The Rio Grande is less than ten minutes walk from the church in San Vicente, Coahuila, Mexico. The water is so low you could drive a truck across, but it isn’t legal to cross the river just anywhere; and besides, there is no road. Driving a truck and trailer loaded with food and Christmas gifts means you need to go through at a friendly border crossing, drive around the mountains, and find the rocky dirt road that leads to the desert villages. You leave paved roads, electricity and cell service hours before you arrive. What could be an eight hour trip from our home to San Vicente, becomes an eighteen hour drive. That’s good, because it takes time to adjust to life on the other side of the border. A lot changes in the ten minute walk from the water that separates us.
The drive prepares you for village life. My small town washes out the stars each night with the light we send into the sky. Villagers use solar panels to power a light bulb or two for a few hours. The stars there are a hundred fold and very bright. In my community, people keep in contact by cell phone, email, and Facebook. In the village, residents use two-way radios, church bells, and door-to-door. In America, thirty miles of country driving means about thirty minutes. In San Vicente, it’s about two hours. We use cars and trucks while they use trucks and horses. In Texas, it’s been so dry ranchers had to sell cattle. Across the border, cattle carcasses dot the landscape, and calves are killed before they starve. The coyotes feed on cattle and are doing well, but cats and dogs are rail thin. No one in the village appeared to eat too much. At home, nearly everyone I know talks of losing weight. Big contrast.
One thing that was the same was the hospitality of our hosts. When we arrived, Benita and Noe showed us to our rooms and made us welcome. We set up cots and filled five gallon buckets from the water pump outside so we could flush the toilet. We were glad the solar panels allowed enough light to set up without flashlights. It was chilly, but the building kept the wind out and our sleeping bags were warm.
In the morning, Benita made breakfast for us, only she used an outdoor kitchen and cooked on a wood stove. She had to plan carefully, as we were four hours from a store. In the outdoor dining room, we could watch the sun rise, just as we can from our Texas porches. Noe’s sons fed the calf and horses hay, just like on a Texas ranch. Cats fought and dogs wrestled with each other.
We set out for the church, decorated and set up the children’s area. Kids came and created ornaments for the tree, colored, and made other crafts, smiling and excited to have something new to do. The older ones helped the younger ones and when it was time for church to start, the boys jumped to see who could reach the cord to ring the bell. Just like the northern side of the border, families started coming into church. We sang songs, told the story of Jesus’ birth, passed out gifts, and enjoyed lots of cookies, candy, popcorn, lemonade, and hot cocoa. Then we had church service before sending each family home with two full bags of groceries. ”Thank-you’s” were plentiful and excitement showed in their eyes as they took their gift bags and groceries home.
Afterwards, some of us walked to the Rio Grande to look at the water and Texas side of the river as sun set. It was quiet and peaceful until the coyotes started howling.
At the river you thought about contrasts and connections between rural American life and desert village life. There were a lot of differences, most of them traced to money and convenience. For everything truly important, we were the same. We build our homes, raise families, welcome guests, worship, and give gifts at Christmastime. The way we treat guests, family or friends is pretty much the same. We watch the sun rise and set. We look for light in darkness, enjoy sharing meals with friends, and are very thankful for toilets that flush.