I’m a bad blogger.
When things are most up-in-the-air, developing, and exciting, I don’t post.
I can’t post.
I consider myself an external processor, but I like to create blog posts that are nice and neat, very tidy, tied up in ribbon with a little bow on the top.
Real life is messy and awkward and happening all the time, with no real ends and no real beginnings.
I have been living in a whirlwind for the last week. Life is crazy.
Last week ago Sunday, the 24 of us on Bethel University Guatemala Term left our host families in Magdalena Milpas Altas, Guatemala, and headed in a bus to the big city of Guate. We spent the next few days debriefing (“Are you ready to be debriefed?” “I’m not even wearing briefs!”).
My mom showed up on Tuesday. I went with the group to the airport to say goodbye on Wednesday. Mom and I did touristy things in Antigua for the rest of the week. Now I’m in Honduras, preparing to dive into work at Proyecto Manuelito.
How can I condense this last week into a blog post? The simple answer is that I can’t. There’s no way. But Mom says I should blog, so… I’m blogging.
Here are some snapshots that are very important to me from the last week.
Luggage threatened to topple onto my head as the bus thunked over the speed bumps on the road. The Bethel group had just left Magdalena and said goodbye to our host families there, so there was a contingent of weepy womenfolk on the bus. The four guys in our group clumped together in the back of the bus, across from me, and joked, “Keep that mist on your side of the bus. We don’t want it over here.” As the rest of the group finally got their tear ducts under control, though, I began to struggle with mine. I couldn’t understand why at first. I would see Don Mario and Doña Ingrid again on Saturday with my mom; I would see my host brothers and sisters again. And then I looked across the aisle at the guys. Jeremy and Ross were playing Pokémon on their computers, Erik was sitting quietly and listening and observing everything as usual, and Nate and Jeremy were spooning as well as they could on a bus seat. And over all this, they were serenading the rest of us with the tune “Kiss From A Rose.” As Nate threw himself into the chorus, he made eye contact with me and grinned devilishly, knowing that I cordially despise that song. As I smiled back at him and shook my head, exasperated, I felt a sob choke my throat. I turned away and tears slid down my cheeks. This is what I was going to miss, I realized. It wasn’t the big moments; it wasn’t anything dramatic. What I would miss was being known. I would miss having these four months of my life understood by people who lived them next to me. As I sat there and pitied myself and ruminated on what would happen when the group left, Kathryn put her arm around me and sat silently with me, not needing to say anything. “Youuuu remain,” the boys crooned, “my power, my pleasure, my pain!” I winced, grinning angrily through my tears, and shook my head at these ridiculous people that had woven themselves into my heart.
I sat on the curb, anxiously smoothing and re-adjusting the way my skirt draped across my legs. The overpriced coffee cup on my right had long gone cold. Like clockwork, though, I picked up the styrofoam cup and pretended to sip the final crumbles of my mocha. Anything to look confident. I trained my eyes on the sliding glass door like a peregrine falcon, not letting a single person slip through without analyzing their hair, their walk, their luggage. No. No. No. Not yet. Be patient. After 25 minutes of silent staring, my heart began to pound. After analyzing countless passersby, the signs matched up. Silver hair. Gliding walk. Rick Steves luggage. I had rehearsed this moment in my mind a hundred times as I sat, but suddenly none of my planning mattered. I threw on my backpack and ran to the doors. (Well, I awkwardly shuffle-jogged to the doors. It probably felt a lot more dramatic than it looked.) I felt tears begin to prick the backs of my eyes as I opened my arms wide. And as I collided with and then embraced my mom, everything was suddenly right with the world.
There were 25 of us. Twenty-three students, our fearless leader Becky, and a staff member, Nic. The awkwardness was palpable as we sat in a circle and inspected the tile floor in front of us, or our shoes, or anything to avoid making eye contact. Silence sat on the group like an obese manatee. I sat stiffly, frantically composing sentences in my head. Finally, punching the tension in the face, I spoke. We were doing an “affirmation circle,” so I told one of the guys I had worked with in microfinance the ways he had impacted me on this trip and the things that I had grown to appreciate about him as a friend and a co-worker. He didn’t reply, but glanced up and made fleeting eye contact with me after I finished. That fraction of a second of silent eye contact said so much more to me than I had just said to him.
