Stop and Stare

August 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Guatemala, Mountains, Travel | 3 Comments
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Read this if you wonder what exactly makes my life a One Republic song, if you have ever been out of your element, if you love thrift store shopping or lived in a town with less than 10,000 people.  If you have ever been the first white person a kid has seen or if you were wondering what happens to criminals in small towns in Guatemala.

Aldea Nimasac: population 6,591, elevation 2531m, 6.5 km from Totonicapán.

This is where I live. Well for now. As a roaming Kiva fellow, I get to work with multiple organizations here in Guatemala.  The first, in the capital, and the second here in Aldea Nimasac. The closest big town is… well small.  At least by my standards. I am used to Camarillo: which I consider a suburb of Los Angeles with over 600,000 people, not a suburb of a town of 50,000 with suburbs of less than 10,000 people.  Add some zeros….

Over the weekend, I trekked down to Totonicapán to pick up a sweater: yes, at 2500m, it is cold here, and the clothes I brought (an old sweatshirt, a long sleeve tee and a very thin shell) just don´t cut it. As I walked through town, I stopped every half a block at these second-hand clothing stores. Asking if they had sweaters or jackets in my size.  The store owner´s eyes traced my feet up to my head. They would laugh. No, we don´t have anything. Then, when I would ask about the biggest size they had, they would pull out a used, small A&F  sweatshirt. Does this fit? After the first store, I wouldn´t even humor them by trying it on.

I finally stumbled on a used clothing store and went through the same dialogue. But as I was browsing the racks, I found a large Eddie Bauer sweater. Yes, a little small, but this would do. I wondered what part of the U.S. it came from, and at 10Q ($1.25) I knew it had to have been donated to down here. In the U.S., I clean out my closet only to repurchase it six months later down south.  At least I didn´t have to pay to get it shipped? A whole industry based off the things we Americans no longer find useful.

Passing through the market, I stopped at a stall to buy some bread and papaya.  As I was paying, I felt something on my arm. A four year-old boy poking me. Seconds later, he had his foot pressed up against mine and his finger in his mouth looking down at his foot. He smiled and laughed. Am I really that big? As I walk through the town, the kids whisper gigante as I pass. I smile and say Adios–the standard greeting here–unsure of what else to do.

On a separate thread, as I was walking through the town to play soccer with the guy I am staying with, I mentioned how I got robbed in the capital. He grinned, and said I should have been here.  There are no thieves because they kill them. He corrected himself, well in the next village the neighborhood watch kills them. Here, when they catch one, they drag them through the town with a loudspeaker saying come look at the criminal.  When they finally get to the community center (an elementary school) they strip them naked and tie ropes and boulders to their body and make them haul them back through the town. He said, “the police never do anything…so we do”.

And because of this, the thieves flee or never rob again.  So, yes, mom, I feel very, very safe here. Now, I can walk around, and hike and not really worry about anything!

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