Sunday, January 10, 2010

Guatemala, Part 3

And suddenly we were back in Guatemala City again, at the Holiday Inn, getting ready to sleep and then to leave the next day.
They had 6:00 or 7:00 AM flights, so I was not worried about waking up late. We got up early, and went to eat our free continental breakfast. They left me there, and I found a taxi about 8:00, which I figured should get me there in plenty of time for the 9:30 bus to Tapachula. I bargained a hard price because I knew I had just a little money left in my account. I had figured it out like this: 200 pesos for the bus ride to Tapachula, 630 to Mexico City, 72 back to San Felipe, and maybe like 100 for food. Maybe there was a little more, but then again maybe there was a little less. So I better just not spend anything, just to make sure.
I arrive to the bus station, pay the driver, and walk inside. There is hardly anyone. I walk up to the counter.
“One ticket for the 9:30 bus please.”
“You mean the 3:30 bus?”
“What? Uh, no, the 9:30.”
“Yeah, the 9:30 leaves from Tapachula and arrives here, to then turn around and leave at 3:30 from here.”
“Doesn’t that sign say… wait…” I look up. What I had thought meant “leave for Tapachula at 9:30” actually meant “leaves from Tapachula for here at 9:30.” That was a terrible way of putting it, but I was in trouble either way.
“Wait, isn’t there a morning bus?”
“Yeah, it left 15 minutes again. The next one is at 3:30. Do you want to buy a ticket?”
“Uh, is that the only other one?”
“Um, yeah, give me a ticket for that one.”
I get the ticket and go sit down. I’ve got to work this out in my mind. OK. So I leave here at 3:30, I arrive at the border at 8:00, hopefully get across even though I don’t have a stamp, the hour changes forward, and we arrive at Tapachula at 9:30, local time, at earliest. I suddenly felt really sick. I suddenly felt really alone. I had no money. I had no friends. I had no one to help me out. I felt like calling mom and dad, the prodigal son arriving home with his tail between his legs, but realized I couldn’t call them even if I wanted to. And what would I say? Come pick me up? Send money? To where? How? I couldn’t call Kike or Adalid or anyone, no one could help me, no one could come get me, I was simply all alone, by myself, in a place so scary and with so many people that seemed to want to hurt me. Why had God suddenly abandoned me? Why did it seem like he just dropped me off in the middle of nowhere, without anyone to help me? Why didn’t he open my eyes to read that bus sign correctly? Why didn’t he make me leave earlier for the bus station? Why did he make the guy at the bus station a complete jerk? Why did he put the bus station in the middle of the worst ghetto I had ever seen?
I wanted to cry. I wanted to fall apart. I did fall apart. I walked into the little deli and fell apart mentally and spiritually. I tried not to cry, no matter how much I wanted to. I felt like a little kid who had lost his mom and suddenly felt like panicking and screaming out. It felt terrible. I probably whispered some upset words. I definitely thought some angry thoughts. I bought a yoghurt, looking for the brand my friend from the bus sold, not finding it. I put my head on the glass table and tried to sleep. Tried to sleep so I wouldn’t have to think about how mad and alone I was. Tried to sleep to make the seven hours I had to wait there go a little faster. It never came. I had already finished my Vonnegut book, wasn’t about to pick up the C.S. Lewis book, had nothing to write but things I knew I would later regret, and even when I tried to found I had lost my pen. I wasn’t leaving that place to walk out into the God-forsaken world.
I was uncomfortable. I felt something pulling at me, but I shrugged it down. Another realization dawned on me, and that was that the last bus from Tapachula left at 9:00, and we wouldn’t be arriving until 9:30 at the earliest. And since the bus station closed, and I didn’t have money for a hotel, I would be sleeping on the street in a Mexican border town.
