Leaving Guatemala: What I Learned Today

April 15, 2015 in Guatemala, North America, Travelogue

San Marcos Morning

In other news… I hate goodbyes.

Hate ‘em. 

You’d think, with all of the practice we’ve had, that they’d get easier. Nope. Not even a little.

As we bumped up the switchbacks on the side of the mountain, slowly creeping away from our lago, there were more than a few tears. Elisha was holding it together fine until the van passed Andreas and a whole herd of Konojel kids heading back to the center. Andreas was hollering through the open windows of the van in Spanish, “There goes the Miller Family, they’re leaving today, we love you Millers!” and the Konojel kids were screaming for “Elias,” as they have renamed our boy.

I nearly stabbed myself several times as the driver swerved to miss potholes and I was painfully trying to recreate the stitches that Leticia had hurridly taught me an hour before, in the gloaming darkness of the interior room of their adobe brick house. She and her mother have been burning the candle at both ends trying to get the last two weavings done: a pink blanket for a little girl in America, and the big white and blue table cloth I ordered way back in November. It got put on the back burner as they filled order after order all winter long. When they didn’t show up, “Muy temprano” this morning, as promised, I knew what was going on.

We hiked up the big hill with the three remaining large black trash bags full of weavings that we didn’t manage to sell, to return to Imelda. We found her, and her oldest daughter, Leticia, sitting on the bed by the window stitching as fast as they could. I took one look at my table cloth and Leticia’s fingers flying and I said,

“This isn’t going to happen, is it? There’s just no way.”

All but about six inches of the 12 foot length of two panels were stitched, artfully together. Leticia was doing her best, but there was a third panel. Another 12 feet. Right next to her, her mother worked, biding the third piece onto the twin sized blanket in bright pinks for their last order. They both looked at me with sad eyes.

“We’re so sorry, we’ve done our best.”

I laughed, “Okay, so teach me the stitch. I’ll but the thread from you, and finish them myself.”

They looked incredulously at one another and Leticia pulled me down on the bed next to her and started to teach. Unbeknownst to them, I do quite a lot of hand work and embroidery.

As we bumped across the Alte Plano I stitched, one painful inch at a time, and thought about what I’ve learned in the last 24 hours.

I’ve learned that we are loved

IMG_2077Of course I know that already. We are blessed with incredibly amazing and loving friends and family. It’s such a gift. But every now and then, I’m reminded of just how much, and it overwhelms me.

This week has been a steady stream of goodbyes and with each one has come a big hug and damp eyes. Saying goodbye to Uncle Chris last week was hard. This morning he, who does not have a computer and must drive a substantial distance to his library to use one, sent an email reminding us to have a really good last day and to travel safe, that he loved us, and hoped to see us in August.

Luke and Emily lingered longer than they needed to in delivering the beautiful family pictures Luke took for us on Monday. We hugged hard. No one wanted to let go.

Tor drummed a special round for us last night. Hannah played her fiddle with him in the firelight and the other 20 members of the circle joined in, whether they knew us or not.

Paul insisted that we have our last lunch with him and made us promise we’d be back.

Hana Lucia has been a wreck for a week. She keeps coming up and spontaneously hugging me, or making me tea when I don’t really want it because she has to do SOMETHING. She was at the house by 8:30 a.m. this morning, broom in hand. She cleaned around me, even as I asked her to quit it because we weren’t ready for that part of the cleaning yet. She ignored me and I realized that for her, it was either clean, or cry, so I let her clean. She brought me a flower while I sat and said goodbye to the lake and made me promise that I’d send her pictures, that I’d let her know we were in Guatemala City safe, and that we made it to America tomorrow.

“Joo know Seester. You not have to worry. I representin’ here for the Miller Family, and I not let Clint Eastwood (what she calls Tony) down. I represent for the family in San Marcos and I make you very proud.” When she choked up, she ran away.

I let her go. It’s been an important winter for her, in ways I can’t quite understand. Her love for our family runs deep. As we pulled away from the gate she was holding Tony’s hand, sobbing. The children all yelled and waved out the windows until we were out of sight. Saying goodbye is hard. 

I learned that I know nothing.

IMG_3657Not a damned thing. I have no perspective on anything that matters. Just about the time I think I do, I realize I don’t, and I can’t. Not ever. Not really.

I’m so trapped inside my first world reality head that no matter how much time I spend in the real world I’m incapable of understanding the depth of what the rest of the world struggles with. On a cerebral level, I can run the numbers on things and “get it,” from an academic standpoint, but that’s so shallow that it’s condescending.

I have a confession to make: Imelda has been driving me nuts for about the last three weeks.

