“Familiarity is what makes place ‘a’ place.” – Stanley Hauerwas, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness
Guatemala has become “a” place for me. In particular, Tecpán and the surrounding areas have become a place, with familiar rhythms where kind older ladies I know from church greet me on the street and I know all the best routes to walk to the office for maximum sun exposure. The weekly routines–Saturday: tamales, Wednesday: temazcal, Thursday: market day, Sunday: Mass–have anchored me here. Hauerwas says, “routines create and are created by familiarity” (47). The routines of the past five months have created familiarity and have now led to feeling placed here. I say this in contrast to a feeling of being displaced. Certainly, I voluntarily displaced myself, moving to a new country and away from a place of comfort and community, but even so the challenges of grappling with the lack of belonging and familiarity have been difficult.
Our little dog, Peluche, helped me to realize that I have a place here and that “here” is a significant place for me. Peluche is a very loyal dog who loves his master, Don Luis, and follows him everywhere, sleeping at his feet while Don Luis sews the dog clothes that his mom sells in Guatemala City. I’m not sure exactly when, but a while ago Peluche began sleeping in my room under a chair while I read on my bed. Peluche loves to be around his people and I came to realize that I am one of his people. The dog had adopted me as part of the family.
I love to be around my people too. And reflecting on this dog, I saw that I have people here. Peluche was not the only one who had adopted me as part of the family. In fact, I have taken to acting like the dog, following Doña Estela around everywhere she goes, accompanying her to church, watching telenovelas, and helping her prepare meals. Doña Estela has made this place “a” place, she along with her husband, children, grandchildren, church ladies, and the home gardens nutrition team. I am grateful for each one of them.