25 noviembre 2013 – lunes
As I packed my bags a few weeks ago I came face-to-face with the passage of time. In my hand was my certificate for swearing in as a Peace Corps volunteer on October 29, 2010. Wow, it seems a lifetime ago that I disembarked that airplane in Guatemala City. Both my life and the world have moved forward since then…I settled into my little pueblo and helped promote leadership amongst indigenous women while world events of the re-election of Barack Obama and a presidential election in Guatemala hit the stage and much more.
My final weeks were filled with despedidas or goodbye parties; it was an opportunity for the women to give back to me. It was also special to be working again with my counterpart, Sonia, because the political situation that lasted nearly three months in San Bartolo had halted our work with women´s groups. Pacuntze gave a very lively fiesta with musica y baile. I convinced several women to join me in dance and although shy, several did twirl about with me, full of giggles and smiles. The men just looked on, even more timid than the women. Fine, I did not need them to have a good time. And yes, there were firecrackers, too…gotta have the noise and smoke to really kick a celebration into gear!
I can honestly say that I probably ate the equivalent of 2 chickens during that week…everyone fed me caldo de pollo or chicken stew, and of course, as the guest of honor I was served not just one but two pieces. Good thing I wasn´t wearing Mayan corte or skirt with a faja tied tight around my waist, however, I did wear a guipil or Mayan blouse for each occasion. With each group, I posed and of course, I stood a good head above the women. I had to laugh when a señor in Chuiaj managed to aim the camera downwards as he snapped the photo…and rendered me HEADLESS! That is the punishment for being too tall.
There was some miscommunication with the women of Paxboch and when Sonia and I arrived they were incredibly embarrassed that nothing had been planned. Sonia added insult to injury by telling them that ALL of the other groups had planned goodbye parties. Poor women! They had to save face. ¨When can you come back?¨ they asked. I said that two days later I was free to return because my last week was being saved for packing and report-writing. Bueno, that´s what we settled on. So twice Sonia and I trekked out to Paxboch.
¨¿Se va una vez?¨was the frequent question, ¨Are you leaving for good?¨ Their eyes would widen when I shared that I was going to travel for two months, starting with 4wks in Mexico and Belize and then enjoying Christmas in Guatemala with my children. ¨Llevenos con usted!¨ Take us with you! Again they had creative schemes of shrinking little to be in my hair, blouse or suitcase. Travel even within their own country is not something they can afford with time or money, and the idea of traveling to their neighboring countries was exotic indeed.
It was an emotional final weeks with Sonia…our professional relationship was coming to an end, but not the friendship. Several times she cried as I gifted her photos, clothing, mirror, and more. The photos recalled all of the times we worked together, both serious and silly. One of my favorite photos is of me and a clown crouching down so that Sonia could be the tallest; that was when we had volunteered with translation services for a medical mission. Gifting my belongings was important to lighten my load but also to pass along keepsakes to remember me. I had to smile when I ducked into a Women´s Commission meeting to say goodbye and Sonia was already wearing a purple sweater that I had gifted. Her happiest gift was my little refrigerator which she has coveted for awhile…and it journeyed to her home in a loving ride in a TukTuk (3-wheeled motortaxi).
So bit by bit, my belongings made their way out my door…whew! I had sure accumulated quite a bit in 3yrs! Mostly friends asked for my belongings, but even strangers would stop me and ask if there was anything left for them. I gave the news that my large belongings already had ¨dueños¨or owners. There were some lucky folks who got surprise gifts on my last few days…those items that would not fit into my overstuffed bags. I did not sleep my last night in San Bartolo as I finished packing…just glancing at but not getting in the bed that was already sold. Tipica or Mayan textiles, blouses and skirts weigh a ton!! I lugged both suitcases to a friend who had a scale and they were within a breath of the 50lbs maximum. Nada mas!
I felt honored with all of the goodbye parties…I had four with women´s groups and five with friends, and yikes! They also gave gifts, fortunately small ones. The more special goodbyes were with Sonia and of course, my Patulup family. The kids were delighted with receiving the puzzles that I always had ready for their pleasure…and their eyes grew big with even more toys landing into their open hands. Yes, it felt like an early Christmas. I tried my best to gift to those who were most in need. Erwin, the shoeshine man, with poor eyesight and always making bracelets (and selling very few) told me he had three children ages 2, 4, and 8. I surprised him with two bags of toys, food, and bracelet materials. In return I got a grateful hug…he had asked for nothing, but he was definitely deserving of my belongings.
As for my Patulup family, they were so excited by the purchase of my oven!! We are going to make pizza to sell, Armando the dad, told me. I wished them the best of luck with baking and selling…and they are on their way with all of my baking pans, bowls, ingredients and recipes. I said that I wanted to hear of their success when next in touch with them.
Finally, my bags were packed and my heart skipped a beat as I boarded the bus to leave. My elderly neighbor, Doña Paula cried as she gave me a final embrace. I tried to soften the goodbye by saying that I might return for a final visit in January before my flight to Seattle. Next stop, the Peac e Corps office to write those final reports and sign off on last tasks. Thankfully, the country director gave me a little breathing room as I faced down my Completion of Service (COS) date of Thursday, November 21st.
It was an honor to give a presentation of my work to fifteen Peace Corps staff and volunteers and then excitedly stand beside George Like, the Country Director, and finish my Peace Corps service with a certificate and the symbolic ringing the bell. A group of new volunteers watched the process and I told them, ¨You will all get to this moment someday and I hope that you have a fantastic service!¨
When I felt a bit teary-eyed, my supervisor, Carlos, teased me, ¨Que llore!¨but no, I choked back my tears and just gave a triumphant smile as the grand finale to these special three years of my life. I am now a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, a new identity that I am trying on for size.