During college, I was invited to teach English as a second language in Guatemala. My first experience that we weren’t in America came when my friend Oscar and I were in town.
I had just purchased a pair of cowboy boots and we were walking back home through the main square when a Jeep approached. Soldiers jumped out with machine guns and rifles, ordering people, including us, to form a line.
We had been through the drill a few times before at various checkpoints but this was the first time that I had a machine gun aimed at my head.
A second ago I was happy about my boots and now I was thinking about my life. Thank God for Oscar, who spoke Spanish fluently and uttered “Osvaldo.”
“Osvaldo!” I exclaimed while keeping my hands safely in the air. Oscar had met Osvaldo on our flight to Guatemala and they had a nice chat. Osvaldo was a colonel in the Guatemalan army. He spoke to his men and the machine guns were lowered. Relief washed over me as my hands were still in the air. We walked back to our host family’s home.
You’d think I’d get the message.
But a few days later, we were in a marketplace and I had a “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” button that read “Arm the Unemployed.” A man with a gun approached me and asked what it said. He said: “Arm…Armas!” To which I replied, “No, Ayudele,” or help the unemployed. My friends told me to lose the button. That’s just what I did.
We weren’t in America anymore!