BLOG: K9 Welcome in Guatemala

It’s a K9 Welcome in Guatemala!

It has been so long! I knew the volcanoes and mountains would be shouting “Bienvenidos!” before the airplane finished its landing. And I was sure my spirit would dance as I walked through the airport and felt de colores de Guatemala wrap around me like a blanket of friendship. I knew deep in my mind that it would feel different because I am different – but also so much like a second home.  Well…it was all of that, and a little something more! 

Usually there are officers with machine guns at several places in the airport and they may have been there today, but I didn’t see them because there were so many officers with K9 partners. Seriously, this is all new.  I must have passed 8 officers with dogs between deboarding and baggage claim!

So when this one female officer and her K9 partner were close to me I just thought the dog liked me. (I clearly was not thinking).  I stood and watched the belt full of bags rolling by and the dog came up behind me and nudged my backpack. I still didn’t think a thing…at all! I just thought the dog was cool.  But I also wasn’t giving them any attention; I just thought they were doing what they do, and we’re not supposed to distract them from their work.  I was watching for my bags; one of which was full of meds for the clinic.  I was focused on retrieving that bag; I didn’t even turn around. 

And then, in the nicest voice she could offer, the officer said, “do you happen to have any food in your backpack?”  And I said, “yes; do you think he smells it? I have all my snacks in there”.   She looked curious, “like what do you have?” “Well, my fitness bars, some peanut butter, almonds…that kind of thing.”  The dog was looking so hopeful at me. I was still clueless. 

And then she said, “Do you have any fruit?” I didn’t understand her at first and then I repeated…. “Fruit? Yes…I’m pretty sure I have an apple….”   She asked if she could see it. 

I opened my pack and there it was. My big beautiful apple that I was saving for after the flight. And then I remembered! And she was kind to say, “you can’t bring fruit into the country. There are diseases….”  Her K9 partner sniffed my apple and got his well deserved treat; actually he got several treats. He was very young, so I think he passed this “on the job training case” with flying stars!  She took my passport and went away, taking the dog with her. It was my first time to ever be sniffed out by a K9 officer. I’m glad my suitcase full of meds hadn’t come out yet!

Cesar and Pastor Jasón faithfully arrive to retrieve me and my bags! A grateful welcome.

Good grief; It’s been too long!  I had forgotten the fruit checkpoints and soldiers and inspections that I’ve experienced many times out on the roads here. I was grateful for the grace and had a great conversation with a different officer who returned with my passport and explained that the disease alerts had become really intense.  I shared that although I’ve made this trip about 18 times in the last 9 years, I totally was not thinking about the rule of no fruit. I brought meds for the clinic with no search. But the apple….  It’s great to be “back”. 

So K9 officers have been added (which I applaud and welcome) but let me share what is still the same endearing experience. The drive to Chichicastenango held enchanting scenery of hills and crops and forests and farmers working in their fields. Traffic was intense and the smell of burning rubber as the trucks took the declines was so familiar.  Tension and clutches screeching as everyone climbed the mountains, navigated the curves and swerved to miss the vehicle that just stopped in the middle of the lane; not budging.  

And then…we came upon a festival! I love the celebratory nature of this country.  Two live bands setting up. Cooking pots over fire. Every roadside stand with flashing lights. A food truck – Guatemalan style. And a giant firework display that will keep the whole village up all night.  What is it?? Cesar rolled down his window to ask the truck full of people about 2 feet away from us on the highway.  

Fireworks display ready to roll!
Guatemalan food truck

“Es bendiciones de la semilla!”  It is the Blessing of the Seed! Of course.  It is planting season, so it begins with this blessing of the seed. Food, music, fiesta and prayers. All night. And then planting can begin.   And now that it is late at night, the trucks are pulling the hill outside Hotel Santo Tomas and it sounds pretty much like they are driving right through this room every time. Yes, I am back in Guatemala! 

There is a reason it’s been a while. I had to set aside several things in order to finish school and keep work and life moving forward. There are seasons when we just have to adjust priorities so we can do something else that requires our attention, and this was my season.  For the past two years and ten months I’ve tended to my learning and experience so I can share from a well that has been a bit more deeply primed. I’ve followed through one of Paul’s missionary journeys to Greece; visited the Holy Land with colleagues; spent my days in community ministry with the YMCA and finished my doctorate in ministry.  

And now…in such a very short time really, I am back.  Different and better. Grateful and ready. Amazed at all God has done with the church in Franklin, Tennessee; with Guatemala; and with me.  The journey just never stops, friends.

So, if a K9 officer nudges your backpack, turn around and see if he’s looking for something you forgot that you are carrying. His nudge might be important; a gentle reminder you didn’t even know you needed. That dog may have saved me from a much different experience on the road tonight. A very special kind of welcome! Grateful.

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