Just as my loved ones back in Chicago supported my departure and sent me off with love and best wishes, my loved ones here in Campur have given me farewells with similar grace and humbling generosity. My last week in site I met an onslaught of farewell 'palabras' from neigbors, colleagues, and friends, expressing their gratitude for the work that I came to do, their sadness to see me go, and their happiness that I would soon reunite with my parents and family back home. To say it's been overwhelming would be a gross understatement.
I find comfort in the fact that life is full of cycles. Things tend to come full circle; its just a matter of recognizing it when it happens. I started life in Campur with a power outage, an empty kitchen, a sick stomach, cold showers and no internet. My time in Campur ended with the same. My last 10 days in-site were surreal in so many ways. Packing up my house, drafting blog posts on paper, and eating dinner every night with local families. It was feria in Campur, which meant no classes, so my schedule was as open as it was when I first arrived. But unlike when I arrived, my last 10 days were booked solid with meetings, farewell parties, and feria activities. All week I had students stopping by my house to deliver handwritten goodbye cards, teachers hugging me and telling me that they love me and hope that God guides my way, local families sitting me down and feeding me one last tamale, one last tayuyo, one last plate of beans and plantains. March heat had set in, causing my house to bloom with tarantulas, brown recluse, and mammoth cockroaches. Two nights before my departure, I crossed paths with my first poisonous snake, which my local friend stomped to death before explaining to me how he had nearly died as a child from a bite from this same breed. One day before I left Dona Margarita, the woman from Tzibal with cancer (see this post), died after an 8-year battle, and I went to my first qeqchi wake. That last week in site was as emotionally jolting as I'd feared, and when I finally left that Thursday at 6am with Olga, Dilan, and Profe Erick standing watch as I rode off I felt a slight bit of relief that the goodbyes were finally over.
And then there was my send-off party in Tzibal. It's no secret that Tzibal was my favorite community. Working with the school and the women's group were the highlights of my service. I feel lucky to have found Tzibal because it was Tzibal that first gave me a sense of purpose in my service. The community has never ceased to overcome me with the level of love and openess they've given me. My send-off party was no exception. I was in the village, in traje tipico, for the long-awaited Healthy School certification ceremony. The ceremony went exceptionally well, with the message clear--we worked together to better the lives of those who matter most--the children.
|Me and Dona Estela|
The ceremony ended with a delicious lunch of Kakik after which most of the invitees from the Ministry of Education and Peace Corps headed out. Estela popped up then, dragging me in her motherly way to the front of the room and telling me that she and the women's group had a surprise for me. So there I stood as some 30-odd women from the women's group trickled into the classroom we were using for the day's events, and lined up before me. And then they began, one by one, to approach me, lay a hand on my shoulder, and express their thanks to me, producing a wrapped gift from behind their back. I stood there in awe, trying to hold my composure as the stack of gifts behind me grew and grew. And then Dona Carmen reached the front of the line. Dona Carmen has always been one of my favorites in the group, always breaking out into sassy Q'eqchi' speeches in the middle of our meetings (as one of the elder women in the group she commands more attention and respect, mother-hen style). So when she, done speaking her kind words of gratitude for the pila project, took my hand and put into it a crumpled 10 quetzal bill I just lost it. I had this flash of a grandmother tucking a $5 bill into one of those flowery stationary cards addressed to their grandchild and realized that these women were sending me off as they would with one of their own. I hugged Dona Carmen while she stood there stiff and uncomfortable (qeqchi women, especially the older generation, don't hug), crying and telling her how much I'd miss them all. Dona Carmen's was not the only crumpled bill I received that day, either. Back home opening my gifts I couldn't help but laugh in amazement at the random assortment of my going-away plunder--glass plates and bowls, cheap market silverware, earrings, caites (the indigenous footwear of choice), embroidered napkins, woven baskets, socks--I questioned whether they really meant for me to take it all back to America with me.
|The women's group, waiting to send me off|
|Presenting my photo collage to the women's group|
|Accepting my rooster gift|