I just want to make a quick shout out to a couple of special ladies who have made my time in Guatemala unbelievable.
My home-stay mothers. They have welcomed me into their houses, put up with my terrible Spanish skills, fed me endless amounts of food, and have cared for me when I’ve been hunched over a toilet bowl.
My first madre was in Xela; an unassuming middle-aged mum with jet black hair and the knowing eyes only a mother of teenagers could have. She also had the most wicked sense of humour. Dinner time consisted of jokes that would make any other mum blush; her quick wit in dry Spanish often taking Lhens and me a couple of moments to digest what had been said. But we quickly caught on to her risqué humour, tongue-in-cheek quips, ego-crushing jabs at her daughters, and frequent attempts to hook Lhens and me up with Guatemalan girls.
If we didn’t understand what had been said, her cackle – usually with her head thrown back and hands in the air – let us know someone was being ridiculed. And it was probably us.
After her, being informed of my second madre was anticlimactic. As everyone received profiles on their home-stays just outside of Antigua I waited eagerly – people next to me read about their home-stay families loving fiestas, having small zoos in their backyards, or having extended families with many kids eager for a game of soccer.
Then my family’s details arrived. Enjoys going to church? Maybe I can swallow my staunch atheism for a day, I thought. Likes knitting? Sure my fingers are fat, but it’s good to try new things, I thought. Is a 78-year-old nanna and lives effectively by herself? Well hey, I’ve never been against older women, I thought. But mainly, I thought, this home-stay is going to be a bit lame.
How wrong I was. Apart from the initial weirdness of finding a book titled “Don’t Waste Your Life” (a Christian study guide for young people) and a freakish armless Barbie doll watching menacingly over my bed (dealt with quickly with a towel after the moonlight fell on her face and I went a bit nuts), my home-stay mother has been warm, hospitable, and fun. From cats in heat on the tin roof, to childish conversations about poo, to her protecting me from the other kids by replacing my feminine lunchbox with a more manly one, to her slight panic and overreaction when I said I had a headache, to her early morning starts clashing awkwardly with my early morning toilet runs in only my boxers, the laughs haven’t stopped.
She does however have the distinct motherly traits of being invasive (every day I arrive home to find she’s been in my room folding clothes, making the bed, and tidying up), overly-caring (packing me way too much food; making sure I take my raincoat and am wearing sunscreen), and having too much initiative (when doing my washing, she found a small hole in my undies, so she promptly patched them up with a highly practical, but aesthetically awful, cloth patch).
She speaks quickly and with a slight mumble, making it hard for me with my rudimentary Spanish to understand her, but our communication has not been stunted, rather my misunderstandings, her attempts to teach me, and my mispronunciations have meant many laughs (before her bed-time of 9 p.m., of course). With often just the two of us at home, we’ve bonded quickly.
But there’s a sadder side. When talking about how much my Mum in Australia must be missing me (last I heard, she and Dad were partying on an Australian beach getaway), she broke down in tears knowing that in only a week I’d be gone. Her mantlepiece mixes photos of herself and her late husband with her seven children, all now fully grown, pictures of her two grandchildren, and pictures of the eight other volunteers who have stayed with her.
She doesn’t take in volunteers for the money; and the sharing of cultures and languages and helping young people appreciate her country isn’t solely what motivates her. She just wants a bit of company. If that company means so much care and fun, then I’m happy to stay.
So Muchas Gracias to both my home-stay mothers; two strong, wise, and hilarious women who have made my time in Guatemala even more enjoyable.