I pulled the book out of my pack and sighed. Even if I was going to hate what I read, it wasn’t as bad as thinking about how screwed I was.
I opened it. I opened it and started to read, picking up at a part near the end. A sentence into the chapter, the room started to mist over and dropped away, while a soft rush ran over my ears and all sound melted into silence. The booming voice of the narrator beat upon my heart as I feared it might. And this is what I read, in my own words:
How quickly your faith disappears when you are in situations that you believe are impossible to get out of. Sure, you believe God can save you when He holds a plane for you five extra minutes, but when you are truly in a state that you need Him, how quickly are you to forget how big He is. How is a sports player supposed to improve in his sport? Simply play in games? No, you practice and condition so you are ready when the big game comes, you are in shape and ready to play. You hardly need to think about it because your body has been trained to react to whatever position you are in. You cannot hope to grow in faith, or in patience, unless you are put in situations that you need to use that. Yes, you can practice patience sometimes in your house with your siblings or your parents, but God needs to put you through strong conditioning sometimes. How can you grow in your faith unless you trust that God will bring the good, but also deliver you through the bad.
I stopped and prayed for forgiveness. I already broke down so this was simply God picking me up and putting me on my feet. Carrying me. That’s what He was doing, not picking me up. He was carrying me.
I continued:
It is like you are a house. You have a leaky sink and you are so sick of it so you call God up and ask Him to come fix your house. So he comes over and fixes your sink and then without you asking fixes your dishwasher and fridge. You are happy that He is fixing things you didn’t ask for, but suddenly He is remodeling your basement and adding a courtyard and running up pillars. You are suddenly mad that He is changing all this that you didn’t want changed. You wanted Him just to fix your kitchen, but He isn’t just fixing your house; he is completely rebuilding it because He is going to come live inside.
Like a flowing metaphor the fear and anger and loneliness and abandonment left. I put down the book, got up, grabbed my bag, and left the bus station. If I’m going to die, I’m going to die. If God is going to protect me, He is going to protect me. I walked out, turned left, and started walking. I didn’t look behind me, I didn’t look to the sides. I saw police in front, which normally would have made me just as scared as if I saw criminals, but I walked on past, down the next block. I made it another block, and one more, and suddenly saw a Burger King. And just past the Burger King was a main street with government buildings and nice statues and a perfectly fine area. I bought a pen and went to Burger King and sat down and wrote. This is what I wrote:
Bus Missed
15 minutes late, six hours early
Connection bus sure to be missed
Status in country: illegal
Hardly enough money to make it home
How can one have more faith? How can you be braver?
How can you be more sure of God, without more difficult situations?
That is why I am here alone
Danger of thieves, kidnappers, homeless, drug addicts, corrupt police, corrupt army, darkness of night, of the unknown and strange
Only God is for me
Only He can save me from the circling vultures of the devil.
Will I believe or will I run and hide?
Will I allow this to bring me closer to God, or run away?
Will I face Ninevah or run to the docks?
More importantly: if this gets tougher, and I persist,
And that means that God will take me a step further
And make things even more difficult, is that just too much?
Options: give up now and go live in the country, a quiet peaceful life until it ends
Continue on through the terrifying jungle, fighting wild beasts and disease,
to find the treasure
Give up now, go home and get fat
Train harder
Run faster
Tired and weary
Falling and hurting
Desperate and alone

