Monday, March 19, 2007

Guatemala #7: Various Topics and International News

I went to El Salvador this past weekend with the MCC team for a team meeting. One huge difference between Guatemala City and El Salvador is that it's hot in El Salvador. Hot and humid. But I really enjoyed the little bit of El Salvador that I saw. We stayed at a farm that is owned and run by an organization called Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn Association of El Salvador). The farm is an income generation project for the Association; they produce organic coffee, honey and jam among other things, as well as being a place for eco-tourism. It also provides a home and income for the five families that live there and work on the farm.

One of the nights the sky was incredibly clear, and I saw the stars the brightest I had ever seen them before. I have always wondered how on earth the people who first saw and named the constellations could have picked out the shape of a bear, or a dipper or what have you from the stars that I always saw, which were nothing more than faint points of light. However, seeing the sky without "light pollution" from the lights of cities, the brighter stars jump out at you so clearly, it would be hard not to see shapes and patterns. It was really beautiful. It was also a good reminder of our connection to creation. It helped me to step out of the very real and hard context of life (in Guatemala, and/or in the US) and remember that these realities are a small part of a huge and very old universe that gives us life and sustains us.

On a rather opposite note, one unforeseen consequence of me moving to Guatemala (of the many more I will surely discover) is that I've started killing bugs...with surprising ferocity! My sister was a bit shocked. (You have to realize that I have always been the type of person that gets the bug to walk onto a little slip of paper and then I carry it outside to live its life happily....or die in the cold, as the case may well be.) If you have thoughts on the deeper meaning of this, feel free to share!

One of the first things we did in El Salvador was to take a short tour of several churches in San Salvador (the capital city). We first went to the church where Oscar Romero is buried. Then we went to a beautiful church nearby. There were tiny glass windows of different colors on the walls and the ceiling, which were incredible to look at as the light shone through. In the front of the church, there was a sign that said: Dios no es Justiciero. (Roughly translated, including the connotation of the word Justiciero, it would be, God is not a harsh judge) After this, we went to the church and house where Oscar Romero lived and worked during the last several years of his life.

You might be wondering about Oscar Romero.
Oscar Romero was a catholic priest and Archbishop in El Salvador who was murdered while giving mass during the 1980’s. Through his faith he was a passionate advocate for the poor, for peace, and for the responsibility of Christians to live as followers of Jesus. It was especially interesting to visit the house where he lived for the last year and a half of his life. A young nun was there receiving visitors, and we spent a good half an hour or more talking to her, not only about Romero, but about some of the recent news stories that I’ll mention below. She was so committed and energetic about Romero’s teachings, it was inspiring to talk to her. There's a movie about his life, called Romero, that I would recommend if you are interested and haven't seen it. Here's also another link about his life: Oscar Romero

"Cuesta conseguir trabajo ahora en Guatemala"
"It's really hard to get a job right now in Guatemala"
Here's an approximation of a job application process in Guatemala: Say you want to find a job and you hear that, for example, PEPSI, is hiring people to be distributors of products to small stores. So you go, and spend most of your day (it's a Wednesday) there. You go through various exams, including a complete medical examination where they also check for tattoos (a common sign of involvement in gangs.) They get rid of a bunch of people. They tell you to come back on Monday. So you go (it takes about one and a half hours by bus to get there). They have you take a bunch of written tests. Come back on Friday. On Friday there's an interview. The next Tuesday you go back and are given a driving test and are required to show proof that you graduated from 3rd Basico (more or less the equivalent of 9th grade) and proof that you've never been imprisoned or brought to court. Later that week people from PEPSI show up in your neighborhood to ask your neighbors if they know you, if you ever get drunk, if you are who you say you are and in general if you're a decent person or not. If you make it this far, you finally begin training and during the process are given a series of exams based on the training sessions. On Monday is the final exam. If you pass you start work on Tuesday. If not, no job. As in many places in the world, it’s a hard economy right now.

International News Stories
You might have seen Guatemala in the news recently for 3 reasons. I'll try to give some local insights on these three stories, but I'm definitely not the expert.

#1: Giant hole opens up in Zone 6 of Guatemala City

The sinkhole measures 330 feet deep and 130 feet in diameter. It’s definitely scary. Apparently it happened because of the erosion of large water and sewage pipes, and the subsequent erosion of the earth around the pipes, until the pipes burst and everything fell. Some locally felt consequences are:
-Many people who were evacuated have not been able to return to their homes.
-Lack of water in the surrounding communities.
-Some schools have been closed because of the lack of water.

