October 23, 2009

Getting around Guatemala City on the Bus and Transmetro

After lunch, I picked up the phone and called Lorenzo, a deportee that a friend had recommended for an interview. I told Lorenzo that I was writing a book on deportees and wanted to talk to him. He seemed very interested, and agreed to be interviewed that afternoon.

On the phone, Lorenzo told me he had a scar on his face. That made me wonder why he had a scar. He spoke perfect English, so I presumed he had grown up in the US. Other than that, I had no idea who I was going to meet, and plenty to reflect on as I took the bus downtown.

Now that we live in San Jose de Villanueva, it is a one to one and a half hour trip downtown on two different buses. Because of the long ride, I really hoped Lorenzo would show up. The first bus is a remodeled school bus where three adults squeeze onto seats designed for two children. That bus lets me off at the Transmetro stop – the new Express buses that go from the southern suburbs to the city center - Zone One.

The Transmetro bounced me down Avenida Bolivar, past Pollo Campero, Mega Paca, and under pedestrian bridges - all frequent landmarks in Guatemala City. Pollo Campero is the national fried chicken restaurant, where, for a day's miminum wage, you can get a three piece chicken meal. The Mega Pacas are huge stores filled with second hand clothes from the United States. Mega Pacas even have K-mart style billboard with models dressed in their second hand clothes. And, pedestrian bridges dot the city, designed to prevent pedestrian accidents. They generally work, except for the ones pedestrians are scared to use because of the potential for robbery.

Further down Avenida Bolivar, we came to a line of furniture stores, where each small manufacturer exhibits their wares outside. As we rolled by, I fantasized about buying a small dresser in which to put my clothes. Having enough space to fully unpack all of our clothes is a consistent problem when we travel for temporary stays. It is never enough of a problem, though, to actually go through the trouble to purchase a new dresser. That didn’t stop me from thinking about which one I might want as we rode by.

At Don Bosco Station, the Transmetro veered off onto First Avenue, headed towards Zone 1. We passed a line of wholesale distributors of toiletries, toilet paper, shampoo, and other bathroom items. I am not sure why dealers of similar items all line up together, but it must work for them. Soon, we were on 18 Calle, with stall after stall of things for sale. Each stall is dedicated to a different item for sale – pirated DVDs, tricycles, suitcases, balls, pots, pans, clothes, and then, another Mega Paca. So many things for sale in a city where most people are too poor to buy much of anything.

I got off of the Transmetro at Plaza Muni. As I was twenty minutes early, I scoped the place out to find a spot to do the interview. I found a Pollo Campero and went back to the bus station. Once there, I saw a light-skinned guy with a blue Dodgers T-shirt on looking at me. I saw the scar on the side of his face and said “Lorenzo”? It was him.

The first thing he wanted to know was if he had a chance of returning to the US. His whole family is there – his mother, his stepfather, his cousins, his uncles, and his three kids. In Guatemala, he only has an aunt and three cousins. When he first came back ten years ago, his grandmother was here. She has since passed away.

As we were talking, I found out that Lorenzo got his scar here in Guatemala. He was standing on 18 Calle in the evening with his wife when two robbers approached him. When they demanded that he give them his phone, he punched one in the face. The other scratched him with a sharp object, leaving a huge scar across his left cheek. I asked him why he didn't just give him the stuff. He told me, “When you're from L.A., you don't do that.”

Lorenzo lives in a rough part of Guatemala City – La Limonada in Zone 5. I asked him if anyone gives him trouble there. He told me they don’t. I pointed out that they must know he has family in the US, and asked if he has any issues with extortionists. He said, thankfully, he does not. It seems as if his street smarts he developed in the US are helping him to survive here in Guatemala.

After our interview, I joined the sea of people on the Transmetro. Luckily, I got a seat. On the way back, I reflected on the interview and on how Lorenzo's life had changed. In the US, he had a car, a steady job, and partied a lot. In Guatemala, he rides the bus, and has a job that pays just enough for him and his family to get by. During the interview, I asked him if he was any less mad, now that he has been here for ten years. He says he is not – he is still mad at himself for messing up. Not a day goes by when he doesn't think about his life in the US. Not a day, for ten years.

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