“I have a problem” are not the four words you want to receive in a text message from your visa-carrying spouse while at U.S. immigration. I started to imagine worse case scenarios. His next text interrupted my thoughts, “I forgot my license.”
I jumped into problem solving mode with a sense of urgency and intensity. I spent the better part of Thursday trying to figure out how to get the aforementioned drivers license to Ohio by Saturday. I called FedEx and DHL in Guatemala, but there were of little help. They don’t deliver on the weekends. I posted on Facebook and tagged practically everyone I know in Antigua, but no one knew of anyone traveling to the U.S. on Thursday. My options and time were running out.
* * *
I logged in to the lovely and efficient usps website and paid for a priority express overnight label. I slapped it on to one of the padded envelopes that I bring back from the states for mailing emergencies such as this. I had texted our friends in Minnesota. I figured I could buy more time if I shipped the license to her and then she offered to drive down to the airport on Monday morning to meet Gerber. He had extended his work trip after being in Ohio to fly to Minneapolis to meet Lily, the woman whom he spoke about at the Q conference. She was the woman who came to Guatemala in her fifties as Peace Corp Volunteer and took weaving lessons from my mother-in-law. Later she chose to support Gerber through school for the following 12 years. She did for one, what she may have wanted to do for many. And Gerber was the one.
Lily is in now in her 80s and reluctantly gave up driving long ago. She lives an hour outside of Minneapolis in a retirement home and Gerber hasn’t seen her in over 15 years. He needed his licence to rent the car that we had already paid for. And I was determined to get it to him. All I needed was one person to take the package with them on a plane leaving Thursday night and drop it a mailbox Friday morning.
I had the genius, or rather desperate idea, to drive to the airport in Guatemala City and just ask some kind person to take it with them. It was pre-paid and pre-addressed. And I have no qualms about talking to strangers. I mean who wouldn’t take it, right??
* * *
I grew up in a family that’s motto was, “it never hurts to ask,” which has generally served me well. I asked one man who was flying to LA, but he wasn’t leaving the airport because he had a connecting flight. I cornered another couple with matching safari vests, but they were in flying to Tikal. I asked at least 6 or 7 people, before one kind lady in a gray t-shirt with a neck pillow draped around her suitcase looked at me with compassion and said, “I just feel a little weird about this.”
That’s when it dawned on me. This was weird. I mean airlines always ask, “Has anyone given you anything to carry on the flight?” And there I was, my hair in a high messy bun and my arms sweating as I kept readjusting my heavy purse hanging off my shoulder. My voice grew higher as my hope became thinner. I walked to the parking lot defeated, clutching the package I didn’t want to be holding. The parking meter informed that I had just spend one hour and thirty-eight minutes desperately waiting outside the airport. I fed my Q20 bill into the machine and knew I would spent at least another hour and thirty-eight minutes sitting in traffic. I sank into my car and turned up the air conditioning.
I was frustrated. I had such a good plan, but my plan wasn’t working.
If I had been in the U.S. the minor frustration of forgetting your license would not have turned into a major ordeal. I could have driven down to the local UPS office and paid extra to overnight it anywhere in the continental U.S. Our system is built around efficiency and customer satisfaction, when you have the privilege of paying extra. Guatemala’s systems are different at best, terribly frustrating at worst.
When I was leaving the airport I got a Facebook message from a friend of a fiend who had read one of my Facebook posts. She said she was leaving that next morning and she could take it. It was my only option at this point. She gave me her address. San Cristobal. I plugged it into google maps. Siri showed me all red routes and said, “you will arrive in approximately one hour and twenty-seven minutes.”
4:45PM in Guatemala City makes rush-hour on the 405 look easy.
I called my co-worker to cancel my afternoon meeting. She said, “No worries. I’ll take care of it.” I then called our sitter and asked if she could please stay a little late because I was stuck in traffic. She replied graciously, “No tenga pena.”
Guatemala may not have the most efficient postal options, but it does have the most flexible people. When you live in a place where you can’t always count on certain systems to be in place you end up counting on people. You learn rather quickly that you have to ask for help from others when you can’t always depend on yourself or the system you live within.
The red brake lights of the cars in front of me got brighter, as the sky grew darker. I was hungry. I had missed lunch. But I’ve learned another survival tactic while living in Guatemala, where it’s not always easy or safe just to just pull over and buy food, focus on what is good. I drank a sip of water and choose to be thankful for a car that worked and for 3G cell service. Neither one guarantees in Guatemala.
I finally made it down the highway to San Cristobal. I pulled up to a metal gate at 6:30 PM and a familiar face walked out. She was smiling and offered me a hug. In that moment I remembered where I had met her. She was at the the Q conference when Gerber spoke a few months ago and we had sat right next to her. I handed her the white padded envelope that I had fruitlessly waved around at the airport entrance.
“Thank you.” I sighed in relief. “Do your remember when Gerber shared about Lilly at the Q conference? I asked. “Well, he’s going to see her on Monday.”
She nodded and smiled, “Of course I do. So glad I can help.”
She promised to drop it in the mail first thing when she arrived in Alabama on Friday afternoon. I got back in my car and texted Geber.
“Your license is on its way. Should be there by Saturday.”
He wrote back, “Thank you mi amor. I feel so bad for all you did.”
I responded, “You would have done the same for me.”
“Yeah, I would have. But I would have been more grumpy about it.”
I sent back a red heart emoji and drove home in the dark, tired but grateful.
* * *
Underneath the love and romance of marriage and buried beneath the inside jokes and sweet text messages, ultimately you want someone you can depend on. I remember well in my late twenties being single and more than a fancy wedding or nice home, I just wanted that person I could call if my car got stuck or if I needed a ride to the airport. I remember filling out forms at the doctor’s office and pausing at “In case of emergency.” Who do I put? My parents? My roommate? Neither one of those felt adequate. I wanted my person, a partner, someone I could count on.
The flip side of that desire, is also the responsibility that comes from being the person someone else depends on. Often depending on one another means being willing to help at horribly inconvenient times. When I said “I do,” I promised to love and respect Gerber, and I think implied somewhere in that promise was the also the commitment that “you can count on me, no matter what.”
Even to overnight your license to you when you forget it in Guatemala.
Because, I know I can count on him, too.