Guatemala Rundown (2)

I apologize for the uncreative title. I could title this “Stuff I won’t miss” or “Guate Culture Shock” or “Welcome Eric, this isn’t your country”, but true to form, this is my second (personal) decompression of the country where I have lived for the last few months.  And lets face it, everyone secretly likes the movie The Rundown with the Rock and only is reading this to see if I will reference it. WELL, I DID.

Safety. I have been robbed three times in my life. The first in Rio de Janeiro during carnaval (my wallet got lifted out of a friends purse), the second in Tijuana coming back from building a house (locks got punched out on the van and my backpack with my tools, phone and car keys got lifted), and the third here (window broken at 9am and laptop, two cameras gone in the first week).  I had heard that Guate City wasn’t the place to dance in the streets after nightfall, but I wasn’t expecting everything I had brought to get stolen the first week.  It’s a matter of fear and i’m not the only one who feels it.  The papers tell of mass murders in restaurants in the downtown, or armed bus assaults, or how 12 and 13 year old boys get paid Q100 by gangs to kill random people (Guatemala laws protect minors from going to prison).  It’s a sad reality that where there is poverty, there is crime, and I hope that for the sake of all Guatemalans the streets are cleaned up.

Food. Ok, this isn’t entirely a negative.  I have a love hate relationship with the food here.  I love the typical Guatemalan food: the tortillas are out of this world, as are the tamales, the shukos, the beans, the plantains and the soups (minus the revolcado).  But they consume limited quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables (makes me wonder where the huge bags of carrots and truck loads of pineapple go), and a lot of fast food.  I guess what I am saying is that I have ate more McDonalds here than my entire life in the states (exaggeration? possibly, but close), and although I love American culture, I like to leave it behind when I travel.

Loneliness. This isn’t Guatemala, it’s me. From my year in Argentina to my summer in Spain and Israel, I have always had a ready-made group of friends.  Travel is easy when you speak a foreign language 50% of the time and still have the comforts of your own culture.  Here, my English has deteriorated.  I love living with a family, but I speak Spanish at work, then at home.  I guess after a while, I just start to miss well America (in the form beyond fast food).

Videos of my visit to Iximche, Mayan ruins outside of Tecpan, microfinance thoughts, a new Kiva blog post, and a street food post soon.

All you ever wanted to know about buses in Guatemala

Read this if you have ever been nervous about riding buses in 3rd world countries… better yet, probably don´t read this if you are nervous.  But perhaps read if you want the down and dirty about bus assalts and extortion around Guatemala—all from a real life interview with a bus driver.

Two weeks ago, Elmer came on the FAPE payroll as a driver. FAPE´s health project, Gems of Hope, enabled them to buy a couple of pick-ups this year and because the newly hired doctora can´t drive…drivers were hired.  I hadn´t talked to Elmer much more than a hello, but on our recent client visits to San Martin Jilotepeque, I ended up in the front (the prized spot for the almost 2 meter tall American) and spent most of the ride back talking to him.

I found out that his last job for 10 years was driving a bus from San Juan Sacatepequez to Guatemala City.  Every day, multiple times a day.  Now, ever since I have got here, I have been taking a minimum of buses (unless its long trips outside the city) and a maximum of cabs (which any of my past travel companions can tell you is VERY uncharacteristic of me–I just would rather be in with the locals and smog experiencing a city than aloof and viewing it from the back of a cab.)

What has me so scared? Assalts. Robbers come on the bus with pistols drawn ready to blow the head of anyone who makes a wrong move.  As a gringo, I am what is affectionately called “un blanco” or a target.  But I´m not the only one, a month ago, another FAPE employee was on a bus when it got assalted and preferred to jump off and break his arm then go face to face with the robbers.  Another loan officer had a similar encounter having to give up her jewelry and phone two weeks ago. An Elmer, as the driver, had been robbed at gunpoint 3 times.  Another Kiva fellow wrote a very interesting blog about this here.

From assalts to extortion. What I found most interesting was the bribes or what Elmer called “impuestos” or taxes.  Every week, he had to deposit Q100 (around $12) into a bank account of these gangsters for “protection”.  Q100 * 52 *10 = $6500.  And these payments still didn´t stop him from being assalted those 3 times! Ok, lets do some math.  Elmer estimated that there are around 5000 buses in the city (I would say that is a conservative estimate), so every week gangsters are receiving half a million quetzales from just short distance buses.  Tack on another 10,000 buses traveling around the country (because although this violence is concentrated around La Capital, it is not isolated to just here), we have Q1.5 million a week.  Q78 million a year which is around $10,000,000.

With $10 million, Guatemala could beef up security and clean up its streets.  If only there was a way to get these “taxes” into the hands of the Guatemalan govt, I (and the rest of Guatemala) wouldn´t be so scared to hop on a bus.

Vacation Time

Wait what happened to Eric?? Great I have been blogging for so long that I´m beginning to refer to myself in third person… And somehow I figure that if I don´t update my blog for a period of more than a week all hell will break loose.  So, here is to me scheduling a post for when I am gone to update you on my life.

In the last week, my life hasn´t slowed down.  From the moment I arrived in the capital, I was inundated with stuff to get done (both work and personal). First of all, I had to present myself at the police station last Tuesday to expand the report of my robbery.  Then, that night I moved into the Baptist Seminary a block away from the office to stay for the week.  The arraignment has been, well, rustic (but nice).  I am definitely in a safe place, and after work, I can go to the store for some snacks and eat out at restaurants in the Zona 7. But the best part, in my opinion, IS THE POOL. Yes, there is a pool at the seminary.

Not quite sure it makes up for the spiders and cockroaches in my room, but there is a pool that I can swim in after work.  Then, right about 7:30pm right after my swim, I take off with Hebe, an Argentine coworker who also lives in the seminary, to a comedor around the corner and eat a great meals provided by Juanita for$2 every night.  Last night, I had a smoked pork chop with rice, beans and fresh tortillas mmm….

But if you are reading this now, I have crossed three borders in route to Managua, Nicaragua.  Next week is a holiday for Guatemala and since the Executive Director of FAPE is since on his trip to Israel, I (along with the rest of the Kiva Fellows) figured it would be high time get in some R & R. So, I took a $120 bus ride from the Capital at 4am through El Salvador, Honduras and then finally Nicaragua to make it to Managua by Saturday night.

We will go to Omotepe and San Juan del Sur to climb some volcanoes and soak up some sun.  More updates and videos after the trip!