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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easing in to the comfort of carpet

Last week I wrote about my time in Guatemala in 1995, how I’d arrived via a one-way ticket with big dreams of gaining fluency in Spanish and then making my way to Brazil to volunteer in the rain forest. Never mind that the national language in Brazil is Portuguese.

From day one I longed for home. That first week at language school I latched on to a couple from Oregon, who acted as my surrogate parents. I traveled with them and others on weekends. The school provided copious outings or activities: observing Mayans looming fabric and practicing religious rituals, painting a local primary school—and playing soccer with the students there, delivering donated saplings to an indigenous community. I kept busy. Still, I missed home.

After five weeks I abandoned my save-the-rain-forest plan and made reservations to get home the next weekend.

A little after 11 a.m. on Saturday I arrived at the local bus station, the first leg of my journey. Though scheduled to leave for Guatemala City at 11:45 a.m., the bus did not leave until it had a full ridership—at 2 p.m. I waited with an American guy I recognized from the previous weekend’s travels. We grew hungry during the wait. He shared his peanuts, I shared my cookies. By the time we reached the city in the early evening, I was famished.

The place of lodging where I’d made reservations—an artsy, lofty place with purple shag and neon lights—was near the bus terminal. I dropped my bag and walked to a McDonalds counter at a mall near. I ordered, “McMenu numero cinco, por favor”: a chicken sandwich, fries and a Sprite, to go. I wanted to return to my room ASAP and ensconce myself in its luxury, unlike anything I’d experienced in six weeks: fluffy bedding, carpeting and heat.

In my room I set the thermostat at 75o, kicked my shoes off and walked around in bare feet; besides people, the thing from home I missed most was carpeting. I burrowed into my warm bed and ate dinner as I watched the Braves win the World Series, having beat the Indians in six games.

My trip home the next morning was interrupted by a long layover in Dallas. At the gate I sat next to a Latino about my age. Turns out, he had flown from Guatemala City on the same flight I had that morning. He was going to Dayton too. He worked for AT&T and was arriving for training.

During the flight I got an idea and searched him out on the plane and told him to wait for me when he got off. He did, and we walked toward baggage claim hand-in-hand.

When Mom saw us, I told her I'd just met him my last week in Guatemala. “His family is so poor. Together he and I can make a good life,” I said, “and you can always use help on the farm.” She quickly replied that “if he can get a visa, he can work anywhere”—besides on my farm, she meant but didn’t say.

That response was her only reaction, though she was quiet as we walked; I imagined her trying to digest this new situation. Her under-reaction was disappointing to me. I thought I’d really played a good joke on her, but she wasn’t freaking out like I’d expected.

Since she wasn’t giving me what I wanted, I came clean. Her relief was evident. But, she still took the Guatemalan home with us. Turns out the guy's rental car and hotel weren't reserved until the following day, so she offered him the spare bed.

So I was eased back into my usual reality: the hotel’s relative luxury in Guatemala and a Guatemalan in the comforts of home.

The next day the Guatemalan and I toured the Air Force Museum on the Wright-Pat AFB, which he loved (all men do), before I dropped him at the airport to pick up his rental car. Then a short drive home, where I stepped out of my shoes and enjoyed the thick carpet massaging my feet as I walked upstairs to my warm bed and a mid-afternoon nap. Oh, to be home.


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