I was sixteen years old when I first arrived in Guasave, Sinaloa as a Rotary International exchange student. That was 1987, and the world was a very different place. Technology was certainly different. Nowadays we regard cell phones and email as basic necessities, but back then I had never even dreamed of such things. On a more personal level, MY world was different. Most everything seemed either black or white in my perception of life. My religious convictions in the LDS faith certainly framed everything I perceived, and I had not yet discovered all the confusing shades of gray.
Guasave changed me. Through experiences that were sometimes exhilerating and often painful, Guasave re-ordered the universe. It changed my experience of myself as an American, as a Mormon, as a man, and as a human being. On many levels, my exchange experience was a rite of passage away from the simplicity of childhood and into the awakening years of adulthood. More on that later...
I spent my entire junior year in Guasave and then returned to Spokane to finish my last year of high school. After graduation, I visited Guasave only once with a friend from the United States, and then I never returned. Well, I had always wanted to return. Even before my marriage to Rhonda, I had always spoken to her about my experiences. I always said we would visit someday, but then we left for missions, and went to college, and started a family, had children, and then foster children, and passed through our own struggles as a couple. It's only been within the last two years that our lives seem to reached a more stabile point. Now 21 years have passed since my exchange experience. 21 years! It almost feels like a distant memory that passed away in the blink of an eye.
Through Facebook and the internet, I re-established contact with a small group of friends from Guasave. This inspired my return visit. Our children are now old enough to travel and understand. This just seemed like the perfect time to go.
So we flew into Guaymas and spent a couple days on the beach in San Carlos. Then we boarded a bus and set off for Guasave.
The closer we got, the more nervous I felt. Only one friend had responded with definite plans to meet. I invited others, but had not gotten a response. Worst of all, my former host parents had not yet responded. After months of failed attempts to communicate, we were practically on their doorstep. I began to feel that nervous that no one remembered or even cared. After all, 21 years is a long time for me to allow friendships to wither and fade. If no one received us, I could only blame myself.
The bus arrived in Guasave at about 9:00 at night. Everything looked totally different. When we entered the city, I noticed the freeway was now elevated with an exit ramp. Before, the highway passed right through the town on ground level. Also, they now have a Walmart of all things, and a Burger King. Man, I would have killed for a Whopper in those days! Before, the area around the bus terminal was little more than a series of open fields and farms. Now it seems that the city has swallowed everything.
Many things can change in 20 years.