leaving the nest

There are almost two score brand new Peace Corps Volunteers departing their training communities this week. We’re leaving the department of Sacatepéquez and spreading out across Guatemala, landing in our assigned sites; our new homes for the next two years.
Team Bartolo is one man short since Juan left for the states to heal from a soccer injury (best to him, we hope he comes back soon). But for Suerte and me, it’s time to leave San Bartolomé.
San Bartolo was not what I had in mind when I pictured myself in Guatemala. The concrete streets and houses are fine, but they lack charm. The people are pleasant, so why are our windows barred and locked, why are our fences and walls crowned with barbed wire and broken glass?
My family was extremely kind and I genuinely appreciated their hospitality. However, their habits were often confounding and occasionally frustrating.
They have a mealy parrot in a cage and a skinny dog on the roof. To me, this is extremely offensive. But as a guest, there’s no culturally appropriate way to intervene (but at least when they weren’t home I could sneak the dog some protein).
Sometimes at meals I would wonder what great thing I had done to deserve such food. And of course sometimes I would wonder what unforgivable sin I had committed. Doña Eva sometimes made fried corn pancakes with honey for breakfast. They were incredible. On the other hand, just this week she sent me out into the world with cow stomach in my lunchbox.
Chicharrones are somewhere in the middle. The first time they served them, I was confused. It appeared to be meat, but one side was unbelievably tough and the other side was as soft as wet bread. At first my mouth said, “Wait, Andrew, we don’t eat this. Let’s throw it in reverse. Do you want me to put it into a napkin for you?”
But for the sake of etiquette, I cleaned the plate. As I did, I realized,
1. Chicharrones are cooked pig skin
2. They are kind of delicious

Baby Mario was my favorite dinner theater. Instead of eating his beans normally, he liked to spread them all over his face and hands. So by the end of dinner the brown and black smears made him resemble a tiny, irrational mechanic.
I think he and I shared a perspective. We had communication tribulations in common and we were both relatively new to life in Guatemala. Many nights we shared a look across the table that said, “Wait, what? This doesn’t make sense.”
But sometimes when he shot me a look of exasperation, (perhaps disbelief that beans and eggs had made the menu yet again), I replied with my eyes, “This is your family, you tell me.”

In the end, I’m glad to be leaving San Bartolo. It’s time. But there are people I’ll miss. There are things I’ve grown accustomed to. Against early predictions, life here actually approached normality.
And now it’s time to start all over.

2 Responses to “leaving the nest”

  1. juliette Says:

    I adore that last picture of you and those kids. Wow.
    Here’s a piece of advice that you already know, obviously, but served me well through many changes, and is always worth remembering: Everything eventually becomes the new normal. So there you have it. Good luck getting to your new normal! I hope you continue to have opportunities to post.

  2. princess Says:

    I actually like pork rinds like that! yum!