August 20, 2009

Getting around Guatemala City

Guatemala City is divided into several zones. They start in the middle, and spread out like a snail, going around from 1 up to 15. The spiral snail pattern is a bit off in some places, but the peripheral neighborhoods tend to have higher numbers.

The western outskirts have a few wealthy or upper middle class neighborhoods, going from the fairly well off zona 9 to the quite well off zona 10 to the elite zona 15. The city center is in zona 1. It is a commercial district, but has somewhat of a concentration of poverty. From there, you go to zona 6, a working-class/poor neighborhood. This leads out to zona 18, a poor neighborhood on the southeastern edge of the city.

I am still trying to get a lay of the land here in Guatemala City. Several people have suggested that there might be a concentration of deportees in the zona 6 and zona 18. Nearly 100 deportees arrive in Guatemala each day. Of these deportees, as many as 20 are from the capital. With numbers like these, it should not be hard to find people who have been deported from the US.

My husband, Nando, actually found one already for me. Nando met a guy in McDonald’s who told him that his brother had been deported. Hopefully it will work out for me to be able to interview him.

Oliver, my research assistant, has also suggested that we check out call centers. Since English ability is an asset in these call centers, where international companies outsource their customer service, there may be deportees in those call centers. Oliver has a connection with one of them, so that is an avenue we will pursue.

I took the bus to get home from the city center today. In addition to being a fraction of the price of a taxi, I got to see quite a bit of the city. Similar to what I have seen in other Latin American countries, the bus drivers let people get on the bus briefly to give their pitch, in the hope of getting some money from passengers.

Yesterday on the bus, a woman asked us to buy chewing gum from her for one quetzal. Today, a young man who told us he was HIV positive got on the bus and showed us his ability to cut beautiful swans and butterflies from colored paper. I gave him a few coins, and he said “thank you” to me in English. Then, he asked if I understood Spanish. I told him I did, and he let me know he speaks three languages. It crossed my mind to ask him if he had been deported from the US, but he got off the bus too quickly. Once he was off, two young boys got on and sang a religious song. I had given all of my change to the former guy, so I didn’t give them anything.

I rarely give money to children who ask for it in the streets. They may be orphans, but usually their parents are somewhere, and I do not condone parents sending their kids out to ask for money. It is a very risky situation to put the kids in.

The bus I was on took forever to get me home. It seems that buses here are somewhat independently operated. This means that the driver tries to make as much money as possible. So, if someone is running for the bus, they usually will stop to get their fare. In the US, there is no economic incentive for the busdriver to do that, so they might ignore you.

The drawback to the Guatemala system is that if the bus is full, it will stop at every corner and try to coax passengers to get on the bus. As such, a trip that is 15 minutes by car easily can turn in to over an hour by bus. In my case, that also means more time to observe what is going on in the city.

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