I’ve never met this man before, the father of my host mother, but here I am, sitting awkwardly in his home as my host mom chats with her mother. He looks at me intently. Just three months ago this kind of staring would make me unspeakably uncomfortable, but I have since grown used to the questioning looks, the way all the children point and then run away giggling when I get too close. The way he’s eyeing me doesn’t bother me now. I mean, it’s his house after all. Not to mention his country.
He finally nods, signaling he’s come to some sort of internal decision, clears his throat and asks,
“Where are you from?”
I start with the only conversation I feel completely comfortable having in Spanish – the one I’ve had hundreds of times now. I talk about Nevada. I try to explain the Peace Corps. I mention my two-year commitment. He tells me about his son in Los Angeles. He tells me about the town. He expresses his hope that I like it here. And then we lapse into silence until my host mom decides it’s time to go (it’s getting dark and if we don’t leave soon it’s likely we’ll hurt ourselves as we make our way back out through the coffee plants to the road).
The grandfather says goodbye to my host brother and sister, my host mom and then turns to me and gives me a hug no different from the others, as if I were just another one of his grandkids. He tells me,
“It was such a pleasure to meet you. Come back anytime. We look forward to seeing you again.”
And I’m taken aback. Though I really shouldn’t be because, from everything I have experienced thus far, this is the way Guatemaltecos are. Of course, they’re not all hugging me and inviting me into their homes, but more often than not they’re friendly, they’re accepting, they’re appreciative. It’s evident in the way my first host family stored away the fact I like dogs and then presented me with a toy dog before I left saying, “Until you can get that real one we know you want.” I am reminded of it every time I am greeted no differently than everyone else in the room with a firm handshake and a hearty “Buenos Dias”. I feel it when I am included in my new host brother’s graduation festivities only days after arriving or when my new host mom buys all her kids a treat and makes sure to get me one too. I even see it in the way the man at the tienda now remembers me and the fact that I like Diet Coke.
It’s as if they’re all trying to tell me (once we’ve gotten past the stares),
“Yes, this is our country, but we’re happy to share it with you.”