DH’s mom was fine. I partially unpacked our suitcases — she abhors opened suitcases on a bed — and washed every dish as soon as Markos, Ari or I would use it. But she didn’t hound me because she was so consumed by Ari.
We even shared a tender moment when she complimented us on what a beautiful child Ari has become. She was amazed at how well behaved he was and his Spanish vocabulary, which seemed like it doubled while we were in El Salvador. “He even knows how to say ‘ladybug’ in Spanish!'” she’d brag to anyone within earshot.
As she bought him so many toys and books and took him to many places, including “Mundo Feliz,” or the Salvadoran version of Chuck E. Cheese, Ari bonded with her right away. We left him two nights to go to Guatemala, and by the second day, Ari didn’t even want to talk to us on the phone. He was too interested in his new dinosaurs, which he named with his Abuelita, Paco and Pepe.
The first day we spoke on the phone, he told me he wanted to be with me. His words put a damper on my trip because all I could think about and talk about was him. I fear I bored the lovely Canadian couple we met in Guatemala with Ari stories.
Even worst, my hubby and I found ourselves in a freaky situation in Guatemala when the bus that was to take us home refused to let us board with a couple of paintings we bought at an art gallery. We were going to get them framed in San Salvador, but the bus company said there was the possibility the bus would be stopped at checkpoint and haggled over them. The conductor ended up shutting the door in our faces and leaving us in a crowded Guatemala City street with our luggage and the paintings.
At first we climbed into a taxi, which promised to take us to checkpoint. My mother-in-law — with Ari in tow — would pick us up on the Salvadoran side. Now, I was uneasy with this plan all along. My mother-in-law has been carjacked in Guatemala near the Salvadoran border. The thugs, who were dressed in uniforms and armed with rifles, ripped her, her husband and father-in-law out the car, made them lie in the middle of the street with their eyes closed and tied up their hands with shoelaces. My MIL’s husband prides himself in being held up in Guatemala “only” two times.
Further raising my suspicion, somewhere along the way, our driver decided to take us back to the Holiday Inn he found us to transfer us to his friend — “the owner of the business.”
“You’ll be more comfortable because his car his bigger,” he told us. “Just give me half the money now and you can pay him the rest at checkpoint.”
I told DH I had to go to the bathroom because I was feeling sick. At this point we were squabbling in English over the paintings — with my husband telling me not to talk about money in the driver’s presence because he would think we were tourists. Not that our luggage and professional pieces of art would tip him off. I had all these awful images in my head of becoming the next desaparecida — the tourist in Latin America who just “disappears.” No one ever hears from her again.
After I finished my business, I was relieved to see Markos standing alone with our luggage and the bane of my existence, the two Doniel Espinoza paintings. He said he asked the “business owner,” who pulled up in an unmarked VW van, to produce evidence that he was, indeed, a cab driver. Markos even caught him in a fib when the driver told him the Holiday Inn called him “all the time” to pick up guests. The bellhop had never seen or heard of him.
After driving out in another cab, we decided to turn around and go back to the hotel. We spent a lot of money on cabs as we continued to change our minds. We were unsure as to the safest route to San Salvador. Eventually, my MIL saved the day when she suggested that a Guatemalan family friend take the paintings and send them to us — which he graciously did. We boarded the next bus to San Salvador.
When we arrived at the bus station, the welcome we received was priceless. “Mami! Papi!” Ari cried out as he ran up to us. He gave me the fiercest hug. I selfishly held him for about a minute while DH patiently waited his turn. But then something else happened. He reached out for his grandmother’s hand so she could put him in his carseat.
He became his own person in my absence. He seemed taller, more outgoing and more talkative. He knew more things: the names of family members, including his great grandmother who he often visited, where they lived, the names of more insects — like the sancudos, or mosquitoes that bit him at night, parks and other activities he shared with his Salvadoran grandmother. Contrary to my fear that he would feel abandoned by me, he became more mature and wiser because he was exposed to more people.
At one point, my MIL, a business owner, left him with her secretary to go to her aunt’s funeral. Ari met his great-great aunt the day before she died. She was 90 years old and practically a corpse in bed. But Ari, who didn’t fear her, brought a smile to our faces when he said, “Tia Bessy, it’s not time for night-night. It’s time to play!”
No one had a better time than Ari. But my husband and I found ourselves grateful for my MIL.