I’ve always been known for my larger-than-life laugh. It’s to the point that it’s even been officially titled. Twice, actually. While most people find “The Kristina Cackle” ridiculous and (if visibly with me) slightly embarrassing, I find it to be rather telling of my life… Or maybe, more correctly, my outlook on life.
When people ask how my experience in Guatemala has been, there are two predominant conversation paths I can travel down. I could begin by listing off the absurd amount of health cases that I’ve been dealt (thigh-encompassing allergic reactions to ant bites, sun-blistered lips, parasites, bed bugs, lice, and yes, even fleas). But where’s the fun in that? I laugh most of those off anyway. Rather, I choose to begin by listing off the reasons I love this place. Why, you ask? The latter is a much longer list AND puts a bigger smile on my face.
Take munchkin Tony for instance. He is a five-year-old who doesn’t have a terribly large vocabulary due to a developmental delay. Regardless, not only has he won over my heart, he’s won over the heart of all my family that has come to visit. Tony has the two most adorably crooked front teeth I have EVER seen. He can’t help but flash them as he runs up to me shouting his version of my name: “Tee-naa! Tee-naa!” Because of his endless energy, I’m never bored when with him. We do anything from make paper airplanes, to rummage through the sandbox for hidden trucks, to play the “Tony Scares Kristina” game, to receive endless kisses from him while together. Tony is the FIRST kid I would stow in my luggage.
Then there’s Astrid. When I first started teaching English upon my arrival, she was one of my most difficult students. She was constantly arriving to class 15 minutes late with an I-could-care-less attitude. She was your typical 16 year-old. While I do believe she wanted to learn English, it sure was hard to read that from her participation. Yet, with graduation come and gone, we are no longer teacher and student. We have movie nights. We’ve created nicknames for each other. We greet each with over-the-top cheek-to-cheek kisses. But, most importantly, we’ve gained each other’s trust. I have come to her for Spanish help. She has come to me for boyfriend advice. I have come to Sass-trid many a time for a simple smile. And, most recently, she has come to me for consoling after a friend’s brother’s suicide. Astrid has become a little sister over these last nine months.
And don’t let me forget Gabriel, or Gaby as I call him. This kid melts my heart. Consistently. Even though he is only nine years old, I can tell he’s wise beyond his years. Any time he receives candy, he stashes at least half of it. This is not for him to eat after dinner; it is so his two older sisters can also enjoy it. He’s always the first to jump in and side with the underdog of a situation in his section. We always get into conversations that begin with him prompting us with intriguing questions. “How many legs does a baby centipede have?” “How did you get that scar on your face?” “Does anyone live on the moon?” (My response? The man on the moon, of course.) Plus, he draws the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. While I will only physically be able to carry his artwork back with me, I will mentally carry countless Gaby memories as well.
These three, plus many more, are the reason I am going to find it so hard to leave Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos come July. While I am looking forward to returning home after a year’s absence, I honestly am leaving a second home and a second family behind. These kids can’t stay in my life forever, but they have already found a permanent place in my heart. So, until that mid-July day, I plan on fully living out my time here in Guatemala. These kids better brace themselves for a bit more Kristina time. Complete with silly jokes, photos galore, animated bedtime stories, tackling hugs, and that crazy cackle of mine 🙂
If you’ve ever been in the presence of “The Kristina Cackle,” then you understand that it is more than just a quirky and adorable personality trait of hers. It represents the joy that she brings and constantly surrounds her company with and it represents her openness and outlook on life. In the time that I have known Kristina (three years now,) she has always been someone to look up to. Her kind and generous heart and her service to others is admirable. Kristina radiates beauty, adventure, and charisma. I really have nothing, but great things to say about this young woman! Since graduating last year, Kristina has been living in Guatemala and volunteering at an orphanage working very closely with her kids. To read more about her experiences, check out her blog here.