Final Thoughts from the SOLs on Their Shack Experience

By 14/10/2009 No Comments

Bryan: As a believer in the benefits of adversity, I was excited for this new experience. When deprived of our orderly lives, comforts, hobbies and things to fall back on or rely on, a person can do one of two things.  They can struggle alone.  Some of us find the strength within ourselves to necessarily reassure ourselves, be it hope, confidence, wisdom or experience. When these sources of strength falter, downward spirals of confidence or motivation can be quick to arrive, and consume the soul.  Another option, should the situation allow it, other than struggling alone, is to do it with other people. Adversity brings people together, like the poles of a teepee (or our shower), creating a strong bond and structure. By trusting and relying on each other, any task can seem surmountable. When one person falters, the others have the power to bring them up again. An everyday example of the power of numbers was in the matter of our incomes. By the end of the first work day, our pooled incomes allowed us to get all the groceries we needed.  Individually, we could never have afforded both the peanut butter and tortillas, the main staples of our breakfasts and lunches.Personally, being deprived of my lip chap worked to limit my experience for the first couple of days. It was irritating, affecting my personal mood, and distracting, taking my attention from important things like chatting around the fire.  Luckily, Kelsey brought some “Vas” (Vaseline), which she had no problem in sharing with me, effectively solving that problem for me.I came to be aware of a state of mind during the shack experience.  It was a familiar state to me, one that I remember from ill-conceived camping trips and long road trips. I would describe it as being halfway between contentment and survival-focused. Contentment would be the stereotypical North American life, waking up, doing the morning routine, going to work, coming home, doing housework, enjoying leisure time (TV, reading, video games), the nightly routine and going to bed. In this state of mind, one does not necessarily strive for, or long for a whole other lifestyle, but maybe for an improved one. This is not limited to the wealthy or comparatively fortunate, as even slaves have been known to find this kind of contentment in their lives. A survival state would be what is seen in the movies, or in stories of disaster survivors, where it is obvious that the current lifestyle is not desirable, but living is the focus of every action in the day, and stability in life is longed for for the future.This new state that I have come to acknowledge during the shack experience would be half-way between the two, and is what I imagine the majority of the world to know. There are facets of the daily routine that one would never want to change, like spending quality time with family or friends, or a particular hobby like fishing on Sundays or Friday nights at the pub.  These positive moments can make life worth living, despite the day being full of intolerable labours like ridiculously long hours at work, a consistently aching body, or the chilling cold that can never be truly escaped.  I think that the wealthy managers of mighty corporations that employ impoverished people, strive to keep their employees in this state, where they are kept minimally satisfied, just enough to get them to come back to work tomorrow.Adrian: Whether it is clams, rocking, or planting strawberries, it seems to have quite the impact on how I live my life and how fortunate I am to be born in Canada. During the School of Leadership Mexican Shack Experience we had a chance to do all three of these jobs and each one pulled on different strings in my heart and caused me to do something I have not done in awhile … think. I had been on a few Hero Holidays before but never had I understood the full impact of my actions.As we drove to the clamming, I had a chance to talk with our translator he said that we were lucky, the sky was so clear that day so if there were any problems they would be able to see us from shore. Now we didn’t go deep enough for the current to take us anywhere but as I looked out into the ocean watching the waves crash over the other men. Out further where the dangerous waves were is where the best clams are and in order to make enough money to feed there family they needed to risk their lives. The more clams you get the more money you make. All together the students made 90 pesos or less than $10 for that day which seemed about average to what the other men made alone. It is hard to make a living clamming and the job carries allot of safety risks along with it.Field working is probably the hardest work that we did all week working along side people as young as 12 and about 70 plus. While standing in dirt rows, you get a line to yourself and you put the strawberry plant into predetermined spots with a forked metal stick. There is no room to squat or kneel down so you are forced to be bent over the entire time. After some time, your back is in agonizing pain. It hurts to be bent over but it hurts more to stand up strait. At this point I gained an enormous respect for these people because they have been doing this every day for about 12 hours a day and only making about $10 a day. It didn’t seem like they complained about it. This made me realize just how much I complain about my easy stand around 8 hour day.Rock picking was probably the job that effected me the most as I was told for every 2 foot by 3 foot bag they were paid 8 pesos or less than a dollar. They were then transported to the United States and Canada to be sold for much more than that in hardware stores. Decor rocks that’s what we called them back at home at the hardware store, which sold at about $5 per palm sized bag (the math is pretty clear). It amazes me on how much money companies make on something a simple as rocks and the people who are doing the hard work are the ones who are paid the least.Through the whole week, I saw the way that poverty gives you no choice but to do this hard work just to put food on the table and pay the rent. I now sleep well knowing that I have done something to help these people make a little more money