She’s been turning up often, and unannounced hoping for the news that one more person has purchased a weaving that we can send out. Wondering if there is any way I could take a bunch of her weavings with me, on the off chance that I could sell them for her in America or Canada. She’s been calling at all hours (or her kids have) with personal problems that I’m at a loss as to how I can help with, and there have been a lot of tears just barely held back.

I’ve been frustrated with my first world roots showing,  but I cannot help how I’ve felt. Of course if I was in her position, I’d do exactly the same things, that is to say, I’d do anything and everything within my power, no matter how personally demeaning, to provide for my children. She’s been telling me for months how worried she is about the future, when we leave again, because she’ll have no options. This breaks my heart.

Tony bent over baby Mateo and cooed at him while Imelda and Leticia and I worked this morning. I looked around the room and was brought to my knees again: Three slightly larger than twin sized beds, one with some padding, the other two bare wood beneath blankets, and a hammock hung from the ceiling. Sleeping and living space for nine, in a room smaller than the bedroom Tony and I shared in our house here. A small fridge in one corner. A cabinet overflowing with everything they own. The kitchen is a hallway with an open wood stove to cook on, the walls grey with smoke. Her three pots sitting on the wall ledge next to it, one with beans soaking. There are no chairs of any kind. The open courtyard is stacked with wood. Chickens mill about, along with a very old woman; Imelda’s mother-in-law.

Time was short, we couldn’t chat much. Everything that needed to be said already had been, the other night when Imelda came down and shared a long tea and a deeper chat. When we hugged goodbye there were tears all around.

Leticia surprised me. She’s 19 and a new mama; little Mateo is her son, and not all has gone as she’d hoped. She didn’t get the fairy tale. She hung on my neck and thanked me profusely, for helping her mother, for loving her family, for accepting her son. She pressed into my hand a pair of beaded earrings that she’d made as a parting gift for me. I pressed into hers a small gift, “Just for you and the baby,” which made her weep all the more.

I felt Imelda’s small hand on my back and I just stood there are cried.

  • I get to leave.
  • I have a husband who’s not drunk.
  • I have kids for whom I have reasonable hope of a decent education and careers that will support them.
  • I have more changes of clothes in my travel backpack than Imelda has in her whole life.
  • When I consider what to cook for dinner, I have a selection that includes more than tortillas and beans, or, beans and tortillas.
  • My children are not chronically malnourished. Hers are.
  • We took a picture of Gabe talking to Leticia last night at our going away party; he’s on his knees and they’re the same height.
  • My house is not made out of mud and straw bricks with windows that are open holes.
  • I make, as the secondary income for our family, in an hour, what her husband might expect to make on a good month, if he ever had a good month; if there was work to be done.
  • I am not slowly going blind from the smoke of my cook fire.
  • I can read.

How dare I get annoyed when my friend wonders if there might be any new and creative way we can think up to ameliorate her situation? How dare I?

I know nothing. I am positively dripping with white privilege and I can’t even see the forest for the trees. I have no perspective. None.

All I could do was hug my girls hard, promise that I’d be back, and cry with them. 

It’s the little things.

IMG_3663Like dinner table conversation and sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the kaleidoscope of colours during the magic hour. It’s knowing the Spanish word for firefly and surprising a native speaker with it. It’s three hours of wine and cheese and laughter. It’s drumming in the moonlight and watching Miguel discover the delight of tipping the drum sideways and sitting on it to get a bigger sound.

It’s Franco crowing over his giant plate of fries and then not managing to eat more than five, “This is enough fries for a whole month!” He gleefully announced.

  • It’s the friend who spends hours coaxing decent faces from the tribe of young people and more hours editing them all in a hurry only to completely decline any form of remuneration.
  • It’s a pair of earrings, hand beaded, just for me.
  • It’s a frenzy of kitchen sweeping and gallons and gallons of “special tea.”
  • It’s music at the end of a long day and birthday cake eaten by sticky fingers and one kid needing a second piece because a dog snatched his.
  • It’s that long, last hug from my favourite hippie. I
  • t’s a dozen kids jumping up and down on the side of the road screaming and wildly waving goodbye.

I was reminded of that today as I struggled to keep my head space in the present moment and not on to the myriad of “next things.” It’s all about the little things. Learning a new joining stitch so I can continue the work. Whispering to little Mateo the heartfelt blessing and wish to, “grow well,” while we are gone. That’s a big wish for a little kid in our village. None of my big things matter. It’s all about the little ones.

Tonight, I sit safe and sound in a hotel within spitting distance of the airport. We have fed the hoard of teenagers a last supper of carry-out pizza and everyone is settled into what feels like a space between worlds. That place, in the Magician’s Nephew, where Polly and Diggory are in world with the ponds, each of which is a portal into a different world. From here, one could end up anywhere and I find I am homesick for two places, with a foot in each world.