• Carrin Robertson

La Esperanza: Fireworks & Gunshots

La Esperanza was a slum area up until very recently and its on the outskirts of Guatemala City, its very small, really just a street and some alleys, and sits between Mezquital and Bucaro, which are similar communities. La Esperanza is quite beautiful, but its dangerous due to the awful gang violence and there is a lot of poverty here. It's very different from what I'd pictured, I didn't know what to expect to find here, but I guess I didn’t expect so much to go on in such a tiny community.

Aside from my view from the roof where I now live and work at UPAVIM, with Barb and Natalie, who have both been wonderfully welcoming, I haven’t taken photos outside. All the homes are concrete breeze blocks with corrugated tin roofs and small outdoor areas where everyone seems to have dogs and keep chickens. The house across the street from us has a rooster which “cock-a-doodle doos” or (“kiki-ri-koos!”) all day. The houses behind us have a bunch of chickens and dogs which all seem to live together happily, I wish I could say the same for the people. There are lots of plants and laundry drying on people’s roofs, and behind all of this a backdrop of lush green trees and volcanoes. The volcano I can see from my room is Agua, which is illuminated in the morning by the sunrise from behind me as the sky changes from dark to blue, and then in the evenings, the sun sets behind them throwing gorgeous fiery tones across the sky and the volcano looks like a silhouetted shadow.

I've taken two nearby trips to Villa Lobos where there is a shopping centre and Mayoreo- the best fruit and veg market I've seen. Both times with Natalie, the first time we took the free bus from right outside the building, the bus drivers do drive a little mad around the streets and the buses are very packed. On our bus route there are armed policemen at the front and back doors of the bus… so that’s how we know which bus to get back home to UPAVIM. Eeeek.

The second time we went to Villa Lobos, we had decided to walk, as we both wanted to get a bit of exercise, sun and I wanted to see the area walking through Mezquital which is made up of little brightly painted breeze block houses, stores and every second one seems to be a church.

But. In all honesty, I was absolutely bricking it walking up to Villa Lobos.

The night before I had heard five quick gunshots up an alleyway right out the front of our building. The police were there in seconds, three trucks and some on motorcycles and the Bomberos came too (usually these are fire trucks form what I know of Spanish, but here they seem to double as ambulances and I believe are made up of Volunteers) People were all looking out of their windows and there was a little commotion- a few people running around, but not everyone seemed to rush, some stayed outside, and there was no screaming or crying I could hear. The Bomberos vans left empty so I thought no-one had been injured.

Tragically, I found out the following morning, from Barb that it’s not good news if the Bomberos leave empty. If someone is killed, they are left there- not driven away. The gang shootings are quick and targeted, so that’s why the community didn’t seem to panic as much as I thought people would have- its a common occurance which is just awful. Later, I heard from Natalie that a young boy had been targeted and killed. I knew of the violence here, but I think I underestimated what life is really like for people; it's really, really hard. That’s why projects like UPAVIM are really needed in this community. I’d also say that, so far, it seems that despite the violence, life carries on and all the women I have met are a joy and people greet each other in the streets. Everyone smiles and says "Buenas Dias","Buenas Tardes", or simply "Buenas" in passing.

Apart from the noises of cockerels and gunshots- I noticed that every morning and every evening there are fireworks. Any holiday and pretty much anyone’s birthday, is an excuse for a firework celebration- and so they go off daily. Barb told me that Mother’s Day is especially firework-tactic, the kids let them off first thing in the morning for their mamas, who surely would quite like a lie in rather than to be woken up with bangers!

Any time I hear a pop, I just hope it's a firework.


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