They met us that day at the hotel. It was 7AM and they’d arrived to help escort our family to Rio Dulce where we’d be spending a few days. When I stuck out my hand to greet Jane, she pulled me in and gave me a side kiss on the cheek. It took me by surprise, but I played it cool. I was better prepared when Suzy gave me the same, traditional Guatemalan greeting. Years later, I grew to love this greeting. My sister, Corrie, and I decided we were going to bring this greeting back to the States. We had a first hand experience in reasons not to bring traditions from foreign countries back to the US, especially if you are not from that foreign country. The first person I tried to kiss on the cheek is no longer my friend.
But that’s not the story we’re here to talk about.
That first morning, I was put in a car with Jane, Suzy, and my Uncle Dan. It was a little Subaru Tracker. There was no cushion or spring when we went over bumps (and there were plenty of those on Guatemalan roads). It was a stick shift and Suzy was a wiz at dodging chicken busses and large trucks full of pigs. From the moment the drive began, we knew we were going to have an adventure.
Our stop for breakfast at McDonalds gave me my first real live Spanish experience. Suzy told me how to ask for napkins. I went to the counter and said, “Servilletas, por favor.” The woman at the counter gave me a handful of napkins. I was thrilled.
That week in Guatemala I got to experience a lot of first time things: Traveling by boat to get to a remote village, washing my hair in a stream, a few hours on the side of a mountain road because one of the cars overheated, a night in bunk beds with open windows and praying that I would not wake up with bugs in my bed.
But the best part of the trip was spending hours in the car with Jane and Suzy. For a sixteen-year-old girl, there is nothing more encouraging than having an older woman treat you like an adult—like an equal. They were some of the coolest people that I had ever met.
That trip to Guatemala also got me hooked on coffee. I had some of the best coffee I’d ever tasted before or since. This, and looking up to Jane so much, made me want a coffee bean necklace like the necklace that Jane always wore. It had a little sliver coffee bean dangling from a silver chain. I was ecstatic when she told me that she got the necklace in Antigua, there in Guatemala.
The last day of the trip was a shopping trip to this very Antigua. Jane went with me to at least a dozen stores saying, “Un grano de café?” before we finally called it a day, returning to our hotel in Guatemala City with no coffee bean necklace.
I was sad. There was no other souvenir that would cause me to remember that trip more than a coffee bean necklace. It seemed to commemorate everything that I had experienced in one complete package: coffee, Spanish, Guatemala, Jane and Suzy.
The next morning, everyone came to say goodbye to us before we headed to the airport. Jane and Suzy arrived with the others. We spent a few minutes hugging and taking pictures. Then, Jane handed me a tiny hand-woven bag. When I saw that it contained a coffee bean necklace, I wondered briefly how Jane had managed to procure a coffee bean necklace between the hours of 10PM and 7AM. Then I saw that she wasn’t wearing her necklace and reality registered.
I held that little necklace in awe. Then I put it on and only took it off for special occasions. About five years ago, the chain for the necklace finally broke, and I’ve since kept the bean in a jewelry box.
But Jane’s gift to me was more than a necklace. I remember the age of sixteen as one of the best years of my life up until that point. It’s possible it was because I had one of the best weeks of my life up until that point. Jane and Suzy probably had no idea what sort of an impact their kindness towards a teenage girl could have. But that week has remained one of my best memories and is one of the reasons that I am excited to be working as a missionary for a short while.
Because, maybe I’ll get to be a Jane or a Suzy to somebody who comes down to Mexico. Maybe I’ll get to be a Jane or a Suzy to somebody who lives in Mexico.
Or maybe I’ll just get to be a Katherine with my own coffee bean necklace story to pass on to someone else.