Mural 49 in Playa del Carmen, Mexico

This mural did not follow the usual plans.  Normally, always, someone finds me or I find someone else long before any thought goes into purchasing an airplane ticket.  However, on this particular project, I picked my destination and bought my ticket with no concrete plans anywhere for mural number 49.

I wasn’t acting completely on blind faith.  I’d been to Playa del Carmen before and made a few connections along the way.  One of my contacts, Javier, proved to be such a wonderful friend and host.  But, that wasn’t how I found my wall.

In addition to a wall, I needed a place to stay.  I tried several different sources online.  Finally, someone associated with a language school suggested I try Airbnb.  That was another new experience for me.  When you search their site, there is a huge range of budgeting for accommodations.  You already know which end I looked over.  And, I found my home with Carlos, a fellow world-traveler, who happens to rent out his two spare bedrooms.

My friends were slightly appalled.  None of them would rent a room in a somebody’s home from a total stranger.  Isn’t that the way the plot begins in Mexican horror movies?  However, they all agreed that it sounded exactly like the kind of thing I would do.

And, I did.

It was through Carlos that I found my wall.  The place where he is employed does some volunteer work with a program called DIF.  This very incredible organization helps children and families in crisis.  They counsel, teach, guide, inspire, and care in a variety of ways.  Their diverse population includes hearing and visually impaired children, families living in dysfunctional situations, children with Downs syndrome, and students who have not functioned well in regular public schools.  A whole lot of needs are met at this very incredible location.

I tried to navigate through proper channels.  Carlos knew someone connected to local city government who could make the proper introductions.  It truly sounded like the right way to go about things.  So, I waited almost a week for something to happen, marking off days on the calendar as they clicked by. Nothing happened.  Zip.  Nada.  Zero.  Zilch.   So, I decided it was best to create my own proper channel.

I went to DIF myself.

I expected a ramshackle operation working on a shoe-string budget.  That was not at all what I found.  The campus was new and simply gorgeous.  It was also huge and I really didn’t know where I was supposed to go.   I looked at one building that appeared to be some kind of administration building, but certainly not a school.  Should I go there?

My question - and dilemma - was quickly resolved.

Ismael stepped out of the administration building and addressed me in English.  I told him who I was, what I did, and asked if he could direct me to the person I need to speak to.  “I am the person you need to speak to,” replied Ismael.  And, that was all it took.  I had my wall in Playa del Carmen.

I kind of thought all along that I’d illustrate the mural inside the word “Playa”.  The people at DIF thought that was too touristy.  They wanted “DIF” or “Solodaridad”.  That second suggestion, for the municipality or county, was just too many letters to consider.  DIF it was.
The completed mural with one of my painters from DIF
Actually, it wasn’t so easy to fill eleven yards by three yards with three letters either.  Well, with suggestions from Ismael and his coworker Erica, I wove my magic to create a design that pleased me.  It was very important to show parents and children playing together.  So, I added a piñata party to the design.  Then, there were kids playing football (soccer for those of you in the United States) and skateboarding, a classroom situation with a diverse student population, and finally my personal favorite addition.  Two kids in the middle of the mural are signing, “Bienvenidos” (welcome, for the Spanish challenged).  The people from DIF thought that was an excellent idea.  Hey, I recycle great ideas when they come my way. (In Transnistria I worked with deaf students, you may recall.)

DIF was way more organized than what I am used to.  I had my list of colors.  Instead of going to the neighborhood paint store, we visited the maintenance department on campus.  They had nearly every color I needed.  And, if they didn’t have what I wanted, they mixed it up on the spot.  While I watched that whole creative process, a crew of three scraped loose paint off my mural location and covered the wall with two coats of white paint.  They have no idea the amount of stress they didn’t heap upon me.  I wish I could always travel with a maintenance department.

Throughout the mural process, I had students and other people from DIF (none more special than Little Stevie Wonder), as well as volunteers I referred to as Team Carlos.  My Playa del Carmen landlord, Carlos, used social media to bring several of his friends into the project.  It seriously would have been much more of a struggle without Team Carlos.  But, it also gave me one of my best chuckles with this mural.  People closely involved with project quickly recognized the three letters, DIF, woven into the design even though parts of the letters were obscured.  However, one member of Team Carlos asked, “Why do you have DIE right in the middle of the design?”

I think he’ll have to do some more volunteer work.