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Cultural Whiplash

A guest post from YWAM Louisville staff member Libby Thorngate.

This time it’s a latrine that reminds me why I love my life.

Not that I’ve been in desperate need of reminding. These past few weeks – as I’ve hung out with kids and watched them get excited about God and His purposes, as I’ve coached my students in leadership, as I’ve lived and laughed with my beloved Mexican friends, as I’ve swam in sea, as I’ve sweated and swatted mosquitoes, as I’ve collapsed late at night in my low-swinging hamaca, as I’ve relished yummy Yucatecan delicacies like panuchos or machacados – I’ve rediscovered the smile I’d lost this spring in the chaos of preparation and the burden of a grace-resisting heart. But my grin grows wider as I pick my way through the jungle of a backyard behind my new Mayan mama’s cocina.

HutA fire pit here, a tricycle-cart there, a thatched building providing extra cooking space, a covey of women in their white embroidered dresses gossiping in Mayan while watching the pot of beans, and finally a rickety structure in the back corner, bamboo poles and tree branches held together by scraps of what-have-you, dried palm leaves for a roof, and a tattered curtain reminiscent of the sackcloth that Old Testament characters are so fond of donning. I try not to think about where this remnant of drapery has been as I pull it aside to enter. Inside is a rotting wooden floor keeping a makeshift seat suspended over what must be an old well. The smell and the flies make its new use all too clear.

Kenyans call this kind of toilet a “long drop,” I recall as I precariously take care of business. No doubt if I fell through the gaping hole I’d wish the drop were longer – anything to delay the inevitable unsavory plunge. “That,” I tell my morbid imagination, “would be a terrible way to die.” There’s certainly no cause to linger in a place like this – and yet, as I make my way back to the raucous cocina where our family dinner awaits, the only thought I have is how much I love my life.

My days in the tiny village of Teabo (which sounds to me like an expression of affection from a Spanish speaker with a cold) fly by in a blur of greenery and afternoon showers and two-tiered translation – and before long I’m saying good-bye to new friends – friends whose first language is not Spanish but Mayan, friends who are just barely scraping out a living and yet send me off with gifts, friends who hardly know me but cry to see me go.

The four-hour van ride to the Cancún airport is not long enough to transition smoothly. I find myself in line with the guy who is paying to check a fifth suitcase, the woman who is already drunk, her companion who loudly belittles her. I buy a half pint of milk for three times the standard price of a liter and await my flight in a terminal with a Bubba Gump Shrimp and a Margaritaville, surrounded by tourists who’ve experienced a Mexico as authentic as Taco Bell. They sport tans they’ve worked hard for, lying on sand imported from fishing villages elsewhere in the peninsula – I watched the ‘dozers tear up the coastline just days before. They’ve stayed in resorts that are driving up the cost of living for the people who grew up here, resorts kept running by people who’ve left farm and family to seek their fortune in tourism. The women wear ridiculous hats and sundresses just like ones I’ve seen in souvenir shops in Thailand and Turkey and Tampa, dresses most likely imported from Indonesia.

I drink every last drop of my thirty-peso milk and remind myself how selfish I’ve been and how much mercy I’ve been extended. I, too, have sought my own comfort and pleasure, carelessly disregarding the affect of my actions on others. It was my self-centered living, after all, that crucified Christ. Still, I wish I were back in Teabo (or “Te Quiero Buchisibo,” as I like to call it), swinging in my hammock in my spider-infested house, rushing to fill the tank when there’s running water, trekking across the backyard to the latrine.


After 15 years of YWAM life, Libby’s experienced almost every kind of latrine there is.

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