It Started With Some Postcards…

The weekend in Antigua was just what I needed to get my spirits up! While I haven’t spent any time really traveling alone, being sick so much gave me a lot of alone time. And being in a country where I am doing my best to learn the language, I felt pretty alone for all the days I spent sitting in my bed at my home stay. So it’s been nice to be out and about doing something because walking Calle Santander, even if I do have a lot of alone time still. I was able to stay with a friend here in Antigua and meet up with a few more so I loved being here! Before I post about all the fun stuff I did here in Antigua, I want to tell a story.

I was sitting on a bench in the Central Park when a woman came and sat down next to me. I thought nothing of it really, because everyone wants to sit on a bench in the park. I mean it took me 10 minutes of walking around and getting 2 benches pretty much stolen from me until I finally found one to sit at. The woman said nothing and just sat there looking forward. She said nothing and just sat there for at least 25 minutes. I thought nothing of it, and was moving from one postcard to the next when our conversation began… (*all purple text was in Spanish)

“So many postcards!”

“Yes, they’re for my family.“

“What is your name?

“Mackenzie, what’s your name?”

“Liseda*” (*I think, no clue how to spell it or if that’s correct)

“Nice to meet you.”

”Nice to meet you too.”

*She starts laughing at me because my pen wasn’t working and I kept writing on my hand to try to get it to work.

“You shouldn’t write on your hand. It’s not good.”

“I know but the pen just won’t write on the card.”

“I see. Where are you from?”

“I’m from the United States.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m 22”

“So young! How long are you here in Guatemala for?”

“For 2 months, but I am living in Panajachel. I am just here for the weekend.”

“That’s wonderful…”

Silence – I go back to writing my postcard

“Do you have a boyfriend back home who you are writing to also?”

“Yes I do”

“I’m sure he’s sad and misses you?”

“I think a little yes and I am too. But I will be home soon.”

“When is that?”

“In one month”

“Oh so you get to be here for Semana Santa (Holy Week)”

“Yes I’m very excited to see it.”

“When is your birthday?”

“My birthday is in April, after I return to the states.”

*She said something here but I couldn’t understand and just sort of nodded not really knowing what to do or say.

Silence – Again back to writing my postcard

“I am very sad.” I look over and the woman’s eyes are watering.

“Oh no. Why?”

“Because my birthday is soon”

“When is your birthday?”

“It’s tomorrow”

“But then why are you sad?”

“Because I have nothing. I have nothing for my birthday?”

“What? Why?”

“I have nothing. I do not work. I have no money. I haven’t eaten food since yesterday. I cannot work and I do not have money to buy anything. I am waiting to go back to my house where I will see my friend because she said she would meet me to give me something for my birthday. So I am waiting here for a while. I have been sitting here in the park asking God why I am in this place, why I have no work, why I am so sad.”

“I am so sorry.”

“Yes so I am very sad because I have nothing. Nothing for my birthday.”

At this point I had no words; absolutely nothing to say. I mean I could barely hold a conversation with this woman in Spanish, let alone know how to respond to that in English. There were quite a few words and sentences that I just really couldn’t understand – at one point I think she had also said that she was too large to work at any job, and that she had no one to go to for help. But this woman was sitting there on a park bench crying to me, a complete stranger. I had no clue what to do. I was thinking of ways I could offer to go buy her food, or something for her birthday. But then I got nervous and embarrassed that maybe I hadn’t fully understood her and that maybe she had only said she had nothing planned for her birthday, and the whole not easting food thing was just a misunderstanding. I sat there just trying to figure out what to do. I kept writing my postcard. I only had a few words left.

I proceeded to have a short internal battle about what I should do. And I came to the conclusion that I would give the woman money. If she was starving, then hopefully she could buy food, or if it was just that she had no birthday plans, maybe she could buy herself a birthday present. But whatever the situation, my biggest concern was to not embarrass the woman. If I just handed her money like a typical American thinking I could solve her problems then that could put me in a compromising position and could potentially embarrass her. And yes, of course there’s the argument of what she actually would do with the money. Maybe she was just scamming the helpless-looking American girl and was actually just going to buy alcohol to fuel her addiction. Maybe she wasn’t hungry at all and needed drugs. Maybe, maybe, maybe… I could have sat there forever thinking of all the maybes. But my heart reached out to this woman who had taken 25 minutes to build up the courage to finally speak to the girl next to her, and whose problems may have just gotten the better of her in this sad situation. She was also wearing average looking, somewhat worn clothes. I have come to learn that often women you dress in Western clothes, rather than the traditional traje, it is because they cannot afford the traditional wear. Of course there are exceptions, especially in a more westernized city like Nebaj, but this woman’s clothes looked old and worn. So against someone else’s better judgment perhaps, I scooped up whatever small bills I had in my purse, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I leaned over to the woman and handed her the 15 quetzales I had and said in Spanish, “Ma’am, here is all the money I have, I hope you can buy something for your birthday. God bless you.” She said ‘thank you’ with tears in her eyes. I stood up and walked away.

I walked a little ways away and looked back to see if she was still there. For some reason I was convinced that if she wasn’t still there, then I had been scammed by perhaps the world’s greatest actress. But she was still sitting there on the park bench, just looking up at the sky.

Now, I didn’t write about this story because of my “heroism,” far from it. I don’t think I should be applauded at all for what I did. Honestly, I wish I had been bolder and asked more about her story, her life, why she had nothing, if she had a family. I wish I could have communicated better and talked more with this woman. My obstacle was that I couldn’t speak Spanish well enough to truly communicate with this woman who seemed to be hurting. I wish I could have learned more, and just been a better human being. This stranger poured her heart out to me, and all I could say was “I’m sorry. Here’s some money.” I could have bought her a meal, or even a birthday present. If I’d had more money with me at the time, I might have done so. But there go the ‘maybes’ again. The experience, like many I have had here really affected me and has been on my mind so much since it happened. So then I come to my readers with the question…

What would you have done?

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