Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tremors and Aftershocks

If I haven´t mentioned it yet, San Pedro is a weird town...and right now happens to be a particularly special time to be here.

I´ve heard a number of stories about how San Pedro La Laguna came to be this way. One is that it all started with only one hotel owned by a foreigner, and this first installation was followed by a flood of hippies and travellers from all over the world. As they started taking over the shoreline around the lake, the locals made an effort to contain them to only one part of town. Another story is that this part of town by the lake was underwater until 30 or 40 years ago and the foreigners party paradise has been built up on the new dry land since then. To me that sounded like a creation myth that conveniently required no displacement of indigenous communities, but I´ve since heard there´s some truth to it. So anyway, now you have a street and a trail on the water full of white people, restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, drugs, yoga, bookstores with literature in english, bars, coffee shops, and mayan vendors selling bread and orange juice next to the rainbow children in tie dye and birkenstocks selling their hand-braided cord jewelry. Two blocks up the hill you find yourself in a typical conservative evangelical mayan community and you could be the only white person in the center. Two cultures reluctantly overlapping in a tense sociological venn diagram.

Friday night some friends and I were walking up the hill to find a traditional mayan religious procession we´d heard happens every other week. We found it in the center of town, a parade of hundreds of people, most in traditional dress, praying and singing and chanting, carrying a neon cross and a life size effigy of jesus carrying his own. The sight and the sound of it raised the hair on my arms and left me speechless. How I wished I´d had an audio recorder! As we were walking up the hill toward the procession, a local teenager in a group we walked past discreetly asked us... "Cocaine?" I said..."Really?" and kept walking, saddened, considering everything, that the tourist economy has made drug dealers of Tzutujil Mayan kids.

I heard that it used to be even crazier here. No laws, no police, coke lines on bars, needles in the street, total anarchy, name your vice and SPLL was the place to come to indulge or OD. One person described it to me as a whole lot of little kids with an enormous cake all right in front of them, and they couldn´t just take one little piece at a time. I´ve heard from other foreigners and some locals that yeah, it used to be nuts here but things have quieted down a lot. Where in other parts of Guatemala you have to worry about violence and theft. San Pedro is a little haven, a tranquil community where people respect each other and, my friend Pedro was telling me earlier that very friday, you never, ever have to worry about violence in the village. Nunca, nada.

Later that night, maybe around 2am or so, I´m lying in bed in my hotel on the main drag and I heard a sound right outside on the street. A pop. Like one firecracker. Or a gunshot. I didn´t think much of it because there´s noises all the time. And if it was a shot, I´m not running out into the dark street after it. So I finished writing in my journal, fell asleep, and then woke up in the morning, stepped outside and the first thing that Israel, in the room across the courtyard, says to me is "did you hear what happened last night?!"

I...maybe...was afraid of that. The thing that never happens in San Pedro happened in San Pedro. And I heard the sound of the gun in the night time.

Israel and two girls he was walking with on the way back to the hotel came across the body, still warm. It was drug related, between two people, between two families. The victim was the son of the owner of Casa Elena. What you didn´t know? Casa Elena is where all the coke in this town moves. Don Juan?! Yeah, the family´s deep in it, lots of money. They got busted a couple months ago and the cops didn´t find the drugs until they searched the tourists rooms. Casa Elena is where I stayed my first three days through San Pedro! I asked my friend Felix, he didn´t know anything. I asked the Juan who runs the hotel I was in when it happened. He sort of shrugged it off. Yeah, there was a murder, but he was mixed up in all kinds of stuff, lost his mind a while ago, sort of had it coming.

Sooo... it´s okay then? I guess just forget about it? But...what about the guy that did it? Could a town of 13,000 people really not even hiccup after a murder on main street?

I´ve heard a number of things since. The first story I heard is that nobody is talking about it because it´s between two families and not anyone elses business. It was a planned assassination and everyone saw it coming. The cops aren´t going to do anything about it, this is how disputes get resolved here. The act was itself the justice being done. So it´s over, end of story. Don´t ask more questions and definitely don´t get in the way. Then I heard that people in town are completely freaked out and concerned that there will be retaliation and it could be the beginning of a spiral of violence. Thursday at 3pm, which happens to be today, there is going to be a meeting in the center to determine the best way to handle it. They will be discussing accountability and prevention, making sure that San Pedro stays the little peublo that minds its own business and doesn´t bother anyone. Then my spanish teacher told me about how, in the late 70´s and early 80´s during the civil war, this town experienced more than its share of assassinations, disappearances, silence and terror. Many people remember it all too vividly, and the echo of a gunshot off the volcano has re-opened a deep trauma that might never stay closed.

So whatever indeed ends up coming of this situation remains to be seen. The hushed whispers behind trembling hands are full of questions but no answerss. For the time being, the only visible indication that anything happened, except for the funeral last sunday, is the dark brown stain and dirty jar filled with wilting flowers on the street outside of Casa Elena that hundreds of people walk past every single day without noticing.

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