I have spent the past eight days here in San Juan la Laguna becoming completely comfortable in my homestay. I now have my regular seat at the dinner table, my host sister and I have scheduled times to play Uno before and after every meal, and communication between me and my host parents is clear and easy. I no longer worry about the little things, for example, what my ratio of hot to cold showers should be, or how to tell my host mom that I don’t really like boiled plantains. That being said, last night I was forced to abandon all that has become familiar and venture into a new and intimidating environment: my host mom’s parent’s house for dinner.
At 7:30 PM, my host brother and I locked up the bakery we live behind and began our journey of a few blocks to his grandparent’s house. Along the way, we stopped to watch the beginning of my host sister’s basketball game, but eventually, it was time to go to dinner. We stepped off of the bustling street and into a warm yellow and green house. I was immediately greeted by a room of people that I had never met, but later found out that they were my host grandparents, as well as a bunch of uncles and aunts. My host grandfather started speaking to me in Tz’utujil, perhaps expecting someone to translate for me, perhaps thinking that I could speak Tz’utujil, or perhaps just hoping to fluster me. I can assume that it was the latter by the playful twinkle in his eyes when I got confused and did not know how to respond. Eventually, my host mom came to my rescue, and we turned our attention to the news, which was reporting on the current politics between the US and Guatemala. We discussed the unfortunate abuse of power exercised by the President of the United States, as well as the meeting itself, which was a difficult yet important conversation for me, as a US citizen, to be a part of.
After a while of chatting, I was ushered into an empty room with a dining table, where I was sat alone at the head of the table, and given a plate of food. I was unsure of many things in this moment. Was I supposed to start eating? Were people going to join me? Eventually, my host brother came and sat with me, and as we ate together, a slew of his relatives filed into the room, and we all began to eat together. At some point during dinner, I was offered güisquil, which is a common vegetable here in Guatemala that I have tried on a number of occasions, but have come to the conclusion that it is not my favorite vegetable. I somehow ended up accepting the offer, and in between bites of delicious beans, I managed to finish the güisquilI was given, which is something that I am still proud of. When I finished dinner, I stood up, said “gracias”, was greeted by a chorus of “provecho”, and retired to the TV room, which had since been converted into a kid’s play room. For a while, I watched a Guatemalan game show with my host siblings and their cousin, until I started a conversation with someone who turned out to be my host dad’s brother.
My host uncle asked me where I am from, and when I said San Francisco, his face immediately lit up with joy. He explained to me that last November, he had gone with his family to stay with a former Dragon’s student of theirs in San Francisco. We looked at so many photos from his trip, talked about his favorite spots around the city, and of course, how much he loved the Warrior’s game that he went to. He asked me what I knew about the homeless population in San Francisco, and we ended up having an amazing conversation about how shocking it was for him and his family to see so many people living on the streets, and I got to use my knowledge from learning about homelessness in school to talk about the unfortunate cycle of poverty and homelessness that plagues so many cities around the world, not just San Francisco.
Although our whole conversation was meaningful to me, the part that was most special was when he told me that if I ever return to Guatemala, either alone or with my family, that I will always have a room in his house to stay in. Not only that, but he offered to pick me up from the airport, cook for me, and let me live in his home free of charge. The only thing that might cost me is if I want any sort of special foods prepared. This type of genuine hospitality to total strangers is something that I had yet to encounter prior to visiting this country, yet somehow I have found it everywhere here, with guest speakers, hostel owners, and finally, last night, with my host uncle.
The authentic kindness that I have had the privilege of receiving here in Guatemala has been a highlight of this trip, and is something that I plan on bringing home with me, because the feeling that I had last night after leaving dinner can only be described as feeling giddy, which I believe everyone should experience every now and then.