Mom and I were at Rainbow Café, leisurely enjoying our novels (“Winter Gardens” or some such generic fluff, and “The Silmarillion,” respectively… no judgement… at least not much). The sonorous strains of my ringtone shrilled into the calm atmosphere and I leaped to answer my phone. I was sure that it was Dad or Teya calling, but when I looked at the Caller ID, it informed me that no, my microfinance leader Aaron was calling me. Why would he call me? We had had coffee together that morning as a sort of final farewell, so all loose ends had been tied up there. I answered the phone with a cheery greeting that masked my confusion. He wasted no time. “You know that package you’ve been expecting for two months? It’s here. Seth brought it to the office. We’ll be here for 15 or 20 minutes if you want to stop by.” I assured him that we would head there immediately and hung up the phone in a daze. I looked at Mom with my mouth slightly open and my eyes unfocused. “It’s here. It came. My… my package… IS HERE.” I snapped back into action mode and stood up. “We’re leaving. We’ll pay the cuenta at the desk.” As we power-walked across town to the office, I rambled incoherently. “You know, I’m kind of a pessimist. I’m a really happy person, but I always assume that things aren’t going to work. If there’s a good option and a bad option, of course, the bad option is going to happen, but that’s okay because Jesus loves us anyway and the world is still a happy place. But apparently sometimes it’s okay to hope that things happen because they do happen sometimes…” Mom asked me, “How long did it take before you gave up hope on those packages?” I reflected for a second and responded that after about three weeks I had decided that they wouldn’t arrive. When she and I arrived at the office, my jaw dropped. Not one, but two packages had arrived for me! A toothy, discombobulated grin spread across my face. Seth and Aaron chuckled as I snatched my packages up and held them above my head in a triumphant pose. “See?! Jesus does love me!” It was a flippant statement, but thinking on it later, I realized how fitting it was. Jesus loves me so much that he used the often-tardy postal system in Guatemala to challenge my apathetic pessimism. God’s timing is the best timing. This way, my mom not only sent me a package, but she got to see me open it, too!
Pictures of juicy burgers flashed spastically across electronic screens. Mom and I sat on one side of a table at the fast food restaurant Wendy’s. Justin and Ashley, two missionaries that work with the Manuelito Project, sat on the other side. Helga Ruth and Mauricio, two of the leaders of the project, sat next to us. I was tense and excited and exhausted and eager to make a good impression and just scared. As we chatted in Spanish, I felt some of my nervousness begin to drain away. With delight, I realized that these were the people I will be working with for the next two months. As I described my experiences in Guatemala and the positive effects that these four months have had on me emotionally and spiritually, Helga Ruth paused. “Sí pues,” she laughed, repeating a phrase I hadn’t even realized that I had said. “Hablas como una guatemalteca… ¡una verdadera chapina!” (“You speak like a Guatemalan… a true Guatemalan!”) While I know that this is a small moment, and a tiny example on which to evaluate my Spanish, it made me feel very proud. The last four months have made a difference. I am quantifiably more fluent in all areas of speech and comprehension. I am nowhere near fluent, whatever fluent is, but I am comfortable speaking and listening and reading and writing. And apparently I’ve picked up some slang along the way.
My mom and I will be staying at Proyecto Manuelito until Thursday. Please pray for her as she adjusts to hearing Spanish around her and continues to use her limited Spanish to communicate with those around her; learning a language in an immersion setting is an incredibly rewarding but deeply frustrating experience. And I would appreciate your prayers too, as I meet the kids at the project tomorrow and begin to establish relationships with them and with the staff. God is more than strong enough to provide maturity and wisdom and boundaries and words to me, and he is faithful. Amen.