Kerrie A. Resendes
Guatemala City bus terminals were usually my least favorite places. Regardless of how quickly I could move in and out of them, I still hated passing through them. The bus terminals are some of the dirtiest places in the country. Bus regulations are lacking, and as they make their way through the terminal, they carry the penetrating sounds of rattling diesel engines, continuous blowing of horns, and an indescribable emission of black exhaust. Although, on this particular day, I did not feel rushed or stressed, the stench was there, but not the annoyance; the sounds were deafening, but not overwhelming. In this instant, I recognized that I had become nostalgic for all things Guatemalan. Who could have predicted that even my most disliked places could fill me with a sense of home?
I made my way through the lively terminal to board the bus destined for my former home, San Luis Jilotepeque. It is in the province of Jalapa, located four and a half hours east of Guatemala City and less than two hours from the borders of Honduras and El Salvador. As the bus approached the town, the familiar strong dry heat fell over me. I had not been back to San Luis in more than 16 months.
Unsure of what to expect, the warm hugs and sincere smiles sur-prised me. Within five minutes of being in my former pueblo, I came across countless familiar faces making me feel immediately at home. The women in the market, where I had bought my fresh fruit and veggies, sat in their same spots lazily waving away pesky flies and snacking on fruit. Their faces lit up when they saw me, and they came around from behind their stands to greet me. They asked where I had been, if I had returned to San Luis to make it my lifelong home and, if not, would I take them with me when I returned to the States. I passed by the post office to visit my old friend Mario, the one person I was sure to see every day in the hopes that someone from home had sent me a surprise package full of treats. He took one look at me and exclaimed, “¡Que Milagro!” (What a miracle!) Mario said he thought he would never see me again, that I would never fulfill my promise to return. He was delighted to see me, as was the family of Doña Tina that lived across the street from my kitchen window.
When I walked into the comedor, one of two restaurants in bustling San Luis, I ran into Doña Tina’s oldest daughter, Loyda, and youngest son, Walter. Before I ordered, Walter hopped on his bike and sped home to tell the neighborhood kids I returned. While eating, I enjoyed glimpses of the children passing by to see if I had really come back or if Walter had fibbed.
In my meanderings through San Luis, I bumped into Don Oscar, the presidente of La Lagunilla. He wanted to show me the present state of my wood-burning stove project. Luckily in my 16 months’ absence, the government had finally carved a road from the pueblo to his village. I was relieved not to have to hike the hour and a half up the mountain.
To my surprise and delight, the stoves functioned wonderfully and have made a huge impact on their lives. The new stoves use one-third the amount of firewood, which has a direct benefit on the environment. Smoke no longer fills homes and women no longer ache from bending over an open fire on the ground. I remember completing the stoves, worrying about whether the metal stove tops would ruin from harsh sun and strong rains since a few stoves were built outside the home. To see houses built around the stoves that were once standing alone in the middle of the courtyard thrilled me, along with the community’s sense of pride and satisfaction with the project.
I knew then that my service counted; I felt proud and satisfied. These feelings did not come from the stove project or any work I had done during my service, but because the community accepted me into its heart. I impacted the people of San Luis more than I could ever have imagined; however, their impact on me was far greater. I could never have predicted what my Peace Corps service would be like. Sure, I expected it to be bigger than anything I had ever done before, but I never expected it to provide me with a second home; a place that would become as close to my heart as my hometown; a country as familiar to me as the United States.
As I departed feeling like a town celebrity, I promised the people of San Luis that I would send them copies of pictures I had taken, that no, I would not forget them, and that yes, I would try to fit a few of them into my suitcase. I also promised Mario I would return again soon, even if it meant braving the deafening sounds of the dirty bus terminals.
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