at the end of the day. I thank them for letting me experience this work because it has defiantly changed my life.Kelsey: When starting our week in the shack, I didn’t know what to expect. Sure I knew it was going to be hard and challenging but I never thought that one week would change my life. I realized just how little you need to actually survive. The things many of us take for granted such as food and shelter are the necessities of life; not iPods, the latest fashions or the new video game that just came out. I had been told that fact many times and I knew that people didn’t live the luxury that I have lived back home but actually living like them made the reality clear.Working in the fields was the most impacting day of the whole week. When we arrived in the fields we got to work picking cucumbers. We soon learned not to load our bucket to the brim because when you had to walk the full length of the field with the bucket on your shoulders, it tended to get sore. The workers were wondering why five white people would want to work beside them but after the strange looks wore off, they started helping us when we would fall behind. These people are part of the most accepting and caring culture I have ever been involved in. This became a reality to me when we were planting strawberries. We were slowly catching on how to plant them when two older ladies went over to the other SOL’s and started helping them so they wouldn’t fall behind. They stayed with us pretty much all morning; doing their row and then helping with the rest of ours.  The same thought kept crossing my mind while I was bent down and my back aching; we had the end of the week to look forward to but what do the field workers have to look forward to? I asked Santiago (our translator) that question and he said that there aren’t promotions in the field. Once they are older they get to stay and pick the easier vegetables, such as cucumbers. For many who have been working in the field their whole lives, that is what they look forward to. It took a really long time for my brain to process that statement because if in Canada we feel we aren’t getting paid enough or want a raise we can usually obtain our wishes.On our last day of the shack experience, we went to a senior citizens home that was for the abused and the abandoned. We cleaned the home and after we were done we got to talk to these people and visit with them. Although there was the language barrier and we could only understand a little bit of each other, we somehow made them smile and laugh just by taking the time to sit beside them. This is when I came to the realization that I may not be able to change every wrong thing that is going on in the world, but by using my time for a good purpose I can change one person’s life by making them smile and taking the time to get to know them and their story. Melissa: I would love to tell you how I felt during this shack experience. I won’t lie when I first found out about this experience I was scared. I thought that there was no way I could ever do that. What if I smell? What if I don’t like the food we are making? That’s all I could think about. I was only scared about how I would look, what others would think about me. I knew that Mexican’s and other people that live in shacks don’t have it easy but not until I experienced this week did I truly understand it. The Shack made me realize  how good we have it in Canada. 
Back home I work in a grocery store and my department is the salad bar. I cut up fruit and vegetables for hours and hours, I could not count how many times I would throw out food because I didn’t want to cut it or it didn’t look good enough for the customers. When I found out we were going to work in the fields for one of our work days, I knew I had to get myself physically and emotionally ready. When we were driving towards the fields, I was thinking of all the people who had to work to in the fields because there are no other jobs around here for them. They work really hard to feed their family or to have a roof on there head. When we finally got there, I thought it was just a dream because it looked like one of a scene in a movie. I wanted to cry but I also wanted to stay strong. When we finally got to work, they told us that we would have to collect cucumbers. Now when I look at a cucumber I think of all the faces I saw that day. We worked there for 2 hours and then it was off to work in the strawberry fields. Yes, it does sound really easy but it’s not that easy when you are doing it for 6 hours. I have never experienced such pain in my back! I was looking around and I could see 2 Mexican woman helping us because they saw we were in pain. When it was time to eat our lunch, I could not help but cry because I could not imagine doing this kind of work for the rest of my life. That evening back at our shack, all we could think about where the new friends that I made that day. Everytime I hear a truck, I think of the cucumber truck and when I see fruits and vegetables I think about all the people we worked with that day. I now have so much respect for the people who work in the fields. This experience has changed me and the way I look at life.
 We were only in the shack for a week, some people are there for there whole life! They don’t have something to look forward to like a hot shower, clean smelling clothes, perfume, and a bed to sleep on. When we opened the door to our house we were just so excited to see all of our stuff again. I was the first one to take a shower and as I got out of the shower I looked at my side table, put on my dioderent and perfume, brushed my hair, and looked at myself in the mirror. I could not help but get a little emotional, I had to take a moment to sit down and be grateful for everything that I have. To me this was something I did everyday, I wasn’t able to wash my hair everyday in the shack or to make sure I looked and smelt fresh. I realized how much stuff I have and realized that I should be grateful and thankful for everything.Laura: 
When I think about work, I generally think back to my previous jobs. I usually worked 8 hours dealing with customers who were unsatisfied with a microscope hole in a shirt or were frustrated with the return policies that had just been updated. 
