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The Mazatlan Memoirs II

March 9, 2009

by Jen Bakken

While in Mazatlan in February, sometimes it was difficult to put aside why we were there and enjoy being on vacation.

We were there to enjoy being together, to do something we have never done, and make memories to cherish forever.

We were there to try and forget that my dad has cancer and is dying. There were moments when he was in pain or utterly exhausted, and it was difficult to see.

Once in awhile I found myself, (and still do), trying to look the other way. Maybe if I don’t see it – then it can’t really be happening.

It’s next to impossible to feel good about anything at times. Selfishly, I become overwhelmed and worried. I can’t imagine living without my dad – my best friend in the whole wide world.

Going to Mexico was exciting. It gave us something to look forward to, but the real reason we were going hung over our heads like a constant reminder no one wanted to acknowledge.

It was with all of this in mind that I decided to add something to my trip. I planned a visit to an orphanage. As someone who loves children and volunteering, I was overjoyed to have this opportunity.

For weeks before our trip I attempted to make these arrangements. One orphanage didn’t respond to my requests, and another told me they only allowed volunteers who could devote an entire week or more of time.

It was shocking how difficult it was to volunteer. My third attempt was successful, although it did take some time and effort to work out the details.

We had only been in Mazatlan for two days when my volunteer morning arrived. As Bryer, Brynna, and I stood on a narrow street corner waiting for a golf cart taxi, I could barely contain my excitement.

When I handed a piece of paper with the orphanage’s address on it, the driver looked at me, surprised. I don’t think that part of town is where many tourists go.

Forty pesos later, we arrived at a beautiful building surrounded by a wall and barbed wire. After ringing a buzzer, a cute young girl of about 12 looked at us through a small opening in the gate.

Since we don’t speak Spanish, we weren’t sure what she said to us after we tried to introduce ourselves, and we just followed her.

We were led through a huge courtyard and brought to the director, Rafaela. She spoke English fairly well, thankfully, and gave us a tour.

Some of the children were introduced to us, and then we observed them for awhile. While they played jump rope and follow the leader, I began taking pictures.

One girl was curious about the digital camera and I let her be the photographer. She took pictures of everything, and when she was able to look at her own photographs, her smile was contagious.

Another girl grabbed my hand and pulled me out into the courtyard. She was animated and excited while she said something in Spanish.

I wasn’t sure what she was saying or what to do, and next thing I knew she threw a ball and hit me with it. When she ran away giggling, it was clear we were beginning a game of ball tag.

Others joined our game. We ran, we laughed, and we didn’t need to speak the same language to enjoy each other.

This same girl, about eight years old, hugged me after our game and my heart melted.

Using a picture dictionary I had made before our trip, we pointed at pictures that included the Spanish and English words. This is how we communicated. I learned her name was Jessica, while she sat in my lap and I never wanted to leave.

Bryer played cars with two boys under the age of four. Brynna used our dictionary to tell children her age. We all felt comfortable, even though we didn’t speak the same language.

Though I was only scheduled for one visit to the orphanage, I went three times and, quite honestly, wish I could have spent more time there. It is my dream to one day return exclusively to volunteer. (And to hug the children and of course Jessica again.)

The Mazatlan Orphanage provides assistance and protection to children who have been orphaned, abandoned, neglected, or abused. It is a private, non-profit institution, helping children ranging in age from infants to teens.

“We are a private institution. We don’t receive any funds from the government,” said Cristina Peña, the board president of the orphanage. “So, we depend on the fundraising events we organize and the benefactors’ donations.”

If you are interested in making a donation to the orphanage and assisting these great people with the wonderful things they do for the children, it can be sent to:

Mazatlan Orphanage IAP

5802 Bob Bullock C1

Box 504 No. 182

Laredo, TX 78041

This was truly one of the best moments of my life. Whenever I am feeling down, I think about the children I met and hope to find more small ways to help them in the future.

My dad’s diagnosis has turned my world upside down, but this experience reminded me there are still moments when I can have a good feeling in my heart.

To be continued . . .