When Differences Become Normal

Guatemalan women washing clothes at a creek.

Guatemalan women washing clothes at a creek.

By far, my most cherished moments in my recent trip to Guatemala were observing my children’s happiness. Seeing them smile, listening to their laughter, and seeing how at ease they were in their own skin.

This was our fourth trip back to their birth country. Our first trip was June of 2010 when they were 7. Sitting high on our horses, we walked through villages put together with sheets of tin, boards, paper, and straw. The front and back yards were dirt. Hoses were strung and used for bathing children in a tub. To the dismay of Juan and Crystel, I waved and hollered, “Hola.” They shushed me. “People live there,” I’d say in reply pointing to another shelter. “We know. Ssssh.”

On that first trip, every time I saw a boy with a load of wood on his back, walking barefoot, or planting in the field, I wanted to poke Juan and  Crystel. Wake them up to make sure they didn’t miss what I was seeing. The importance of it all. The women carrying heavy baskets on their head, the girls with a baby or small child strapped to their back, meat hanging in the open market, the bright orange lava flowing down the side of Volcano Pacaya.

A man carrying boards up a trail to the next village.

A man carrying boards up a trail to the next village.

They seemed to want to run away from the sights.

We were all startled. On our return to the United States, the four of us would have kissed the ground under the Welcome to Houston sign if we weren’t running north as quickly as we could.

Two years later when they were nine, we returned to Guatemala to meet Juan and Crystel’s birth families and to travel to Lake Atitlan.

At Lake Atitlan we had young Guatemalan men as guides.

Knowledgeable about their country and heritage, they answered our questions and shared their stories. It was with Juan and Crystel, that they had a different purpose—to show them that they should be proud to be Guatemalan.

IMG_0518 (1)During this fourth trip, I was even more aware of the relationship that our guide, Alex, had with Juan and Crystel. He had endeared himself to them as well as to Jody and me. He welcomed us and our friends, Pat and Mary, into his home. His family took a day trip with us to Hot Springs Fuenta Georginas, outside of the Mayan Village of Zunil, Guatemala. By sharing his family, his wife and two children, he provided us all with another experience—being around a Guatemalan family in Guatemala and seeing him as a loving father.

Our trips changed me. I no longer felt as if I needed to elbow the children.

This time, I heard Juan say, “Did you see that boy with the three cement blocks?” The Guatemalan boy had stopped to take a rest. The blocks must have matched his weight.

Crystel poked me and held out a fresh sprig of basil for me to smell.

Bringing home firewood for cooking.

Bringing home firewood for cooking.

I can still surprise my children. I gave a loud two handed whistle and hollered to let our friends know that the public boat we were on was coming to their dock. I surprised the other Guatemalans as well. This time instead of being shushed, Crystel told me that I needed to teach her how to whistle like that.

My experience is that when difference becomes normal the world is pretty darn awesome.

Thanks to Nancy Hoffman of Guatemala Reservations for introducing my family to Lee and Elaine Beal. We have stayed at Los Elementos Adventure Center on Santa Cruz la Laguna on our last 3 trips to Lake Atitlan. Juan and Crystel would have it no other way. Thanks to the Beal’s for training guides like Alex Vincente Lopez for us who come to learn the heritage of Guatemalans and to see the beauty of the country.