A Dose of the Guatemala Blues

“Ma’am, MA'AM!! Please step back. Step back. Ok I got 1, 2, 3 open. Sir! (waving hands to cal attention), SIR! Ma’am you need to put this in another bin. It has to be as flat as possible. (Person puts bag in bin and believes it is as flat as possible) MA'AM, you need to come back and put this bag as flat as possible. Turn it around!  Ok I got 1, 2, 3 (pointing to the next people in line to indicate where to step next)."

My turn . . . "Take all your electronics and make sure they aren’t overlapping." (Me: Ma'am do the electronics need to go in another bin?) "Take out all electronics and make sure they aren’t overlapping." (Me: Places things in bin as best as I can but fast as we are rushed through security after customs) "MA'AM! Put ya shoes over here!" (Me: I sorrowfully move my shoes to the other bin where my carry on is and step back as dictated to do). 

Preparing myself for be inevitable “random” screening, like hope on hope, the line for regular TSA precheck type screening opens. I called to Dr. Christian, grabbed Nurse Kristen (aka KK) and we sauntered, through with melancholy and one last squeeze I could give Nurse Kristen, through the X-ray machine. As we make it to the other side, Dr. Christian and I must quickly grab our bags, see if eating is possible, and hustle to our gate. I look up and Nurse Kristen’s bag has been stopped for screening. With no minutes to spare, I too yell out, “KK, we are going.” Choking tears, moving away from what is and will continue to be a spiritual experience. This was our welcome back to the US. It is always like this - every single year. Harsh. Cold. Jarring. Culture shock. A stark contrast to the “Bienvenidos a Guatemala” delivered with a smile upon our arrival last Sunday in Guatemala City. I noticed this year when we arrived, there was a TSA agent at every corner of the ramp we took to enter La Aurora Intl Airport in Guate city. Each one of them welcoming us with the cariño I’ve come to deeply respect and appreciate. 

You may read our blogs and read that we call the Guatemalan people a caring, kind, welcoming, and generous people. This is easily noted in our first and last experiences traveling together as a team. The sense of humanity, human sensitivity, the human condition, and the respect for one another seems to be etched into the fabric that is Guatemala. El tejido de amor/cariño/amistad puedo decir. This tejido feels like it is woven into my own neural networks while in Guatemala and somehow calms my mind, spirit, and unpredictable body. Upon return, it feels I am lined up, like a cattle on its way to the rainbow bridge, to have the tejido ripped from my neural pathways. But as tears well up, I fight against the surgeons that would like to desensitize me to what I have experienced in Guatemala so that I might return quickly to the status quo. I fight, as we ask our students to fight, not to turn away from the tension of walking in solidarity with others, but to lean into it, marinate in it, struggle in it. It was incredible to be back in Cobán, with my friends and colleagues, moving our collaborative effort forward after missing last year (thanks to COVID). I 
truly missed Juan Pablo, Esmeralda, Rosario, Padre Sergio and the incredible group of human beings that make Esperanza live up to its name. I had the great pleasure of finally meeting Dr. Ricardo in person after a year of zoom and whats app video calls. It felt like we already knew each other. This group is like the real life Avengers and remain incredible examples of what it means to live your life with purposeful action and carry a welcoming spirit with you every day. 

We are blessed to have this relationship with the Ciudad de la Esperanza team. As I reflect on this year’s experience diving face first into the clinic’s new electronic medical record, meeting the nursing and medical students completing their rotations from local Guatemalan universities, and all the inside jokes we have developed “entre jefes,” I am left with a glimmer of light which inspires me to continue making good trouble. It was amazing to finish clinic and review the patients requiring follow up and be able to sit with Dr. Ricardo and Nurse Esmeralda and simply schedule the follow up visits right then and there. The dream of collaborating to develop sustainable health care solutions for this community feels so much closer than ever before. Dare I say, it feels as though we will realize this dream and exceed it as we have been planning bigger collaborations in the area. I struggle every year to leave and it seems as I get older and gain clarity on the world I’d like to live in, leaving only becomes harder. Apparently, my wish to stay in Guatemala is also clear to others as I was told today that “I looked so sad” while in a meeting. It’s true, I have the Guatemala blues. I find myself missing the friendship . . . The personhood we experience there. I miss working with my incredible Guatemalan and US colleagues. I miss the feeling of a community caring about each other. I miss the feeling of true respect, kindness, and compassion. So yes, I’ll look sad for a few more days and eventually I will normalize. For now, I must navigate the culture shock of re-entry by writing, texting my people repeatedly, and remembering the importance of our partnership with La Ciudad de la Esperanza. 

The hope of better health will always outshine the blues of returning, always! 


Dr. Stephanie Ibemere


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