I’m sure I can’t rely on serendipity and chance encounters as a way to harvest interviews and information during the Afterparty world tour, but so far it’s been a fascinating ride. A risky assumption of the project is that food and lodging and even transport costs can be kept low with a combination of web services like airbnb and couchsurfing, and the Kindness of Strangers.
My host in Guatemala City is Cesar, and his grandson Marco coordinates the airbnb listing. He picked me up at the airport, sat with me and Cesar as we discussed the 1954 overthrow, and is now taking me to Santa Lucia to speak to his middle school class.
We chose not to go out to dinner and head straight to the bus terminal. Much of the country is suffering from a dry spell, with farmers losing crops and farm laborers losing work. But here, nonstop big ole buckets of water splashing everywhere. We are traveling to Santa Lucia. I’ll talk to his classes about the Afterparty project and they’ll tell me about their family experiences in the civil war.
Marco and I had to make a split second decision between the more traditional Forteleza bus and the colorful but bumpy chicken buses. He reminded me that I was on an adventure, but when I asked him the difference in cost, he answered, “About the same.” So I went for the Forteleza.
I already had my chicken bus adventure and would soon have another one. The reason why the brightly painted buses look so familiar is that I probably rode them when I went to high school 40 years ago. They are converted Blue Bird school buses and the ancient English language emergency signs reveal their origins.
Marco points out scenery along the way, including the location of his family’s lakeside home. I decided to take my fully loaded backpack and separate daypack filled with my books and writing materials. I chose to wear my flip flops, against grandma Carmen’s advice, and stuffed my Ecco tennis shoes in the outside pocket of the backpack. The bus cashier walks back to me with my right sneaker in his hand. “I think this is yours,” he says.
Marco says we really should have taken the other bus because this one drops us off in the middle of nowhere. He predicts the walk to the house is a half hour. It’s now dark and raining. It’s the first test of my waterproof REI backpack.
We walk off the main road to a darker, wetter side road. The shoulder is asphalt then mud then foliage. My flip flops are starting to slip and slide. And Marco, who ran the Guatemala City Marathon in the morning, and is 30 years my junior, is outpacing me. Every once in a while, he turns to asks, “Is that a bus?” Apparently he intends to flag one down in the middle of the road in the driving rain. That requires turning around every minute or so to track the oncoming vehicles, which slows us down. Finally, a highly unlikely event – a massive tractor trailer slows and stops for us. We get in. The driver says nothing. I can’t see his face. He lets us off in town and then we’re home after a five minute slog through the mud.
We meet up with Marco’s energetic housemate Flavio, and I introduce the Afterparty project. He repeats a theme I’m hearing a lot these past few days. You are America. You are big. You can do what you want. Marco Antonio Sr. said the same earlier in the day, and saw it as the natural order of things, though chastised us for our moral hypocrisy. His politics are right wing, and he thinks the leftists want another Cuba in Guatemala. “Really?” I ask. “They really want to emulate Cuba as a model?” He thinks so. (His brother Cesar Jr. vehemently disagrees but we will get to him in another post.)
Flavio thinks America will do what it takes to protect its multi-national companies. Marco Sr. wants America’s helping hand but believes it always comes with conditions, those conditions being economic dependence and political servitude. Marco mixes some rum and fruit drinks and we talk into the night.
I am awakened by rooster crowing at 1:40am. Then a cacophony of dogs barking. Then, at 6:30am, we’re on our way to the campus.
I’m compiling the recordings and photos from the encounter with the middle school kids. As early teens, their primary view of the USA brand is much more about fashion and tech and pop culture than CIA covert action and civil war. But they have harrowing stories from their relatives.
One girl’s grandma had two of her sons forcibly taken from their village to be trained as guerrilla fighters. One jumped out of the truck trying to escape and died in the act.
Another girl calmly describes how her grandfather was a large plantation owner and military officer. He had to “kill all the people” but her grandmother said it was necessary.
Marco asks for questions and Lisbeth, first to raise her hand and enthralled throughout, asks, in a fierce tone, “How would you like it if we Guatemalans went to America and created a civil war in your country?”
A boy asks why the CIA was so interested in his country in 1954?
Different generations, different social classes, different ethnic groups bear witness in their own ways to their nation’s legacy of violence,from the civil war to the overthrow to a century of muscular control by two dozen families and to their forebears, the conquistadors.
In the next post, I’ll tell you about the chicken bus ride back to Guatemala City with Marco’s mother’s friend Wilma, and the breakdown of the bus en route. With a short video of the Squinty Chicken Bus Preacher Man who chose to evangelize the gospel to the passengers from my seat.