|We try to visit our compadres in Guatemala as often as we can. We usually go over the Independence Day holiday (July 4). But this year was different. At the end of July, Vanesa was going to be celebrating her quinceañera, or 15th birthday, a coming of age for girls in the Latin American tradition. We wanted to be there to help celebrate, and this would be the first in a series of 5 quinceañeras for Humberto and Paulina's kids. Vanesa is a lovely young lady, and for as long as we have known her, she has taken her role as the eldest seriously and has helped Paulina with housework, Humberto with office work, and helps to care for her younger siblings. We are very proud of her.|
Our flight was VERY early in the morning. The advantage of that is that we arrive in Guatemala early and get more time to spend with the kids on our first day. The night before our flight, we checked in for the flight online and printed our boarding passes at home. We went to sleep at 10 p.m. with our alarm set for 1:30 a.m.. Thank God for coffee!
We left the house at 3 a.m. and got to Logan before 3:30. We don't usually check bags, but we had so many gifts for the 6 kids that we couldn't fit everything in our carry-ons. The American Airlines self-serve kiosks weren't initialized yet so we had to wait a few minutes while the staff brought them online. After they were booted up we tried to use one to check two backpacks, but it was unable to print our baggage tags for the Miami to Guatemala leg of the trip. So we got in line to see an agent and got them checked.
Security wasn't even open yet, so we waited in a short line. It opened at around 4 o'clock, and we breezed right through. Since my computer is a netbook, I didn't even need to take it out of my bag. Craig didn't even have a chance to get his 3-1-1 out of his duffel bag before it was put through the X-ray machines. Nobody checked his medication syringes either. Maybe security is loosening up a bit after all. Our gate was right next to security. McDonald's was open early, so while Craig stayed with the bags I went to McDonald's. I got a sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddle for myself and and I got Craig a sausage McMuffin with egg and a bacon egg and cheese biscuit. We each had hash browns. We always buy large water bottles because in Guatemala they are difficult to find. A large bottle is good for refilling from the family's water cooler. Our flight boarded on time at 5 o'clock and took off just after 5:30.
We arrived in Miami at 8:30. We only had about half an hour between flights. The departure board had listed Guatemala City as gate D41. We had to walk all the way there from D11. We got to the sky train station and for some reason Craig thought to check the board again. Now it said D25 and we had to backtrack. Damn you Miami airport! It's a good thing we hadn't gotten on the train. The flight was scheduled to board at 8:55, so we were rushing. When we got to the gate we found that boarding was running a little late. But we still took off on time at 9:55.
Through the miracle of a 2 hour time difference, we landed in Guatemala City at 10:20 a.m. This was the earliest we had ever landed here, except for the one time that we flew on a red-eye through Los Angeles (the things we do for free frequent flyer tickets). The Guatemala airport gods smiled on us today. We went right through immigration. Though we had to wait for checked luggage, our bags were #2 and #6 off of the plane. We collected them and were pretty much the first ones out of the airport from our flight.
We were out at the curb around 10:35 and were met by Benjamin, who had driven us once before. We got settled in his van for the 3-hour ride to Panajachel. As we exited the city, we passed the familiar old brick aqueducts, the Aurora Zoo which we visited with the family, Pollo Campero restaurants which we have eaten at with the family. So many memories and we are starting to get even more excited to see the kids. It has been a year since we last saw them and that is just too long.
We passed a lot of election signs. In the city they were billboards but as we got more rural they were murals painted on rocks and cliffsides. They highlighted the various parties' logos, which appear on ballots so that the illiterate are able to vote. The weather was clear and nice. There was a lot of road construction, and they were fixing damage from recent landslides.
We arrived in Panajachel at around 1:30 p.m. Benjamin pulled up in front of Humberto's office, and we stepped out of the van. Yasmin saw us first and came running over to give us hugs. It is always so heartwarming to get such a lovely welcome. Yoselin was right behind her and we scooped her right up. The two of them almost looked like twins, having both grown taller. Yoselin's hair was shorter now, and she made sure that we were aware that Saturday was her birthday. They also immediatey asked if our friend Mukul was with us. He had come with us last year. We told them that he sent his love, but was at home in India.
We walked down the alley with the girls towards the house. Piles of rebar and wood planks were stacked on the edges of the walkway, indicating that construction on the guest rooms was still ongoing. The exterior of the house was now painted a cheerful turqouise color. Aracely and Paola ran up to us. Paola was taller, and had lightened her top layer of hair. She had grown up a lot. She was the most athletic of the girls, and had started playing basketball. Our goddaughter Aracely, as the youngest of the girls, was still petite and adorable. She had just finished a full year of kindergarten at the English Language Atitlan Multicultural Academy.
Then we saw our godson Eddy, the youngest at 2 1/2 years. His hair was now cut short, and he neither looked nor acted like a baby. He looked like a little man. He could now pronounce both of our names. Although he was a little stand-offish and shy at first, he soon got comfortable and climbed on us as much as the others did. We couldn't believe how much everyone had changed in the past year. We were so happy to see them all again.
The only one missing was the guest of honor, Vanesa, whose quinceañera we would be celebrating on Sunday. The public school facilities are shared. Younger grades have classes in the morning and older grades have them in the afternoon. So Vanesa was in school, and wouldn't return home until at least 6 o'clock.
Paulina greeted us warmly and led us to our room. As we put down our luggage, Aracely was already asking permission to use the camera. The kids always enjoy taking pictures, and they do a good job.
Paulina and Humberto recently decided to start hosting students from the nearby Jardin de America Spanish School. Students taking a week of Spanish lessons can opt to spend their week doing a homestay with local families. The students eat their meals with the families and learn about local customs and lifestyles. Their first student, Mario, had arrived two days before. He is a French Canadian doctor from Montreal, currently traveling around Latin America while on a 6 month sabbatical. He is staying in the room next to ours.
