The Best Serendipity Of The Week

December 4, 2010 in Guatemala, North America, Travelogue




Tortilla dough at Josephina's



Time seems to move more slowly here.  I know that the whole world gets the same 24 hours and Manhattan is no different than Penang, but somehow, here, there are more breaths in a minute, more thoughts in an hour, more space in a day, more time in a week than seems to be packed into a month other places.  I can’t explain it.  You’ll have to come and see for yourself.


Ezra was my sherpa on Wednesday, for the big schlep into Pana for weekly provisions.  He carried his load like a trooper and insisted on holding my hand the entire day.


We rejoiced at the arrival of our “test box” at the post office on Calle Santander and all day he wondered aloud at what Aunt Dianne “might” have tucked inside.  Getting boxes far from home is one of the sweetest parts of travel.  A little capsule full of the fun and familiar, tangible expressions of the great love of people who we miss everyday; there is nothing more exciting than cracking through the tape and discovering a treasure trove of giggles.


We were sitting in our regular lunch spot, sipping Pepsi, listening to the radio evangelist in Spanish that Josephina seems to favor, with the quiet ‘slap, slap, slap, slap’ of small hands patting out round corn tortillas in the background.  Ez was second guessing his order of pollo asado over chuletas when they appeared:


Four backpackers, three guys and a bright eyed girl with a brown braid hanging to the middle of her back, wondering aloud about where they should eat.


Being partial to Josephina’s cooking, I piped up and invited them in.  “It’s really good, we eat here every week, and a whole plata tipica and drink is only 20Q ($2.50 USD).”  They took us up on our offer, piled backpacks and day packs all around us and so began the best serendipity of the week.


Dennis is a building contractor in South Carolina and reminds me solidly of one of our dearest friends back home.  His smile is contagious and with a good ten years on the next member of the group he’s quietly assumed the role of caretaker.

I like him even before he tells me why he’s in Guatemala: “I have some Guatemalan guys who work for me, and they’re over for holidays a lot, they’re like family, and I’d really like to be able to talk with them more, so I came down to learn Spanish, and to experience their place.”  This must put him in the top half of one percent of US employers of Latin Americans and he wins my immediate respect and affection.


Ruth is, without question, the rose among thorns.  She is the picture of cheer and the first thing I notice about her is her laugh.

She’s quite a traveler, it turns out, having spent months in Africa alone and elsewhere.  She admits that this is the first time she’s traveled with people in quite a while.  She’s a hiker and a runner and clearly game for just about anything.  After five weeks with “the guys” she’s happy for some girl talk and she feels like an old friend.


Her brother is David.  Well, one of her brothers, they come from a family of eight kids, and they are roughly in the middle.

He’s eighteen with black hair and startling blue eyes that I cannot take my eyes off of.  He talks a mile a minute and has thought about more things than most men twice his age.  This is his first international trip and he’s eager to discuss what he’s learning and where they’re going next and all of the many ideas he has about life.  I remember 18.  It’s such a fabulous age, pregnant with possibility.


Quieter, taller, and just a little bit younger is Phil.  He’s seventeen but this is far from his first international trip.

He spent much of his childhood in Guyana and has some fabulous stories to tell.  The one involving an anaconda that ate a baby being most riveting to our boys. He has pink cheeks and hair that’s almost red.  He has the mellow affect of a guy who is comfortable wherever he finds himself, rare in a teenager. Ezra latches on to Phil immediately and does his best to be “big” as we walk for the boats; it turns out that they’d like to stay in San Marcos, which is where we live.


By the time we get them installed in the nearest hostel and have invited them for their first dinner, it’s clear that these young people are fast becoming family.  They are ex-Mennonites, David and Ruth are one generation removed from the Amish, as their mother left the church when she was a teen.


They have stories to tell.  They are interesting, funny, engaging, adventurous people.  Just the sort we hope to rub our kids on where ever we find them.


One dinner invitation turns into an open door.  David and Phil spend the entire next day playing soccer in our garden with the boys.  They eat a lot.  So I cook a lot.  We take them up to the cliffs to picnic and jump.  They turn up for dinner every night.


We were sad to hug them good bye at midnight last night, having exchanged contact information and recipes as well as the beginning ties of a deeper friendship.

Dennis flies home in a week, but the other three are carrying on for six more months, eventually to Honduras and beyond. Ruth, David and Phil PROMISE that they’ll be back in three weeks for Christmas and David eagerly mentions his hope for pumpkin pie and whole berry cranberry sauce, which he is missing from his mother’s Christmas preparations even though the holiday is almost a month away.  If they don’t come we’ll be sorely disappointed.  Somehow, the three days they spent felt like three weeks.


This morning I’m sipping my tea, planning my attack on the holiday season.


Sitting takes effort.  I bruised my coccyx pretty seriously on my first leap from the cliff, but it was worth it.


I’m wondering if I have enough fabric to sew three more Christmas stockings and what we can find to tuck inside that will remind them of home.


I’m also looking for a pie recipe for Josephina, the proprietress of my weekly lunch spot in Pana.  She asked me if I knew how to make pie and if I could teach her.  I’m going to bake her one and take all of the ingredients and help her bake another next time I go to town.


The sun is out.  The children are plotting their attack on the garden.  Tony is frying rice cakes.  Hannah has gone down to check on the lake. My rose bush is laughing in pink.  I’m savoring the slow passage of time, and the gift that is each breath.





Climbing back up the cliff... the jumping is on video, watch for the podcast!