About me and this blog

I was born on a native reserve in Ontario, grew up on the west coast of Vancouver Island (as far west as you can go without running out of Canada), came of age in Mexico City. Between times, I lived in the Fraser Valley, Texas, Seattle, Oklahoma, Bella Coola, on the BC north coast, and the Fraser River Delta, just south of Vancouver. For now, I'm "settled" in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island.

I have a boatload of stories to tell. These are some of them.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pocketful of Posies: Days 3 to 6

Days 3 to 5: Guatemala City

(Day 1, here.)

We didn't make much better time in the daylight. There were trucks and buses to watch for, donkeys and wagons, and the inevitable walkers. At least we could see them. And the scenery was beautiful. But it was late and we were exhausted when we finally reached Raquel's friends' place in Guatemala City.

I remember sitting in the big kitchen, waiting for a bed to be assigned to my boys. James was eating Corn Flakes with the men; he never missed a chance for a meal. Marcos had fallen asleep in his chair. I was concentrating on staying awake, and smiling vaguely in the direction of anyone that spoke to me.

In the morning we discussed strategy over breakfast. Back home, there hadn't been time to collect the full car-load of disaster relief necessities, so the church had donated money instead. Paco had a shopping list: canned goods, powdered milk, rice, water purification tablets, beans and citrus fruit. We needed a case of Bibles or Scripture portions as well, Carlos said, and Paco wrote that in. I said that we should be carrying all our own food once we were in the devastated zone; we would be there to give, not to take. Raquel started a new list.

Someone remarked how well things had worked out; now that we would be leaving the children and their stuff behind, there would be room in the station wagon for the new supplies. "God had it all planned," he said. "If you had bought the stuff in Mexico, you wouldn't have been able to bring it." We all nodded solemnly.

It took two days to find everything on the lists. For me, it was a pleasant interlude; the others did the shopping, I waited at home with my boys. The house was built around two courtyards, each room open to the grassy centre. In the rear courtyard huge mango trees dropped ripe fruit, a luxury in cool central Mexico. Here they rotted on the ground. The boys and I collected the freshest and ate until we lost appetite for our meals.

We walked around the neighbourhood with Leti, our hostess' daughter. The house stood on a steep hillside, overlooking the city. Just across the road, a small earthquake had recently set off a landslide that carried away several houses; Leti pointed and I looked down onto fresh rubble far below. "Is it safe to live here. then?" I asked. "How solid is your land?"

"Oh, we're ok," Leti said. "God protects us."

Yes, of course. I didn't say it, but I knew I would be relieved when we came back to pick up the kids. Not that they were in any great danger here; it was only for a week. What could happen in a week?

The 30th of December we were finally ready to leave. A week after the earthquake, five days after our rushed departure from Toluca. I knew now that I would not be home to be with Philip when he had his surgery, that it had never been a possibility. I tried not to dwell on it. It would be wrong to begrudge any sacrifices made at a time like this, when so many were homeless and starving.

I smiled for my boys when we left. "Have fun with Leti!" I said.


Day 6: El Salvador

From Guatemala City, the Pan-American heads south through El Salvador, then crosses a corner of Honduras before entering Nicaragua. El Salvador and Honduras were at war, of sorts, over a disputed border line. We couldn't be sure where the checkpoints were, or what other difficulties might arise. The family in Guatemala gave us an address in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador; they might be able to steer us correctly.

We crossed into El Salvador with no difficulty, either with visas or the loaded car. The road was better, straighter and less busy, and we made it to San Salvador by noon. We found our address in the city quickly; a large building, half furniture store, half living quarters. The owners welcomed us and insisted on feeding us lunch. Boiled rice, boiled green banana, dry salty cheese. The banana was like wet cotton batting with a slightly astringent quality to it; I couldn't finish mine.

In the car, Carlos and Raquel had been discussing powdered milk. Raquel didn't think we had enough; what about all the babies in Nicaragua who had lost their mothers? We had space, still, for a few of those big cans. And there was still money we hadn't spent. So after lunch, they went shopping again, while George and I rested under a big slow fan. It was late afternoon before we were underway, this time with a big bag of several dozen boiled eggs, still warm, to add to our food supply.

It was long gone dark, and most of us were sleeping when we came to the first checkpoint. Carlos was driving, Raquel curled up beside him. In the back seat, I leaned against the window, trying to stay asleep in spite of the door handle sticking into my ribs, George slumped beside me. On his right, Paco stretched out, taking up more than his share of the space. It was cold again, and I had a blanket up around my head.

The car had come to a stop. Voices with strange accents barked out questions; "De donde vienen?" (Where are you coming from?")

"Mexico." That was Carlos.

A border point. I would have to get out my passport. I was too sleepy. Maybe if I pretended to be still asleep...? I pulled the blanket tighter around my ears.

"Everybody out of the car." Not me. I was asleep. Paco was stirring, slowly. Through my eyelashes, I could see somebody's khaki midriff, and two hairy hands holding a machine gun. I shut my eyes tighter.

Crack! I knew that sound from the movies; the magazine on the gun. "Out!" the soldier shouted.

I was awake. We were all awake, and out of the car, stumbling over blankets, scattering pillows and shoes. We stood there, shivering in a circle of weapons, answering questions humbly, handing over our papers. Then it was over. The guns dropped. "You can go. Have a good trip," someone said. "Be careful, though."

We climbed back into the car gratefully, assuming our previous positions. But I didn't sleep for a long time.

To be continued ...

Stories of Mexico: Non-fiction
©Susannah Anderson, 2001

No comments: