Gringas & Guns
Of course, I didn’t really want to write about this- but if I write about the highs, I feel I have to write about the lows too. And it’s a way to process it, somehow. I wasn’t sure whether or not to post again about violence, but as it’s an issue that doesn’t have a straight-forward solution here, I suppose awareness is a small step, so I’ve decided it’s important. I far from want to sensationalise anything- so I waited a while to try to write this from a clearer perspective. Maybe with a bit more understanding as to why… I have been reading Adios Niño by Deborah T. Levenson which is currently telling the horrific history during the civil war, leading to current day forming of the Maras.
After Antigua, returning on the Chicken bus and a day of fabric shopping and all the visual stimulation, I was on such a high that I had pretty much decided that I was going to stay in Guatemala forever. That would be it- I’d get a cute little house up in the hills near Antigua, surrounded by greenery and run my own little design company/store with eco-friendly fabrics and ethical manufacturing. Yup.
Back in La Esperanza, my flatmates and I decided on communal dinner that evening and pick up the local streetfood Gringas from a man in a makeshift cart just around the corner. Pegga has been baking a coffee cake which smells super cinnamon-ny and warm, so stayed to look after it. Ryan, Natalie and I head out to pick up dinner. It’s dark outside at 7pm, but the streets have kids playing and people are always out at church- which is either in a shack, or sometimes they just have seats out in the streets and the guy will preach and people sing through a big mic really badly, (the singing here is horrendous). At first I through these were loud bars and parties going on (haha), but nope of course not. Churches are the only loud parties around here, keeping the streets full of life.
I feel a little nervy because I had now experienced two deaths here (straight after I posted my first blog post there was a second shooting outside my window which was awful too) but I’m still happy from my day of fabric shopping, and feel a bit lighter. The guy cooking gringas recognises Natalie and Ryan and is smiling and welcoming, I introduce myself to him and his friend, they’re just so friendly around here! There are dogs hanging around too, everyone here has dogs and they just wander around the streets. I love puppers so much, but I know not to touch street doggos even if one is them is gorgeously fluffy, yet stinky as hell. I have no idea how they’d react and although I’ve had my rabies shots- I’d very much like to keep my fingers. We order 3 chicken gringas and one veggie. They look and smell so good- wow, actual real-life, authentic street food.
Then it happens. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. The sound of gunshots you innately just know it’s different. My stomach sinks. It’s not fireworks. And they’re close by. Very, very close by. I feel sick. Our street food guy carries on cooking, and says “It sounds like its coming from up there by UPAVIM” in a way that doesn’t sound like he is too concerned. My stomach churns and flips. I reason with myself that, as there have been gunshots, these guys aren’t likely to stick around as the police and Bomberos will be there immediately. But we’re outside and I don’t feel safe at all. I feel incredibly anxious, terrified and I think I am most definitely going to vomit. We need to get inside. I don’t want to get shot. I don’t want to see anyone get shot. Just no more shots fullstop. People calmly, yet concerned, walk towards where the shots have come from. Are they insane?
There is a small store across the tiny street, we go in there- Natalie and Ryan are somewhat calmer than I seem to be and Ryan texts Pegga to make sure she’s ok. I am so panicked, but stay silent and smile at the shopowner, I notice he has one arm and I dread to think what happened to the other. He nods at us understanding why we’re there and I crouch down to the floor- I’m thinking “What if they come in here and shoot us all?”. Natalie buys popcorn from the shop owner as she says she feels we should buy something from him as we’re hiding there.
Natalie goes outside and overheard that it could’ve been a woman who was shot. I cry silently.
Two little girls from the UPAVIM school are outside chatting to Natalie, as if nothing has happened. I have tears in my eyes and they run down my cheeks a bit. The little girls see me and don’t recognise me, so they introduce themselves, smiling away and ask when my birthday is. This is tragic. These little girls are so used to the violence around here that they have no idea that it's not fucking normal. I smile at them and try to carry on as if everything is ok- “ Diez de Diciembre” I say, I don’t want to scare them.
Our food is ready, the little girls hug us and say goodbye and the shop owner shouts for us to be safe. Back inside UPAVIM I’ve lost my appetite and cry. I sit with my flatmates talking through what happened. I’m angry and sad at how desensitised people are here, and how the fuck this is happening. My flatmates tell me, that we’re not the targets here. The targets are each other. Other gang members or local business owners who fail to pay the money extorted from them.
At work, with the women, the day carries on as normal as the others, and I’m cutting fabric for our Antigua hat order- its quite therapeutic and my brain can concentrate on that. I wonder if they know that this level of violence isn’t normal outside of this section of the world. I wonder to myself if I should speak about it and finally decide that yes, I think it’s important that I do. I ask about the shots last night, and it turns out it was a man who was killed, he had a wife and children.
I ask why does dos this happen and why does everyone just carry on, even children, the response is simply and tragically- that they’re just used to it here, and it is painful and that it shouldn’t happen, but it does and there doesn’t seem to be an answer to it.
I still don’t fully understand why, but the Maras begun from a good place, a place of creating a sense of family outside of the biological family, some togetherness. They begun from standing up for beliefs and changes. Nowadays, I don’t think its the same story at all, it’s formed into something darker which I don’t think I’ll ever understand.