Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Old Friends

The wedding reception gave me an opportunity to meet some of my old friends from Colegio Guasave. Those of us present for the party posed for this photograph: in the back row, left to right, Toño and his wife, Rhonda and I, Ivonne and Leo (both were in my class are now married). In the front row, left to right: Selene, Goldis, Guillermo (who they call Chapis) and his wife, and the last person I don't know. I was a little nervous to see everyone again, but they welcomed me back with an open heart.

Las Bodas

Las Bodas - The Weddings

On our second day in Guasave, we attended two weddings.

My friend Gloria got married on the afternoon of December 26. She and I attended the same class in Colegio Guasave when I lived here 21 years ago. Actually, she was the first person I found after my long absence, through Facebook. Through her, I was able to re-establish contact with many of my other friends.

She told me that the wedding mass would begin at 1:00 in the afternoon, but we arrived about 20 minutes early. When we entered the church, I saw a couple in wedding clothes kneeling at the altar, and I immediately assumed that the wedding had begun earlier than expected. We took our seats at the back of the church and watched the priest perform the mass. At the end of the ceremony, I rushed outside to get a picture of the new couple as they left the church, but when they emerged, it was a different couple!

Then I looked behind me and saw Gloria driving up in a car decorated with flowers.

The wedding took place in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This church played a large role in my life during my exchange, mostly because it was only two blocks from my house, and my host family often attended mass there. I attended many meetings in that church.

Once we attended the correct wedding, we got a better seat closer to the front of the church. I sat near the aisle and got pictures of the priest as he began the wedding mass.

Gloria and her father entering the church.

Gloria and her new husband Ernesto.

Gloria and I immediately after she emerged from the church.

Colegio Guasave

During my exchange experience in Mexico, I had the opportunity to attend a private school regarded as one of the best in the region: Colegio Guasave. In many ways, "preparatoria" in Mexico is the same as high school in the United States. Most of the same human dynamics for that age group play out in similar ways. As always, some kids are more popular, others more reserved, though I would have to say that I don't recall any bullying during my entire year at Colegio Guasave. It may have happened, but I didn't see it.

Almost universally, people at my school treated me with respect. Sometimes they teased in a friendly way, but that was just part of their character. Teasing among friends is a sign of belonging and affection.

In the beginning, I felt like something of a celebrity. Even before I arrived, almost everyone had heard of the new kid from the United States who was both Indian and Mormon. Most people had known very few people from either background, so my arrival created a great amount of curiosity. For the first two weeks, a constant flow of kids from my school approached me during breaks and even arrived at my house to meet me. One after another, they arrived and asked me questions and smiled politely when I failed to understand their Spanish. They seemed to have all the patience in the world to repeat everything and speak more slowly.

I loved those first days in Guasave.

Sadly for me, I soon discovered that celebrity fades quickly. By the end of the first month, the novelty of my arrival had worn away and people grew weary of talking in short, belabored sentences. As I said, no one ever treated me with disrespect, but I noticed that people made fewer efforts to speak with me or to include me in conversations. On some level I understood; it was a lot of work talking to me. It required a much higher level of patience and concentration.

If I wanted to speak to anyone, I had to take the initiative, which was excruciating for a painfully shy kid like me. In the beginning, I fell into a depression that left me paralyzed.

However, in time, my anxiety began to decrease and I began to learn the language. Little by little, I was also able to expand my social network and gain new experiences. It required a great amount of effort, but in the end, it changed my perspective on just about everything.

More later...

During this current trip, we visited Colegio Guasave and had the good fortune to meet a caretaker who allowed us to see the inside of my old classroom. Unlike high schools in the US, the students stayed together in one class the entire time while the teachers rotated. These core groups stayed the same from year to year and became very close. In this picture, my kids are standing on an outdoor stage where we used to perform dances and other cultural programs.

Outside my old class.

My kids sitting in my old classroom.

This was where often I used to sit. That was high school, but the chairs sure feel a lot smaller than I remember.

The entrance to the school.

Monday, December 28, 2009

El Rosario

The Church of the Rosary is the historic, cultural, and spiritual heart of Guasave. As early as the late 1500s, the Spanish Jesuits arrived in this area to evangelize the Yoreme Indians. By the early 1600s, they contructed this church. According to legend, the location of the church was chosen by providence and revealed through a very unusual event. The Catholic fathers had commmissioned an elaborate, handcrafted statue of the Madonna and Child, and ordered that it should be delivered to a different mission. But when the team passed through Guasave, the mules refused to continue. The fathers unloaded the statue and rested, and when they attempted to resume the journey, the statue became fixed in its place. No matter how many men they got to help, they could not lift the statue from the ground. The leader of the order saw this as a sign that the Virgin Mother had chosen Guasave as her permanent home. This became the site of the church, the new mission, and the city of Guasave. To this day, the statue resides within the church, still gilded and radiant.

