Where there is Poverty: Broken Windows and Armed Robbery

Some days start out like all the others, and let you take a deep breath before spiraling out of control.

Today was one of those days. Waking up, eating slowly and enjoying my coffee, taking pictures of the sun rising over the rusted rooftops and avocado trees while waiting for my ride to park in front of the hostel honking.  It was 7:20 am when he finally arrived. We would sit in traffic for 30 minutes and arrive at the office right before eight.   Typical.  Like every day last week.

But today, we stopped at a gas station so my ride could run to the ATM before work.  Locking my door, I hid my camera and backpack out of sight and the two of us walked into the station.  Two minutes later, when we walked out from the store, my heart dropped.  Shattered glass is strewn in the spot next to ours.  I secretly hope it´s not our car but know that it is.  Running to the car, my door was unlocked and I already knew the rest.  My backpack, with both my cameras (one my baby D90), my laptop and all my Kiva work vanished into thin air.

Knowing that my stuff was already long gone, we watched the security tapes, and talked to the guard. Although he was only 15 feet away, he didn´t “hear” the window break or see any unusual activity, and the guy who was parked in the spot next to ours, who was on his phone for the two minutes we were away, also “saw” nothing.

Fifteen minutes later, a man pulls up and says this happens a lot at this ESSO station, and if we want to get our stuff back we should drive over to Sta. Catarina out in front of the church and ask for “El Pizza”. Straight out of a movie, I thought; we go there and then probably get robbed again.

Filing the police report, I found the officer finishing our sentences.  “When we were inside, they…” and he cut me off, “broke the back window”.  I got the sense that this happens a lot, and there is nothing they can do.  It’s a cycle where passersby turns the other way, the security guard figures stopping the robbery isn´t worth his life (guards at gas stations aren´t legally allowed to carry guns because of the danger of explosions) because the robbers are armed, and where the victim´s complaints get heard by the police and then filed.

I wrote last week about the best story.  A story that we are creating together.  And I believe that we are, but the places where Kiva´s field partners work more often yield stories like this.  Where there is poverty, there is desperation.  Where there is desperation, there is robbery, killings, wars.  Helping to alleviate poverty through microfinance is an important tool in the creation of a better situation for those involved, but it takes time and is merely one solution to a very dynamic problem.  Until then, I´m going to wander the city hoping I never run into “El Pizza”.

Eric Burdullis is a Kiva Fellow currently serving at FAPE in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  He currently spends his nights reading, his days working and running from “El Pizza”, and his evenings watching the t-storms roll over Guatemala City.

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Eric Burdullis