A Place On Earth

Apologies to Wendell Berry

I made it. Up to Chiquixji and back with minor, if any complications and I’m about to head out to the airport for the needlessly long trek back to Chicago. Actually, the one minor complication turned out to be for the better, I was able to drop off the students at the airport and take one last ride with Carlos to the new bus terminal for Monja Blanca buses to Coban on the northern outskirts of the capital and I ran into one of our oldest and best friends here in Guatemala at a rest stop along the way.

I had to wait about four hours in Coban for the 2am bus back to the capital and the whole time, I kept wondering why my visit with Felipe and Wilmar and the rest of the Ca’al Botzoc family, while wonderful, seemed almost normal. It was so great to see them, to pass through a changed, but still the same San Pedro Carcha (down to the women selling bus tickets), ride a crowded microbus to Chiquixji, to realize my Q’eqchi language skills, while incredibly, are there and to be back in the valley where we spent so much time. But it wasn’t like the wave of emotion I felt when I went to the frozen-in-time Meson de Panza Verde in Antigua, in part at least because so has changed.

I woke up on the bus ride back to the city right as we pulled into the northern bus terminal, where Carlos had dropped me off less than 24 hours before. The bus then entered the city, past the places we had changed money with the students and went shopping and then wound its way through the crowded streets of the centro of Guatemala City, streets we had walked and passed through many times the last few weeks. And it started to hit me that the normalcy of my visit to Alta Verapaz was perhaps the greatest gift I’ve gotten here so far and leaves me with what I’ve needed ever since we left ten years ago. I know now that my greatest fear was that we had lost our place on earth, in Guatemala, in Carcha, among the Q’eqchi, and that if we ever did come back, going back to the lush green highlands of Alta Verapaz would somehow be too much.

I know now there’s a place for me, for us in Guatemala and there alway was. This amazing place that you can’t easily leave behind doesn’t easily let you go. There’s a place for us in Chiquixji and Pocola, and Carcha, and even Coban. There’s a family in San Cristobal de Mixco that still loves us, a microbus driver with a Masters in Sociology and a wealth of knowledge and kindness and a hotel staff who will let you crash in their place even if you’re not paying.

Wilmar, Felipe and I talked about the dream I had countless times after returning from Guatemala in 2005. I dreamt over and over that our isolated mountain community was just steps away from a major highway or city or town, just on the other side of some trees. Felipe thought it meant that Betel and life in Alta Verapaz among the Q’eqchi had buried itself deep in my heart, so that it was always close to me. Wilmar thought it was less descriptive and more imperative, that the dream was calling me to bridge Guatemala with the work we do in the states, to bring Guatemala to my students and the passion for justice to my community.

I never let go of Guatemala, no matter how much I tried to bury it and what it meant to me over the last ten years. These last twenty four hours made it clear that it never let go of me, and was just waiting for me to come back to this maddening, glorious, awesome, frustrating, wholly unique place on earth.