It’s been too long since I have returned to Guatemala. I am convinced I lived here in a former life (to the extent I am convinced I had a former life). The children of the family with which I always stay have all grown so big in just six months. Today everyone is busy preparing packages for 47 children in the village who couldn’t attend school without assistance. Backpacks, notebooks, pencils and pens, construction paper… The list goes on. Even a pair of school shoes and two pairs of pants, shirts and underwear for each. Bendicto and Maria, our dear friends, with help from many others have been at this for weeks, gathering material from different stores in different pueblos, making the best deals they can. They do this every year, partly with their own funds but mostly with contributions from the states. A number of us are privileged to sponsor a child or two or three. Tomorrow, all the families will come to their home to receive their packages — I’ll get to be a part of that. The room I usually stay in is too full of supplies for me to sleep (picture one) so I am across the yard with Juana and Don Pedro (Benedicto’s parents). I think of them as the senior guardians of the clan, although they are two years younger than I am. Hmm.
Last night after dinner, I wandered back into the Juana’s kitchen. She was sitting on the floor with a large pile of dry corn still on the cob, peeling it off into her lap (picture two). I sat with her for an hour and we talked (meaning she mostly talked and I tried my best to understand Spanish and respond as I could) about her family. She is most worried about Romeo (with the accent on the “e”), her 24 year old son who was born with both physical and mental limitations. The story here is heartbreaking. During a very long childbirth, Don Pedro tried to get the town mid-wife but was stopped by the police. There was a curfew in town because of the 30 year civil war which had resulted in hundreds of thousands of Mayans being murdered by the U.S. supported government. Don Pedro was kept in jail for days and when he returned, Juana had given birth to Romeo, almost dying herself. Romeo has always greeted me with a big smile at the entrance to their home -we have developed a greeting tradition over the years that I know I look forward to. This year, there was no Romeo. I learned he has stopped eating and is sleeping much of the day. He did appear late last night, very, very thin. We did finally get to say our hello, which brought a big smile to both our faces. Juana is worried sick about him, She just kept repeating –no quiero comer. “He does not want to eat”.
On a happier note, Edna and Kyla are doing fabulously. Edna (Juana’s youngest at 22) just completed and aced her first year of college where she is studying nursing. For $600 a year, Edna can attend university and in two years get her nursing degree. She will be one of the first nurses in her town. She makes me very proud. And Kayla, age 12, is one of Juana’s grandchildren — Juana and Don Pedro have raised her as her mother gave birth to her at the age of 13 or 14. Kayla is brilliant –tops in her class –and disciplined to a degree I can’t imagine, always doing her homework without a prompt from anyone. On each visit, I bring her fancy Walmart shampoo as she has the most beautiful hair in the entire world. At three dollars a bottle, you’d think from her sweet reaction that I was giving her a bar of gold. This trip I also brought her a pair of warm, fuzzy pajama bottoms with peace signs all over. She wore them last night (picture three). Makes my heart melt.
I always leave San Juan with more than I could possibly bring. A full heart and a continued commitment to try to live a life of difference, out of respect for those who have so much less but are the most hopeful and gracious people in the world.