So…I received a failing grade for day 1 of the Guatemala experience. In fact, I didn’t even make it there.
After successfully navigating a border crossing into Tijuana and onto my first flight, things were looking good. I even made huge progress on my required reading “Silence on the Mountain,” by Daniel Wilkinson. We arrived in Mexico City as scheduled, and I even located my next gate ahead of time. Making the assumption that I could approach the gate for the following flight 30 minutes in advance, I located, purchased, and enjoyed a delectable bowl of tortilla soup. It was creamy, just the right temperature, and even garnished with charred chiles. After paying the bill, I headed across the hallway to my gate.
“Lo siento, senor, su vuelo ya lo dejo, perdio su vuelo.”
I missed my flight? What? But the plane wouldn’t leave for another 25- 30 minutes! I made some sense of the explanation, learning that all passengers for this flight showed up three hours early and had already been bused to the tarmack. What now?
The answers to “What now?” were not good. In fact, they brought a grown man to tears in public. No thanks to AeroMexico’s TERRIBLE flight policies, here were the answers:
- Spend over an hour locating your baggage that was left behind.
- Pay $200 as a penalty for missing your flight.
- Have your return flights from Guatemala voided.
- Be offered, then turn down a $600 flight into Guatemala the next afternoon- which cost slightly more than the first class tickets hunted for and purchased for the entire trip, months ago.
- Travel back and forth between terminals, on a sky train, trying to book a flight out by nightfall.
- Have your incredible wife on the phone most of her afternoon, working to book flights, dispute charges.
- Miss the first day of Spanish 4 Educators programming in Guatemala.
- Give up. Pay penalties. Book a next day flight for $318 with another carrier.
- Find a hotel. Get a shuttle. Find a bed by 11:00 PM.
Now that I have gotten a good night’s rest, a lukewarm shower, and a little bit of drip coffee, I have a new perspective. If I were on the Amazing Race, I would be out. If I were centrally focused on seeing Latin America “on a shoe string,” I would have to abandon the cause. If I were graded on my ability to navigate a stressful situation in Spanish, I would not have gotten a passing grade.
When I remember why I really left home for Guatemala, I may be getting exactly what I was after. Literally in a single moment, at gate 75A in the Mexico City airport, I experienced pieces of the reality many of my students face every single day.
- I lost privilege. I went from “first class passenger” to “man without a seat or a plan.”
- I experienced disorientation in a new environment.
- I was forced to use my budding language skill in emotionally heightened conversations.
- The kindness of people who helped me along with way, had an augmented impact on my spirit.
- Despite my best efforts, I felt defeated.
That said, I want to remind myself of a few things: 1) I am safe. A kind Columbian man highly discouraged my idea of taking the last leg of the journey by bus into Guatemala. Avoid cartels at all cost. 2) When we can solve our problems with money, our challenges are not as serious as they feel in the moment. This was not disease, or prison, or tragedy. Hard, yes. Tragic, no. 3) I have an incredible wife. 4) It’s the journey, not the destination. With some distance, and a safe landing in Guatemala later today, I am going to appreciate this recent episode even more. In the words of my team leader, “These things happen sometimes in the exciting world of international travel.”
I just hope to get a passing grade today!