Today I would like to tell a short story. It is about concepts like honour, violence and why Guatemala is different. Even though it happened more than 20 years ago, the story is still very relevant.
When I leave our house, I walk to the right and after 200m I turn right again. After about half a kilometre, I leave our settlement in Chimaltenango. There I pass through a group of houses (San Jose Bethania). 20 years ago there was no sewage connection and no pipes for drinking water. But there were plenty of children, boys and girls. Children who walked around barefoot in cheap clothes.
Every time I walked through this settlement, the children shouted something to me. They were between five and ten years old and snotty. First they called GRINGO or CANCHE (blond). I tried several times to explain that I was German. Besides, I am not blond. But there was no use. The children noticed, that I was annoyed and became more and more cheeky with time. Soon they called me Chinese, Russian and in the end idiot, stupid or worse. The shopkeepers in the small alley smiled when they heard it and they called me by my first name.
Every time I walked down the alley, I got angry. Every time I walked down the alley, I got angry; angry; angry!
For many weeks it was like this. But what could I do. They were little children. Still I was angry!
One Friday afternoon, we had visitors. Suddenly my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law Magnolia and her husband Byron had come. The women started talking and cooking and we men didn’t know what to do with ourselves. So I said, “Let’s go into town. I’ll buy you a beer”. Of course the men agreed.
So we started walking. I walked in the middle. Byron was on my left. Byron was smaller than me, wearing new jeans, boots, a white shirt, a black leather vest and over the vest in a shoulder holster his Magnum. Well visible! To my right my father-in-law was walking. He was almost as tall as me, wearing old worn out shoes and jeans, a worn red jacket and a hat. Well visible was his cartridge belt with his revolver.
We marched through the settlement, walked through the alleyway in San Jose Bethania and the children played by the side of the road.
And then? Nothing!… Not a sound, not a noise. The boys and girls just looked. The shopkeepers weren’t smiling! When we returned from the city after several beers, the same thing happened. Absolute silence.
A few days later I went shopping for some small things in one of the shops in the alley, in San Jose Bethania. Probably tuna and chilles rellenos or something like that. The woman at the counter asked me, “Who were the men who were with you last week, Don Frank”? She said Don Frank to me. Not Frank as usual and she didn’t use tu, but usted! “My father-in-law and the husband of a sister-in-law,” I answered. “The old man looked like a murderer,” she said. “No,” I answered. “He’s not a murderer”. “But my relatives are from Jutiapa, gente bien enojada” (very angry people) “I am not without protection here in Guatemala”, I added.
“Oh, from Jutiapa” she said startled.
Since then I am Don Frank, even in San Jose Bethania and I don’t get angry anymore when I have to walk through the small alley!