Reflections from December
“I wish that you could take my eyes with you,” were the words softly spoken by my housemate Maria Cristina in mid-December as we sat around the kitchen table for our holiday celebration meal. She was referring to my trip to the United States a few days later. She wanted to see all the places I told her that I was going and get a glimpse of all that she had heard about or read about regarding the United States. Her eyes shown brightly as made this impossible request but her words were tinged with a longing and hope that someday she might see what her heart desired. On a much sillier note, Juan Carlos, her husband asked me to take his mouth with me so that he could taste all the different foods. Yes, he thinks with his stomach sometimes.
But it was Maria Cristina's words that punctuated my visit to the states during the holiday season for they made me look closer at everything, as though I had her with me.
December was a half and half month in that I spent half of it in Guatemala and half of it in the states. My half in Guatemala was dedicated to finishing up administrative tasks for the end of the year, attending a three day workshop with our scholarship students, and trying to mentally prepare myself for what I knew would be an arduous psychological journey back into the states. But that was where the month of December really began as I stepped off that plane, this time after approximately one year living abroad.
I always realize in coming back to the states how much patience I have learned here in Guatemala. I had a lot of patience beforehand but now it has multiplied ten fold. The day before I left Guatemala as I was walking through the huge central park in Antigua I observed a line of about 200 Guatemalans all waiting to get into one of the various banks in the plaza. It was quite early in the morning and so I could only imagine how long the people had been waiting there. Some tourists thought this was a great site and started snapping photos of the people who would, most likely, spend their entire day in line to get one little transaction done at the bank. Then this morning when I saw the line extended out the front door and around the corner of the electricity office here in Santa Cruz del Quiche. On a crisp and cold Tuesday morning in Hyde Park, Chicago I stepped into a line of about 15 people at the time who were waiting in the tiny local post office located in a basement nook of the local cooperative grocery store. On this day, 4 days before Christmas, they really only had one worker at the desk and the line was moving rather slowly. People began to line up behind me and the grumbling quickly filled the air. No one had the time to wait 40 minutes to mail their packages and how could they only have one worker 4 days before Christmas were the tamer phrases used. One lady, who was particularly agitated, never stopped complaining and said we should all write to the city about this atrocity. She continually raised her voice to very high levels so that the clerks at the desk could hear her. I stood quietly in line thinking about the line of people I had seen in Antigua, waiting for the bank, many planning to spend their entire day there. I had heard no grumbling when I walked by the line, which was their plan for the day.
On a below freezing afternoon in late December I strolled down the street in downtown Chicago feeling like the tiniest thing on earth. I was bundled up from head to toe in as much warmth as I could put together since when I had left Guatemala it was about 65 degrees and here it was 0 degrees at the highest with a wind whipping the exposed parts of the body. All around me rose up the colossal skyscrapers, huge shopping centers, individual company stores (Nike, Apple, Virgin, Borders, etc.), and many other monstrosities of American consumerism. I walked along with my eyes glued anywhere but the path in front of me. I had to be careful not to run into any of the masses of shoppers, business people, vendors, etc. as I tried to take in all that was above me as well as the various sidewalk entertainers who line the streets at holiday time and perform in the bitter cold. Yet, in my head I was really winding my way through the market place outside my house. The stark comparison between the sites of the market, the natural colors of the fruits, vegetables, and flowers spread out upon plastic sheets, versus the city and its right-angled stone kingdom. It was almost overwhelming. Then later in my trip as I stood in awe on the universal studios city walk in Los Angeles and just stared at the flashing lights, the 40 foot Shaquille O’neal figurine fixed above one of the stores, the 30 foot screen blaring out concerts, the throngs of people running off to the next consumer paradise of goods and games. Here I thought about, what if I had Maria Cristina’s eyes with me? What would she think of these things I am seeing and what do I think of these things since they differ so much from what I see in a normal day. Since here I feel so small and in Guatemala, many times, I feel like a giant (though just in stature).
There are so many stories that I could tell where I saw, felt, heard, smelt, or tasted something that evoked a comparison to my home in Guatemala but in each case I had those words with me “I wish that you could take my eyes with you.” and so I thought about how others from other countries would see these things, would taste these foods, would feel these temperatures, would listen to these noises, etc. I may never know the truth about how my housemate would see the things that I see but it makes for an interesting comparison and makes me look more closely at the life that I lead.
Paul Pitcher is a missionary with the Christian Action of Guatemala (ACG). He serves as a communication and youth worker with ACG.