Unwanted American school buses travel through Central America, ending up in Guatemalan cities. The Guatemalans paint and transform them into public transportation, which they call “chicken buses.”
Imagine the bus that you ride every day to school. Now add 20 years to its age with little refurbishment. That’s a chicken bus. The uncomfortable bus seats accompanied by the lack of maintenance on Guatemalan roads make stomachs queasy and give throbbing headaches.
I hadn’t been to Guatemala since my family adopted my sister in 2006. My dad and I journeyed down to Central America for a mission trip this summer with a small group from my church, and, for the first time since I was little, I experienced all that Guatemala had to offer. The vibrant sunrises that peaked over the rural volcanoes provided an amazing sense of raw beauty, but I was more drawn to the unceasing love and generosity of the Guatemalans I met. They devote their lives to helping each other and were quick to serve my needs, even though I was there to serve theirs. They selflessly pampered me in everything they did and welcomed me as if I were a part of their own family.
The people hugged me and allowed me to play with their children, even though for many, I was the first American they’d ever seen. Throughout my time there, I met people of all ages with different stories, such as a young girl who quit school because of severe bullying. There was another woman who was several months pregnant. She lived in poverty because the father of the child had left her. Hearing of their experiences softened my heart, and I treasure every relationship I created with my new Guatemalan friends, but rekindling my relationship with my sister’s foster parents was specifically rewarding because of the special bond between us.
I spent the first and last nights of my trip with the generous foster parents who took care of my sister for six months until my parents adopted her. I had met them when I was six, but they were nothing more than a distant memory. After not seeing the family for more than 10 years — which included the foster parents and their two sons — they greeted me as if it had only been a few weeks since the last time I saw them.
The first night, we sat for coffee in the hotel lobby, and they asked me questions about my sister and I. I felt a bond with the foster mom, who was fascinated with what I had to say and desired to learn more about my life.
There was, of course, the communication barrier — my three years of basic Spanish didn’t prepare me to provide details of all 16 years of my life; however, the lack of communication wasn’t a problem.
Deep conversations and minuscule details weren’t necessary to love each other and connect in a way that felt like real family.
More than anybody else, I bonded with the foster mom as if I were her own daughter. She braided and untangled my hair; she held my hand when we went on walks and teared up when she dropped me off at the airport.
It’s been three months since I returned from Guatemala and through the windwhirl of my crazy life, it’d be easy to push my experiences there to the back of my mind, but I can’t. In fact, I think about Guatemala constantly.
Looking at the photos and memories of that country, I can’t find a better way to describe the people there than family.
Although family is typically those who are related by blood or by legal definition, it’s so much more than that.
My sister’s foster mom treated me like family because of the immense love between us. Ten years ago, she and her family opened their homes up to my newborn sister. Ten years later she kept her heart open to me and initiated the hospitality we had. The relationships we foster are more important to who we are than who we descend from.
Love is unconditional and there are no restrictions on how many people I can love. Family is family, even if it’s not blood.
What experiences have changed you life? Leave a comment below!