Life Matters

The trusting American

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When I was younger, I was very naïve. (Who am I kidding? I am still naïve.) Several years after adopting my daughter from Guatemala, I yearned to establish a connection with her home country.  Offering assistance, I contacted a woman who worked at St. Francis Church, (Iglesia De San Francisco,) or so I thought.

Marie and I had a wonderful e-mail relationship.  She talked about her saint of a mom who fed the homeless from her humble abode. They would line up patiently outside her door and take the bread and soup with appreciation.  Her mom’s greatest hope was to one day build a soup kitchen, and Marie worked diligently to make this a reality.  The city donated some land on which it was built, and the homeless finally had someplace to sit comfortably to eat their soup and bread with dignity.  The only problem was there was no roof on this facility, thought to be a frivolity with such a tight budget, (i.e., none!) During the rainy season of May through October, if it rained they still sat outside to eat and the rain just added a little moisture to their meal! Feeling somewhat guilty about my own wealth, although limited by United States standards, there was a deep urge inside me to do something to help.  Before I knew it, I offered to pay for a roof for the soup kitchen.  Maria was beside herself with happiness and joy, and reported her mom was ecstatic about the possibility of having a real soup kitchen, roof and all, and she thanked me for answering her prayers.

Several thousand dollars later, Marie invited me to come to the grand opening of the completed facility.  Thrilled at the opportunity to return to Guatemala actually knowing someone and having a place to stay, I jumped at the opportunity. Shopping at a K-Mart one week before the trip, my heart jumped at the sight and sound of a "Blue Light Special"! (Remember those days, K-Mart shoppers?) They were selling long sleeve, flannel shirts for only $1 each! Knowing that Indigenous men from Guatemala prefer long sleeve shirts despite our perception of their hot weather, this sale seemed to be a "God send". The spirit moved me to shout "I will take them all!" Flabbergasted salespeople cheerfully folded the shirts and squished them as tight as they could into boxes just large enough for me to carry. Eight boxes and $247 later, I was on my way home with my treasure.

Fortunately, my entire family helped me get to the plane to go to Guatemala. Box after box was checked in until I was only left with my backpack and travel pillow. My heart fluttered wildly as the plane took off, whether due to the excitement of the trip, fear during the bouncy ascension above the clouds, or the spiritual, awe inspiring view of the clouds below, I was not sure. The quivering of my heart upon the arrival in the airport in Guatemala City was most definitely caused by intimidation; hectic and unfamiliar, where my blonde hair and pale skin stood out like a sore thumb. Not knowing the language, I tried to smile my way through the immigration line but smiling at Immigration Officials seemed to be frowned upon. They went through the boxes of clothing and my suitcase, tossing things here and there. I was petrified my arrest was imminent for smuggling clothing across the border, but they finally managed to stuff everything back in and motion me to move on. I had to sit on many of the boxes to consolidate the rumpled contents, but the major hurdle was over and I was on my way!

Maria had informed me she would send “the car” for me, but as I exited the airport, it was apparent that that would be a problem. Hordes of people blocked the doorway as I tried to fight my way through to get outside, both pushing and pulling the boxes along with me. The sunlight was blaring, and through my sudden blindness, it seemed like hundreds of taxi windshields glared back at me, with drivers speaking in loud Spanish and motioning me to choose them for a ride. Little, barefoot children, ragged and dirty, pulled on my clothes begging for money. As I handed out the quarters I had brought for this purpose, the mob of children seemed to swell and engulf me like seagulls at the beach when fed french fries from Iggy's. With no more quarters, the children lost interest and left me standing there, frozen among the commotion, still waiting for the driver of “the car” to come and get me. As I waited an hour and no one came, the acid in my stomach seemed to explode. It was a realization that I had no phone number for Maria, as we had always communicated through e-mail. I didn’t even have an address for her! Before the time of "smart phones,” I had no way to get in touch with her! Feeling as though I was punched in the stomach, the contents came rushing out uncontrollably and fortunately I managed to find a nearby trashcan. What a stupid, trusting American I was! A torrent of tears exploded forth, and I vomited again. Amidst my anguish, someone said “Mz Leenda?” and tapped me on the shoulder.  Seeing that I had been crying, this sweet gentleman burst into a prolific apology; Spanish and broken English words flying here and there.  It was finally explained that the airline had informed him that the plane was going to be two hours late, when, in fact, it wasn’t!  I burst into tears of sheer relief and would have hugged him so tight that he would have fallen over had such behavior been approved of in Guatemala. Instead, I forced a smile and walked calmly walked to “the car.” I was not a stupid American after all.

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