Friday, 26 December 2014

I'll Be Home For Christmas

I snap awake.
Where am I? I ask myself.
In a bed, I reply, and then I remember where the bed is. I’m in Guatemala City. Today is the day I fly home. As I start to leave the state of confusion, I suddenly wonder what time it is.
I’ve probably overslept my alarm, I think to myself. I fumble for the phone that Galen lent me and press the first button I feel. The phone reads 4:58 AM. I had set the alarm for 5:00. I relax slightly and wait for the annoying ice cream truck music mixed with vibrating-phone-on-wood sound. It comes. I get up and turn on the light. Jason is in the bed next to mine.
“Hey, Jason.”
No answer
“Hey, Jason.”
Jason stirs and then lifts his head.
“We’re going home today.” I tell him in an excited voice.
In about ten seconds, he is out of bed and just excited as I am. Jason hasn’t seen his family since August. I haven’t either. Jason is going home to Canada after serving for two and a half years in Nicaragua. I am going home after serving for two years in Guatemala. Although we are sad to leave our “homes” here, we are excited about getting back. Very excited. The long-awaited day has finally come.
We dance to the bathroom. After showers, last minute packing, and a quick rendition of YMCA, we are ready to roll. Galen and Lee, not looking quite as excited as the two of us, hop in the Mitsubishi van and we head to the airport.
We get there a little after six. Our flight leaves at 8:10. After saying good-bye to Galen and Lee, we enter, breeze through security, and start the hunt for the nearest McDonalds. We find it and order breakfast. We make a deal that we’re only allowed to talk Spanish until we get to San José, Costa Rica. After ordering, I make a comment in perfect English. We decide that there must be stakes. The person who says something in English the most times has to buy the other person lunch in San José.
We finish breakfast and head to our gate, arriving an hour before take-off. I start reading my book and Jason starts reading the Bible. We are sitting in chairs that overlook the runway, a short distance away from the rest of the people waiting to board our flight. My book is interesting. In the back of my mind I hear Spanish announcements. I pay no attention. I’m with Louie Zamperini in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I decide to stand up to see if they’ve started boarding. No one else is in the room. I look at the time on my computer. 7:51. Exactly nineteen minutes until take-off. We rush to the desk and show our boarding passes. We enter the plane and see that everyone is already seated. We decide to pay more attention next time.
We arrive at SJC airport on time without any problems. The only minor problem was when the guy next to me gave me two pieces of gum. I offered one to Jason in perfect English. With that minor mistake, I was offering to buy him lunch as well.
We get off the plane and go through security again. We enter what will be our home for the next seven hours. Since our flight is too far in the future to even appear on the board, we walk until we can no longer walk, and then we sit down. Glad for SJC’s free WIFI, we check Facebook and email, but are completely bored after the first hour. I continue reading my book while Jason sleeps. I start to get hungry. I don’t want to wake Jason up, but I also don’t what to starve. I wake Jason up.
“Let’s go get something to eat.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He says.
We walk to the food court and KFC looks appealing to both of us. I soon realize what a mistake it was to offer Jason gum in English. 24.50 American dollars for two meals. I am not in Guatemala anymore. Despite the pain of the price of the food, it is excellent. Just what we need. After finishing our food, we go get refills. We pull up two chairs and watch the tail end of a soccer game. Anything to kill time.
It is now 1:30 PM. Although 4:55 is getting closer, it is certainly taking its time. I soon don’t like the aftertaste of KFC chicken in my mouth and we look for a store that sells gum. We find one, and I go up to the counter to pay.
“4, 500 colones,” the man behind the counter tells me, “Or 4.40 American.”
Since I don’t even know what a colón is, I decide to pay with dollars. I give him four dollars and fifty cents. He hands me a 50 colones coin. I look at the coin for three seconds, before thanking the man and walking away.
At least I now know what a colón is. I tell myself.
We make our way toward the nearest flight board and notice that our flight is now there. Gate four. We excitedly walk in the direction that we came from. We finally have a heading. After walking for two minutes, I notice a sign that reads “Gates 6-10 ahead.”
Wait a second. The gate numbers are going up.
I look back. I see a large “4” not 5 meters from the flight board we had just come from.
“Maybe it’s good we have seven hours.” I tell Jason.
We arrive at Gate 4 to see that another flight has to leave before our plane even arrives. We notice a sign that says “Gate 4A and 4B” with arrows pointing to a staircase.
“Maybe it’s down there,” says Jason.
“Maybe,” I say, “and even if it’s not we should still go down there.”
We make our way down the stairs to find a room full of chairs. There are two “boarding desks” and an elevator but not a single person. 

