The more places I visit, the more I realize that everywhere is the same… but in the best way possible. I can recall feeling something similar to disappointment when on the streets of Paris, Italy, or Greece for the first time because these places are never the alternate universes that we imagine; I never feel like the place I am is quite as different from home as I pictured in my head. Granted, there are differences, but they’re always much less intense than one can imagine. Every place, whether rural or urban, rich or poor, north or south, has people with the same needs, the same desires, and often, the same sense of humor.
Earlier, Maddie and I were eating lunch with our family and a group of car mechanics in Pachaj. They spoke no English, and we waited patiently for them to transition to Spanish from Quiché so that we could at least attempt to understand. They did, and immediately commented on our height for our age, as they’re decades older but feet shorter than we are.
“You’re very tall,” one of the men said to me. “We are all very short.”
“Yes,” I responded, “much better for the doors here!”, and the men laughed for a bit.
Moments like this are what inspire my desire to travel, because somehow being in a small Mayan town in the mountains of Guatemala can suddenly feel exactly like home.
It is in this way that everywhere is the same. Labels like “Guatemalan” and “American” are very useful in identifying, but yet accidentally create a division based around one’s expectations of what these labels contain and represent. Mine are constantly shattered, because the only thing separating me and the family sitting across the table in this moment is what remains of the language barrier.
Travel (specifically this journey) has also taught me that the only thing that matters is who we surround ourselves with. Familiar faces are a comfort in foreign places for sure, but some of my favorite moments from this trip have been with new friends. Even just from our time in Pachaj, I’ll hold on to the memory of Antolin – a boy my brother’s age – asking for a piggyback ride home from the fútbol field, or laughing with Quetzali, my Spanish teacher, about trying to find food in the marketplace. Even now, while it’s more than fair to say that I miss my bed and my shower, the really difficult part about this type of trip is that we are away from so many that we care about at home. Thus I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful people around me in this moment, both those that I’ve met on this trip and those that left our small island home together, what feels like a year ago.
While I have watched this unique experience teach many lessons to my friends and myself, it has become apparent that we are each receiving different educations. We each have our own lessons to learn in life, and this time in Guatemala has been no different. For me, I will walk away from this trip with the confidence to never take my loved ones for granted, and to never be afraid to make a new friend.