Around the holidays many of us, filled with the holiday spirit, are inspired to give. We give presents to friends and family, bake for loved ones and neighbors, and even pass out trinkets to our office and classmates. Some of us feel the holiday glow to the point of giving gifts to the mailman and garbage men. Since we are already wrapped up in the spirit of giving it is easy to give to charities this time of year. Some of us make donations to charities under the name of a loved one as a gift to them and some of us toss our pocket change into the red beat up bucket the Red Cross Santa clangs his rusty bell to call to our attention. The holiday spirit invades all of us in some way, making it easy to give back to the community and share with the people around us.
Some amazing people carry this spirit of giving all year long. Their hearts know no limits when it comes to helping others. These are people for whom there is no season of giving.
Welcome to the Mayan town of Ek Balam in the Mexican state of Yucatan. It may be near impossible for you to imagine, as you read my words on your computer, tablet or smart phone, that this is the town's main source of entertainment. A couple of dusty old counsel video games draw quite a crowd when one of the local children has a coin to play. Maybe your children have Play Stations, Wii, Guitar Hero, Game Boys and who knows what other buzzing, beeping, chirping, noise making electronic games laying under beds, in the back seat of the car and constantly trapping your child's attention especially, when it's time to do chores or have family dinner. I wonder if they could imagine what life is like in this small Mayan village.
Kids are kids, pretty much everywhere you go. These children are carefree as they run and play with a soccer ball and kites made from plastic shopping bags and straws. Peals of laughter echo through the town where children taunt each other, run, jump and yell.
It amazes me, how happy the children are to run and play when so many of them are hungry and burdened with hard work to help their families survive. How can they be so light and carefree when they don't have shoes, or sufficient medical care, and there is never really enough to eat? Being immersed in this quiet town gave me some time for introspection, how could I ever possibly be miserable in my life when I have food, shelter, a bed and luxuries such as a fabulous job, a computer, a car, a stove, a refrigerator, etc....
...and then it came to me; the joy is in the sharing. These people in this village of 63 huts, some with dirt floors and some with cement walls, are a real community. They pull together to share resources. The men of the community pulled together to build the community school. With the help of some wonderful local church groups and a high spirited group of missionaries from a church in Texas, money for building materials trickles in and the people of the town donate their sweat to adding on to the school little by little. The Light House Church of Tulum and Playa del Carmen, in conjunction with their Texas sister church sends volunteers every few months to help with the construction project.
These people with no real connection to this town, or its people, give of their time, muscle and know how to make a brighter future for the children of Ek Balam.
Their spirit of giving is pure and simple. They see a need and without question they try to fill it. Their joy is in sharing and giving.
This group of dedicated volunteers spends their vacation time identifying the needs of the town and doing what they can to help at least once a year. I see many tourists out and about in my daily life here in the Riviera Maya, most of them are on their way to tour ancient Mayan ruins, go to eco-parks, and lounge with cocktails on the pristine white sand beaches of their all inclusive resorts. This is what most of us identify as vacation.
To these giving people, vacation is being eaten by mosquitoes while giving free health care to a village in the Yucatan. They prefer to check children's coughs, teach the people of the village how to do regular blood checks to regulate diabetes, donate and organize medicines and maintain the small clinic they helped build on their previous vacations.
Some beautiful people have no season for giving, it is something they
carry in their heart daily. The joy of sharing with others and giving
without expecting anything in return is a gift they give themselves.
They share the same secret smile to themselves as the carefree children
of this small village.
In this crazy world, where all of us are wrapped up in paying the bills, getting the kids to their activities, fixing the roof, fixing the car, buying groceries, getting the laundry done, getting to work on time, meeting project deadlines, and trying to find a space in between to just chillax... it is almost as amazing to me, that there are people that still find the time and generosity in their hearts to dedicate to the well being of others, as it is to witness people that have such an incredibly different style of life.
How different would your life be if this were your family's only means of transportation?
What would you lay awake at night worrying about if this is where you laid your head?
Could you count your blessings in your backyard?
Can you imagine cooking over a fire, the fruits of your land to feed your family?
What would your hopes and dreams be for your future? For the future of your children?
What "help" would you feel you needed? Or would be willing to accept?
The beautiful, strong and united people of the village of Ek Balam are a filled with smiles.