My friend Maria del Pilar (Mappy) met us at the hotel in downtown Guasave. She treated us to a wonderful breakfast and took us on a driving tour of the city. We stopped briefly at the Church of the Rosary and took pictures.


I was sixteen years old when I first arrived in Guasave, Sinaloa as a Rotary International exchange student. That was 1987, and the world was a very different place. Technology was certainly different. Nowadays we regard cell phones and email as basic necessities, but back then I had never even dreamed of such things. On a more personal level, MY world was different. Most everything seemed either black or white in my perception of life. My religious convictions in the LDS faith certainly framed everything I perceived, and I had not yet discovered all the confusing shades of gray.

Guasave changed me. Through experiences that were sometimes exhilerating and often painful, Guasave re-ordered the universe. It changed my experience of myself as an American, as a Mormon, as a man, and as a human being. On many levels, my exchange experience was a rite of passage away from the simplicity of childhood and into the awakening years of adulthood. More on that later...

I spent my entire junior year in Guasave and then returned to Spokane to finish my last year of high school. After graduation, I visited Guasave only once with a friend from the United States, and then I never returned. Well, I had always wanted to return. Even before my marriage to Rhonda, I had always spoken to her about my experiences. I always said we would visit someday, but then we left for missions, and went to college, and started a family, had children, and then foster children, and passed through our own struggles as a couple. It's only been within the last two years that our lives seem to reached a more stabile point. Now 21 years have passed since my exchange experience. 21 years! It almost feels like a distant memory that passed away in the blink of an eye.

Through Facebook and the internet, I re-established contact with a small group of friends from Guasave. This inspired my return visit. Our children are now old enough to travel and understand. This just seemed like the perfect time to go.

So we flew into Guaymas and spent a couple days on the beach in San Carlos. Then we boarded a bus and set off for Guasave.

The closer we got, the more nervous I felt. Only one friend had responded with definite plans to meet. I invited others, but had not gotten a response. Worst of all, my former host parents had not yet responded. After months of failed attempts to communicate, we were practically on their doorstep. I began to feel that nervous that no one remembered or even cared. After all, 21 years is a long time for me to allow friendships to wither and fade. If no one received us, I could only blame myself.

The bus arrived in Guasave at about 9:00 at night. Everything looked totally different. When we entered the city, I noticed the freeway was now elevated with an exit ramp. Before, the highway passed right through the town on ground level. Also, they now have a Walmart of all things, and a Burger King. Man, I would have killed for a Whopper in those days! Before, the area around the bus terminal was little more than a series of open fields and farms. Now it seems that the city has swallowed everything.

Many things can change in 20 years.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Noche Buena

In place of reindeer and snow, we spent Christmas Eve on the beach in San Carlos, Mexico. We explored the tide pools, collected sea shells, and watched the pelicans sweep down low over the water. After all that, the children swam for hours. It was a beautiful day in its own right, but most important, I felt thankful to spend Christmas Even together as a family. No matter where we go in the world, I hope we are always together in spirit.

Rhonda and the girls walked ahead on the beach, the famous Tetakawi mountain is in the background.

The tide pools created a magnificent, living landscape.

The tide pools, close up.

Pelicans and seagulls.

My children playing on the beach.

Rhonda reading a book.

More pictures of the water near San Carlos, Mexico.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Twilight Zone

When we arrived in San Carlos, Mexico, we were excited to see the warm, sunny skies and the beautiful ocean shores.

However, when we arrived at the condominium, our mood quickly changed. Rhonda recognized the condo from the website, but the place was completely desolate, without a soul in sight. These photographs can hardly convey the lonely, eerie feeling that prevailed all around us. Every apartment was exactly the same as the next, and each one empty and barren. The walls echoed with the sounds of our voices. The office was empty and abandoned, with no one to receive us or check us into our room. We felt as though we had landed in the middle of the Twilight Zone.

Finally, I found a repairman in the very last condo. He told me to go to the office in the adjacent hotel.

In the hotel, they gave us a key to our condo, but our mood only worsened. The place had been affected by the recent hurricane; the wooden doors were obviously warped by water damage and did not shut properly. Some of the doors didn't even lock. With no neighbors or locking doors, we felt very vulnerable sleeping in that place. We returned to the hotel, and requested a more secure room.

In the end, we got a hotel room instead of a condo. It was much smaller, but felt infinitely safer.

