I’m in Antigua this week, which is the de facto nexus of all Peace Corps life. It’s a beautiful city (I know I’ve been skeptical about its origins before, all colonial and ironic and mute about all the historically reprehensible stuff that you can turn your nose up at from the past, but I do love it here.)
For one, the Peace Corps office is nearby, so we inevitably stay in Antigua whenever we have to visit for official matters. It’s also where the hotels are, the hostels, the bars, the delicious restaurants, the glimpse of the western stuff we miss or long for. Some things I’ve mostly forgotten but will suddenly recall (like juicy bacon and a stack of fluffy pancakes). You come to Antigua, it’s where you can find what you’re craving.
It’s like a mini-vacation when you come here, and I’m sure that Peace Corps posts all over the world have some city center or locale to which volunteers can slip away, zero the balance and go back to their sites feeling recharged. Here in Guatemala, it’s cobblestone streets and Spanish architecture (plus the volcanoes).
The funny thing is that yesterday I realized that I’ll probably be coming back here the rest of my life, like my relationship with this country and this city is already forming or has formed to a degree that I’ll never forget it here, like I’ll leave but it’ll be too beautiful in my memories to not think about. I’ll come back, and I seem to sense it every time I hike back into town. From the teeming bus station, towards some modest hostel with a knapsack stuffed with clothing I stream past tourists and townspeople,the brilliant colors in the market stalls, down bumpy streets and alongside the beggars, the fashionistas, the teenage school uniforms, the Europeans and the business suits, the mopeds, tuk-tuks and the Beamers, the indigenous traje and the working poor, the Burger King and the hawkers and hustlers and everyone else.
Into the central square, the trees are shedding purple blossoms and someone put two bursting bouquets of flowers in the fountain, waters streaming over the basin lip and people stroll around, below the gleaming white stone church which lingers while an even larger, slightly foreboding volcano looks out over everything.