I woke up at 4am on our last morning in Guatemala, even though our flight wasn’t until after 10am. Apparently, there had been some news about new airport security measures for international flights, and reports were saying that passengers should get to the airport 4 (!) hours before their flight. I asked my family if they had heard any news about this in the US, but they hadn’t and couldn’t find anything. Our tour leaders decided that, to be safe and since this was all new, we’d arrive the four hours early because it was better to sit there than be rushed. It was still dark as we left our hotel for the airport, which was very close by.
At the airport, we filled out our customs forms, checked in, and made it through security all easily. We had tons of time to spare and were wondering why a big deal was made. We did a little shopping and stopped in the very tiny food court for some breakfast, where we stayed for awhile at the tables, talking. Finally we headed down to our gate. This is where the new procedures were taking place. Leading up to our gate, we entered a very long, slow moving line. Everyone’s bags were checked manually by security officers. Even though we had already been through airport security, we had to throw away our drinks and water bottles. We weren’t even allowed to have empty ones! Anyone who had a laptop or an iPad had to turn it on so they could examine it. Then, we had to be patted down. Our passports were also checked again. And any time we wanted to leave the gate, like to go to the bathroom, we had to bring our airline ticket and passport with us and be patted down again upon return. I’d never seen anything like that before!
We said most of our goodbyes at the gate here, waiting for our flight, in case there wasn’t time in Miami. Some of us had short layovers, myself included, and we were nervous about having enough time to get through everything and make it to where we needed to go with the airport being so huge. Our plane this Avianca flight was really nice- nicer than the last one. We didn’t choose our seats, and I had been assigned to an exit row. The downside was that all of our bags had to go up above, but we had a lot of leg room. Each of the seats had its own screen so with nothing to do from my bag, I settled in and watched most of Jurassic World (it took us about 30 minutes to figure out where to plug in the headphones… 😉 ).
It turns out we had nothing to worry about once we got in Miami, because Customs and baggage claim went very smoothly. An older sponsor in our group had signed up for wheelchair assistance, and she was going to be flying the same airline, American, that another sponsor and I that had short layovers were flying. Worried about getting lost, we decided to follow the man who was escorting her in her wheelchair, since we were going to the same place. Never have I seen someone go so fast while pushing a wheelchair in one hand and pulling a suitcase in the other- and he wasn’t young either! We had to power walk to keep up with him, pulling our suitcases along as fast as we could. It was actually pretty funny, but we made great time getting to our terminal!
We even had time for a short meal, where I got a salad (oh how I had missed fresh vegetables). By evening, I was back in Chicago.
While it was nice to be home again and see my family and my cat, it was hard leaving Guatemala. I left a piece of my heart in that beautiful country. I am so blessed that God led me to go on this trip. I am so fortunate that I got to see a country so few get to visit. I am so lucky to have met so many amazing Guatemalan people, who were so happy that we were there.
Throughout the week, we learned a lot of sad statistics about the country. And if that is all you heard, it’s enough to be very depressing. But for each sad statistic, there is something Compassion is doing about it. There is a light. And the light is coming from the amazing people we met working in the country office and the projects. It’s also coming from the children, who will graduate and go on to give back. Just as Compassion Guatemala’s slogan goes, “Hope in a Multi-Colored Land”, there is so much hope for this country. And that hope lies within its own people. It’s not us, as Americans, who are going to fix their problems. They know better than anyone what the needs are and how to help them, and they are already doing it! We just got to be witnesses to the incredible work they’re doing and offer them some encouragement along the way.