I’ve written a few times about Olivia’s ongoing visits with her birth family. To recap: Olivia reunited with her birth mother “Ana”–a middle-aged widow–when she was seven years old. A year later, at age 8, Olivia met her birth grandmother, Abuela, and her siblings “Dulce” and “Santiago.” Over the next several years, we continued to visit the family, always in a neutral place, not Ana’s small village, because I worried about drawing unwanted attention to Ana and her family. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: In Guatemala, we stand out.
I knew our visit this year would be extra special because in 2015 our family experienced three important milestones. Olivia turned 13 and became a “senorita.” Dulce married her sweetheart and gave birth to her first baby. And Santiago moved away. Big changes, all.
On a Tuesday last June, Ana arrived by chicken bus at the appointed spot at the appointed time, as usual. But instead of clambering down the steps with Dulce and Abuela, she climbed out the back door alone. In my limited Spanish, I asked “Where is everybody?” and Ana answered that this year, we were coming to her house because the baby was too young to travel and the trip wasn’t easy for Abuela, either.
My attitude toward chicken buses is “Don’t ride them,” but what could I do? Nothing except run back to the hotel for our suitcase of gifts. Olivia and I hopped with Ana onto the next chicken bus for the return journey.
One chicken bus, one microbus, one taxi ride, and one uphill hike later, we stood in the lane at the gate in front of Ana’s adobe house, where Olivia’s family has lived for generations–possibly before the arrival of the conquistadors. A sumptuous lunch of fried chicken and squash and rice was served. The blue corn tortillas were handmade that morning from Ana’s own crop, the best we’ve ever eaten. Thirteen felt like the perfect age for Olivia to transition to a new setting. Abuela gave her a rosary necklace and Dulce’s new baby was beautiful.
As we finished lunch, Ana jumped up without notice and disappeared, and Dulce shrugged when I asked her why. A minute later, from the lane in front of the gate, a hundred firecrackers ignited and lit the sky, the snapping racket loud enough for every person in town to hear.
Ana’s daughter Olivia had come home.