When Things Fall Apart: What Hannah Lucia taught me

December 1, 2014 in Guatemala, North America, Travelogue


Things always fall apart when The Man leaves.

To be fair, it’s not only when he leaves. In actual fact, we’ve had a laundry list of logistical issues in the past month and a half. We expect some settling in nonsense. We anticipate third world drama. C’est la vie. That’s how it goes. You either learn to roll with it, or you stop traveling. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when I completely lose the plot. Today was that day.

It wasn’t any one thing, really. And none of them are big things, in the grand scheme of possibility. Nonetheless, when it became clear that the fridge was not working, again, I sighed deeply. It became temperamental, again, on Thanksgiving day, but we barely noticed as there was also no electricity. (Thank goodness the cook stove is gas!) Emilio, our landlord, echoed our sentiments when he answered the phone with, “What’s wrong NOW?” Indeed. The fridge wizard appeared from San Pablo, with his gap toothed grin, and set about defrosting the contents of my freezer on the countertop whilst repeating his incantations in mumbled Ka’chi’kel for the fifth time in six weeks. He was at it for hours. I stayed out of the kitchen.

Ezra made lunch balanced precariously between the fridge wizard and Adang’s legs, which stuck, unceremoniously, out from under the cabinet beneath the sink. He’s attempting, for the fourth day, to fix the faucet, which is almost falling off. In fact, it is off now, as he’s pulled the entire thing apart and trotted into town in search of the appropriate couplings to refasten it to the sink. There was no point in even discussing the possibility of washing dishes.

The Man evaporated with the 2:30 p.m. shuttle to Antigua.

Hannah Lucia found me on my wander back out of the village, grumbling about the state of affairs in my kitchen.

“Maybe I can eat wit-choo dis-evening?” She asked; she has a standing invitation.

“Yes, of course, IF I can cook!” I grumbled.

“Whas wrong?” she asked.

“The kitchen is torn apart, the fridge isn’t working, the faucet is broken and the guys are doing their best,” I assured her.

“I come look, I know dees tings,” she smiled. And so, we closed the squeaky gate, dodged the pup’s enthusiastic greeting and picked our way down the stone path on the hill to the garden.

The Fridge Wizard was just finishing up and told me the same thing he always tells me, which is to adjust the coldness if the fridge gets warm, but that never actually fixes the problem. I smiled.

Hannah Lucia pointed at the cord and said, in Spanish, the equivalent of, “What the hell is that?”

The Fridge Wizard looked apologetic and suggested that it would still work for a while.

“No!” She gesticulated forcefully, “This cord is for a lamp, not a fridge, it won’t take the load. This needs to be fixed, this is part of what’s wrong!” She communicated in perfect Spanish.

And before I knew what was going on she was rooting behind the fridge and pulling out nasty looking things that were broken and a little melty. The Fridge Wizard looks sheepish. Hannah Lucia turned to me, “Seester, I can feex dis for you. It cost maybe 10Q. I go now to de veelage and I buy de pieces and I feex now. Okay?” With Elisha in her wake, she was out the door and up the hill. Fifteen minutes later she was back and she’d rewired it, for 5Q (about 75 cents).

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get some work done.

You know, work. Like the kind that I get paid for sometimes. Yeah. That. Today has not been that day. Hannah Lucia wandered out on the deck, sipping her soda and lit up a cigarette while chatting to me. She stopped mid sentence and peered down the path, past the azalea bushes and towards the lake.

“What dat guy doing down der?” She asked, bending her eyebrows together into a 90 degree angle.

“Oh, that’s Adang, the gardener, he’s fixing the water. Apparently he broke the pipe coming out of the lake and into the pump this afternoon, you know, after he “fixed” the kitchen sink.” Hannah rolled her big brown eyes, stubbed out her smoke and bounded off the deck, “I check dis out,” she assured me.

There is a chattering of distant Spanish that I try not to listen to as I study the content plan I’m working on. Then she reappears with a broken piece of pipe in her hand.

“Dis guy?! Dis ees crazy! He try to feex wit superglue! He not going to feex wit superglue! I tell him dee pressure it ees too much. We need pipe glue and another pipe and a connector tingy and den I feex dis for good….”

She was still talking, but I was done listening, I slammed 100Q into her hand and she hollered for the boys who sloped up the hill for a second time in her wake.

“We learn dee pipe working today!” I heard her cheerfully announce to Gabe.

Adang emerged, looking disgruntled. The local contingent finds Hannah Lucia’s differences a bit jarring and they don’t tend to appreciate her input. I, on the other hand, think she is an angel and a genius. I’ll be buying her dinner for her efforts.

Needless to say, she’s replumbed the pump nonsense and she’s also used the remainder of the PVC glue to fix a broken chair. Now she’s in the house in a flurry of green and red paper creating our Christmas tree with the children.

“You tink I could maybe have dee Christmas here wit you, my family?” She asked, sheepishly, between repair projects this afternoon.

“Yes, of course, Hannah, we were planning on you!”

She beamed. She has no family. At all. Anywhere. And she’s been essentially homeless since before she was 18, when her wonderful Dad died. She plays a little music for tips, and apparently, she’s an efficient repairer of things that our paid staff can’t manage to figure out over a six week period. Like I said, an angel, and a genius. Also, our very good friend, and my “seester.”

Once Adang had skulked off to his garden shed with dark looks towards Hannah Lucia and I’d returned to my work for the twentieth attempt, Hannah Lucia interrupted me one more time, “Escuse me, my seester, I have just one more ting for you. You little beet grumpy dis day. I say to you, you juss leesten to dis one ting and den, you go back to working, happy.”

And she propped her little phone sideways so that I could see the screen and started playing me, “Happy.” It is impossible not to smile at that video, even if, like me, you are a complete curmudgeon when it comes to videos. I watched. I smiled. I returned to my work, happier. She dove into the living room and the children, and Christmas preparations, family style, that she so clearly has been missing for a couple of decades.  Perhaps you need to watch it too:

It never fails.

The days when I lose my center, when I let the plot shift, when I forget that my life is perfect, abso-freakin-lutely perfect, there is an opportunity to remember. Yes, the house stuff is annoying beyond belief. Yes, the continual rodeo in the third world gets trying, even to those of us who choose it on purpose. Yes, the melt water from the contents of the freezer dripping down the counter and running, like a river, along the wall is not ideal. But you know, it’s all small stuff.

Hannah Lucia reminded me of that, with her cheerful disposition, her willingness to dive in and solve the problems, “Because we are family, seester!” Now she’s hanging red tinsel and Christmas lights, like she’s celebrating the holidays for the very first time. “Joo know, dee yast time I do dis is wit my father, very long time ago. Tank joo so much. I yuv dis.”

I could learn from that, how ‘bout you?