The Odyssey
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Latin America Abeja Dispatch

History, Chaos and Change in Guatemala City

Vendors line the stress
Caption

Noisy, dirty, colorful, and vibrant — the capital of Guatemala is a multicultural, multilingual, and multifaceted city. The streets are packed with people and vendors. Men in expensive suits, teens in the latest fashions from America, and women in traditional Mayan clothing all stop and eat sandwiches or tostadas at the same roadside stands. I am lucky enough to get to spend a few days here now that Monica is off beginning her work with GAM, the human rights organization. I am spending a few days to get to know "Guate" (as Guatemala City is affectionately called) before beginning to work with another Mayan organization.

Girls selling fruit
Caption

Every morning I wake up early to the sound of buses, horns, and roosters. Guatemala City is divided into 15 zonas, each with its own personality. Zona 1, where I am staying, is the heart of downtown, and therefore the most crowded and busy. I am constantly warned about how dangerous it is here. There is a lot of poverty, and thousands of vendors line the streets selling candies, newspapers, fruit, and just about anything else you could possibly need.

Nice little school bus
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Buses whiz by; black exhaust spews from the tailpipes. There are some newer buses, but mostly Guatemala City is kept running by a huge fleet of old, colorfully painted Blue Bird schoolbuses that run constantly and are amazingly efficient. Each bus has a boy or young man who helps the driver (the ayudante). The assistant hangs out the window to help guide, collect money, and yell out where the bus is going to the people standing at the bus stops. If you happen to be crossing the street as a bus speeds towards you, the driver will do you the kind favor of honking repeatedly before killing you. And if you want to get on the bus anywhere where there's not a red light, you'd better run fast because the drivers don't like to stop.

There are no trash cans on the street, and people typically just throw their trash on the ground. It doesn't pile up though, because at least once a day everyone sweeps the street outside and around their businesses.

The Plaza Mayor, as in other Spanish colonial towns, is a large plaza often used for military exercises, reviews, and ceremonies. On the north side stands the Palacio de Gobierno (government palace); on the east side stands the cathedral. Government buildings and mansions used to line the other two sides. On Sundays, the plaza fills with people who come to sell their goods and foods. In the evening, after a busy market day, you can see all your friends from school, your parents, and their friends as they gather to socialize and have fun.

The Catedral Catolica
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The Catedral Metropolitania is made of a gray stone, dirty from years of auto exhaust and pigeons. In front of the cathedral, square pillars feature new tiles labeled "victimas ejecutadas" (executed victims), "victimas torturadas" (tortured victims), "victimas de masacres" (victims of massacres), and "desaparecidos" (the disappeared). Each pillar, displaying an alphabetized list of thousands of Hispanic and Mayan names, serves as a tribute to the more than 200,000 people who died in the thirty-six year civil war. Although similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC, the names listed here are not of soldiers, but mainly of civilians, many of them women and children.

Guatemala city is a city of hope, where people from all over Guatemala come in search of better jobs. Guatemala city is also a place of rememberance, such as these pillars. As the capital city, Guatemala is also the center of change. It is here that the peace accords were signed. It is here that the Constitution is being reformed. Dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) are here, working to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans. These are times of great historic change in Guatemala.

--Abeja

 
 

Monica - Modern Day Traders; Scoring Internet Access
Monica - A Mayan god who smokes cigars
Jamila - A funny thing happened on the way back from Coba
Klaus - Trekking the road to ruin
 
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