In January of my YAV year three years ago, I was traveling by bus from Guatemala City to Xela, where I lived, after spending a week with my brother who came to visit. I had only been in the country for about four months, and while my Spanish skills were improving, speaking Spanish was still a challenge and virtually left my brain completely if I was really tired, angry, or scared. As I began this four-hour trip out of the capital I was tired and a little nervous. I had never traveled alone, and going to the capital made me nervous, but as we left the capital and began to wind around the mountain roads I felt myself relaxing a little. Everything was going to be fine. Until the bus started making a strange noise and the bus driver eventually told us all to get off the bus. As my anxiety began to rise from my toes up to my stomach, through my throat and almost started leaking out of my eyes I felt like it pushed out all the Spanish I had learned in the previous five months.
I should say here that learning to be flexible and deal with changes to the plan calmly, flexibly, and gracefully, was a big growth area for me during my YAV year in Guatemala, but I wasn’t quite there yet at this point. So just as I was about to start crying a man asked me in accented English “Are you ok?” I stammered some kind of response and tried not to let the freak-out that was happening inside show on the outside. I’m sure he could see right through it though, because he told me that we would just get off the bus and wait for a chicken bus to come by that was headed toward Xela and we’d get there eventually.
I was still apprehensive, but I felt the anxiety slowly slowly start to recede. We got off the bus and he told me I could stand with him and his wife and he continued to speak to me in English, which he had learned from living in the US. Eventually a public bus came and we crammed onto the already full bus for the last couple of hours to Xela.
When I told my host mom about my experience (I had regained my Spanish skills by the time I returned home) she earnestly told me I should thank God for sending this guardian angel. It’s not the word I would have used, but I was almost hysterically grateful to this stranger who saw my anxiety and just spoke to me in the language I understood best and stood by me through this situation that really was not a big deal at all, but felt scary to me at the time. And something did feel holy in that seemingly simple act of a stranger reaching out and me relying on him in my moment of need (however silly that need and anxiety seems to me now). It was a moment when I felt like I had no control and didn’t know what to do and had to rely on a stranger for help. And it was ok. It was more than ok–his presence saved me in that moment. Would I have been fine without him? Sure. But he was there and I am grateful.