In December I went to California for the holidays. My parents, sister, and future brother-in-law all flew in, and we saw my grandparents, two sets of aunts and uncles and some cousins on my dad's side of the family. It was the first time I have spent with family and my first time in the States since August 2010.
The whole experience was surreal in that it felt so very normal. After such a long absence I somehow expected it to be hard to pick up where I had left off, but that's the nature of family at its best; the important things don't change, and the things that do change all get rolled into the mix with good cheer. We ate, drank, laughed, cried, celebrated, lazed, and worked where appropriate. I walked the beach, visited the Monarch butterfly grove, went sea kayaking, took a trip to admire the opulence and finery at Hearst Castle, did some wedding dress shopping with my sister, and met my cousin's new little baby.
There were two moments that particularly struck my Guatemalan sensibilities.
Moment 1: Scarcity and Abundance
When I arrived in Texas to change flights, I went through customs and with a thrill filled up my water bottle from the drinking fountain. Free, cold, drinkable water. I hadn't realized that I needed to go through security again to board my new flight. I approached the line and a TSA agent told me I needed to dump out my bottle. I stared at him. At my mostly full Nalgene. Quailed at the waste. Considered chugging the whole thing there and then.
Mentally I knew that there was another drinking fountain on the other side of the security scanners, ready to dispense more free, cold, drinkable water. I knew that we use potable water to flush toilets in the US. This wasn't a huge deal. Emotionally, I reacted as someone who lives in a community that subsists on captured rain water, where I bring in drinkable water from the nearest city and where the dry season means limited bathing, laundry, and dishes.
I looked at the garbage can where he pointed. Took one swallow of water. Poured it out. Went on.
Moment 2: Serenity and Anxiety
One evening at my grandparents house my uncle announced he was heading back to the hotel for the evening. On foot. After dark. Someone offered to drive him, but he shrugged it off and said he'd enjoy the exercise on such a nice night.
My stress level spiked. My stomach tied into knots. I reminded myself we were not in Guatemala, and that pick-pockets, muggers, and kidnappers were hardly likely to target my uncle in a sleepy little beach town in California.
He left, spent the night in the hotel, and arrived back at the house the following morning without incident.
At the end of the vacation, I mistily hugged each family member, content that at least this time I know I'll be seeing them all again much more quickly than the last span of 16+ months apart. I had a great little bonus visit with a childhood friend who was also vacationing in San Francisco, and then made the trip home to Guatemala.
I stepped back into my life here without much thought, again, things felt surreal in that they felt so normal. How can I comfortably inhabit the world of Scarcity and Anxiety, as well as Serenity and Abundance? In the US airports I made small talk with strangers, sat between iPad and laptop users while I happily read on my Kindle, and took out my wallet without a second thought as I swiped purchases on my credit card. In the Guatemalan airport I smoothly picked up my defensive living habits of hiding valuables, stowing cash all over my body, and judiciously choosing who to make eye contact with or smile at.
As I walked down the muddy path to the house I share with my host family, my three host siblings shouted my name and ran to me to help carry my bags. I stumbled over the Q'eqchi', but it came out alright. Canchita meowed plaintively at me while I fumbled with the keys, but one look at her plump self assured me she was by no means neglected in my absence. In the evening I walked into the kitchen with my glass of water and tore into the fresh tortillas, easily using them in place of silverware to ferry food to my mouth. Sometimes I wonder what it is I am accomplishing here, but at the very least, I have made a home.