My 9-5 job is working with the Mexican equivalent to the US National Park Service, CONANP. However, living in a small town has its perks as it’s easy to network and I have also been able to create side projects. Three days a week, I teach English to a group of university students in the morning before my 9-5 gig, and once a week in the evening, I teach a Zumba class to a group of women in a small town nearby called Amajatlan.
I’ve been really lucky to have a number of people from the US visit me in Mexico. All of them have been friends from the town I grew up in, Gainesville, Florida. I love living abroad, but it is always a comfort to have a visitor from home. These guys have known me since high school (or longer) and have seen me grow from a teenager into a young professional. We share a rich history and they provide advice and perspective that you can only get from people who know your whole story. It means a lot to me when they spend their time, resources and energy to travel to Mexico and be a part of this chapter of my life. This post is about one such visitor, CJ Hamilton, a good-hearted and caring friend, who besides coming to Mexico to enjoy the experience, donated his time to my community.
CJ is an optometrist, and prior to his visit, he spoke about offering free eye exams and donating glasses to people in my community. I immediately took him up on his offer, choosing Amajatlan as my community. I took the help of two dear friends from Amajatlan, Pablo Verde Fuentes and his wife, Juana, to create a list of people who had eye problems and needed to be seen by an eye doctor. Pablo and Juana graciously offered their house as the location to conduct the eye exams as they had a large, dark storage room, which CJ needed to effectively do his work. I also got the help of a young, 18 year old guy called Javier, to help me in translating. CJ needed the help of a couple of bilingual speakers and Javier speaks English very well. Together, we would be CJ’s translators for the day. In addition, my friends from Amajatlan kindly volunteered to cook for those of us who would be working all day. We ate so well- Juana made the best tamales for lunch, Selene and Armando gave us fish, and Beta and Bety prepared one of my favorites for dinner-mixiotes- steamed chicken with vegetables.
I have to pay my respects to CJ, because we had him working pretty hard that day. I took full advantage of his visit. On the same morning at 8am, February 15, 2017, prior to conducting the eye exams, CJ made a visit to my English class where my students interviewed him. They asked him questions such as “What do you like about your country?” “What do you know about Mexican culture?” and “What do you think about Donald Trump?” You can ask CJ about that last one. It was a great opportunity for my students to speak to a native English speaker, learn about American culture and share their culture with CJ.
My English students with CJ (if you are wondering about the hearts and balloons they are for a presentation my students had for Valentine’s Day):
After class, we headed to Amajatlan to set up for the eye clinic. People started arriving at 10:30 am and we didn’t stop until 9:30/10 pm. I know-poor CJ. But he was great, greeting everyone with such warmth, making jokes in Spanish and giving it his all. That day he examined 69 people and was able to provide almost all of them with glasses.
We all learned a lot that day. As people arrived, Pablo had them fill out a form which asked general questions about their eye health. Afterwards they entered the storage room where CJ was set up. I read over their form and translated it to CJ, who then examined the patient. After examining, CJ had Javier check with them for which glasses best suited them. We were a pretty good team and after a dozen patients or so had a good grasp on the process. CJ was also very patient with us. There were recurring problems among patients such diabetes (which after cataracts is the second most common cause of blindness) and high exposure to sun and dust. CJ even mentioned that in addition to glasses we should have collected and donated sunglasses. Most patients work on farms and so are exposed to the sun, wind and dust on a daily basis. Interesting cultural note though, is that when we asked people why they don’t use sunglasses, they said it’s because they feel embarrassed to use them. I have to figure out a way to overcome this-any ideas?
The community of Amajatlan, my English students and I, are forever grateful for CJ’s kindness. We thank him from our hearts.