Mario arrived for lunch and we introduced ourselves. He was very friendly. We all ate lunch together (fresh corn tortillas and a hearty salad). It was obvious that even though Mario had only been there a couple of days, he had a nice rapport with the kids. He converses with the family in Spanish, and is therefore able to practice what he is learning in class in a real world situation.
Mario headed back to school for his afternoon lessons. Yasmin and Aracely washed Terry the dog in the outdoor sink. We went next door to the guest rooms. Humberto took us upstairs to see the progress on the construction. We thought back to our first visit four years ago, when we slept in their dining room and the guest rooms were just in the planning stages. It has been a very productive few years! The four downstairs rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom, are now completed. We were staying in one and Mario was staying in another. The other two were empty. Three men were working for Humberto doing the construction on the four upstairs rooms. Humberto's brother Mario who had done a lot of the construction back in the beginning stages was no longer doing it because he got a permanent job at the bank as a security guard.
Yoselin stayed close to us as Humberto led us around the site. The second floor didn't have a ceiling/roof yet. They were in the process of preparing for one, and Humberto had rented boards on which to set the roof. Humberto told us about his ideas for the future. He may eventually move the family into the top floor of the guest building, and possibly even replace the current house with greenspace. No matter what they decide to do, Craig suggested that they keep some kind of garden area. There is a lot of concrete, and preserving some greenery would make it look a whole lot softer.
Humberto was concerned about Craig's health. This was our first visit to Guatemala since Craig was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in April. Craig explained that he was feeling fine, but that he gives himself an injection each day in an effort to mitigate (or better yet eliminate) future symptoms. His medication needs to be kept below 86 degrees Fahrenheit. As it gets quite warm during the days here, we asked if we could put the medication in their refrigerator. Humberto said that their fridge is currently not functioning (and is subsequently being used as a file cabinet). Instead he would buy a small cooler and some ice blocks. For under a dollar a day we could keep it stocked with a little ice to keep the medication cool. We are determined not to let a small inconvenience stop us from traveling and doing the things we love while we still can.
The kids were very patient throughout all of this adult English conversation. They hadn't even mentioned presents yet. We knew this was taking a lot of restraint. We told the kids that we would give them gifts later when Vanesa was home from school. They became very excited.
Some of the kids' cousins were around as well, and we were happy to see them. Josue had really grown up quite a bit. He used to be very shy and hardly ever spoke around us. But now he was a little chatterbox. He called us by name and asked us to give him piggy-back rides. He sat on our laps and played with us. It was an amazing transformation. Neli had grown much taller and acted more mature. As always she was quite social and and wanted to be included in any piggy-back rides and chicken fights that take place.
We played in our room with the kids. As time passed, Eddy got more comfortable with us and was soon climbing on us and engaging in roughhouse play. I showed the kids my netbook (it was the first time I had brought it with me). We looked at the pictures from last year's visit. Yasmin wanted to look at photos from our recent trip to Ecuador, so we showed them those as well
The kids' cousins Loren and Yesmy showed up and greeted us warmly. We know so many kids on the various sides of the family. It really feels like a homecoming to us. We walked with the girls out to the street to Humberto's office. Neighbor/cousins Junior and Andrik were playing soccer in the street. We sat in the office for a while and Yoselin made sure once again that we knew the significance of Saturday (her 9th birthday). She and Yesmy and Loren were playing on Humberto's computer. One of the women of the family walked by with baby Brittany who was extremely cute. She was chattering away and made several passes by us.
We went back to the house and had tea (rosa jamaica, or hibiscus tea which we love) and fresh bread at the dining room table. It was an afternoon tradition. The wooden high chair which had been passed down through the kids and now was used by Eddy was in the kitchen. The smaller kids jumped into it one by one, asking to get their photos taken. I felt like I was taking school pictures. Paola was helping Paulina to cook a delicious dinner of chiles rellenos and broccoli. Vanesa came home from school. She looked all grown up. She was now slightly taller than her mother Paulina, and her hair was a bit shorter than usual. soon afterwards, Mario came home from his language lesson. We gave the kids some gifts: 2 velcro ball sets, pink bandanas for the girls, pens, notebooks, pencils, and little bags of candy. We gave Eddy a Duplo building set which included two cute cars from the movie "Cars 2." The girls first tried out the velcro ball set in the kitchen, where Paulina and Paola were cooking.
We went outside with the kids to get us all out of Paulina's way, though she's too polite to say it. Mario played velcro ball monkey in the middle with Yasmin and Yoselin outside, and then Craig played it with Yasmin and Aracely.
We were then called in for dinner. There were a lot of us crowded around the dinner table: six kids and five adults. It was cozy and homey feeling, and we enjoyed one another's company. The chiles rellenos were delicious. After dinner, Eddy, Yasmin, and Aracely played with the Duplo block set. Humberto teased Yasmin saying that the box says it is only for ages 2-5. Everyone except for Eddy and Aracely have school tomorrow, so one by one they retreated to their beds. At 10:30, we went to our room so that Humberto and Paulina could shut down the house and everyone could get some sleep. It had been a long day for us - by this point we had been up for nearly 24 hours. Sleep came quickly.
Checking out the upstairs rooms under construction
Checking out the upstairs rooms under construction
Steph and Craig with Aracely
Craig and Loren
Yasmin, Yesmy, and Loren on the computer
Paola making chiles rellenos
Playing catch in the kitchen
A cozy dinner: Steph, Craig, Yoselin, Humberto, Vanesa, Eddy,
Paulina, Paola, Aracely, Yasmin
Eddy plays with his new toys