How To Surprise Your Sister

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My little sister just graduated from Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colorado and I was there to celebrate it with her!  Over the last three years, as I have lived in Guatemala, I have missed my fair share of family events, but not this one.

The other week I hopped on a bus to Guatemala City and caught a flight back to the States, all without my little sister knowing.  Here is what she wrote on my Facebook wall two days before the big surprise, “Brother.  It’s time for you to come home.  I miss you.”  To which my response was, “I miss you too.  We have a month until I return.  Think you can wait?” I hope God will forgive me for lying to my little sister.

If you ever want to surprise someone lying is a must.  In the weeks leading up to my flight home, I had to lie to Emmy countless times.  We’d be Skyping, me sitting in my room with my suitcase ready to be packed, and she’d complain about the fact “no one was coming to her graduation,” which wasn’t true.  My cousin Luke and his fiancé were flying out for the graduation and to take her to see U2.

Little did she know that all of this was my idea.  In order to surprise my sister I had to lie and threaten to kill people if they told.  That’s how much she means to me.  The plan was hatched in my mind late last year.  Plane tickets were high and I knew I couldn’t go home for both Christmas and Emmy’s graduation, so I decided I would …. fly home for Emmy’s graduation.

Purchasing my tickets was a debacle I will write about in another blog, but Emmy was worth it.  As I landed two hours late due to a major thunder storm in Denver, I was nervous Emmy would find out.  I didn’t call my dad for fear she would be with him.  Fortunately my parents were able to trick her into going over to a friend’s house and so we made it to Stueban’s, her favorite restaurant, and waited patiently for the surprise.

Surprises can make life difficult, and this one had me about as nervous as a litter of kittens in a pet store.  I wanted it all to work out.  All of the planning and all of the time would have been for not if one person would have slipped up.  And we all had our slip ups along the way.  While Skyping with Emmy the Sunday before I was to fly out, she was telling me the menu for her party and I said, “Oh we’ll be eating good.”  Fortunately she was oblivious of my slip up, because as she walked into the restaurant her face filled with confusion.  “Am I seeing things,” she thought.  A huge scream broke the confused silence, which was followed by an even bigger hug right in front of everyone one at the restaurant.  Kapla!  (Kligon for success)

Getting to see her graduate was icing on the cake after that hug.  Or was it the silver lining in the clouds.  It rained all during the graduation ceremony.  But a little rain couldn’t dampen my spirits.  I am so proud of her.  She has grown up so much over the past three years.  When I left she was just a little kid.  I’ve missed seeing her grow up, but if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t have been able to surprise the socks off of her.  Literally they flew off when she screamed!  Ok, just figuratively.

A Day in Guatemala

Guatemala, my second home, is a beautiful and diverse country.  It has everything from the beautiful Lago Atitlan, the ancient pyramids of Tikal, the magnificent cascading waterfalls of Semuc Champey, the colonial cobbled streets of Antigua shaded by active Pacaya, and a proud and busy second city in Xela crowned by Volcan Santa Maria in the distance.

When I first came to Guatemala, I expected it’s natural beauty, but I’ve been continually surprised by Guatemala’s economic and educational gaps.  About 69% of Guatemalans older than 15 are literate and according to the CIA world factbook 56% of Guatemalans live in poverty.  In Guatemala the wealthy and educated are very wealthy and, as a teacher I may say this, fairly well educated, but they are in stark contrast to the poor that make up the rest of the country.

On any day in Xela I walk by members of the lower class.  Typically dressed in tipicos (their traditional dress) chewing gum and smiling or laughing with a baby on her back and a basket of corn tortillas balanced perfectly on her head.  She works hard, but is economically just above the handicapped beggars.  Many beggars are missing legs, teeth, arms, or other essential body parts, and are forced to sit on street corners waiting for any change to fall toward them.  Both the girl and the beggar have been forced to scrape the dust of the wealthy for a living, which has not given them the time to be educated.  And without education a person can’t grow.  They are forced to do menial jobs.  One such job might be charging one quetzal (Guatemala’s currency 8 quetzals to 1 dollar) to use their bathroom on the side of the road.

Having lived in Guatemala for three years, I feel like I’ve seem most of her extremes; her natural beauty, her wealth, and her poverty, but often I don’t encounter them in one day.  But that is just what happened during the first weekend of Holy Week.  While on the bus to Guatemala City I saw poverty.  Well, I wasn’t on the bus.  I’d jumped off between Solola and the next town.  My bladder was screaming, so I was thankful when the bus stopped so the driver could grab a snack.  It was 8:30 am and the roadside was teaming with food vendors.  I could tell I had time to empty my body of the Dr. Pepper I’d drunk.  As I stepped off the bus, I saw a little boy in a plain t-shirt, no older than second grade, manning a table in front of what seemed to be a room for bathrooms.  Growing up in the states I still dislike paying for restrooms, but I am sure this kid and his family are doing all that they can for a living, so I payed him the Q and walked past the table.  What I found was not a bathroom, the floor was dirt and it didn’t have a  complete roof (tin topped the stalls so at least if it was raining I could relieve myself and not get wet), but an unfinished section of the building with three old blue wooden doors with three 10 gallon barrels filled with water in front.  Two of the doors were locked from the outside, I’m assuming the toilets behind those doors were broke beyond repair because a dirty toilet hasn’t stopped many Guatemalans from using them, and the third was occupied.

I glanced over my shoulder to see if the bus was still there.  I could see the top of the bus from the natural skylight the boy’s family had designed into their building (it’s fun to look for the positives in these situations).  As I waited in line I realized that the water in the barrels was for flushing (not all of Guatemala has running water).  Each barrel contained a small bucket so the user could tote the water into the toilet and flush down their deposit.  The first stall opened up and I wanted to bolt inside, but the man had to fill the toilet so he could flush.  Ages passed and the line wasn’t getting shorter so I decided to pick a spot in the corner and moistened the dirt bellow my feet.  After making water I turned to see the bus rolling away.  Thank goodness for that skylight.  I zipped up and ran.  I was not the only one running, a few of the other patrons were dashing toward the bus as well.  Fortunately the bus stopped and I climbed aboard and made it to Guatemala City.  In the city I saw extravagance.

After an American breakfast at IHOP, the pancakes tasted refreshingly good, I made it to Oakland Mall.  If my description of the roadside rest stop matched most of your pre-conceived notions of Guatemala, even my little sister asked me when I first moved down here if I was living in a hut, then let Oakland Mall completely destroy those notions.  It is grand; home to an aquarium, a large food court and a beautiful movie theater.  Seeing a movie was the whole reason why I went to Guatemala City.  The VIP movie theater is outfitted with fully reclining leather seats and waiters ready to take your order from a complete menu all for only 68 Q (under 10 dollars), making it the fanciest movie theater I’ve ever watched a movie in.  It felt like luxury meant for kings.

It’s funny how after three years in Guatemala a day like this has come to feel normal.  Most people would experience culture shock.  Maybe I can chalk it up to the dismissive phrase, “Only in Guatemala.”  Yes Guatemala is beautifully diverse, and yes some if it’s extremes need to change, but for now I’m going to enjoy where I live.