It's been a little over a week since I've arrived in Guatemala. My first five days here were spent with the Trades of Hope Vision Team -- a seriously beautiful group of women who are so invested in seeing lives change through job creation. We had the incredible privilege of visiting our Trades of Hope artisans here (which I’ll share more on later). Being around their hearts, their stories, their support was such a blessing and balm to my soul. I remember sitting in MonoLoco (a sports bar themed restaurant where a cartoon “loco” monkey is painted on every wall), thinking to myself, “Am I really here? At this table, with the most glorious nachos in front of me, the most inspiring women around me, and all of the sounds and smells of Guatemala enveloping me?”
Guatemala has the same beauty I anticipate Heaven will also have. There are courtyards and pockets of secret gardens everywhere. And from every flourishing garden, there are views of mountains and volcanoes surrounding. Also at every turn are fallen ruins, silently telling stories of history and destruction, but also of hope. Since being here, I have made chocolate from cocoa beans, taken salsa dancing classes, climbed mountains into the clouds, sipped wine while walking through an organic farm, and spent a lot of time working on my Spanish.
I'm really all about long-term travel now. (Not to say I would turn down a 5-7 day trip to, well, anywhere, but that’s not the point.) Already, I feel like an Antigua local. I'm staying in a sweet, old woman's home where I eat delicious (sometimes wonderfully questionable) authentic Guatemalan food three times a day. I step out of the front door onto a 10-inch sidewalk, right next to a tiny convenience store (which we tenderly call the snack shack). There are always these dudes standing in front of the snack shack, whose gross stares, which lack subtly, I always pretend to be too oblivious to notice. But the fact I see them daily makes me feel like Antigua is home. In the States, walking to my front door or drinking coffee on my couch would give such a warm feeling, but this will do.
Like any local, I know the shop that sells the strawberry and Nutella crepes, and I know where to get the coffee and bacon flavored ice cream. I also know the ”exotic ice cream” shop owner’s story and that he just got the proofs for his eleventh book back today. These places are holes in the wall, but then again, everything in Antigua outside of Central Park is a hole in the wall. I like it that way. You have to try hard to find all of the amazing things Antigua has to offer. Perhaps I like it so much because maybe that means someday someone will take the time to find out all the things I have to offer, and somehow think that's pretty cool, too. Or perhaps I just really like strawberry and Nutella crepes.
I see people I know while walking down the streets already. Some of them attend the Spanish school (even though I've really only had in-depth conversations with the lady who mans the snack booth -- Pringles: the red can or green can?). Some of them are people who work in the markets. Some of them are people who regularly beg on the street. Either way, a familiar face is a familiar face, and that does allow some home-y feelings (which is probably more appropriate that the despicable guys outside the snack shack).
In addition to the sweet old woman, her family, and the family I am here with in Guatemala, some very sweet souls are staying in the house. I befriended two girls who are 20 as well. They remind me that I, too, am still a 20-year-old girl (despite the fact I feel 40). And I fantasize about going back with them to their lives of dorms and classes at NC State in August. I long for the securing arms that college seem to wrap around girls my age. SEU kicked me out after handing me my diploma, but maybe NC State will embrace me? I coo to that part of me that longs for comfort, "Sure, Liz, you can go back with them," as if I'm telling a child, “Yes, of course Santa Claus is real.”
Also living with us is a man form Brazil who lived in the Netherlands for five years. We talk in Dutch and reminisce about all of the Dutch foods until we can no longer stand the hunger for them. We talk geography, we talk customs, and again, there it is: that home-y warmth.
My days mainly consist of playing with three of the most creative and considerate little kids I know in the morning and exploring the country in the afternoons. And I feel so blessed. I am so thankful. For this place, for its beauty, for what I'm learning. I'm realizing my biggest fear was my life not turning out the way I had always planned: making lots of money, being married in my early twenties, feeling secure. The reality of my life now is more acute to: spending all my life's saving on traveling the world's cultures alone, being single alone, feeling anything but secure alone. And it's good. I'm realizing I was only afraid of these things because I didn't plan them, and that's no reason to be afraid. It's okay to take the time to feel alone, to feel like you're floating, to feel desires unfulfilled. Don't ignore those feelings, don't let them give you anxiety. For once I'm choosing to sit with them. Make a map of them. Welcome to the human experience in its entirety.