I am in Antigua once again, ambling through the cobblestone streets choked with chicken bus exhaust, smiling and wishing folks good day in Spanish. Things are rough and completely lawless in many parts of Guatemala and arriving in Guatemala City at night was not my preference...I was a little nervous for the hour long cab ride into Antigua. But it proved uneventful and I arrived at Lucky and Jose´s before midnight. They greeted me with shouts from the balcony and then hugs in the street. Everything is much the way it was when I left here last in January. But the recent increase in violence (more violence in an already notoriously violent place), the political corruption and instability, the lack of any cohesive or effective law enforcement, loom as the perpetual back drop to life here...a reality that can pop-out and become bloodily manifest in an instant.
And I am not being dramatic here. I have heard many stories....first hand accounts. During my last trip a few months ago, my Spanish teacher attended two funerals within a month, two young friends lost. The first was a car accident...killed by a drunk driver. The second, a young woman driving home from Guatemala City, was shot in the head and left dead in her car in the middle of the road. The motive is still unknown as it did not appear to be a robbery and she had not been raped.
Then there was a sweet Guatemalan bartender from No Se, who's girlfriend was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after several men brandishing guns boarded their chicken bus and robbed everyone on board. Thankfully, no one was shot. And then there is another young man, a friend, whom I recently spoke with (he will remain un-named out of deference). He and I had many conversations during my last visit and we have kept in touch, chatting on facebook. But only recently did he share that both his parents were murdered when he was a toddler, part of the purging that was initiated in the early 1980s. You see, his parents were educated, his father a professor at a University in Guatemala City.
This reminded me of another friend's stories (again, I am being vague about the sources out of deference to my friends) about how, during the war, the military would board the chicken buses and search peoples things....if a book was found that person was yanked from the bus (and often disappeared or killed). Being educated, reading or being in possession of books...seditious according to the genocidal Guatemalan military.
And yet, although there are murderous gangs terrorizing the streets of Guatemala City, as my friend Mike noted in a recent email, "Here in Antigua we generally hear crickets." There is a peacefulness here, a predictability, a calm that one cannot imagine feeling in Guatemala City. And so I will amble the streets, sit in the cafes, read my books, and stay in a place of gratitude.