It wasn't entirely real to me until the plane had landed and I had picked up my bags, gone through customs and immigration and walked out of the airport to find my friend Catarino waiting for me, after a four hour delay in my flight, that I was actually coming back to Guatemala. I had gone through all the motions of packing, trying to plan out my time here so that I could use two weeks effectively, making all the arrangements I needed to so that my life in the U.S. would function more or less smoothly during my absence. I was originally planning to visit Guatemala starting March 16 but moved up my trip, as I wrote earlier, and so I had to juggle syllabi and arrange for the car and the cats to be taken care of.
So the U.S. part went a bit more smoothly. Over in Guatemala, it was a bit harder to find people and make plans. I had left my trusty white Mazda pickup in the care of my friends Catarino and Sandra, and needed for them to bring it to Guatemala City (that was the deal we had made when I left the car with them) so that I could have a means of transportation during these two weeks (that was why I left the car instead of trying to sell it, as I knew I would be coming back over the next however many years). They weren't answering their phones, and I started to melt down a little. Well, melt down is perhaps too dramatic a term, since I rarely panic or get overly anxious. But I was a bit worried. I called and called both of their numbers and got no response. I tried calling Catarino's aunt Reyna, who lives about 200 yards away from them, and she told me that she was working in the town hall but would check their house when she got home and get a phone number that I could call. The next morning she told me that they had gone away for the day to the fiesta in Tapesquillo where Sandra's family lives, but she would try later that night. And then my Guatemalan cell phone died. I wasn't using the phone to make calls, but to look up phone numbers... and I hadn't copied any of them down, except Catarino's which seemed to be kind of useless at that point. The charger was in New York and I was in Massachusetts. I called Adrian to see if he had any useful phone numbers in Guatemala but he didn't. Then I decided to check Facebook and Reyna's daughter had listed both her phone number and her email, so I called (she didn't answer either) and emailed her. She didn't reply but apparently eventually she passed the email message along and Catarino finally opened an email account and wrote to me. So we exchanged some emails back and forth and then I bought a phone card so I could call him before I left and make final plans.
He doesn't have a license and so Sandra's brother would have to drive them down, and then return Sunday afternoon, leaving Sandra and Catarino to wait for me. I felt a bit bad having them wait, but for better or worse, this is what people in Guatemala, or people who live far away from the capital, do for each other. As I wrote in an earlier blog when I was preparing to depart, no one goes to the airport alone. I had seven people accompanying me, and not because I had asked them. The only person whose presence was really "necessary" was Sandra's brother who was going to drive the car. Sandra and Catarino had asked to go with me, the kids asked to come, and then the other guys just jumped in at the last minute.
But my situation isn't unique. When Alicia, a woman I know from Tapesquillo, went to the airport to fly to the U.S. in the spring, her father in law and two younger male relatives (I think brothers-in-law) went with her, and they left an entire day early.
So although I felt a twinge of anxiety about asking Catarino and Sandra and Sandra's brother to do this big favor, it felt like the norm, and I also have done several important favors for them which they cannot reciprocate in kind, and this was a way of equalizing things a bit by allowing them to do me a big favor.
I should add that all the preparations came in the midst of a big event in the migrant community in New Bedford -- several activities commemorating the fifth anniversary of the immigration raid on the Michael Bianco factory, a sad and traumatic event that is in large part responsible for my current involvement in Guatemala, and my long-time and long-term involvement with the migrant community in general, and the Maya K'iche' community in particular in New Bedford. There were plans for an interfaith service followed by a candlelight "Stations of the Cross" walk, making correspondences between the stations and the raid, and then a cultural event and vigil at the. I was involved in the planning, and I knew that I would be wanted to take photographs on Friday -- the events were planned to start at 6 and end sometime after 9. And then I wanted to take advantage of the weekend to have a meeting with the women from the weaving cooperative (well, that's not even really an accurate description of the organization now, but the women's association we set up before I left)... which meant meeting early on Saturday as my flight was leaving out of New York on Sunday morning. So Saturday meeting and then drive four hours, get home, clean, pack and figure out the last of the arrangements and then get myself to the airport.
I will leave writing about the 5th anniversary events for another moment, since this entry is already getting unwieldy and we have not even got me to the plane yet, much less to the studios of Radio Doble Via in San Mateo, Quetzaltenango, where I am now sitting waiting for a meeting that was supposed to have begun nearly 15 minutes ago.
The Friday events went well; the meeting with Olivia and Paula and Adrian was productive and fairly brief. Olivia had asked if I could bring some jackets for her younger siblings but she had left most of them in the room of her brother who lives with them in New Bedford, and he had locked his room. But she found another couple of jackets and wrapped them up and gave them to me. And then I realized that I needed to pick up a few gifts for people. I had promised to buy some backpacks for Jeanet and her husband Nazario but moving my trip up a week didn't give me enough time to order online the specific models they wanted. Two friends here are having babies and I wanted to get small gifts, and some things for Catarino's kids, so I made a lightning-quick trip to TJ Maxx. Then I got a message from my friend Kan asking me if I could buy him a digital voice recorder. This came on Saturday late morning just as I was heading for New York. I couldn't imagine what he was thinking, that digital voice recorders are sold on every street corner in New York and that I could easily run out and find out. They are also something that is much much cheaper if ordered online, and there certainly wasn't enough time to do that.
Finally made it back to New York around 4:30, and got packed and into bed at a relatively decent hour and aside from the fact that the car service had not actually recorded the reservation I made, got to the airport with no problem (and learned a new route in the meantime), and then set out on my journey.
There was a long layover in Mexico City made even longer by some delays. The plane was full of people from Australian and French NGOs that do work in Guatemala, along with a few academics and people coming to study Spanish; not a lot of sun and sand tourists. So a lot of people with whom to talk and share experiences.
Finally arrived; my friends were there with their kids asleep in the car. I found them a cheap hotel in the Zona 1 (where I was staying) and then got up and launched into my stay.
Now I am running off to have dinner with the folks from the Radio Comunitaria Doble Via in San Mateo, with whom I am traveling to Totonicapán at 6 in the morning.