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For those of you that know me, you know that my experiences serving in Mexico each summer during high school altered the course of my life forever. It showed me that the world was so much bigger than all I knew, all I had ever known, and set me on a course of mission work that has now stretched 14 years. Half my life.
This summer I have the pleasure of not only going on my 7th trip down to Mexico, but also of leading my churches team. We’ll join together with about a dozen other churches across the west coast to sacrifice our lives of comfort for a week in order to give a group of Mexican families something tangible, a house. A small sacrifice, but it’s a start.
As part of the experience each year all of the WA/OR churches come together the first weekend of March on the Oregon Coast to get to know each other, refresh, learn, and figure out a little thing called teamwork.
Winema, the camp we stay at is beyond beautiful… when the sun’s out that is. The camp sits right on the beach, tall sand dunes standing between the compound and the crashing waves. I have fond memories from high school walking up and down the beach, climbing sheer rocks faces and all other kinds of dangerous things with my best friends.
When we arrived last friday afternoon the weather was beautiful. The sun was shining, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Before heading into Lincoln City for dinner I ran up the dune and was able to snap a photo with my phone. Boy was it gorgeous, that place makes my heart so happy.
Part of what the weekend at Winema always includes is an afternoon of work projects to help out the camp. Last year I pulled branches/logs out of the forest in the pouring rain, it would have been bearable if there’d been no rain, so this year I started monitoring the weather outlook a week ahead of time. Up until Friday night the weather outlook showed a 100% chance of rain on Sunday but a 10% chance on Saturday. I thought hooray! Things are looking up! Even when we woke up on Saturday morning it seemed like the outlook was still Ok. It was a bit drizzly, but nothing abnormal for the Oregon Coast.
By 12:30, as we prepared to walk outside for our work projects we were in full monsoon mode. All I could think was “a 10% chance huh? I never trusted the weatherman.”
This year I was able to get far away from the forest and was instead asked to help lead the teams that would be mixing concrete to pour a couple slabs for the camp. Excellent! I thought. We do that in Mexico every summer. Easy peasy. Armed with a battalion of wheelbarrows about 30 of us got right to work. Within 20 minutes everyone was soaked but very few complained. I was pretty proud.
We finished the first slab in about an hour and a half then gathered our materials together to move to the second location behind the camps cafeteria. Where there first slab had been somewhat insulated by other buildings our second location was out in the open and the monsoon quickly turned into a hurricane. Not only was the rain pounding the wind was gusting so hard sometimes it almost knocked me over, yet everyone persevered, well, almost everyone, but I won’t go into that. Often we were standing in ankle deep puddles, mixing batches by hand while our arms slowly lost strength, but we pressed on.
The second slab took a little more time. I blame it on the elements and increasing exhaustion, but despite the tough conditions we finished. Then here’s where the real trouble started. Once we had stopped the constant movement of mixing and hauling and started cleaning off the tools I noticed a burn on the front of my thighs every time I took a step. When I stood still it was fine but when I moved it burned. I knew cement could burn you, but I’d never had a problem before so I ignored it and spend another 30-40 minutes cleaning up. By the time I finally made it back to my cabin my thighs were on fire. Unfortunately when I walked in the door there was already a line for our one shower. I begged everyone to please let me get in an rinse off because “I had cement burning me.” Everyone was hesitant, I mean they were dirty too, but one of my youth, Tiffany, pulled through, she willingly offered to let me go before her (that’s my girl!).
I literally walked into the shower with everything but my shoes on, even my socks, jacket and hat. It didn’t matter, everything was soaked already but more importantly covered in cement and I wanted to get it off. When I finally got my jeans off I expected the burning to ease up, and maybe some read skin but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The skin wasn’t only red it was REALLY red and even brown/purple in some spots. My first thought was “at least I didn’t imagine it” and my second thought was “AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” Because the water hitting the burns was excruciating. I hopped out wrapped myself in a towel and hobbled to my bed. I removed to the towel to reveal my legs to the world in the light and the air was just as painful as the water. I quickly pulled on my sweat pants and laid down half on my bed tearing up and unwilling to move. I pride myself in having a pretty high tolerance of pain, but this really hurt.
When I finally tracked down people who I felt would know what to do the only advice I got was put vinegar on it to neutralize the chemical. I thought anything was worth a try so armed with a cup of vinegar and a clean washcloth I headed back into the kitchens bathroom. The parting word Ed gave me with a smile was “don’t scream because they’re about to pray for dinner.” I giggled and then shut the door.
I dipped the cloth in the vinegar and decided to touch it to a small spot to kind of test it out. Turns out “no screaming” was a legitimate warning, but no need to worry. My body was so clenched with the pain that I could only manage to scream with my mouth firmly shut. Imagine the fire of a thousand suns hitting your skin, that was my experience with the vinegar. Since then I’ve read that it really is the best treatment and that many construction workers carry it with them so they can add it to a bath in a pinch. Props to them because I don’t think I could ever do that again.
When I woke up the next morning my pajama pants were stuck to my thighs, I’d hardly slept and the pain was much worse. I limped around camp that morning and didn’t even really have the energy to pack my bags. I just threw everything in and drug it out to my car. I still haven’t unpacked actually…
By monday the burns were even worse. Turns our caustic burns actually get worse/bigger over time. Fantastic. I called into work for my first sick day in I don’t know how long. By Wednesday I knew something was wrong. The pain was worse, the burns were more swollen and more, well gross, we’ll leave it at that. I’m the exact opposite of a hypochondriac so making the decision to go to urgent care was a tough one for me. It was more a fear of getting there and being told “oh they’re fine, they look just like they should, just wrap them and keep them clean.” Instead I got a “whoa those are infected.” Well glad I made the decision to come in then. An hour later I emerged covered in silvadene and with my legs wrapped up like a mummy as I wobbled out to the car. I made the decision to go into work today, but in the end it just wasn’t a good idea and I ended up setting up pre planned sick days for tomorrow and Saturday. Hopefully it will give a chance for the burns to start to heal.
The most unfortunate part of this story is I wasn’t the only one who ended up with these burns. I think there were 4 of us in all. It’s an sad souvenir but a lesson learned. Every summer while we’re in Mexico team leaders constantly pester everyone to make sure they brush cement off of their skin while those with the cement on them just scoff. You better beleive I’m going to be the cement nazi on my team this year, if they just laugh I’ll whip out a picture of my legs and then they’ll believe.
Despite the fact that my legs got burned the weekend was still pretty incredible. I helped pour two slabs for the camp and I got a chance to see my youth step up and lead. I’m super proud of them and even more confident that it’s going to be a great team for Mexico this summer.
I’ll go ahead an leave you with some beach photos from Winema, after the sun left but before the monsoon rolled in.