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Published Date: September 5, 2007

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Published Date: September 5, 2007

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How Does She Do It?

The bright, Guatemalan morning sunshine heats the interior of the van we are riding in to stiflingly high temperatures as we pull away from the turquoise building where we ate and slept every day last week.

I look back, out the window, past the heads of the people next to me, and try to put everything into my head, so I will remember it forever.

I see the big door with the latticed metal window peeping out near the top. I see the tree casting a cool shadow from its pot near the door.

I wave to the lady standing beneath the tree. “Adios, Mama Joanna!” I think to myself as she smiles and waves back.

I remember the first time I met her, a year ago. It was a Saturday afternoon in February, and in the week that followed, she became “Mama Joanna” to me.

It seems hard to remember when I didn’t know her; before that day in Monjas, just outside our hotel; before I stepped onto that tiny propeller plane in the Burlington Airport, the first of many airplane rides that brought me to Guatemala; before that early fall day when we decided to leave on the trip that would change my life.

It seems hard to remember a time before Mama Joanna.

A year ago, if someone had asked me about Guatemala, I might have known that it was somewhere between Chile and Mexico — maybe. I might not even have realized that it was in the Western Hemisphere. 

Now, when I think of Guatemala, I see the giant ceiba tree beside the white, recently painted gate of the Shadow of His Wings Orphanage, the orphanage for girls Mama Joanna founded. I see the girls who patiently try to teach me how to do handstands, always want me to jump on the trampoline, and have Mama Joanna as their role model, just like I do.

I see Mama Joanna, still waving as we turn the corner, I wonder, “How does she do it?” As the van drives up, up, up and down, down, down, over the mountains, and all the way back to Guatemala City, where tomorrow morning we will board another airplane and begin our voyage home, I decide to find out, because when I grow up, I want to be like her.