We spent our last two nights at Senor Robin’s, the only high-rise apartment I know where the roosters still wake you at four in the morning. The second to the last day we went out to visit a school in a breathtakingly beautiful place called Patzicia, where we hung out with the kids during recess and I was reminded once again that I really don’t know enough Spanish.

We also visited a family who’d had a new cookstove for about a month. The difference in their living conditions was immediately noticeable. No heavy clouds of smoke and ash. No feeling of walking into a house fire. Instead, the family was gathered around the cookstove, sitting and talking, making tortillas. Nearby, the children sat around a crate fashioned as a kid’s table. Here the family could gather in a kitchen, have lunch together and tell us about their hopes and dreams for their children’s futures. “I teach the boys farming now,” the father told us, “Because they are seven and need to know, just in case. But I make sure they go to school. I know there’s something else out there for them. I teach them farming in the afternoon to be a responsible father, but I make sure they do their homework, because that’s giving them a future.”

We spent the last two nights in Guatemala City eating enough food to make up for any possible missed meal over the past few days. Our first night we were treated to Korean food (and another kidnapping story), and I was escorted in a bulletproof Lexus.

“Pam,” Robin said as we drove home that night. “What is left inside your Mom bag that we have not used?”

“Just a couple of–

glow sticks.

“They’ll get used,” she said. “Maybe for my birthday.”

Our last day in Guatemala City was also Senorita Robin’s birthday, so we threw her a surprise party. She didn’t know I was already planning on using those glow sticks for that very purpose. During the thirteen seconds we were in Antigua, both Nikki and I discovered that we had each secretly wandered off to find presents for Robin. I used my remaining

toilet seat covers

to wrap her gift. When we got to the apartment, Bryan met us at the elevator and told Robin that Senor Robin was going to need medical attention for his food poisoning, and that she needed to go in there and get him ready to go to the emergency room. Robin walked in to hear “Surprise!” complete with birthday booze, a cake, and swirling glow sticks.

We gathered together for so much food, swapped stories about sunburns, roosters and me falling on my face, periodically checking on the still-ailing (but multi-fingerly bandaged) Senor Robin. It couldn’t be a late night, as we had to get up at 4:00am to catch our flight home, so the goodbyes were brief but sweet. It felt strange knowing I wouldn’t see Nikki first thing in the morning, that there would be no more brick-soaking chatter with Hugo, that in a few hours I’d be back in my own bed, near a toilet that has flushable toilet paper.

I donated my

poncho and emergency backup poncho

to the Good Neighbors Guatemala office.

And that’s my backpack. The only thing I didn’t end up using the entire trip, despite how many times people told me I was definitely going to need it:

Immodium

I’m very happy about that.

I’m posting these stories on Thanksgiving, because this is the time we think about how fortunate we are, and how grateful we are for our families, our friends, and our health. We make promises to help others who are less fortunate, we think about donating our time and our money to people who are in need. It’s much easier to get caught up in our own lives, the things that are hard, the stuff that sucks, frantic when our DVR’s malfunction and we miss an episode of our favorite television show. So I’m writing this today to remind you that traveling is not that scary, that meeting people is fun, and helping people – even in the smallest way – makes you feel more connected to this world than you could ever imagine.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

To see lots and lots of pictures from the trip, go here. To start from the beginning, go here, or to find out more information on Project Cookstove, go here.