After I drank from the faucet, opened my mouth in the shower, and threw my toilet paper in the toilet instead of the waste bin, all luxuries which I was deprived of over my stay in Guatemala, the thrill of being home subsided. I looked around my room, and I found that I didn’t know what to do with myself. All my options seemed insignificant, and so here I sit, trying to put words to something that is beyond them. Until you have seen what we saw, and heard the stories we did, you will not grasp the magnitude of what we learned. However I will do what I can with mundane language to try to let you see.
My first impression of Guatemala City was of noise, my second was of the smell of exhaust and burning garbage, my third was the traffic. Endless lines of cars present themselves before my eyes, and everyone it seems is honking their horn. I don’t know how far our drive is, but by my reckoning, it should take us about 15 minutes to get to the place we are staying, with this traffic however, it takes around 45. Fifteen of those spent trying to pull out of the bank we stop at to exchange our money. Stores, street vendors, armed guards with automatic weapons, old women, small grimy looking children, trees who seemed to feel out of place, and people standing in the middle of the road selling whatever, all move by outside the windows of the van. We see people piled in the backs of semis and pick up trucks. Needless to say, I am out of my comfort zone.
There seems to be no emission testing in this country. Black clouds of fowl smelling smoke billow out of cars and trucks every few minutes, the smell only made worse by the thickness of the air. We arrive at the guest house, a man with an Ak-47 and a CIA hat moves aside a traffic cone to let us in. We walk into the enclosed court yard of the place we are staying, they close the gates, the smells and sounds of the city fade away. A garden full of grass and vines and flowers greets us. The smell of hand-made corn tortillas washes over us. The contrast is startling. But people live their whole lives behind such walls here, shut off from the chaos of the streets beyond, ignorant of the injustice that ravages their countrymen. Behind white walls topped with razor wire, in enclosed courtyards of Guatemala City, there is serenity.
That night we met with a member of the community who gave us a short overview of Guatemalan history and the current state of the country. To give you the short and sweet version, Guatemala has been torn by corruption ever since the Spaniards arrived in 1524, the 15 families that lead the original conquest own basically all of the fertile lands in the country today. This gross inequality has made for an immense poverty gap, with the majority of Guatemalans living on what they can grow and make themselves.