I recently went to Tijuana, Mexico with my church to build houses for families in need. We stayed at a campsite in Mexico for six days and split up to build several different houses for several different families. The entire six days we lived in tents, used port-a-pottys, and showered out of plastic bags. We didn’t have the comforts of our everyday middle-class lives in the United States.
I originally thought that a week would be very difficult for me to endure for two reasons. The first was that I speak English and French, neither of which is spoken much in Tijuana. And the second was that I wouldn’t have the technology, or working plumbing for that matter, that I did at home. I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be a real challenge.
But it wasn’t.
The first couple of days at the work site trying to communicate with the family we were building the house for were definitely not easy. I had to resort to hand signals and the simple words and phrases in Spanish that I knew, like “hola!” and “¿dónde está el banjo?” It was basically a never-ending game of charades. But as the week went on, it became easier to communicate with them. It became easier to tell what they were saying because of how they said each word. I could pick up on their emotions from how they spoke. I also learner that it was sometimes easier to express how I felt or what I needed through my actions instead of using words; a handshake, a hug, a smile, and a high-five all represent the same things in Mexico as they do in the United States. Although we had a language barrier, I found it very easy for me to become emotionally attached to the family.
Because we didn’t have our cell phones or mirrors or real showers, everyone on the trip finally stopped caring about their appearances. By escaping from the pressures of our everyday loves–to look pretty, to push ourselves in sports or academically–we all became vulnerable with one another. We ahh had connected on such a deeper level than we normally did at home. And because of that newfound bond, we were able to discover that we were all very alike in ways that we could not have ever guessed; we all had fears, hopes, dreams, and passions.
I believe that simplicity is the key to true happiness. We don’t need to be the biggest stars in Hollywood or own the largest mansion. Because honestly, all we really need in life to survive is food and people to connect with. Many of the things we desire for ourselves are superficial and unnecessary. The poor families in Tijuana cannot afford most of the luxuries we take for granted, yet the majority of them are ten million times happier than many of the successful people I know. It’s your life; keep it simple.