mostly just homesick and lonely. But I was a New Englander and I had driven across country and I had always been “fine” and always would be.I was roused from bed by persistent knocking on my door. Two girls from the congregation had showed up to check on me. They took me out to the market. They taught me useful Spanish phrases, how to barter for good prices, how to pick out ripe mangoes.I went home with them. People I have met here are always looking in your eyes. I have discovered that they are much more in tune to other people’s feelings and that no one here is ever ashamed of their feelings. I am never able to fake a good mood here.”How are you?” said the father, and gave me that look. And that day began an important lesson for me. That I didn’t have to be tough all the time, that I didn’t have to be strong all the time, and I didn’t have to answer that question with ‘I’m fine’ even when I wasn’t. So I started to cry. And I said I was homesick and I missed my family. And the world didn’t fall down around me, and nobody thought less of me and I actually felt better. And they wrapped their arms around me and said they were my family now.I was immediately swept up in the chaos of the household. I found myself in the kitchen where the girls were lined up to make tortillas. Mixing the lard into the flour, kneading the dough. Measuring the right amount of dough for each piece by a complicated trick of pushing it through your fist and pinching off with the thumb. Folding it into a mushroom cap and then rolling the dough. The tortillas piled up and someone pulled out a tub of butter. I had my first fresh tortilla with butter. It’s like difference between eating a $.50 apple pie at a convenience store, and grandma’s homemade apple pie. Almost the whole congregation showed up for lunch. Everyone yelled, laughed, pinched, tickled, screamed. The parents call the children, mama and papa, and husband’s and wives call each other mijo and mija (little boy and little girl). The guys began a noisy game of pool; the chicken, chipotle, rice and beans were orchestrated around the kitchen, the dogs barked, the horses peered into the windows.After we had all eaten we dispersed to get ready for a party that evening. The girls picked out my clothes, did my hair, my make-up. Horrified that I was planning on wearing flip-flops, the insisted that I wear a pair of cherry-red high heels they found in my size. At the party we watched the sun set over the ocean. I watched the couples dancing banda, the local Mexican dance that I was always seeing and hearing about. It’s like a Mexican polka with infinite variations and varieties. Your feet are staggered with your partners, you make sure you have a good grip on the other person and then you skip over the dance floor while the guy whips you around in circles. But I had never done it. Banda was a dance that you only did with people you knew well. Your wife, girlfriend, sister, cousin, long-time friend. I had figured it out, but knew it would be awhile before I was ever out there. A brother from the congregation came up to me as I watched the crowd. His English was about as good as my Spanish. “I worried,” he said.”Why” I asked.”You look very triste [sad]. I see it in your eyes” he said.I attempted the “I’m fine.” But he didn’t understand that English phrase. And I wasn’t sure I did either anymore. I finally told him about my family and missing them. He didn’t really understand much. But he understood the words for father and mother and brother and the concept of me being here and them being far away.At the end of the night I said my goodbye’s to everyone. And when I went to say goodbye to him I suddenly found myself swept off onto the dance floor…banda dancing. And everyone clapped and cheered and took video, and for the first time since I moved there I found myself really laughing as I was dizzily whipped around the dance floor as he kicked up his heels and sang along to the song.And at that moment I knew I would never be alone and there were all kinds of things waiting for me to be taught.