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Guatemala has not been kind this morning, in fact it was chewing me and spitting me out to splatter against a surface. The few things left unbroken or hanging by a thread, so thin, so fine, have fallen to the ground. Passport renewals, airplane reservations, Internet, toll free calls, pens with ink, military checkpoint in the airport, my lost voice all falling inward, creating this vortex that has its own gravity, sucking you in towards its infinite darkness that you think to leave bread crumbs, scramble for a stick so long someone must be able to pull you out no matter how deep you go, or just blast it like the Starship Enterprise and gain forward momentum out of its orbit, into another life, another place, a light that lies just beyond that your fingertips tingle from its proximity.
“Ya no aguanto mas,” I can’t stand it anymore, the woman at the airport says to her friend as she tries to input my passport number into her system only to face a blue screen. She paused and reads the small type above her bifocals. Her friend files her nails at the other station. “He’s driving me nuts,” she says over her shoulder.
My woman continues scanning the passport over and over and over again in the same way as I wait with my forehead on her counter. My head has become a bowling ball and I can’t stop coughing. I hear her long beautiful white nails that click loudly on each key after she scans. “Hmm, I guess the system is broken, seño, I won’t be able to check you through,” she informs me after 10 minutes of this.
I am numb, I don’t respond, I don’t care, I’ll fall asleep right here and slip away into an ether. She asks between chewing gum smacks, “What happened to your permanent passport anyway?” She is more interested in hearing that story than inputting me into her system. She’s bored, she wants me to entertain her. It’s not genuine interest.
“Ma’am, can I go now?” I ask her, barely raising my head above my arms; I’m not willing to oblige her. There is nothing left of me, I haven’t slept because of a maddening cough, my voice is gone, my plane reservation had been cancelled and re-booked three times while at the Delta ticket counter this morning, I ran out of funds on my pre-paid phone so I couldn’t call anyone, Delta couldn’t let me call Delta because their 1-800 numbers don’t work here, our backpacks were stolen a week ago, my husband called to tell me the city attorneys had stupidly sat him across from the man who bought our stolen laptops at the Torre de Tribunals while awaiting the judge to release our things from custody, our hired guns were on their way, but God knows when, and now my flight was two and a half hours late. I would probably miss my connection to D.C. I felt my chest tightening for another cough, my entire body ready to explode with the cough, before she let me pass. She waved her hand at me, like swatting a fly. I somnambulated to the security checkpoint, untying my shoes for an eternity between each loop. A whole world of pauses.
It’s not going to get easier here. Mayugada, the Spanish word for bruised from continued battering, I think of a banana that is mush on the road, a palmetto bug burned by the bulb. Everyday we get a new dent in the truck. Everyday the big things are treated in such a small way and people just shrug their shoulders. Justice doesn’t benefit anyone here when it’s an entire system of people doing favors for one another and getting kick-backs.
What does it take to live in a developing country? What does it take to live in my country of birth which has and shows no signs of being anything other than a developing country? The fact that it’s the country of my birth and my family affords me no emotional distance to be able to apply some romanticized notion of progress from my own work, from a larger vision of how technology could actually make a difference here in a place where the fundamentals are still not in place for people to really feel safe, protected and an overarching sense of justness and fairness. I think of the word “resiliency,” a trait that you’ve either got or you don’t. ¿Hay o no hay? It’s not something you’re born with, it’s not something that’s taught, it’s something that like a fruit tree that makes it through droughts, endures and prevails in difficult situations only to weather the next drought, more upright, with a new skin protected by the one before it. Perhaps I write it too hopeful when the fact is that it’s a hardening.
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