Reentry is hard. We were out for barely a week and the internal reaction I had when we returned to the States nearly made me sick.
Recently my wife and I spent about 7 days in Sajcavilla, Guatemala with a team of about 20 people to do a medical clinic. Ashley and I helped out with getting people reading and prescription glasses. It was amazing.
We were able to help people, young and old, see clearly, some for the first time ever. Many of these people were legally blind and the glasses we where able to give them changed that. It was the greatest feeling to see them put on the glasses and then just sit there and slowly stare around the room taking in all that they could finally see.
The people of Sajcavilla are poor. They live on less than $1 a day. Most of them live in tin shacks on the side of a mountain with little access to clean water. Many of them never have more than a few corn tortillas for food each day.
They’re malnourished from day 1, which most obviously manifests itself in stunted growth. Most of the people we helped out were under 5 feet tall.
Babies are fed sugar water and coffee because their mothers aren’t able to produce milk due to their own nutrient deficiencies and they certainly can’t afford any type of milk.
Despite all of that, they’re intensely grateful. They’re kind-hearted. They smile. A lot. They laugh. They hug you like family.
As a clinic we saw about 800 people over the course of 4 days. Many of them had to wait all day to be seen. Did anyone complain? Of course not. That’s not in their nature. Some of the most grateful people we saw were little old men in their 80’s who couldn’t see 10 feet in front of them yet had managed to shuffle up the side of the mountain to get to us.
And then we reentered.
After 7 days in Guatemala working with the local church, spending nearly every waking minute traveling to/from Sajcavilla, building glasses for, sharing the love of Christ with and thinking about these amazing people…we were headed home.
We hadn’t been on U.S. soil for half an hour. Customs and border patrol in the Houston airport was uneventful (other than the intense feeling of being herded like cattle). We made it through relatively quickly and were quite hungry, so we headed to a Chili’s in the airport as we waited for our next flight.
We were walking to our seat and it hit me. I was overwhelmingly annoyed. Palpably so. The bar in the Chili’s was filled with inebriated businessmen and women scarfing down plates overflowing with food that they couldn’t possibly finish while laughing about pop culture and pop stars.
What a stark contrast to the previous 7 days. I hadn’t missed this for a second.
I’m not sure what I had expected it’d be like to come back. The last time I was in part of the world that had so little was in high school and I was blissfully unaware of just how bad it was then.
Regardless, it certainly wasn’t how I thought I’d feel when we returned.
The excess. The self-centeredness. The fast pace. The senses-overload. Stuff we’ve become numb to. I had forgotten what so much of the world lives like. I’d forgotten that we live in a bubble. A bubble of entitlement that ignores those who need most.
At this point, I literally don’t know what to do with any of my feelings on all of this. But I hope more than anything that they don’t go away.
This was originally published in November 2013 on my now defunct blog.