The pool was also damaged by the hurricane and completely empty.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Our vacation took an unexpected turn when our flight to Guaymas was seriously overbooked. Tempers got a little out of hand as a man screamed at the ticket agent and demanded a refund. Also, a family of six also got a little testy when they thought they might lose their much anticipated vacation.

I started having flashbacks of my Delta Airlines nightmare in Atlanta, but then the US Airways agent offered us a ray of hope. In exchange for our inconvenience, they gave each one of us a voucher for $325 to anyplace they fly. Multiplied by five, and the grand total comes up to $1,625 for a future family vacation. We also got a two-bedroom suite at the Marriott Hotel and meal vouchers. We lost a day of our Mexico trip, but tonight we're relaxing in a wonderful hotel and enjoying time together as a family.


This morning, we got a brief visit with Mike and Zeke at the Anasazi office.

Temple Lights

Our family visited the LDS Temple in Mesa to see the Christmas light display.

When we arrived, we discovered that about 10,000 other people had the same idea. We literally had to stand in the flower beds to avoid getting trampled by the massive crowds. Someone fell and had to be carried out on a stretcher. People pushing baby carriages cursed and fought as they struggled just to pass one another. It was not a spiritual moment for me, to be sure.

We returned later in the evening when the crowds finally went home. That way we got to appreciate the beauty of the temple lights.

Casa Grande

Ron and Linda took us to Casa Grande Ruins.

Casa Grande or the "Great House" is the remnant of an indigenous culture that once prospered in the desert through mastering irrigation and agriculture. Current research suggests that the site was abandoned some time around 1450. The National Park Service maintains a website dedicated to educating people regarding this amazing cultural site.

A good candidate for our 2009 family photo.

Teaching Dakota to do "The Barry."


One of the best parts of our trip to Arizona is seeing my childrens' delight as they spend time with their Grandpa Ron. They love to laugh, play games, and enjoy every possible moment. My children never got to know my father, so I treasure their relationship with Rhonda's father all the more.

Cox Family

During our visit to Arizona, Rhonda's brother Mike brought us to the Cox Family Christmas Program in Mesa. The total history escapes me at the moment, but some years ago the Cox ancestors had a whole bunch of kids, who each had a bunch of kids, who then each had a bunch more. The current descendants number in the many hundreds, enough to fill a gymnasium for a Christmas devotional.

It's amazing to think that a family still maintains that level of connection after so many generations.

During the program, all the children perform the Nativity story. Even McKenna and Whitney got to perform as angels. After the traditional Christmas story, various family groups perform musical numbers. In the photographs that follow, Gaylene and the Roberts Sisters performed.

We also got to see Gaylene's brother Jon.


Last night I dreamed of the Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye. You may remember that he and I met back in July for a ceremony on Mount Spokane dedicated to world peace.

In my dream, I visited Geshe-la at a monastery, perhaps in India or Tibet, amid the vivid colors of prayer flags and green trees. When I first saw him, he sat meditating on a distant hill, surrounded by orphans and the outcasts of society. As I approached, he opened his eyes and smiled. He then welcomed me and grasped my hand with both hands.

Geshe-la led the way toward the monastery, stopping frequently to introduce me to the children and other people. Their faces inspired me because of their simple and genuine kindness.

We visited a courtyard inside the monastery, and Geshe-la welcomed me to sit and converse a while. “Tell me,” he said, “What brings you here?”

“Master Phelgye,” I said, “It would seem I have drawn the two cards of misfortune and anxiety. What should I do to change my luck?”

He paused and considered my question with care. Finally he spoke, “In Buddhist philosophy, all things are temporary, so even sadness and misfortune must one day disappear. But sometimes we can help the process.”

He extended his hand and said, “Let me see the cards.”

The two cards of anxiety and misfortune reminded me of playing cards with dark lettering and depictions of human grief. Geshe-la studied the cards and said, “When misfortune befalls us, sometimes we can reverse the flow of energy. Sometimes we can replace misfortune with auspiciousness.” He then placed the cards in an incense bowl and lit them on fire, causing smoke to rise upwards in a backward spiral. Geshe-la then extended his hands and created a forward spiral. I watched him with intense concentration, then my hands became his hands, and I was the one changing the flow of the energy spiral. I found myself humming a Spokane song and smiling.

I awoke feeling peaceful and happy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Canyon Lake

Ron and Linda took us to Canyon Lake, a few miles beyond Apache Junction, Arizona. We spent the day on the lake kayaking and canoeing. Afterwards we had dinner at Tortilla Flat. It was a beautiful day in the sunshine, far away from the freezing snow back in Spokane.

At sunset, the cliffs were set ablaze with golden light that reflected on the water.


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