Waiting In Guatemala

Waiting is something I do a lot of. In large part, this is due to my propensity for early arrivals. Invite me for dinner at six, and I will have to drive around the block a couple of times so as to be merely five minutes early.

My sense of time urgency stems from my father. We lived an hour from Newark Airport when I was growing up in New Jersey. My father insisted that we leave the house four hours ahead of our flight time, just in case. So, I learned to wait, sitting in the airport for hours, whether we were flying somewhere or merely meeting a guest. Once, over the course of 20 years, we were caught in traffic and arrived just in time to catch our flight.
I have a much moderated sense of time urgency. I am usually early, but never to a ridiculous extent, and, occasionally, I am a few minutes late.

Still, I often find myself waiting for the world to catch up. This has taught me patience. I also learned patience from my mother, who is still in a loving marriage with my father after 58 years. I won’t go into detail, but my father, who is a good, kind, admirable man, nonetheless could tax the patience of all but the most remarkable of persons. I suspect I also inherited this trait.

My flight arrived early yesterday in to the Guatemala City Airport. I was bringing a large box containing a refurbished iMac desktop computer for my friend Rene, who owns the Orbita Spanish School, where I will be aumentando mi EspaƱol this month. I expected difficulty with la aduana (customs), but, after ascertaining that the computer was not a new one, they waved my through, and I pushed my cart out on to the sidewalk outside the terminal to be accosted by the familiar crew of touts, offering taxis, shuttles, or phone calls for a small, undefined remittance. I repeatedly said “No, gracias. Espero mi amigo”, until they all got the message, and then I waited.

Across the street, behind a metal barricade, 100 or more people waited, some with signs indicating the name of a hotel and/or tourist. There were less of these than usual. It is the rainy season, so most of the passengers on the plane had been Guatemaltecos.

I scanned the crowd for Rene, expecting to hear him call my name, but he wasn’t there. I waited. I had been one of the first through customs, my long, American legs propelling me through the maze of corridors ahead of my fellow passengers. One by one, they came through the glass doors from the airport to be whisked away by friends and family. The crowd behind the barricade dwindled to a couple of dozen, then to a handful, and, finally, I was left on the sidewalk with four or five people also waiting for rides. The touts started coming up again, asking if I wanted to make a phone call. “Lastima,” I said sheepishly, “No tengo el numero.”

After an hour and a half, the last of the passengers was picked up by her daughter. I went inside for a much needed pee, and then returned curbside to consider my options.

I learned from one of the touts that there had been a terrible derrumbe, or landslide, in the city, causing extensive disruption of traffic, along with several dozen deaths. Landslides are common at this time of year, bringing sodden hillsides down upon roads and often, tragically, homes.

At this point I began to wonder if Rene was going to make it, and I was feeling progressively more foolish for not having written down his phone number.

Usually, upon arrival in Guatemala, I take a shuttle from the airport to Antigua, stay a day or so, and then catch another to Lago Atitlan and San Pedro.

I was considering this option when a small car pulled up and out popped Rene, with a big smile on his face. He had been delayed not only by traffic in the city, but also by severely deteriorating roads around the lake.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for making me a patient person, comfortable with waiting.


Women washing clothes in Lago Atitlan