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I grew up with a fear of Guatemala City as this monolith of chaos that swallowed up people in the same way that La Siguanaba inhaled men’s souls late at night when they pranced back through the fincas to their wives from their illicit love affairs. Somehow she also took niños malcriados, but I never figured out the logical leap there. According to my great-grandmother Trinidad my great-grandfather lost his mind (and thus had his brain hemorrhage) this way when he saw La Siguanaba brushing her hair by the Río Motawa, sitting on a rock facing the river. He touched her and like a scene from “The Shining” he lost his mind and died a couple of weeks later. An entire day in Guatemala City driving from Zone 1 to 4 to 10 back to 11 felt like a journey into heart of darkness, but instead I found the B-Boys of Zone 1:
I had piled on meetings and presentation after presentation and I passed the B-Boys Cafe on the way to Cafe Leon where I was to meet an editor from a wire service to talk about his interest in helping with HablaGuate. Cafe Leon was a lovely surprise, not just because it had parking right next to it, but also because it was just a lovely spot to sit, read, drink a coffee and scurry away from the madding crowd.
Two hours quickly passed and then, with our friend Nathan in tow who had never been to Guatemala City, we walked over to the young people at Luciernaga, the Cultural Center for Audiovisual Resources, to do a quick presentation about HablaGuate to see if they were interested in participating and getting some training. While I didn’t take any pictures what continually amazes me about Guatemala City and especially Zone 1 is the jewel inside these ugly shells for buildings. Luciernaga is a lovely tall Victorian that is a cafe, cultural center, artist space, live, and co-working space that provides a safe space for many of the 13-25 years old who come here on a daily basis from less inhospitable zones.
An hour later as the sun begins to descend and drop an extra layer of urgency and grime onto Zone 1, we dash out hoping to beat the rush hour towards Zone 10, land of 5-hour star hotels, night life and just expendable wealth, to meet the GuateAmala youth and their weekly “innovation committee.” GuateAmala is interesting because they work on campaigns that create positive messages and micro-actions about Guatemala City. On this particular night they are creating radio and video spots to combat road rage. It’s an interesting choice for a campaign and I can see how it might be a bit difficult for the Zone 1 youth to identify with the same causes as the Zone 10 priorities.
At 8 PM, Nathan is looking a bit pale and is a bit giddy when he tries to string English together, so I think it’s time to punctuate the evening with a visit to HiperPaiz. We’re swimming downstream in traffic and then we arrive and Nathan says he just landed on a different planet. I tell him we have a little bit of everything in Guate. For a San Franciscan, this is an anthropological tour for him into mall land and he fares well, not a single comment about globalization or trans-nationalism, that is, until we get to the the apples. “These apples are from Washington! Did you see these, they’re from Washington state!” Indignant does not begin to encompass the expression on his face. I offered, “These peaches are from California, does that make you feel better?” Nathan shook his head while walking up and down the next two aisles of food from the US. “I didn’t come to Guatemala to eat U.S. food!” He yelled. “But we don’t think twice about bananas or coffee from Guatemala, mangos from Mexico, papayas from the Caribbean.” I said. Nathan yelled back: “But I do!” over the rows of pineapple mohawks. “So does that mean you’re only eating cereal at our house? I asked as he stormed off muttering, “I’ll get the milk.”
At 10 PM we are home and I realize that slowly, slowly Guatemala City is less like La Siguanaba and more like any city you learn to become literate in, to navigate like an insider and to find those human spaces that make it home to some 4 million Guatemalans.
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