**Warning: Do not read if you are my parents**
Yesterday morning the secretary of FAPE (the MFI I am working with here in Guatemala City) woke up at 4:30am. As she left her house she kissed her 3-year-old son goodbye and told him that if she didn’t come home tonight he should know that she loves him. She then waited at the bus stop for over 2 hours for a city bus to bring her the 5 miles to the FAPE office.
Guatemala City (“Guate”) is in a public transportation crisis. It’s taken me awhile to understand the situation and it’s still rather complicated, but I’ll do my best to explain what I do know. It all starts with Guate’s large gang problem. One of the ways that the many gangs terrorize the city is by demanding payments from the bus companies. It’s a Hollywood style “meet me every Wednesday at the gas station to pay $100 — or else” kind of deal. If the companies don’t pay, the gangs kill bus drivers at random. They drive by on a motorcycle and fire into the drivers seat. They get on the bus as a passenger and shoot the driver point blank. They follow the bus until the driver stops for a snack and then take him out with one bullet. It’s horrific. In March alone, over 30 bus drivers have been murdered in Guatemala City.
Aside from being terrifying for the residents of the city, it also heavily affects their day-to-day life. The vast majority of bus drivers in the city have gone on strike (wouldn’t you??) which leaves eerily bus-less streets and hundreds of thousands of people stranded with no way to get to work or school. Guate has no other public transportation system and taxis are too expensive for the majority of the city’s inhabitants. So what do they do?
Well, like FAPE’s secretary, they get up 2 hours earlier and anticipate getting home 2 hours later. They hold their breath, praying that no harm will come to them on the ridiculously overly crowded busses. It may sound dramatic to tell your 3-year-old that if anything happens to you on your way to work that you will always love him, but the fear is real. Can you imagine being scared for your life every time you get on a public bus to go to work or to school?
The older generations, those who lived through Guatemala’s 30-year civil war tend to sigh and say this is just a new kind of war. They saw an era when the military and the police were the ones doing the killing, so seeing them simply stand aside while all of this goes on doesn’t appear to surprise anyone.
What about me? Well, thankfully I can report that I am being extremely well taken care of. FAPE sends me to and from work in a private taxi and accompanies me anytime I venture beyond the large front gate of the office. I actually feel quite safe in my daily routine. I admit that I get small pangs of jealousy when I read about other Kiva Fellows seemingly independent bus trips and client visits, but for now I head “home” every day thankful for the luxury of feeling safe on my daily commute – a luxury that is simply not afforded to many people in this city.
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