After only six easy hours of travel, Hilary and I breezed through the Currency Exchange Stand, Customs, and retrieved all of our undamaged luggage. We stepped outside the airport to face the moment we had been fearing- finding our ride. Inside the gated waiting area, Hilary and I stood with all of our earthly belongings, four suitcases and two backpacks, looking like Guatemala´s most un-Guatemalan imports. We stared at the sea of mocha faces and black hair, unable to distinguish between any except one. Fredy was scheduled to pick us up, but our correspondence was only one email and the last time I saw him was two years prior. I began resenting the concept of Latin-American Time and resolved that we might be waiting at least a few hours for our friend. I started walking to the other end of the waiting area; Hilary asked “Eric, do you see him?” “Nope.” I popped up on the balls of my feet, trying to use my height to my advantage. “Eric, do you see him?” “Nope.” I looked at my bags, nervous and consternated, feeling numbingly vulnerable. “Eric-“ I interrupted “Nope.” Hilary yelled “Eric, come on!” as she scurried away from me, luggage in tow. I looked past her hurried shoulder to see the only Guatemalan face I knew; two minutes after exiting the airport doors, we were safe in our new home.
Experiencing Guatemala for the first time is overwhelming for an American. I stepped off the plane for the first time in 2010; I was 17 years old. Even now, in my 3rd visit almost four years later, the differences between the two countries are a blend of excruciating and enveloping. They are point blank and therapy. I can´t imagine myself anywhere else.
Guatemala City welcomes visitors with lungfulls of car exhaust and a system of traffic incomprehensible for a Southeastern native. After accepting one´s fate to inhaling the city´s toxic air, supplied without discrimination from an open window or the A/C vent, one will without doubt begin to look towards the bustling businesses alongside the road and ask themselves “How many car repair shops can possibly coexist in a square mile?” The answer to that question, much the same as the subsequent “How many people can fit in one bus?” seems to be without limitation.
As Fredy drove outside the city limits and up the mountainside, the images of extreme poverty returned. I was reminded of how much strength and work ethic it requires to be poor. I remembered the systems of utter destitution required to prop up modern economies. I was freshly invigorated with a sense of why I came in the first place- to let go of the strength in my possessions and learn the genius of poverty.