Friday, February 17, 2012

The long goodbye

This was drafted in retrospect, from the cold (literally) comfort of my office in Brooklyn, as I looked back on the warmth -- human and otherwise -- of Guatemala.  I am in Massachusetts right now, as I finally publish it, but such are the contours of my life, both here and in Guatemala (at least there we have some continuity: never in one place for too long. I was going to say, "never firmly in one place" but even though my life involves a lot of physical travel, I do consider the bonds and friendships and engagements to be very solid).

There were various despedidas throughout the last week and a half, and it was all very sweet, for the most part. I would say "bittersweet," but actually less sadness than I had expected. It was an intense and wonderful year -- yes, even considering the robberies (car and cameras) and other unpleasantnesses, and some serious frustrations -- and when, a few months back, I started to seriously think about the process of uprooting myself, I thought that it would be a painful and somewhat sad undertaking. It turned out to be more joyous than I had imagined --since I know I am making a number of long-term commitments to Guatemala and to friends and projects here, and since many of the friendships and comradeships I have established also feel as though they will be around for the long haul. I thought I would be crying, but I wasn't.. except for a few moments when I was listening to the principal general of the alcaldia indigena in Chichi...

I will write this out in stages. as it has already been more than a week and I have kind of left the blog alone as I have been adapting back to life in the U.S.

The first of the goodbyes was a lunch with my friend Emilie, an Anglican priest from Canada who lives in Santa Cruz del Quiché and whom I very fortunately befriended but unfortunately we met very late in my stay in Guatemala. A mutual friend had put us in touch via email some months back and we'd exchanged emails but had never gotten around to meeting -- things just kept on getting in the way and I, for one, just lost track of the contact. You know you keep some things in the back of your mind -- "Oh, I should get back to that person" -- and then they kind of slip beyond the point of easy retrieval. That's what happened with Emilie; some very engaging and engaged emails, and then other things pushed themselves into the foreground and I kind of forgot about her until I was at a Thanksgiving dinner in Xela at the home of my friend Javier. Javier's wife, who is also a minister, upon learning that I lived in El Quiché, asked me if I knew Emilie. I said that we had exchanged emails but never met, but the very next day I found Emilie's phone number and called her; she told me that she had been planning to call me as she was coming to Chinique the following day, and so I invited her to lunch. She has had a long-term relationship with Guatemala, and it was helpful for me to have someone who could be a sounding board for some of my experiences and impressions.

We saw each other whenever possible during the next month - -which wasn't very often as we were both traveling a bit. However, we managed to celebrate my birthday and Hanuka, and just before she left for a two-week stay in Xela, we squeezed in a lunch. I had had to come to Santa Cruz to get a new tire for my car, and Emilie, who is a terrific cook, whipped up a chicken pot pie for me.

My little cabal in Xela wanted to have a despedida for me and so the Friday before my departure I drove there. We had the gathering at Humberto's house so that his wife Ana and daughter Rocio could participate, although they both retired early and left me alone with a roomful of guys. Women and men often do not socialize together, or rather, even in married couples, men often gather with their male friends and although in long-term friendships the wives are undoubtedly acquainted and there are probably some gathering that include couples and children, still the men often socialize among themselves. That has certainly been my experience with my circle of male friends in Xela. I have finally met a few of their wives, but they have well-established patterns of homosociality.

Then my friends from Ixmukané wanted to have a churrasco (barbecue) -- the impetus mostly came from Jeanet and her mother Matilde -- so we planned that for Sunday afternoon. I need to clarify that this was not the formal "despedida" from the organization; that took place in the office on Monday afternoon. This was a gathering among friends, outdoors.  My friends Catarino and Sandra, who were going to store my things, house me night before my departure, and then accompany me to the airport, wanted to have a special dinner with me the night before we left. And then somehow two of my young friends from Chichicastenango squeezed themselves into a space that did not really exist -- on Monday evening, they announced that they were coming to Chinique for the fiesta and to say goodbye to me.  I get tired just writing this all down.

So, poco a poco, I will retrace some of the missing narratives.

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