They live a life so different from ours that it is difficult for us to understand.
The women make hammocks to sell and the men tend to the community plot of land where corn and squash are planted. A few of the villagers work at the nearby archeological site of Ek Balam, as guides, or as dancers, performing their modern interpretation of ancient Mayan dances for the tourists that arrive on tour buses.
These people are not lazy. They work from sun up to sun down tending to gardens, chickens, turkeys and goats, hunting fire wood and the occasional rabbit, patching holes on the thatched roof of their homes and doing what they can to eek out a life for themselves and their families.
They do not have access to higher education. They do not have skills to go to bigger cities and "get jobs". They get very, very little help from their government.
And yet these people have so much to share...
The smiling people of this town spent hours to prepare a meal for those of us that came with the doctors that donated their services.
The women milled corn the men had tended to for months and made a simple masa, which they then filled with chicken and vegetables from their own gardens. They wrapped this mixture in banana leaves and passed them to the men. Meanwhile, the men were busy digging a hole and filling it with a raging fire to be used as an underground oven.
The fire burned into hot embers and then the men carefully laid out the tamales and gourds to be cooked. The fire pit is then covered with sticks and green brush wood to insulate the fire and keep it hot as long as possible.
Then, it is covered with earth and left to cook for a couple of hours.
When it is later uncovered. its steaming hot contents are carefully removed.
I'll be honest, I sometimes can not be bothered to make a frozen pizza for guests, let alone spend the entire day and the majority of my resources to fill the stomachs of strangers who generally have better nutrition than I could imagine. The ability these people have to share, and to receive strikes awe in me.
This simple meal, shared; changed the way I see these towns as I drive through the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan.
I no longer see heartbreaking poverty in these towns, I see the riches they share and receive. I see the richness of happy smiles, even in the face of adversity. I see the strength of the families and the love that binds this community to strive for survival. I see the poverty in my own rich life; the lack of sharing and heartfelt joy of helping. I see so many ways that my own life could be enriched by following the example of the people in this village: not only the people that live in the small town of Ek Balam, but also the people that dedicate time, money, and skills to share in making a better future for this town.
There is much knowledge to be gained in these Yucatan towns. The elders of the communities are the proud guardians of a culture almost lost. The beautiful melody of the Mayan language that is slowly being filled with more and more Spanish and English words, yet refuses to vanish completely. The lost art of natural healing and living in harmony with the nature of the dense jungle that crowds in on these tiny towns, soon to be lost to modern ways. This simple lifestyle, so far remote from our daily lives that it seems impossible,could easily fill us with pity for those that "suffer".
I, instead, choose to be inspired by the incredible strength of the human spirit. I choose to be utterly thankful for the conveniences that I am so fortunate to have in my life. I am inspired to smile, in spite of whatever difficulty I may face, knowing that my difficulties in many ways are small in comparison to those that face hunger.
I am truly inspired by those who spend their vacation helping a tiny jungle town. And I am reminded, that life is about what I do.
There is no season for giving and there is no season for need.
Donations of used clothes, shoes, toys, money, school supplies medications, and our time and skills are always in demand. There are many organizations that work tirelessly year round to collect for and help towns like Ek Balam throughout the Riviera Maya.
You can give yourself the gift of sharing, regardless of the season! Contact Amigos Network, KISS, Christmas Dreams Playa, and The Light House Church to find out what you can do to help.
You can also take advantage of your holiday giving spirit and participate in some of the many local holiday drives, like this one organized by FurnitureMex, BuyPlaya and Amigos Network.
Lisa Love Juliot
walked across the California, Mexico border with a backpack and the
intent to travel all of Mexico and Central America. Nine years later,
her journeys continue throughout the Riviera Maya and Yucatan
Peninsula. She currently resides in Playa del Carmen and spends her
time exploring this magical area. She enjoys working for www.BuyPlaya.com, a local Playa del Carmen real estate company as
the Social Media Community Manager. A long time blogger and travel
writer, sociologist at heart and amateur photographer she is
enthusiastic about Mexico travel and culture. Follow Lisa on Twitter,
Facebook/BuyPlaya and Google+ to find out more about her adventures in
the Mexican Caribbean and information about living in Playa
Author: Lisa Love Juliot on Google