My last few weeks in Guatemala were insane. Between wrapping up assignments and my work at Condesa, trying to connect with everyone who meant something to me, selling my scooter, packing up my life over the last year into bags and boxes and trying to keep up with the ever-energetic likes of these two, this five-hour layover in Houston feels kind of like a dream come true. It’s the first time since before I decided to return to New York I have had to sit still and think. I have no assignments. The goodbyes are all said, my things in transit to not one but three different US states and I am now left to reflect on my last few weeks and the last ten and a half months.
I am a big fan of the saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I have never been one to follow steps, like A to B to C. I’ve always really liked jumping in around K, moving very quickly to X and along the way picking up the rest of the alphabet. So for this reason, last April, I didn’t say, “I am headed down to Guatemala for a few weeks to check it out.” I said, “ I am moving to Guatemala.” Not really a lot of room for misinterpretation there. Moving means packed boxes and residence and job searches. It means having your favorite grocery store, bodega, bank branch and coffee shop barista. It means connecting with new people, dating, meeting up for happy hour and making new, lasting friendships.
The latter is the best part. To live in and love Guatemala is to be a part of an amazing group of people, guatemaltecos and gringos alike, who share your love for sunshine and volcanoes and cheap beer and travel. It’s a group made up of artists and lawyers and graphic designers and students and travelers and retirees and entrepreneurs. It’s a group of people who swim up stream everyday dealing with the frustrating aspects of living in a foreign, developing country and a group that can just as easily relax completely when faced with a brilliant, black-sand beach sunset and a michelada. It’s a group of people who open their arms to every traveler who steps through the door, whether they are backpackers or bible-belt missionaries, business people or a burnt out twenty-something in the middle of her quarter-life crisis. After my very short ten and a half months in Guatemala, I sit in Houston reflecting on the community of dear friends I said goodbye to. I am pleasantly shocked by its size, as in how many people I genuinely connected with over the months. I am impressed with its diversity, which has little to do with how I choose friends and more to do with the great variety of people who gravitate to Antigua. But mostly, I am just missing it. Not yet 24 hours outside of Guatemala, I am already deeply missing my clan there.
But here’s the thing about leaving Guatemala. I am learning that there are very few of us who never return. I mean, think about it. If you knew of a place where most of the time the weather was sunny and mild, with a few fairly predictable rainstorms, greenery and blossom colors leapt off the canvas of volcanoes and sapphire-blue lakes, where a beach is never more than two hours away and you can find any variety of world cuisine and drink, would you leave for good? I didn’t think so.
In Antigua, friends and colleagues looked on at me bemused when I told them of my plans to return to North America, to the States, to New York for work and to re-connect with friends and see about that city I ran from so fast last year. They listened intently when I said, “I have to go to New York. I want to go back in New York.” or “This program in Maine will be really good for my career. It will be over in December”.
Every single one of them said almost the exact same thing… “So we’ll see you in January then.”
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. As in, “So we’ll see you in January because life is just too good down here to be gone that long” or “So we’ll see you in January because it’s cold in el norte, don’t you know, and no one in their right mind could choose that after they know about Guatemalan sunshine” or “So we’ll see you in January because, guaranteed by that time, you will be missing your picocita truck”. They have seen this before, people leaving for one reason or another, but for some reason they were absolutely convinced I would be back. And honestly, I am starting to be convinced myself.
You might be saying to yourself, “Can this crazy lady stay still for one moment? She hasn’t even arrived in Maine (or New York, for that matter) and she’s already thinking about leaving again”. And I agree. January is a long way away from now and anything could happen in between. I realize that. But somehow, as I was saying “goodbye” to all these people, it honestly felt more like a “See you soon!”
An editor I work with in Antigua, who has become a good friend, reached out to me the other day after a particularly poignant “goodbye brunch”. She said, “My mother-in-law never said ‘good bye,’ she always said, ‘so long’ … my sister-in-law never says ‘good bye,’ she always says ‘see you in a minute.'” I like this. It feels good to me. It feels… temporary is the wrong word… but less final then “goodbye”. “Goodbye” feels final. Final feels final. And final is not a word I like in my life. I tried to label my departure from New York last year “final” and here I sit, three and a half short hours from returning for that city for the summer.
So for now Guatemala and everyone who lives there, so long, and see you in a minute. I can never thank you enough for the love and support you gave me. I don’t know when, but one day I hope to return. You are in my heart and I miss you. That’s final.
Some of my favorite people, places and images in Guatemala
(Volcan de Agua with Escuela de Cristo in the foreground)(rain on the steps of the SJ House) (Allison in the back of a truck…) (Bode at Cerro de la Cruz) (Pasuala using her backstrap loom to weave a new huipil) (the fería in San Juan last weekend) (the view of Agua, Fuego and Acatenango from Earth Lodge) (siguiendo la fiesta en Monte Rico con estos chavos…) (sunset in Monte Rico) (Megan and I, not quite ready for our close up in Semuc)(traveling with Jose and Megan in Semuc) (an architectural problem on a beach near Monte Rico) (mí pasola) (the drop at the trampoline at Atitlan) (pepian ingredients at the market) (mixed beans at the market) (Fuego, Acatenango and my scooter from the roof of the SJ house…)