#2: Salvadoran Politicians killed in Guatemala

This is a chilling story. If you don’t want to think gruesome thoughts, I would recommend skipping down to International News Story #3.

For those of you still reading, here’s a brief summary of events. 3 Salvadoran senators and their driver were brutally killed while in their car driving to an event in Guatemala. Several days later, 4 Guatemalan high level police officers (including the Chief of the Unit Against Organized Crime) were arrested for the murders. The police officers were imprisoned, and later moved to another prison. Soon after, but before the police were heavily interrogated, they were brutally killed in prison.

There are tons of questions, and very few answers, such as: why did it happen?; who might have hired the police to kill the Salvadorans?; who killed the police officers?; who has the power to enter a prison, kill 4 prisoners and leave unharmed?; or was it prisoners that killed them? People here see it as awful, and a sad, embarrassing and shameful reflection of how things are in Guatemala today. A friend told me, “It’s even in the name of our country, Guate-mala” (Mala is the Spanish adjective meaning “bad”).

Comments: Although these two stories have a pretty big shock value, they have made me think pretty hard about the way news is distributed, and what is "newsworthy" on an international level. For example, these two stories are rather strange, out of the ordinary, and in the case of the Salvadoran senators, involve politically important people. But, there are other issues and realities that affect many more people that we in general aren’t aware of on an international level. For example, it's not international news that Guatemala's economy is barely scraping by, that 2 important banks went bankrupt in the past 6 months, that while murders and armed robberies are a daily occurrence here, there's very little investigation of crime and it's very rare that a murder case actually comes to trial. These things affect many more people and are problems on a huge systemic level, but most of the time the news focuses only on the out of the ordinary.

As I heard in a sermon several months ago, “we have lost our capacity to be amazed.” So, news has to be particularly strange, or particularly gruesome to capture our attention and/or spark our anger. So, while in Guatemala people being murdered without investigation has become normal, in Iraq it’s become normal for 30-60 people to be killed every couple of days in suicide attacks, and in the US it’s become normal for people to live in the midst of emotional and spiritual emptiness and/or violence, to name a few examples. This also ties in to feelings of helplessness in the face of such big problems; what can we do about it? But if we can’t be amazed, it’s less likely that we’ll be able to be creative enough to think about taking action.

#3: President Bush visits Guatemala
A local newspaper headline said something like this:

Much talk, few accomplishments as a result of Bush’s visit

The issue of immigration is a big one here, and it was disappointing for many people that Bush didn’t budge on his position, and also deferred the responsibility to do something to the US Congress to find a solution to the “problem.” This has been highlighted recently as a result of raids on employers in the US, resulting in hundreds of Guatemalans being deported in the past several months.

Bush made a visit to an indigenous agricultural collective. The people quoted who were able to talk to Bush were pleased with the visit, although there were also protests. I found it amusing that a group of protesters, knowing the countryside much better than the security officials were able to find a way to get to where Bush was without being stopped by security. All in all, I think Bush spent about 24 hours in Guatemala, which was more than I had first heard.
As this post and the last one have been very much focused on large, complicated and hard issues, my next one in a couple of weeks will be more descriptive about what I’ve actually been doing with myself here! We’re planning to start music classes at the end of April, and it’s continuing to be an interesting process in organizing everything. I’m having the unique and challenging experience of starting a project from scratch, so will try to focus on what we have so far in terms of vision, and how we’ve been trying to implement that in the context of the Mennonite churches here in Guatemala City.


Megan Highfill said...

Perhaps you kill bugs because you know I won't come visit if I know they are there...specifically spiders. And large centipedes.

Steve Hammond said...

When I was in seminary and looking for a paper topic, my professor, Tom Finger, suggested that I do some research on Oscar Romero who was still living at the time.

Learning about Oscar Romero and what he was doing opened me to a whole new understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, and I'm still working it out.

We try to show the Romero video every college generation or so.

So I'm very glad that Beth got to San Salvador and got to spend some time in the places where he lived and ministered.

Alan & Beth Claassen Thrush said...

Thanks for the local insight on the news stories, Beth. And I have also been feeling much more free to squash bugs, despite the fact that we own the book "Oye, Hormiguita" (which our neighbor kids love and I would highly recommend) :) Que Cristo le bendiga.
-(the other) Beth

Diane V. Reese said...

Beth, I've just started to figure out this blogstuff and, perhaps, now that summer is coming, will try to read more......

Anyway, I'm all for survival of you and, if killing bugs helps with that, all the better!!!!!!

Doesn't sound very profound, does it??? Your description of the stars in the sky is wonderful!!

Diane Reese

PS I don't get the word verification thing before I post the comment