Sometimes angels appear in most unusual places wearing the strangest accessories.
I will call this angel Abuelita which means “little grandmother” because she reminded me of my dad’s mother. In the tiny Hotel del Istmo in Guatemala City, she was leading the conversation of her two coworkers and the young lady working behind the desk. It was clear she was the matriarch. I immediately loved her composure. She laughed with her whole body and when she smiled, I saw all the white teeth that she had. Around her traditional, conservative dress she wore an apron that could hold quite a lot of things.
Sitting there in the lobby, Abuelita greeted a man who came up to her. This man owed her some money and she pulled out a huge stack of cash: dollars and quetzales. She must have been the money changer here. A lot of people probably came and went from this place and she was the one who controlled the bank. I could tell she was in charge, and she liked taking the point of command as she gathered the questions of her friends and asked them to me in Spanish. She told me that I was very tall and quite handsome and she wanted to know how tall I was in centimeters. I told her I didn’t know, but I could tell her what I was in feet and inches. She said that was just fine and she said that I was much taller than one of her sons.
Out from the apron came an address book where she read to me the address of her son that lived in California and apparently was much shorter than me. Her well-worn address book contained all the addresses and phone numbers of her family, scribbled and rewritten as the places and numbers changed. She kept it close to her, in that apron, maybe a reminder that while the family she loved had moved far away, she always knew where they resided.
I first noticed this apron when I stepped into the Hotel del Istmo as the rain came pouring down in Guatemala City. From the apron appeared a cell phone which seemed much too flashy to come from such a modest woman. She asked if I needed to use the phone and I smiled and nodded that I did. Apparently, I had gotten off at the wrong station, and I had stepped inside to get out of the rain and to evade the taxi drivers. I must have looked confused as I stood there with my luggage, rain pouring down, wearing my beat up straw hat, and looking at an address scrawled on a piece of paper. It was with her smile and grace that she extended this loving hand to me with her cell phone in it. As I tried to read off the paper the address and phone number, she realized that she had better dial the number because there was no way I was going to be able to speak Spanish to whoever answered that line.
Abuelita asked me for a dollar to use her phone, I was more than happy to oblige, and now I know how she came to acquire such a wad of money. Alberto arrived 15 minutes later and helped me get my luggage into the vehicle. Strangely enough, Albert was the name of one of my grandfathers. I smiled and waved to the women of the hotel lobby and said “God Bless You” in Spanish. Abuelita returned those words to me with a smile, and waved one hand, the other she kept in the apron, to safeguard a few important things for travelers like me.