This past Thursday I had to go to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City because I had run out of pages in my passport. I’d never been to an embassy before, but was pretty excited about it. I wanted to experience what it was like to be on “U.S. soil” in a foreign country.
Plus, any time I’d seen the exterior of an embassy on my travels, the buildings always looked high-end. Movies like French Kiss, The Bourne Identity and Lethal Weapon 2 built up my expectations because the interiors looked pretty nice as well (especially in French Kiss). Because of all of this, I decided to wear a dress and heels for my day-trip…but not super high heels because the other thing they showed in movies was that you usually need to wait in line for a while.
That part was completely accurate. The nice part? Not so much! The interior of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala is pretty much like most other government buildings – a drab utilitarian room with cinderblock walls and old, faded photographs of various places in the United States as artwork.
Anyway, I went to the airport early in the morning, looking good and excited about my day ahead. My energy was high, and I believe that is what made my day truly fun, because I met so many interesting people who served as positive reinforcements for me.
It started at the Flores airport. While I was waiting in line to check-in (there’s no online check-in in Guatemala), the people behind me struck up a conversation with me. It turns out that they are renowned ecotourism travel bloggers and were in my part of the world exploring the area to write about it on their blog. We talked in line, in the boarding area, on the plane and on the shuttle bus to the airport about pretty much everything under the sun – travel, shamanism, love and relationships, food, work…you name it. As we parted ways, they gave me a much-needed boost of confidence in the work I’m doing through Spirit Evolution. I headed to the embassy with my spirits still high.
Once I got through the rigorous security screening at the embassy and found my way to the American Citizen Services room, I took my number and stood in a back corner to wait for my number to be called. A couple with a young son started talking with me. He was from the United States, she was from Guatemala, and they were in the process of getting a new passport for their son. We talked of current events in the U.S. and shared our hope that people of different backgrounds and perspectives would find a way to work together for the good of all of humankind and the planet. I had been feeling a bit discouraged and depressed over the division in the U.S., and our conversation helped me have a bit more confidence and faith that love, compassion and empathy for one another will triumph.
After they left (they were about 10 numbers before me), I pulled out an embroidery project and started working on it. It had been years since I had done an embroidery project and I had to search high and low for a kit when I was in the States in September. I think this type of craft may have gone out of fashion in the U.S., but apparently it is something new in Guatemala. Immediately several Guatemalan women who were waiting came over and asked me about it: what was I making, how did I do the stiches, what would it look like when it was done, how long would it take? We had wonderful conversations, with them telling me about their families, me sharing the story about why I was making what I was making, and laughing over the wait at the embassy. It showed me that sometimes the simplest of things can bring people together and help them connect.
As luck would have it, there was a small problem with getting me a new passport. I had hoped to get a letter from the embassy that I could use for domestic travel in Guatemala while I waited for my passport to be renewed and returned, but the embassy staff told me that they no longer write letters. My only option was to get a one-year emergency passport and return in the afternoon to pick it up.
This really wasn’t part of my plan for the day. I had hoped to drop off my passport quickly, get the letter, and head back to the airport and work for the better part of the day before flying back to Flores that night. The reality was that I ended up waiting at the embassy for about two and a half hours to be told this, and then had to return a couple hours later. I decided to make the best of it and headed over to my favorite Greek restaurant in Guatemala City, Del Griego. The food is amazing and they import a number of their ingredients directly from Greece, so it is also very authentic.
I had just ordered my lunch when the owner came over to talk with me. He is originally from Greece, moved to Honduras, and is now a long-time citizen of Guatemala. We talked about his love for Guatemala and his experiences here and about his and his family’s love for cooking. When he discovered that I was vegetarian, predominately vegan, he told me that his mother could make a different vegetarian dish every day for a year without repeating a single dish. Amazed, I told him that if he ever came up to Peten to let me know and I’d cook him a vegetarian meal to thank him for his yummy food and warm hospitality…because when we share a meal with someone we open the door to become friends.
I made my way back to the embassy, waited in more lines and was finally in the line to get my emergency passport when the entire embassy went on emergency lock-down. All of the employees went off somewhere to be safe, the doors were automatically locked so no one could go in or out, and we were left standing there with just a few armed guards. It turns out it was just a drill, but we stood there for quite a while waiting for the lock-down to end, laughing about unending lines at the embassy and the fact that if it hadn’t been a drill we probably would have been dead by now. The man in front of me in line started talking to me and shared how his wife and three children were in the United States and that he had been deported back to Guatemala. His attitude was very positive as he waited, trying for the umpteenth time over the course of the past nine months, to get back to the States to be with his family. Home is definitely where the heart is, and I was grateful that I could visit my family easily whenever I wanted to.
With the lock-down lifted and the employees back to work, I finally got my emergency passport and had to race back to the airport in time to make my flight. I was in the boarding area when I got the most amazing news – the kind that makes you shout out with joy in the middle of a public place, without even caring what other people think. I can’t share the news just yet, but will in a couple weeks. Suffice to say that it confirmed that anything is possible in our world if you have faith and keep at it.
I boarded the plane to go home, and a man from London was in the seat next to me. We struck up a conversation when I pulled my embroidery work out, and he shared with me that he and his family were there celebrating the marriage of their son to a woman who had lived in Guatemala for a while. His son’s new wife’s family was there as well. He explained that the newlyweds had had three ceremonies – a civil one in London, a wedding in London, and now, a Mayan one in Guatemala. They decided that they would all travel together and were having the best time with daily photo contests, lots of laughter, and making memories about the wedding trip and extended family honeymoon that would last them a lifetime. As I listened to all of their stories about their adventures so far, I admired how they chose to create ways to celebrate and extend a happy occasion to keep the joy going.
As we landed, with my new passport in hand, I congratulated the bride and groom on their marriage, wished the entire family a great rest of their trip, and headed home…exhausted but happy for the many gifts my open and positive attitude had brought me during the day.
P.S. The picture above is not of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala. Unfortunately, cameras and other electronics are not allowed and I couldn’t find a usable picture of it online.