As I sat at work on one of my scheduled 15 minute breaks I would think about how boring and tired I was from just standing around doing pointless things. 
When we were told about the shack experience, I was thinking that we were going to do some random jobs and live in a shack. 
But as the start date slowly crept up to us, I started looking at the packing list realizing that this was not going to be as easy as I thought. We weren’t allowed to bring deodorant, soap or any of the things that seemed pretty essential to me. 
If we wanted any of those essentials we would have to buy them with the money we earned from working. 
The first day seemed like an endless job of shoveling gravel in and out of the back of Brett’s truck. Once the job was done we were able to go shopping for supper, knowing that we weren’t working on Sunday (bringing in no money) we decided to save most of our money and only buy the staple dinner consisting of rice and beans. 
The second job we were assigned to do was clamming, we started at 11:30pm at night and we’re going to be standing in the ocean with pitch forks in hopes to find some bulky clams.
The moon lit up the starry night which was reflecting off the endless waves; a mere understatement to the reality of how beautiful this image was. 
The six of us worked for about an hour, finding maybe a dozen clams that we considered to be acceptable for the clammers, but as they started measuring them the dozen dwindled down into a pathetic few. 
By 4:30am they called us in so we could do a final count of how many we collected. The six of us had been able to collect around 3 dozen clams, while ONE man had collected 4 dozen on his own. 
The people get paid for the amount of clams that they collect, each dozen they get 30 pesos ($2.50CAD) meaning that out of the 5 hours the six of us made 90 pesos ($7.50CAD). As soon as we got back, we hit the sack exhausted from the cold, laborious job.

The next couple days we were given jobs that were just as difficult as the last, but I look at those days as days of preparation for the day working in the field. 
Down here in Mexico there are many ranchers down here that grow quite a few varieties of fruits and vegetables. The rancher that we would be working for sent us out to pick cucumbers for the first half of the morning and plant strawberries for the rest of the work day. As we drove up to the fields, my stomach started turning and all I kept thinking was man these people probably think we’re crazy. 
Once we were given a barrel we were told to walk up a field and pick the cucumbers, once our bucket was full we would have to walk all the way back down the field dump it out and hurry back to finish up your row before they moved the truck. 
Bending down and sticking our hands in the prickly bushes seemed to go by really fast, but at around 8:30am a new bus came up to the field and they started calling us in. 
Santiago (our translator) told us that the bus was filled with older people who got to do the easier jobs, thus being their form of a raise; once you hit a certain raise you get the easier jobs. 
Once everyone had boarded the bus, we headed off to the strawberry fields. Now, when we arrived at these fields all you could see was endless rows of brown dirt. 
The job seemed like fun at first, but then the novelty wore off when we stood up and realized how much it hurt our backs from being bent over for the entire shift. 
I felt like I was the slowest person, but there were these two ladies who would finish their rows in record time and then come and help us finish up our rows. 
I thought it was so sweet of them, when they could have been taking a break from being bent over they came over to help us out. 
The whole day was the biggest reality check I have had in a long time, something that was well needed.
The last day of the shack experience, we went to a nursing home to do some cleaning. It started off as a regular day but once we started to finish off the work we had more of a chance to talk to some of the people around us. 
All the people there were so grateful that we had even come to clean, while shaking their hands they beamed at us with glowing smiles. 
After this week it has really helped me realize that there are so many amazing people around us, but why don’t we ever take the time to get to know them? 
All it takes is a hello and a smile to be able to turn someone’s day around because you took the time to acknowledge them. 
The entire week I was considering different concepts and this being one of them. 
Another one was that we were anticipating for the 7 days to be up, but what we were living was the reality for over half of the worlds population. 
After being in the shack and coming back to the normality of life I feel awkward and out of place. It’s weird to wear a new set of clothes that I haven’t worked in 3 days in a row, and when I go into the grocery store I don’t want to flaunt the fact that I have enough money to buy something other than rice and beans. 
When I sit and relax it feels weird because I feel like I shouldn’t be, that I should be working or helping those around me. 
So lately, I have been trying to be more productive with my time, even just bringing a smile to someone’s face makes me feel 100 times more productive then me just sitting on my computer.
We are affecting people’s lives every time we step out the door, it can either be in a positive way or a negative its up to you to decide what kind of impact you want to have on people.