On a plane ride to Chiapas, Mexico, a friend and I sat with a girl named Patricia who was a university student flying home to spend the Christmas holidays with her family. Because of bizarre connections my friend and I had been up all night and could barely think straight, let alone carry on a coherent conversation.
But, when we mentioned to the bilingual Patricia that we had another 24-hour layover in Chiapas before we could catch the bus to Guatemala, she insisted that we stay with her family.
Her father and brothers were doctors and ran the medical clinic in town. Each Christmas everyone in her large extended family descended on her parents’ house to celebrate and party.
Within minutes of pushing open the large wood and metal gate that led to her parents’ house, we were “at home.”
Beds were moved, sleeping arrangements adjusted, schedules rearranged and meals expanded.
The generosity in this gesture cannot be overstated since I spoke no Spanish and my friend spoke a hesitant Portuguese remembered from her days as an exchange student in Brazil. But that didn’t seem to bother this family.
Although we were clearly putting them out, they made light of it, including us in their holiday plans. We stayed for a day and then left on the bus for Guatemala, but only after Patricia’s mother made us promise to visit with them again on our return.
The next visit was long enough for the family to take us on drives through the mountains ringing Chiapas, show us local attractions and attempt to teach us how to cook Mexican food with fruits and vegetables grown in their garden.
To me it seemed like an experience from another time, another era, when people made a habit of hospitality and the stresses and strains of daily life were suspended in enjoyment of one’s company. This feeling was only reinforced when, on the day we left, Patricia’s mother presented each of us with a set of sterling silver dessert spoons so we “would never forget them.”
To this day I marvel that this large, exuberant, busy, industrious family took in two tired, disheveled strangers, treating us as honored and important guests. When I asked Patricia about her family’s amazing generosity she shrugged and said, “Mexicans. We take the shirt off of your back or give you the shirt off of ours.”
In the decades to follow I would spend years living in different parts of Mexico. In all that time, I met many who “took the shirt off their back,” and no one who asked anything of me. Well, almost nothing. Patricia’s mother asked that we never forget her family and to this day, I never have.
By Jamie Simons for PeterGreenberg.com.
If you don’t want to leave your accommodations to chance, but still want an opportunity to stay with a local family, don’t miss Making a Home Stay Work For You.
To read more from the Grateful Traveler series, click here.