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“Aunty” Arlaine

We first met Arlaine through Niños del Lago, an NGO we “stumbled upon” at Chinitas’.

Some weeks later, after we returned to Pana from the lake and Xela, Arlaine invited us to her cottage for lunch, “I will buy, and you will cook.”

We love connecting and exchanging stories with people over home-cooked meals, so we agreed readily and planned to cook a truly “local” meal for Arlaine – “Nasi Lemak”:

Whilst we were cooking, Arlaine asked us about Singapore, our food, culture, politics etc. etc. Ever so often, she would peek over our shoulders and asked, “What is that? What are you doing to it?”

In turn, we would share anecdotes about our “Grandmother’s recipes, rules and secrets”. A dish could tell so much about one’s culture and upbringing.

It was fun, sharing all of that in someone who was genuinely interested in us – not for the journey we are on, not for the work that we are doing… just for being “us”.

"Nasi Lemak"

"Nasi Lemak"

Over lunch, Arlaine shared with us more stories from her youth and childhood; and how she is also writing a book to share how all of that birthed Niños del Lago.

As we listened in silence to the stories, to how openly Arlaine shared bits of her life and parts of herself with us; we heard beyond the “happenings”, the “events”, the “things” – we heard her strength, her resilience and above all, her courage to open up to vulnerability.

And we gave thanks, for the opportunity to be in that presence, to learn those lessons, through her stories, through her.

Ready for lunch in Aunty Arlaine's cozy little cottage

Ready for lunch in Aunty Arlaine's cozy little cottage

“Can we call you Aunty Arlaine? It is difficult for us to address elders by their first names.” We asked during lunch.

“You know? I’ve always secretly wished that many years later, when the children from Niños del Lago come back as mentors or come back to visit, I could be their “Tía”…that would mean a lot. So yes, please call me Aunty, my dear neices.”

“Dear Aunty Arlaine, we gravitated towards you from the moment we connected in Chinitas because you felt like someone special. Someone we would call “Aunty” so naturally as if you are a part of our blood family. Today, we realized the reason we feel so close to you is because you are our mirror. Through this mirror, we saw your strength, your resilience, your courage to being vulnerable. And you have so generously mirrored all of these back to us to let us know – yes, we are all of these, too. For that, thank you Aunty Arlaine!”Tay

Over the remaining weeks we had in Pana, we took the opportunity to connect “Aunty” Arlaine with “Uncle” Robert whom we were staying with. We thought the work that Aunty Arlaine was doing with Niños del Lago would be appreciated by Uncle Robert who was working on Casa Cakchiquel.

So we “bribed” the two of them over for dinner one evening with one of our best dishes:

Pineapple Fried Rice

Pineapple Fried Rice

What is better than having good food?
It’s having people to share it with.

Salud to good food and our "little families"!

Salud to good food and our "little families"!

Before we left Pana, Aunty Arlaine met us and gave an envelope. In it, was a hand-drawn card with 250Q. “For the shuttle to Guatemala City. Travel safe, my dears.”

“Uncle Robert said to us, “It must be difficult saying goodbye, with so many “Uncles” and “Aunties” all around you.” It is. But we always bring a part of them with us, just as how we know we have left parts of ourselves with them. Aunty Arlaine – the heart string you’ve tied is still tight. And on days when nothing seems right, we give it a tug, remember your smiles and the many people “watching” over us…and we know, that everything will soon be alright.”Val




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