What an adventure this past seven days has brought when Central America welcomed me with open arms. I went from traversing trash-filled alleyways in the edges of the dump and seeing armed guards everywhere to studying the majestic history of the capital city to exploring Antigua with cobblestone streets and remnants of centuries-old abandoned churches that retain their grandeur amid ruins. Last night I returned home. Phew!
Armed guards were a common sight, even in the back of a truck. When anything was
delivered to a business, armed guards were at the ready, and we had our bags
searched by armed guards when we entered the bank.
Guard at the parking lot to the shopping center for the supermarket.
How has this trip helped my manuscript? Because I didn’t visit one place only, I met Guatemalans from differing socio-economic backgrounds, all of whom were friendly and spoke in a lilting sing-song accent, unlike any Spanish accent I’ve heard before. Sensory details surrounding me ranged from a whiff of sour garbage on the dusty breeze, the squawk of a macaw just outside my window at 6 am, the savory flavor of chocolate mole on plantains, the view of a volcano spewing in the early morning, and an ever present gentle to gusty wind.
Macaws outside our room in Antigua.
For my foodie friends, the meals were delectable! My favorites were the black bean pancakes served with crème fresh (which are fabulous, by the way!), chicken empanadas, fried bananas, thick corn tortillas mucho better than any available in the U.S., pastille con carne (a pastry baked with a meat paté filling), turkey roasted with amazing herbs, mashed potatoes that melt in your mouth with real butter, chorizo sausage, and so many more that I don’t have room to mention. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised to step on the scales this morning and discover I’d gained 5 pounds!
From top, clockwise - watermelon, french toast with strawberry sauce, fried plantains, fried bananas, chicken empanada, and queso cheese = breakfast of champions. Yum!
Before going, one of my biggest concerns was the language barrier. Although I had a translator while in the dump, she didn’t stay with me all the time. However, a few words were easy to learn because of their frequent use:
- muchas gracias
- buen dia (means “good morning” instead of the traditional buenos dias)
- ¿dónde está el baño? (means “where is the toilet?”)
- café con leche (means “coffee with milk” - necessitating another ¿dónde está el baño?)
- para ti (means “for you” - when giving candy to the children)
- no necessito (means “not necessary” - when a family in the dump felt they needed to give me a gift of bottled water)
- la vaquita hace moo (means “little cow says moo” - a song we sang with the kids of the dump)
- la paz (means “the peace” - the name of one of the neighborhoods near the dump)
I have a new insight beyond what books or online research can offer. I’ve experienced the beauty and the tragedy of a lovely people, the history of a powerful people conquered, colonized, exploited, and blended into a country that gently honors the past, the elderly, and the weak.
The Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua connected the Santa Catalina convent to a school,
allowing the nuns to go from one building to the other without going out on the street.
And I’ve learned that the volcanoes aren’t located where I thought they were so my main character cannot watch the sun rise over a volcano that isn't located to the east of the city. Oy!
I hope all these memories will stay alive, but I know without a doubt that my heart will remember the beautiful smiles, the warm hugs, sweet kisses to the right cheek, and the gentleness of the people from the dump. I’m grateful to have met these compassionate people who invited me into their lives. I’m grateful to Potter’s House for introducing me to them. And I’m grateful for the opportunity SCBWI gave me to expand my horizons. Thank you, SCBWI!