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Three Moments in Guatemala

You know how you see those black and white photos of a flurry of pigeons taking flight over colonial cobblestone streets? I just saw that a couple minutes ago.


A while ago I poetically declared, ‘you live in a foreign country long enough, meaning eventually comes from the alien voices which were initially babbling mere noises.’ I conjured up that sentence out of seemingly nowhere, seeing as how up until this past Tuesday, it had been six years since I had left the country.

Tonight, however, was a poem in itself.

The power went out halfway through my push-up workout in my room behind the closed door. I sweated in blackness until I heard the sounds of dinner flow under my closed door and emerged to find the daughter of the woman who owns the house setting the table by candlelight. The world was silent against the flickering glow.

A couple weeks ago, I saw the film Skyscraper, starring Dwayne Johnson. It’s not his character that stood out to me, but the accidental aid to the antagonist; a Chinese billionaire who had finally accomplished his dream of constructing the tallest building in the world, and it’s his child.

I pictured the fictional man in his own airplane, wrapping his ears in noise cancelling headphones and complaining if his soup is four degrees too hot. His character is the archetype of the Asian drowning away the world with electric noise; one escaping from the collective pain and angst of a culture with a history of mass death and suffering: poverty without explanation, oppression without God.

The world is singing a song composed of static and the lyrics are ones and zeros.

The daughter at the house where I’m staying is the image of a Central American youth: Olive tan and adorable. Tonight while our faces were illumined by the small candles, she spoke with her rolling R’s and the exaggerated gyration of her small hands. Her voice is a tight string, elevated and plucked in staccato.

Then there were moments when the conversation (none of which I understood) would cease and we would sit in the utter silence and near darkness, crunching our tortilla chips dipped in corn mash. Few moments are so unique that I am caught off guard by their simplicity, but that happened tonight. Tonight was the reason I asked the director of my school if I really need a cell phone while I’m here (he said yes), because the quiet of the night was life giving.

Six people around a table, almost all from different countries or states, sitting near candles in the dark, quietly crunching on tortilla chips.

Then conversation would resume and I was lost once more. At least in the silence, I understand what’s happening.

Or maybe I don’t;

maybe thinking I do is the biggest mistake I could make.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 19. God is about to speak to His prophet Elijah in a cave in the middle of nowhere, so Elijah is chilling. A fire, wind and earthquake come, but God is not to be found in the loud and monstrous demonstrations. Then silence falls upon the area and it is so violent Elijah covers his face and moves toward the cave’s mouth.

God meets us in the silence. He meets us with the screens off and the power out. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t know if we find God in the noise cancelling headphones which filter our reality to our comfort. I don’t know if we find Him on the private jet or the world’s tallest skyscraper (Do you see us more clearly now, God/when we ascend to metal heights?).

But I know we do meet Him in the silence. I know He’s been found there before, and has spoken into the unpolluted stillness.

So may we seek Him where He may be found. May we not drown out the gentle call of the Spirit of God with things we think we need more. And may we soak in those rare candlelit moments in Guatemala around a table of strangers, crunching on tortilla chips.

The mocha goes down incredibly smooth with a punchy bitter aftertaste. Coffee shops in Guatemala have done all they can to look and feel like American shops, and this one comes remarkably close.

You know how you see those black and white photos of a flurry of pigeons taking flight over colonial cobblestone streets? I just saw that a couple minutes ago near the giant concrete gazebo with the Roman pillars here in downtown Quetzaltenango. The thing is, however, these moments always look different in person than they do on the screen or in a print. I could have captured it with my camera in order to make you wish you were here. However, I would conveniently leave out the poverty, the decimated streets, and the polluted smell which often accompanies certain parts of the town. You may wish to be here, adventurous as me, but at least you have hot and clean water.

Without looking it up, I’ve been trying to determine if Guate is a third- or second-world country. I’m pretty sure I’ve landed on second-and-a-half. Parts are so beautifully developed, especially where the ancient landmarks have been restored and refurbished. Other parts have been allowed to be polluted and crumble. Regardless, today for the first time, I’m going out with my camera to try to capture a lick of this beauty. It’s a vibrant and active sort of beauty, embedded with millennia of rich history and colorful culture.

Today we paraded around a huge cemetario. Many of the bodies were buried above ground in the walls or shelves of the yard, unable to afford their own plot of ground to occupy for the foreseeable centuries.

I found out that the family must pay rent for the space, or else the body will be exhumed and returned to them.

Death rent.

I used to think rent would stop following me around like a curse once I died. Chew on that one for a while.


1 comment on “Three Moments in Guatemala

  1. Hope to see more content like this.

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