Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Holding onto the cashews

I lay in bed last night, thinking of where I was three years ago.  Guatemala.  I'm scrolling through pictures in my head, remembering my departure from Portland at night, journal in my lap, gazing out at the sprinkling of airport lights below.  A sprawling Lite Brite board.  I'm running away for a month, away from the life I don't quite want to come home to yet in Seattle.  A life without Papa.  

I write the entire month in Guatemala, stories of adventures, but more so, stories of the grief that has followed me across countries.  I'm jumbled up with emotions, but steady in the midst is this shred of confidence that one day I will write.  Really write.  It's beginning to awaken in me as never before, that though I've been studying Psychology for nearly a decade, this is where my passion really lies.  The telling of stories.

One story in particular is branded in my memory, fraught with meaning that seems to slip through my fingers as it's on the verge of being caught.  Tucked away in my wooden Papa chest at home is a little bag of dried cashews and the memory of a Guatemalan man I met in the lakeside town of Panajachel.  In honor of starting my nonfiction writing program this evening, three years later, I share his story once more.

Francisco had been trying to sell to us all day, out of the three plastic sacks of nuts he carried around town. Up early and out late, he shuffled along in his rancher hat, up and down the main street street in Pana, carrying his goods for sale. He came to our table last night, as my friends and I were sipping cheap wine and eating flan at one of the many open cafes in town. We responded as we have learned to do with most of the local vendors: "No, gracias, senor." And he went on his way. Unlike the others who frequently approach us at the table, he didn't even stay and persist. As we were walking back to our little hotel at the end of the street later on, we passed by him once more. He sat on the steps, in the doorway of an open shop, looking tired and dejected. I felt a pang I couldn't ignore, so with only 10Q (less than $1.50) between us, we walked back to him.

His tired eyes lit up, just a little, at the prospect of a sale, though it took us a few attempts to communicate that we only had enough for 10Q of cashews. I crouched down on the steps beneath him and attempted to speak with him in poor Spanglish. As he spoke to us, I studied him: his two-toned, worn green sweatshirt; white socks and old black tennis shoes; his eyes, once vacant, now with a small spark of life, set kindly in his weathered face; his smile, missing a few front teeth, beautiful and haunting. And my own eyes took me by surprise, filling with tears. I tried to look away before he saw, but our eyes locked for a brief moment, and he smiled, as if he knew something I couldn't speak.

I cried silent tears as we walked back to the hotel, clutching my tiny bag of cashews. Once in the hotel, I waved the girls upstairs, found a dark corner, and wept. I knew I wept for Francisco, this kind man, living a quiet, hard life. But what surprised me more is that I wept for the glimpses of my Papa I saw in Francisco, and I ached to wrap my arms around Papa once more, wearing his two-toned old green sweatshirt. My Papa would have loved Francisco.

I fill with gratitude this morning, remembering how far I've journeyed over the past three years.  Thankful that I am given the gift of writing still, for that handful of cashews and the snapshot of a man, and the memories of my Papa that live on inside of me.  

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