But not too alone.

I looked at the clock. I still had two hours. I would go back with 20 minutes to go, because if I’m missing this bus, well I’m missing this bus. It’s not in my hands anymore. I read the rest of the book and thought about it. With twenty minutes to go, I got up and left. I saw a cash machine and got 200 Quetzales out. I don’t know why I did, but I just figured I would need it. I did it out of complete instinct of my gut feeling. Or soul tugging. I walked back without incident to the bus station and waited.
The bus borded about 20 minutes late, but if we were getting there late, we were getting there late.
We left heading North, approaching the border just about 8:30. I watched for churches as we went, hoping they were within walking distance and hoping I could take sanctuary in them if I was denied access into Mexico.
We get to the border and run the same drill: fill out the paper work, 20 minutes to get across, if you have to take more time they are leaving you, sorry, and good luck. If I’m crossing, I’m crossing.
I get off the bus first, and suddenly realize what had happened: there were two spots where I was supposed to have checked in. There is one crossing for Guatemala, a bridge which must just be anyman’s land, and then Mexico. You have to “check out” of one country and “check in” to the other. The Guatemala side, as I said, is just a little booth with maybe three windows in it that you just look through and hand them your stuff, but the Mexico side is a big gate with guards and stuff.
It is at this moment that I realize I probably should just walk across, not stopping at the Guatemala side, and just walk to the Mexico side. But you know what? If I’m going to get deported, I’m going to get deported.
“Where is your stamp, son?”
“Your stamp, I can’t find it.”
“Uhh, I don’t know.” An honest answer.
“How is it possible that you got into the country without getting a stamp?”
“I was going to ask you guys that same question.”
They look at each other and shrug, as if this has never happened before and they don’t know what to do about it.
“Come on inside.”
Uh oh. I go inside the little hut. Maybe it has four rooms inside, it looks like. I enter behind the guard who told me to come inside. He pulls out a chair and tells me to sit down. I can see everyone from the bus there on the other side of the window. They are talking about me – it’s not hard to see.
“Uh, that’s ok. We just had a six hour bus ride and I’m kind of tired of…”
“Sit down.”
Another guy comes in.
“How did you get into our country illegally?”
I wanted to laugh. “Well, it’s not like anyone or anything is here to explain all this. And it’s not like security is very tight.” Maybe I shouldn’t be sarcastic. “I mean, it was kind of just a big misunderstanding. This is all very confusing.”
“You are here illegally in our country.” I find this to be mildly funny and hysterically ironic. I want to say “I’m probably the first one to do that!” but I refrain myself.
“That is a felony.”
“This has to be a spirit of the law type of thing because you can see there was a lot of confusion and this is an honest mistake. I mean, I didn’t cost anyone anything, I haven’t been working. I have just been here spending my money in your country.”
He is not going to be reasonable. I need to bail and bail fast. He starts lecturing me.
“This is like if you are in your house and you leave the door open. That doesn’t mean I can just come in and hang out. I need to ask permission.”
“Yes, yes, of course you are correct.” I am really thinking about calling his bluff.
“Ok, what we are going to do now it send you back to Guatemala City and then we are going to deport you to the US.”
Now, I knew this wasn’t true. I mean, I knew that not only would it cost him a lot of time and trouble to do that, he would take a lot of flak for wasting government funds to deport me. There was no way that he would follow through. I thought about calling his bluff here too. But then three thoughts occurred to me: maybe he might do it just to spite me, maybe they won’t let me back into Mexico if they do deport me for real, or if not, he probably will just detain me long enough for the bus to leave and then send me across, screwing me royally. And that time much be running low as we speak. None of these are good options, so I go for the pity route. I breathe heavily and look sad.
“Look, this is just an honest mistake. This is just so stupid. I mean, I never have done anything to hurt anyone and I would hate to cause any problems for you guys.” I know everyone outside can hear me and see what’s going on. I figure they aren’t going to hurt me here or anything, so I might as well look as if I am going to waste their time as much as I can, rambling on about nothing.
He takes the bait and quickly cuts me off.
“Or you can pay the fine.”
“How much is the fine? I don’t have that much in cash…” thinking of the 200 Quetzales.
“200 Quetzales.”
Whoop whoop whoop! I pull out the only 200 I have, and put it in his hand. He puts the “fine” in his pocket, grabs the stamp and stamps my passport. I smile and thank him, and walk swiftly out of the booth and across to the Mexico side. I see that the bus is still being searched, so I got some time left before I can get back on. I walk across the bridge crossing the invisible water below, happy and free, go into the Mexico booth, which is much nicer (a real government building, instead of quite literally a small mobile home, give them my passport, ask for 90 days on my new Mexico visa, pay it and walk to customs. I hit the button for green or red, which gives me green, and I leap for joy and smile at the guards. Not like it would have taken long to search my bag, but I have a streak going: out of the three mission trips and now five more times I have crossed the border coming into the country, I have always hit green. That is a streak I’d like to keep rolling.
As I wait for the bus, a very nice couple comes over and asks me what the problem was. As I start to tell the story of coming down here and crossing the border, people start to gather around. I have a great chance to tell everyone all about me adventure, as it is so far. They are all pretty happy for me, seeing how they don’t know me.
We’re back on the bus in a jiffy.
We get rolling again, and are just about to arrive in Tapachula at 9:45.
“If I’m sleeping on the street, I will be protected.”

“If I’ve ended up here, why should I doubt now?

“We just radioed up, and the Mexico City bus arrived late. There are still five seats left, if anyone wants them. Does anyone? We need to call in and tell them to wait.”
I close my eyes and decide I will give up my spot to someone else, whoever else needs it. I wait and open them again to see the nice couple and another girl behind me with their hands up. I slowly put my hand up, as I hear many people are talking about me, the ones who heard my story, and are genuinely happy for me. And people say God is boring.
I’m off the bus and onto the next one, helping the couple with their baggage, and hoping my debit card goes through. It does, and I’m off to Mexico City. It is the long bus – 18 hours – but I’m just happy to be there. It is extended by constant border patrol boarding our bus and pulling people off. I hate to say the darker colored people were yanked off, but that’s pretty much what happened. They would make them say certain words, and for whatever reason would decide to haul them off the bus or let them stay. There was even an African looking guy. He must have quite a tale to tell. He got pulled too. And didn’t get back on.
I was really scared, but they didn’t check my ID even once.
(All of this would make sense later).
I check my cash account when I get back to San Felipe – four dollars is all I have left.