remembering Guatemala

Lately, my mind has been wandering back to Guatemala. We were only there for nine months, and it’s been fifteen months since we returned. The intensity of the experience is fast becoming a distant memory, squished and compacted into the mind’s recesses.

I have no illusions about our time there. Just the other day when I was out for a walk, the memory of walking home from town flooded back—my backpack weighted with pasta and boxes of milk, dirt in my sandals, the hot sun beating down, my permanently bloated stomach, the slinking dogs and trash-filled gutters—and I was profoundly relieved that at that moment I was walking for the pure pleasure of it and not because we had no car. There were so many things I didn’t enjoy about Guatemala—the cavernous, cold house, the crowded microbuses, the painstaking hurdle to acquire the basic necessities, the loneliness.

And yet.

And yet I miss that time.

For nine months, we made a go of it on our own. We traveled and explored and fought and cried and lived, all in a foreign place many miles away from family and friends. It was hard and intense and lonely and incredibly special. In my mind, the memories glow.


The other evening I was helping my younger son clean up his room. My husband walked by and, in Spanish, I told him we should probably just chuck all the junk since the kids never played with it anyway. My younger son didn’t bat an eye.

I hammed it up, ranting about how I wanted to get rid of their stuff once and for all.


My husband and I looked at each other. “It’s gone,” I said. “He doesn’t understand it any more.”

If he’s lost the language, then have the memories evaporated, too?


Part of me aches to travel.

What about Kenya? I ask my husband. We could run the guesthouse in Nairobi.

I scroll through the job openings on the MCC website. I toy with the idea of traveling around the country doing relief aid with MDS. We’d make a kicker team, I tell my husband. You could do all the building stuff and I could feed people.

But then I think—really think—about actually leaving and I crash back to reality.


Recently I had an affair with an idea: I could go to Iraq to teach English for five weeks.

It’s not completely preposterous. I have a degree in Teaching English as a Second Language. If I was accepted to the program, my way would be paid. The children are old enough that they could stay with other people or at home alone while my husband works. I have friends in Iraq. I like to teach.

But when I thought on it harder, I realized that even if it was logistically doable, I couldn’t handle it emotionally. I would miss my children too much. It would detract from the joy of the adventure.

And then I dreamed I had to send my children to another country so my husband and I could travel and it was horrible.

That clinched the deal. My affair was over.


Ten years from now, I think I’ll look back at our nine months in Guatemala as perhaps the richest, most unique period in the entirety of our parenting gig. And yet when I think of doing something like that again, my insides shrivel. We have so much here—comfort, routine, dear ones, security. Why would I want to step away from it all?

But if our months in Guatemala were so special, why wouldn’t I?

In any endeavor, the level of difficulty is in direct proportion to the level of satisfaction. Also, anything that takes time and energy feels daunting, especially if it’s not a person’s norm. So how to apply this to my desire for stability and my desire for adventure?

We have made other decisions that have done more to shape our family life than simply moving to Guatemala for nine months. Two biggies are 1) living in the country on one income, and 2) homeschooling, neither of which are a walk in the park. When I’m an toothless old lady, I’ll remember these rip-roaring times and my entire body will light up like an LED bulb.

Here’s a thought. Maybe living at home around the people we love (though—important clarification—don’t always enjoy), day in and day out, is actually a great adventure in its own right. Maybe mastering and appreciating the mundane actually yields the greatest rewards. I believe there is truth to this. And beauty. So much beauty. 

And yet there is beauty in the adventure. There is beauty in being stretched impossibly, terrifyingly thin. There is beauty in the cramped buses, the smokey street food, the torrential downpours, the cheek-kisses, the strange plants and weird insects. There is beauty in the discombobulation, the independence and isolation, the new friendships and new places. And there is astounding beauty in watching your children struggle with, comprehend, navigate, and (finally!) begin to master the foreign with a grace and ease that adults can only dream of.

I miss that beauty. The beauty of being stretched, the beauty of the different.

I miss hearing my children roll their ‘r’s.

That’s all.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.23.13), cheese ball, a mistake-based education, hot buttered rolls, bacon-jalapeno cheese ball, giant sausage and leek quiche, Christmas 2010, spaghetti carbonara, for my walls, windows at dusk-time, marmalade-glazed ham, and a little elaboration.        


  • Amy in Oregon

    Wonderfully said!! It is tough…… the pull of adventure in the "unknown" or the daily battle for pleasure in the routine (mundane). Someday……..

  • melodie davis

    Are you sure your son has really lost most of his Spanish, or he just didn't want to speak it at that moment. I'm betting he at least understood you.
    But yeah, this makes me think of Sheri & Jay Hartzler's recent post too pondering two worlds. I feel the pain (?) and dilemma here.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    I totally get this. I think it's the memory of being in it together. Our year in another state was lonely and COLD and a lot of work (because I had to leave at home all my super-efficient ways of getting things done). But I look back on it now as a sort of halcyon period when my kids were all 12 and under and they all played together and kept each other amused during that long, cold winter. There was a VeggieTales lullaby CD that the kids gave me that long ago Christmas and that I played every night while I nursed the toddler to sleep. I recently listened to it and wept, it brought back such memories.

  • Anonymous

    I am so glad you wrote this post. I have been wanting to ask you how your Guatemala experience was perceived a year+ later. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. ~Sherry

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