More Guatemala Observations

Some more random observations about Guatemala…

Guns

People say Americans are crazy gun toting cowbows, but the real Americans who love their guns are the Central Americans of Guatemala. I have never seen so many guns as I have here. That includes growing up in a working class, rural city in the US.

You see guns on the belts of police, and there are an average number of police here by US standards. But that’s just the beginning… lots of stores hire private security guards, and they are almost without exception armed. Every bank has an armed guard quickly questioning every person who wants to come through the door (one bank had a man-trap too, which is a pair of doors forming a vestibule, wired so that only one can be open at a time). Probably 70% of the delivery trucks have an armed security guard literally riding shotgun. When the truck stops, the guard gets out and watches the truck while the driver makes the delivery of Coca-Cola or whatever.

Security guards almost always carry some kind of shotgun with no stock, just a pistol grip. It looks pretty cool, in a Hollywood prop kind of way. They have plenty of live ammo in their belts. I have not yet gotten the nerve up to strike up a conversation and find out if the keep a shell chambered too, though I suspet they do. For my liberal peace loving hippy friends out there, the distinction is a big deal. Even US police and military armed guards, under normal conditions, keep their shells far away from their guns. Having a shell chambered is just a pump and a trigger pull away from making a big hole in something or someone.

So that would be a lot of guns, even for hick from the US like me. But it keeps going… it is quite easy to get a permit to carry a firearm as a private citizen. I don’t know if it is required by law, or just fashionable, but men invariably wear them prominently. Sometimes in holster, sometimes just a pistol stuck in their jeans. I’m not making this up… I think maybe they’ve watched too many Dirty Harry movies. The other day on the boat ride to Puerto Barrios, one of the businessmen on board had a pistol on his belt. Made me wonder a little about how much fun Puerto Barrios was going to be.

Like probably everywhere in the world, peace in Guatemala brought less military and more crime. So there’s a legitimate need for security guards, but the overwhelming and completely public show of force was pretty surprising to me.

The only way the guns have really changed my behavior is to make me more polite. This is an argument the Texans, bless their gun-loving hearts, make. When I go to pass a delivery truck, I always try to find the guard and make eye contact and give him a really nice “Buenos Dias”. Afterall, I don’t ever want one of those guys to be surprised as I pass between him and his truck. They stand with their back to the wall away from the truck, so you have to pass between them and the truck.

Infections

OK, this is kind of icky, but it is interesting. The germs in Central America grow faster than back home. I’m sure some of it is just that I’m always hot and sweaty here, but I think the germs are meaner too. But somehow you seem to heal a little faster too. I can’t explain that part of it. What it means is that if a cut starts to heal without getting infected, you’re home free. But if it gets infected, you’ve got to really keep on top of it to get it to heal. I predict I’ll be hitting a pharmacy up for more antibiotic ointment before I head home. I use it like parmesan cheese on top of spaghetti. Oooh, sorry. That was a little more gross than even I was going for.

Anyway, Matt, a gringo working at a park in San Andrés made the observation that organic farming ought to be way easier here than back home. He says that you can compost a pile of waste here in two months that would take a year back home. The ambient temperature and humidity is perfect for it in the Péten, and there’s much more aggressive bugs here.

More Guatemalan Engineering

A few more examples of repeated materials and techniques. Wire makes virtually any sort of hardware, from a hinge to a lock. They use the same system here for making a quick and easy gate in a barbed-wire fence that I saw in Wyoming on my drive to Alaska. (If you are interested, ask me to draw it in person sometime, it’s not worth trying to explain here.)

Inner tube is the ideal material for both a lid (use some wire to catch it under the lip of the tank), or for anything requiring spring. Sometimes gates are sprung with innertube. Sometimes you see it holding a truck closed (or in extreme cases, together).

Guatemalans speed bumps breed with about twice the virulence of the germs in the cut on my ankle. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except that shocks seem to be considered optional equipment by SAT, the Guatemalan DMV. So even when someone says, “¡Hay no problemo, ees paved!” the road will still be about as bad as a dirt road, but with less dust.

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