Kindness in the air

The black pickup truck, loaded in back with an enormous water reservoir, jangled to a stop just ahead of me. The last two kilometers I’d walked, no one had stopped, just taxis, motorcycles and micros racing down the narrow highway connecting the Guatemalan and Mexican borders. I was walking on a harrowing shoulder in no man’s land, my passport indicating a salida from La Mesilla but no entrada into Ciudad Cuauhtémoc yet.

The truck jerked forward as the engine grumbled itself to sleep, then back awake. As I walked anxiously past, the driver leaned across what I assume were his wife and four children – “adonde vas?”
To the frontera, I replied, immigración mexicana.
Súbete, he commanded, with a smile, get on.
The thought of declining didn’t even cross my mind, though I consider myself a rather untrusting person. After a mile with a large backpack, under a humid and oppressive heat, there was no way to reject the offer. I grinned widely and with a “gracias!” I ran behind and grabbed the pickup’s back cage. Standing, the cool wind brushing my face, we rolled through the final stretch of dusty highway.
Upon arrival, I apologized for my lack of pesos, offering the family Guatemalan quetzales instead, as is customary when hitchhiking. They refused, driving off with a wave and a smile before I could complete the offer, only accepting my muchísimas gracias a ustedes.
People here are unfailingly generous and friendly. From good natured laughs at the gringos backpacking through rural villages, to offers of help at the mercado. A friend’s family invited me to Christmas dinner, never having met me, and insisted on driving me home after dark. Young men lift the abuelita’s elbow to help her cross the road. Strangers help strangers here.
On a recent chicken bus ride, I offered my lap to a little girl standing in the packed aisle. “Puede sentar conmigo,” I asked her father, if its more comfortable, and he handed me the girl. Without a word, she proceeded to curl up and nap on my chest for the next hour and a half. When the family got off the bus, they didn’t offer me any thank you’s, because that’s how it is in Guatemala. You help each other out.
Of course it is in such a place that Quetzaltrekkers would flourish, on the generosity of Guatemalans, tourists and foreign guides alike. It attracts good hearts, the kind that are reflected back through this country. Quetzaltrekkers draws on the strength of guides who share an equal sense of community and selflessness that seems innate here.
Surely as a gringa, my experience of this generosity is tangled in privilege and foreignness. This I am conscious of. However tainted my vision as an extranjera, the spirit here is undeniable.
Even as I wrote this blog post in my journal, sitting in front of a church on a breezy sunny morning, a curious stranger named Fernando approached me. We dove into a friendly conversation about the city, the beautiful weather, why I’m here, his family, and finally, religion.
Were you at the church? I asked. Sí, he said, it’s been a while. It’s easy to forget about God. We agreed that God is in everything, or at least, I conceded as an atheist, the spirit that some call God. I said I find that spirit of goodness and calm both in empty cathedrals and in nature, the wholeness that keeps us alive. Smiling, Fernando agreed. We are both religious, he remarked. Wet patches appeared below his eyes as he told me that in storms it is difficult to see the light of the calm sea ahead. We ended with a hug and wishes of luck and enjoyment of the fine day. Under the scattered light of the plaza’s trees, I bent back to writing.

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