I have returned from my Guatamalan triathlon.

Josué, my “sponsored child,” was an unalloyed delight, as were his parents. Lovely, lovely people. We had an interpreter and a social worker, both of whom could not have been kinder or more helpful. We ate snacks, did a jigsaw puzzle together, the whole bunch of us, finishing literally as lunch was being put down on the table, and in general had a grand old time.

They (who have so so much less than me) bought gifts: a hand-woven mat, several little hand-woven baskets, a green tapestry and a beautiful embroidered red runner, now hanging on my wall, that reads: “Para Heather: Con carino [Love, fondness, tenderness, affection, kindness, concern] de Josue Su Ahijado [Godson].”

The schedule was as follows: up at 3 am to get to the airport on both the departure and return dates. The other days a gathering of some kind, usually a prayer type thing, at 7 am (we had no Ash Wednesday Mass but we did get ashes, distributed by a deacon who happened to be along on the trip), followed by breakfast, a bus ride, a presentation of some sort by the members of various communities (all embarrassingly grateful for our “largesse”) lunch (chicken, rice, tortilllas, beans), another bus ride, another activity, dinner, another gathering, and release by 8 or 9.

When deprived of time alone, my “inner alarm clock,” as I call it, simply wakes me a few hours early so I can gather myself. Which in spite of the attendant sleep deprivation, I appreciate.

We were not allowed under penalty of death to leave the Guatemala City hotel (first and last nights) or compound (in San Lucas Toliman the other four nights) to venture forth on our own.

Thus I learned, as prison inmates do, to “exercise” within the confines of my room. I don’t even do 10,000 steps at home but for some reason I became obsessed with getting them in on the trip. So every spare minute I was jogging in place, or pacing, or striding through the Guatemala City or DFW airport.

I actually like airports. Right away, I make a beeline for the farthest end of the terminal where you can often find an empty gate area or some weird tucked-away corner or a window through which you can hungrily gaze at the world outside.

Dallas/Fort Worth, through which you have to fly basically to get anywhere from Tucson, is so big it has its own zip code (75261), and a very efficient Sky Link train that whizzes you to Terminals A-D. But what I’ve learned is that you can also walk from one terminal to another, which I have come to thoroughly enjoy.

Doing so, this trip I stumbled upon an interfaith chapel at one end of Terminal D. It looks like the waiting room–heaven or hell?–in a science fiction movie with an anodyne “stained glass” window, beige carpet and a loudly ticking clock. I couldn’t have been more grateful or happier. The good folks who run it out of the kindness of their hearts have even installed a couple of free showers, just in case you need a shower.

I spent a good half-hour in there both ends of the trip, clutching my head in my hands and pleading for strength.

No seriously, the whole trip was “good” for me. I went down for the sole reason that Josué had asked in a letter if I would ever want to share a meal with him and his family, so–you bet!

It’s always interesting being in a random group of people as 85% of them consist of married couples with grandchildren. “So do you have children?” they invariably ask.


“Oh! Well…what do you do?”

“Um…I’m a writer. I guess I’m kind of an introspective type. I pray, I walk”…I atone for my abortions

To that end, what made the trip totally doable and even though I felt imprisoned and couldn’t think, write, take notes, read, walk, drink coffee, or make the mental, emotional and spiritual connections of which my life kind of consists, I conceived of the idea simply to make of my day a (at times, I’m ashamed to say, extremely half-hearted) prayer offering for the group itself, the sainted people who were running the trip, the also sainted mothers, fathers and children who we met each day, and in general the people of Guatemala.

Who, with the exception of a three-or-so year old kid who cornered me one afternoon, fixed me with an icy stare, thrust out his little hand, and said, “Da me el dinero,” were to a person welcoming and warm.

Actually, that kid totally made my day.

Let’s face it, it’s probably the silent plea of everyone in Central America upon seeing a well-nourished white person with a purse and sunglasses.

Also the other people on the trip (there were 25 or so of us, many of them older even than me) were unbelievable good sports. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, game for every activity, uncomplaining, cheerful. I am sure this comes from having selflessly raised families and now, caring for their grandchildren.

They were splendid models and, following their lead, I was able to complete the trip without mishap.

Gracias a Dios.


  1. Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda says: Reply

    Hello from Oklahoma, Heather! Did you get to go to Santiago Atitlan, where Blessed Stanley Rother lived for the last 13 years of his life—and where he was martyred? You were so close at San Lucas Toliman!!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Unfortunately no, Maria–the trip was all planned out. They made a visit to the cemetery where Bob Hentzen, the guy who founded Unbound, and I asked what about Blessed Stanley Rother, who also lived, worked and died in Guatemala?…Not much interest (the organization is not strictly Catholic) though they did say he had lived not far away. He’s a huge hero of mine and I know, one of yours! Pray for us, Father Stanley…

      1. Welcome back home, we couldn’t be happier for your experiences-we love to hear about them!

        1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

          Well I love telling about them–so thanks for following along!

  2. Alicia Ellison says: Reply

    Welcome back, Heather! So great of you to post this update. Just earlier today I was wondering when you’d be back and said a prayer for you. As if I knew you personally! Which is surely not unusual amongst your readers who have never met you. You are so generous with what you share and how you live out your artist’s vocation, that we feel that you are a personal friend. . Glad you are back safe and sound after an experience that you surely will treasure always.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha ha I don’t know if treasure is the word…no, on second thought, it is. Thank you so much, Alicia!

  3. David Dames says: Reply

    Heather: was it an Awareness trip?
    We have sponsored children through UNBOUND for 19 years. (Starting with one and eventually ending up with six, for the last 10 years or so . About 7 have “ aged out” or otherwise departed the program . One of our life highlight was an Awareness trip to Costa Rica where we got to spend a whole day with two of our sponsored children. Love the memories your post brought back

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, David, an Unbound Awareness trip! Wonderful to hear that your own experience over the years has been so rewarding–many thanks, and cherish those memories…

  4. Melanie Poser says: Reply

    Glad your back, safe and sound. It seems no matter the difficulties of your trips your always thankful. Wonderful.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yep, I made it, Melanie, and found myself the night after I returned scheming to plan the next trip!

  5. Bob Rueger says: Reply

    A joy to read about your excursions – your journeys inspired by your faith.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      And undertaken like the stumbling pilgrim I am…still, the excursions are always an obscure joy for me as well. Thanks, Bob.

  6. Anonymous says: Reply

    Dear Heather,
    Thanks for sharing this! I am so glad you got down to Guatemala and were able to visit with your sponsored child. I missed knowing the group you went with. I’ll bet it was an adventure and a great joy. They must have loved getting to see and know you. I have a niece and nephew who are Guatemalan. Allie, (short for Allejanadra and David. Both were adopted by my sister. Allie was in an orphanage in Guatemala City. And David’s mom was from Guatemala and came to Fl and delivered him there. They are in their twenties now.
    Glad you are back home safe. God bless ya.
    Jeanne McNulty

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, dear Sister Jeanne–wonderful to know of the Guatemala connection. I think of you often, and take great solace in knowing that you are out there in Pittsburgh sitting in silence before the Blessed Sacrament…I am doing ever more of the same…God bless ya back, for Lent and beyond.

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