The Grandparents Are HERE!!

December 23, 2010 in Guatemala, North America, Travelogue

We stood in the cool darkness of a Guatemala City night, swimming in the ocean of smells and sounds that is the capitol city, huddled together for a little extra warmth, and Elisha tried hard to be patient.


As the only child ambassador sent with me to greet our precious visitors, his skin could barely contain his joy and patience was in short order.  He passed the time asking insidious questions, watching some little kids play with cars while they too waited, and wondering aloud if I was quite sure that they’d made their flights.


He burst from the crowd fence in an all out run when he saw them (having observed that the security guards indulged other small children in this practice) and dove head long into his grandma’s arms as they emerged from the shiny glass doors into the chaos of the city.


Grinning from ear to ear, they enveloped him like he was the only person in the entire crowd.  And then, the fun began.


This visit is especially precious to our family.  The grandparents are Tony’s Mom and Dad, not mine, and this is their very first international trip (one week in Canada with my family some 16 years ago doesn’t really count as “international.”)  We’ve spent this last summer procuring passports for them and convincing them to join us on the Lago, that they’re here for Christmas, Grandpa’s birthday, and into the New Year is icing on the cake.


We’ve crafted their arrival carefully, hiring our driver instead of riding the bus, choosing a nice, American chain hotel for their first night after a long day of flying, instead of a 30Q a night local dive, putting them on our vitamin routine a week before their arrival to ward off illness, and doing our very best to ensure a peaceful transition; Guatemala is a very different place than Indiana.


Yesterday was a day of firsts as we wound up and up and up into the Alte Plano and down into the crater lake:

  • Their first Volcano (Volcan Agua, I told them the story of my Dad and Uncle Harold climbing it before I was born).
  • Cows and horses grazing watched by women who were weaving, back strap looms tied to phone poles, their first sugar cane, avocado trees and coffee plantations.
  • Grandma couldn’t get over the crazy chicken buses, with men climbing all over the tops of them to sort through the baskets and bundles tied on top whilst racing up and down the switchbacks at breakneck speed.

“Jairo! I love you!!” she exclaimed to our driver, who laughed heartily when I translated for him.  “Si, MUY peligroso!!” he replied, VERY dangerous.


Although I’d hoped to avoid it on day one, we HAD to go to the meat market when we arrived in Panajachel.  We’ve got 13 coming for Christmas dinner, maybe a few more, and I needed five chickens to feed the crowd.  I asked them if they’d like to wait in the van with Jairo, but they weren’t about to miss a thing, so we left Elisha, who’d rather shoot the breeze with his friend Jairo than wander through ANOTHER mercado any day, and we dove in.


Mercados are my favorite part of life in Central America.  I love the sounds and smells and colors, but the crush and chaos can be a little intimidating if you’ve never been in one and I watched out of the corner of my eye for signs of distress in the suegros, I’d PROMISED Tony to deliver them home with as little trauma as possible.


Steve photographed everything, building his library of possible paintings.  Jan followed quickly and tried to keep him moving as I swept through the veggie floor, up the half flight of stairs, around the dry goods sellers toward the meats, “Just follow your nose!” I hollered to my father-in-law.


I was finishing up my order of seven chickens (realizing I needed two for that night and tomorrow’s soup) when Jan joined me at the white tile counter.


My chickens, yellow skinned and a little dried out, were piled high in the slimy metal basket of a meat scale while the lady transferred the 26 pounds of pollo to black plastic bags.  At eye level she was met with huge slabs of various cuts of beef.  Right under her nose was a giant bowl of chicken heads and feet.  “Heads and feet cost extra!” I winked at her.  Her eyes were a little wide, but she laughed.


On the trek back to the van we added a pound of achiote spice to the bag, for that night’s pollo pibil, and two pineapples, whose tops were removed before I could protest.


“When you’re choosing meat at the mercado you want to look for a stand with clean, fresh looking meat, and plenty of flies,” I explained.  “Flies? You want the flies?”  “Yep.  That means they aren’t spraying Raid on or around the meat to get rid of them!” I replied.  “Wow.” was all they said, shaking their heads.  It’s an important piece of information to have if you need to shop here.  “Don’t worry,” I smiled, “I’ll be bleaching every single thing I feed you, even the chickens, you won’t get sick if I can help it!”


Josephina was beyond happy to see us for lunch.  I’d dropped her pie off the day before and eaten quickly before heading into the city.  She didn’t let me pay, in trade for the pie, and she taught me my new, and very important, Spanish word: suegros, in laws.  She knew we’d be back today.


“May I present my suegros,” I introduced them to my friend, “This is their first day in Guatemala and their first trip outside of the USA.  AND, this is their FIRST lunch in Guatemala too!”  “AHHHH!” Joshepina exclaimed, “MUCHO gusto!!” She shook their hands and set off to make their first almuerzo something special. She beamed as she watched Grandpa finish his plate and then mop up Elisha with the pile of tortillas the girls kept bringing.


Naturally, the boat ride home was long, and rough.  Grandpa struggled toward the boats with his roller bag, huffing, “Girl!  This is no half mile!  I think it was a half mile a block back.” “Well then, maybe it’s a mile,” I cheerfully replied, I told you, we walk a LOT!” He chuckled and finally paid a boy 5Q to haul it the last hundred yards.  The bag is broken for good, I think.  Gabe hauled it the half a mile (or so) home from the dock.


The sun is rising over the garden and the orchids that opened in my absence are glowing. The house is quiet.  Everyone is laying in a bit to recover.  We couldn’t possibly be happier to have the suegros here, and I have to say, that I’m so proud of them, the third world can be daunting sometimes when you’re used to it, for just over 24 hours in, they’re amazingly game and I think we’re going to have one of the best weeks in the history of our family. Our only sadness is in the absence of the rest of the family.