Day One Reflection: “Same as it ever was…”
Our trip to Hogar Rafael Ayau marked the first time for this Midwestern boy to ever set foot outside of the U.S. There was the brief sojourn to Niagara Falls with my parents while I was in middle school. But save the weirdly clean streets, metric sized cans of Pepsi (with a different means of opening, which, as I recall, my dad had to ask a Canadian for help with), and, of course, the funny accent (I was in middle school, it seemed funny to me), it was basically like being in the States. I could drink water from the tap, there weren’t armed guards at nearly every shop, and the people hadn’t just experienced civil war just over a decade prior.
Guatemala would be different. I knew this. My wife and I were briefed on the rules of the road beforehand: we would not be allowed out of the Hogar compound without official escort, we would not go out at night, we would not take pictures of anyone without permission, along with all the “don’t drink the water” stuff. To a greater or lesser degree, this info make some family and friends nervous about the trip (“and you’re going because…?”). But there’s always a risk. The week we moved back to our hometown after seminary the are was a murder a few blocks away. We’ve got drugs and violence and craziness here too. Of course, simply out of respect for the fact that we were going somewhere where cultural rules are different, we would be cautious. You can’t be ruled by fear, though. And you have to trust people. So we would trust the good folks at the Hogar who probably knew what they were doing. They had, after all, been in Zona 1 for over 15 years.
In the end, it was not the armed guards or the reality of the street life around the compound (recently legalized brothels on every corner, the loud discothèque that throbbed until 3am every night, the police sirens, shouts, and fights just outside the walls) that won the day in my memory. That is not the story of the Hogar, nor does it need to be the story of Guatemala City. I do not care to speak of the darkness, except to the extent that it provides a contrast for the great light of the children, nuns, and dedicated workers we had the honor and privilege of sharing life with for seven days.
I’ve struggled with the best way to write about the experience. Yesterday on the flight home, my wife, Maria, asked me what I was thinking about. I was reflecting on the experience in little moments, pictures, really. I couldn’t talk about it then, because I would have wept, right there on the plane. So, perhaps I will try to tell the story through those moments, those pictures. It seems more fitting than a chronological play by play.
So, that’s what I will do. I’ll try to write a little each day and tell a different story. As a prelude sum-up, I can say that my life was changed forever. I have a place in my heart for the Hogar and the Church in Central America that cannot be ignored. I had my heart broken more times than I can count. I played a lot of futbol. I learned what “chilero” means. I had a crash course in serving the Divine Liturgy in Spanish (which I’m excited about sharing with our parish here in Indiana). I saw the evidence of miracles and was absolutely convinced of the power of prayer. I am thankful.
More to come…