Nineteen years ago today, right about now, I was settling down for my first night ever in Guatemala. It was way before the days of easy $10 airport shuttles, but I was in luck. Back home in Norwalk I had just met the friend of a friend who was involved with a non-profit in Guatemala and she happened to be in the country the day I arrived. My now very dear friend, Pat Krause, rode a chicken bus on the windy mountain road from Antigua into Guatemala City to meet me at the airport. We caught one bus and then had to change to another somewhere in the heart of the chaotic city. I remember carrying a big backpack, twice as heavy as it should have been for all the books I was unwilling to leave behind.
While we waited for the second bus on a busy street corner, Pat treated me to an orange soda from a street vendor. She asked for it to go, Guate-style: poured into a plastic baggie with a straw, room temperature. I imagine the me from then: exhausted from the flight, struggling under the weight of a heavy pack, gripping the soda bag in one hand and a duffel bag in the other, the hot sun beating down relentlessly overhead. I must have been overwhelmed because I vaguely remember trying to keep a poker face, but I know I wasn’t especially nervous. I had never been to Guatemala and I was really excited for this adventure, a new chapter in my life. I had no idea what to expect but somehow it felt like I was in the right place.
In a million lifetimes I couldn’t have written the story that would unfold in the months and years to come. I think about that girl waiting for the bus, sipping her orange soda. She had no idea that she was about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.