Up Close and Personal: Guatemala

There are times during my travels when I receive the amazing gift of interacting with someone by chance that I wouldn’t normally get to talk to unless I got lucky.  Yesterday, I was in a park called Benito Juarez in Xela, which is kind of far from Parque Central and there was only one other foreigner there besides me.  I was sitting on a bench, attempting to read a book about Rigoberta Menchú in Spanish, balancing the book, a dictionary, and my notebook on my lap.

A very old indigenous woman sat down next to me.  At first we said nothing, but then I guess her curiosity overcame her and she began to ask me a few questions.  Neither of us understood each other very well, but we were laughing together, and she did the cute snapping gesture that Guatemalans do that I find so endearing.  She told me that she didn’t have a chance to go to school in her life and she wanted to learn a few words in English, so I wrote down a few Spanish phrases and their equivalents.  When I read them aloud to her, she found them to be extremely hilarious.  Then she asked for one quetzal for bus fare, which is the equivalent of 12.5 cents.  I happily obliged.  When I left, she gave me a big hug filled with love and told me to take care.

It was a chance encounter for both of us.  I find the old people of the world to be very beautiful.  Especially when they come from countries with a very turbulent history, like Cambodia or Guatemala, I wonder what she has seen and what she’s been through, if she’s ever lost family or her home to the government or the army.  This woman intrigued me because despite her old appearance, she had such a child-like spirit, which with wisdom reflected in her eyes.  This is one of those special travel experiences I’ll hold in my memories and heart for a long time to come.

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