We all have our favorite ways to say that something didn't happen,
will never happen.
When I lived in Guatemala, my fellow Peace Corps volunteers used to say that the Guatemalan phrase, "Fíjese que" really meant "I am going to lie to you now." I never quite bought into those words as a direct translation, but the phrase did hold within it the seed of misdirection, an attempt to want to explain something that perhaps wasn’t in the realm of one’s knowledge to do so. It has been almost fifteen years since I was a Peace Corps volunteer. This begs the question why address the misdirection now? The answer is quite simple. There is no mail service to Guatemala.
I’ll explain more.
I have written some about my experience selecting and purchasing books for a library in my former Peace Corps village and my relationship with Ana, the young woman who worked as the librarian there. Our parting was not ideal and for the past three years, I struggled in my communication with her. This conflict had influenced my previous desire to send other letters or packages to friends or coworkers filled with candy or trinkets. Soon, I stopped sending anything.
A couple of months ago, Ana sent me a Facebook message cloaked in some of the usual awkward overtones to share the news she was pregnant. I did not want to fall back into old patterns. I did not respond. However, when my friend Amanda who runs a library and school in Guatemala advertised finger puppets based on book characters. I bought a set for Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar in Spanish. My intent was to send a thoughtful gift that could perhaps bridge the silence, a recognition of her recent family event and the literacy work we had once shared. I went to the post office to mail the tiny box. I expected the usual confusion at no street number, no zip code in the address. This time the postal worker’s scrunched face meant something else.
“It’s not giving me an option,” she said. She called over a coworker. They repeated her process of entering data. “Nothing. I can’t select anything but this Global Express. I’ll talk to my supervisor.” She returned minutes later with a statement that sounded like a question, “There’s no mail service in Guatemala?”
“I admit it’s been a couple of years. I didn’t-” I stared at the box. The idea that I was so disconnected or that the mail was disconnected twisted together and wound their way from my heart out towards my fingers.
“I’m sorry,” the postal worker added.
“No. No. It’s not your fault. No problem.” I stored the box back in my bag. The brown paper bounced against the blue and white checked light. Other boxes shadowed it, weighting down the bag on my shoulder.
“It’s not your fault. It’s not you.” Those words unwrapped the metaphoric boxes one by one.
“It’s in the mail,” said the universe.
“What?” I asked.
“The alumni newsletter.”
I completed undergrad and graduate degrees at UW Madison. When I returned from Guatemala the last time, I attempted to reconnect with my former institution of higher education under the belief that my experience would be interesting, would be worth talking about, would be a way to organize my observations. I applied for special student status, but space in graduate level classes was saved for graduate students. My request to simply attend so that I could listen was denied. But, I continue to receive the School of Education newsletter so that I can read about the accomplishments of alumni who do matter.
“It’s in the mail,” said the universe.
“What?” I asked.
“The donor newsletter.”
After I decided to leave my nonprofit management position in Guatemala, I remained working for close to nine months. I answered every question. I created orientation for my replacement. I even scheduled return trips to transition. The orientation was never used. I only made one return trip during which I was treated as an intruder. My attempts to provide further research from a certification I completed at my own expense received commentary that diminished with each article. Did the organization really not remember me? Did they think they were being kind? Respectful? But, I continue to receive the donor newsletter. It would be better to receive nothing at all than to be reminded that after everything, I am just like everybody else.
I arrived at my car and stared at the bag. I tossed it into the backseat. It was still there a week later. I didn’t know where to take it, but I didn’t want to admit there was nowhere I wanted to take it by taking it back into the house.
“I’m not sure what next steps are,” I said, recounting the post office visit to my friend René.
“If there are any,” she finished.
“If there are any?” I repeated.
René stepped into the elevator.
“Of course, all this time, I’ve punished myself. You know. Felt bad that I stopped sending stuff. Now I realize that I couldn’t.”
René perked her every knowing eyebrow.
“It’s in the mail.” I laughed. “Perfect excuse when there’s no mail. Just imaginary problems.”
“They, my Guatemalan friends, might not even know there’s no mail, but I guess if they’re not fixing it. I even read a few tourist blog posts that talked about being misdirected to multiple villages by Guatemalans they asked. They don’t really write each other. They might not know. But, it’s not mine to worry about if it doesn’t matter enough for them to fix it.”
“Exactly. The universe told you what you wanted to hear, because you weren’t ready to hear anything else.”
“There’s no mail.” It is not so much that events in my life have been the result of lies, not so much excuses, but realities, some more consciously received by me than others. No one had said “Fíjese que” to me in years, nor had anyone asked me to accept its explanation, except myself.
For more wonderful videos related to teacher training or literacy program development in rural Guatemala, please visit www.child-aid.org. I have no v...