Honduras 2004 - Many Meetings

DEC. 27—Four days after my arrival, Karla and I sit on a bus bound for Las Ruinas de Copán, one of the most famous sites of the ancient Maya. The bus ride marks the beginning of our adventures, but for me, it also serves as a much-needed breather. The past four days have been a whirlwind of reunions and new acquaintances. The days have flown by like the jungle outside my bus window.

In the 21 years since my year abroad in Honduras, I have imagined these reunions countless times, picturing them in every conceivable permutation. My year in this country, living as a native, was—and remains—the most profound experience of my life. I left behind treasured family and friends long ago, never imagining that so many years would pass before I saw them again.

After fantasizing about my return for so long, one would think I came with ultra-high expectations. Yet I arrived with the mental equivalent of a blank slate. I imagine it would have been different if less time had passed. But after so many years with so many changes, I didn't know what to expect, and I therefore had few expectations.

When I landed in Tegucigalpa, I sailed through customs—so quickly that Karla had not yet arrived to pick me up. My reacquaintance with my "sister" was the meeting I awaited with perhaps the most anticipation. She was just six when I left; now, 21 years later, she was all grown up. I literally did not know what to expect upon meeting her, and we were to spend my entire visit together, traveling around the country. I knew something of her from our email correspondence in the months preceding my visit, but it still wasn't the same as seeing her in person. It was like knowing about someone, but not knowing them.

But when the crowd parted, there she was. I recognized her immediately. She was 21 years older than when I saw her last, but not much taller. Same big eyes, same cute smile, same fiery personality. Within moments of talking to her, I felt something that would quickly become a theme of the many meetings over the next few days: I felt as if hardly any time had passed at all. Karla had been a child when I left, and seeing her as an adult was like meeting a different person. Yet we instantly got along as if we had grown up together.

When we arrived at the house and I reunited with my mother, father and brother Chalie, I found myself surrounded by the same warmth. I spent a year, a wonderful year, as part of this family, but 21 more years apart from them had passed. Yet they made me feel as if I had always been, and always will be, a member of the family. Like I had never left.

With old friends back in the States, even with members of my own family, I don't know if I would feel so comfortable so quickly after a 21-year separation. This warm friendliness so characteristic of the Honduran people—and unfortunately lacking in so many of my fellow Californians—is part of what made me fall in love with this country in the first place.

The same camaraderie warmed the evening—Christmas Eve, Noche Buena. The house filled with other family members as we celebrated the holiday. Buzzing from so many meetings, so much Spanish conversation, and more than a few glasses of Flor de Caña rum, I finally found my way to bed. After a day full of dreams-come-true, I slept a night without dreams.

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