(If you wish to watch a video of Jason and I killing time in this room... CLICK HERE)

We decide to hang out there for a while. A little peace and quiet can’t hurt. The WIFI connection is a little better down there and we start watching the first episode of The Amazing Race Canada.
Jason periodically goes upstairs to our gate to see what’s going on. He comes back every time with the same answer.
“No one is even at the desk.”
We get a little carried away with The Amazing Race. The first team is about to reach the mat when I check the time. 4:25. Exactly thirty minutes until take-off.
“How did that happen?” I ask Jason.
“I don’t know!” he replies, “It was three something ten minutes ago.”
We gather together our things and rush upstairs to hear our names being announced over the PA system. We walk right onto the plane. Besides us, there are only 22 passengers.
After 10 minutes, the Jetway backs away from the plane. Jason is two rows behind me on this flight. How they couldn’t get us beside each other on a plane with 180 seats and 24 passengers remained a mystery, but we decide to move beside each other after take off.
We wait.
We hear a voice come crackling over the plane’s PA system.
“Um… we’re having a few problems with the computers up here. We’re um… trying to reset them, but uh… they aren’t resetting.”
Oh no. I think. This is way too much like the last time I came home for Christmas.
I tell God that I’d really like to fly home today.
The captain says something about being in contact with the mechanics in Toronto. I envision myself and Jason stranded in Costa Rica for Christmas. A two-year-old girl is whining behind me. I try to sleep. I hear the girl say “BOO!” awfully close to my ear. I hear her mother say, “You can’t play 'boo' with just anyone. Some people don’t like to play 'boo'.” I smile, but I’m soon annoyed again by a ten-year-old girl who is jumping in the aisle next to my seat. I look back a Jason. He’s fast asleep. I start to worry. They roll the Jetway back to the plane’s door.
Here we go. We’re going to deplane. I’m going to spend Christmas in Costa Rica, far away from Jasmine and my family.
A guy wearing a bright, greenish-yellow vest walks onto the plane and into the cockpit. I overhear a flight attendant saying she’s doesn’t know what’s going on, but “Whatever happens, happens.”
She mentions that Christmas in Costa Rica could be fun. I try to sleep instead of worry. A flight attendant offers me water. I accept, and drink it down right away, trying to calm my nerves. Jason is still fast asleep. He would later ask, “So how long were we delayed, anyway?” Sometimes, I dislike that guy.
It is now 6:10, a full hour after scheduled departure. I move from my window seat to the aisle seat, hoping to see what is going on in the front of the plane. The man with the yellow vest comes out of the cockpit. He has a huge smile on his face and gives us two thumbs up.
“We fixed it. The computers reset.”

The twenty-three passengers give him a round of applause (Jason was still asleep at this point). I thank God for caring about me, and in five minutes, we are taxiing down the runway. Minutes later, we are airborne. We are headed to Canada. As the lights of San José get dimmer and farther away, I think about Guatemala…

One day, one of my students took me back a long dirt road to some land that his grandpa owned. We climbed a nearby hill and had an amazing view of Petén ranching country.

We weren't finished with the new ping pong table but we were itching to play ping pong. 
The new ping pong table.

Myself with the volleyball buddies. As a farewell gift, they gave me a green jacket and pants. They made me try them on right away, then wanted a picture. 

We had hamburgers after my last volleyball game. 
Jason grilled them.

Vacation Bible School 2014. 
My group of boys at VBS
 ...I can almost not comprehend the fact that my time in Guatemala is over for now. Two years. In the past two years, I have learned so much. 
As I stare out the plane's window into the blackness, I smile. It was sad to leave Guatemala. It was sad to leave all the people that have meant so much to me these past two years. 
I'm glad God called me to Guatemala, I think to myself. 
I feel the plane start its decent. The flight attendants come around with forms to be filled out. The plane drops steadily. I can barely sign the form because the plane is moving around so much. I look outside. I see clouds and snow.
We must be getting close.
As the plane gets lower, the turbulence gets worse. For the first time, an airplane’s seatbelt is actually very necessary. I feel like I’m not a roller coaster, but with a higher chance of dying. Finally, the plane drops beneath the clouds and we see a beautiful view of the lights of Toronto. We are close.
I start to feel very excited.
The plane lands and taxies to the gate. Jason and I are fourth off the plane, but we get to the baggage claim long before anyone else.
Not remembering having heard the carousel number for the luggage on our flight. We go from carousel to carousel, looking for our flight number. Since there are many carousels, we decide to see if it tells us where ours is on a screen. We walk over. As I’m scanning the screen, I hear…
Two men dressed in airport uniforms are sitting below the screen.
“Five?” I ask.
“Five,” the man tells me.
I suddenly realize that these men probably just watched us walk up and down the carousels, looking for ours.
We head to carousel five. Our bags are already there. We breeze through customs. We see the automatic sliding double doors ahead.
“Jason,” I say, “Our family is going to be waiting outside those doors.”
We pause for five seconds, just savoring the moment.
We go through the doors. Our family is there waiting.
Hugs, laughter, and smiles.
It feels so good to be home. We walk back to where the van is parked. I say good-bye to Jason, and thank him for accompanying me.
We drive home. It’s Christmas.
I feel slightly sad about leaving Guatemala, slightly scared about adjusting to life in Canada, but mostly excited about what God has in store for me in the next chapter.