My daughter, Brenna, left Guatemala this morning, and I will be staying on for two more weeks. To ensure she arrived safely at the airport in Guatemala City, I decided to take the long and torturously windy bus ride back to the city with her, spend the night with Raquel, and drop her off at the airport at dawn. That put me back at the Alamo bus station two hours before my bus was scheduled to leave for the return trip to Xela. I’ve already spent too many hours of my life lingering in their austere waiting room, and I wasn’t looking forward to another long wait on this coffee-less morning.
I have never ventured away from the station. For the most part, the only traffic on the street is from cars dropping off and picking up passengers. The dirty street with loops of barbed wire atop imposing block walls makes me feel uncomfortable, and the dilapidated alleyways feel dangerous, so I normally just stay put and bide my time while I wait long hours for my bus. This morning, however, I didn’t feel I could take another dreary confinement in the Alamo waiting room so soon after the last, and I asked Raquel if there were a place to buy coffee near the station. It turns out there is a McDonalds two long blocks away – down the imposing street where the bus station is located and then a right turn down a busy, commercial street. I decide it’s time to venture out of my comfort zone.
As I pass down the menacing-looking street, I keep my daypack clipped tightly to my waist and I avoid eye contact with the random street vendors selling tamales and other items to early morning customers. As I round the corner to the busy street, I spot the golden arches and my tension eases. Soon I am sipping coffee as I relax in a vinyl seat in front of a formica table. I almost feel as if I were in the United States. Almost.
The music, however, suggests otherwise. For the most part, the music consists of familiar American songs, with a few Spanish songs thrown in, so it’s not the choice of music that amuses me. It’s that they are playing two different sound tracks on either side of the room so the songs clash with each other and vie for my attention. Am I the only one who is disturbed by the cacophony? Apparently.
I notice cute insects crawling here and there on the floor. The length of their bodies is less than the diameter of a dime – maybe just half that of a nickel – yet their antennae are longer than their bodies! I look closer. Definitely roaches! They wouldn’t crawl up a shoe, would they? I periodically glance at the floor and move my feet when they come close.
The music and roaches notwithstanding, that was the best coffee I have ever tasted from a McDonalds, and the bathrooms were clean and had toilet paper in the stalls. The sinks even had soap for washing hands! It’s funny how many things we just take for granted back home that are special treats here.
As I head back and make the left turn away from the busy street, I feel like I’m heading back “home” to the Alamo bus station. The street vendors and customers are bustling and friendly, and the street no longer feels menacing. It feels like any other street I walk down daily in Xela. It is now familiar, and I know what I will find as I approach the other end.
I can’t help but contemplate this transformation, and how similar it is with people. We are fearful of things/people that are outside our experiences, and that fear colors how we view the world. When Hondurans gather at our southern border seeking asylum, others imagine rapists and thieves and long for a more secure border. I visualize the countless Hondurans I’ve met crisscrossing Honduras, their passion for education, their strong work-ethic, and their noble passion for helping others in their communities, and I long to roll out a welcome mat.
When others think of Muslims, they often picture crazed terrorists and feel anxious, because the only interaction most Americans have had with Muslims is from news reports covering terrorist acts, while I picture my gentle and compassionate friends in Morocco, and I feel a desire to protect them from distorted stereotypes. When Christians commit terrorists acts we don’t think, “those Christians are scary.” We think, “what a nut case,” because we know too many kind and loving Christians to paint with broad strokes. (Unless, of course, you know few Christians personally, and your views are colored by news reports!)
If we want this world to be a kinder and gentler place, we all need to get out of our comfort zones more. We need to stroll down a few dirty streets and sip coffee with a few cockroaches!