My fan broke. For you who don’t know me, you may not understand the unfathomable depth of that sentence. You see, I sleep with a fan – all the time. I am addicted to white noise – it’s my sedative. So, again, my fan broke (moment of silence – bad, uncomfortable, sleepless silence). When I pulled it out of the suitcase last night and things “clanked” inside it, Courtney and I knew it wasn’t a good sign. And when I turned it on and smelled a nasty burned smell, I pouted.
We tried sleeping with the television turned on, sound low enough to be indistinguishable but high enough to be noise. But it didn’t work well. And when Courtney started laughing in the middle of the night about a most unattractive photo that had been taken of her at San Gabriel (out of courtesy to the children, I have not posted it), I knew it was over.
Needless to say, 5am came early. But with enough caffeine and sugar in a body, one can get perky quickly. So when the bus departed at 7am for Xela, I was ready for whatever the day would bring. And the day brought much.
Several of us piled into the van, in the hopes of listening to some music (you see, in February, we had found an ‘80s station that resulted in hours of karaoke fun). But alas, the radio was broken. So we each pulled out our respective musical selections, donned our earbuds, and settled in for the long trip to Xela. The actual name of the town is Quezaltenango, and it’s located in the Sierra Madre mountains. The ride there was at times treacherous due to an inordinate amount of road construction and several landslides. Several people, including my sweet Courtney, took Dramamine to keep from getting carsick. It worked, and she slept like a log while I looked outside at the patchwork farms on the sides of the mountains, the tiny villages dotting the horizon, and those mountains that seem to split the skies and disappear into the heavens. I found my theme song, "Libertad," by Pacifika. It made for a perfect soundtrack.
Guatemalans are very resourceful people, as we discovered on the road. Each time road construction or landslides would force traffic to a creep, they were there – the street vendors. Cokes, pastries, souvenirs, cell phone chargers – all just outside your car window. At one bend in the road, several women were roasting corn. Brilliant use of a bad situation.
We arrived in Xela later than expected, and were taken to a mall for lunch. Pollo Campero, Dominos and Taco Bell awaited us. I opted for the last – and refuse to allow the experience to taint my view. It’s just not the same without lettuce, tomatoes, and Fire sauce (the girl behind the counter looked at us like we were crazy when we asked for “Fuego.”)
After lunch, we traveled to our first orphanage. Ascension SOS is a beautiful little place, with one housemom to every nine children. This was Buckner’s first visit to the orphanage, and the reception was amazing. The people here in Xela are mostly from Mayan descent, with strong features and jet black hair. The children had been bathed and powdered and dressed in their finest for the occasion. We sang with them, took lots of photos, and then distributed the shoes. The time was brief but rich.
Our next stop was to the Hogar Temporal de Quetzaltenango. The facility was old and dirty, and more than 100 children crowded around to meet us. Many had special needs, including a number in wheelchairs. Jeff called out to me, “Ronne, he’s here!” as he brought a young man named Juan Carlos out to see me. Juan Carlos had disappeared from San Gabriel in February, after Geoff, Dana and I had had the chance to spend time with him. To see him here, more than 5 hours away from the other orphanage, was bittersweet. He had only been at the home for 4 months, which meant he had either tried to return home or had lived on the street for a while. He seemed more mature, more reserved.
Geoff, Carmen, Jeff, Courtney, Katie, Bonnie and I settled into the “shoe room,” along with Manuel, Edwin, and Berta. Courtney spent time getting shoes ready while I videoed and photographed Carmen as she delivered special shoes she had carried with her. These shoes were donated by children in Florida, and today several pairs would find their “homes.” The children streamed into the room, as we pulled off worn shoes and socks and replaced them with new. The staff reminded each child to say “thank you” for their gifts as we rushed to provide care to so many children.
I glanced over my shoulder to the back of the room, where Courtney sat with a young girl named Lari in her arms – both were weeping. The picture was so hauntingly beautiful. I learned later that Lari had asked Courtney to be her mom.
Tonight, we walked around the town square in the pouring rain. We saw the tributes to the man who led the fight for Guatemala’s independence. We stepped into a Catholic mass – just for a moment – and drank in the beauty of the cathedral. And back at the hotel, I downloaded “Relax” for my iPhone. Sleep came quickly as we drifted off to the sounds of “Under the Sea.”