I’m taking online Spanish lessons from a wonderful teacher (Juan from Polytripper — I highly encourage you to use him if you’re seeking that kind of thing).
Juan helped me with a different project last week than the usual worksheet homework I do. I had a letter to write to the child my family sponsors in El Salvador. It’s helpful if we sponsors can write our letters in Spanish (because then the organization, Unbound, doesn’t have to use resources to translate them).
I wrote a draft in Spanish, and Juan and I spent part of the lesson fixing it.
In the course of the half hour, I talked a bit about the sponsorship program, and how I have been to Guatemala (2011) and El Salvador (2014), meeting our sponsored children both times.
“Would you go back again?” Juan asked.
“OH YES!” I answered, with no hesitation.
Then I said I would like to go back to those countries in a situation that was less bound by rules. He asked me what I meant, and I explained how the structure of the trips (understandably) was very rigid. We couldn’t take off on our own. Once we checked in to our hotel in Guatemala City the first day before traveling to Unbound’s center in a different area the next, we were not allowed to leave the hotel. I noticed guards with guns standing outside the bank next-door to the hotel.
On our way back to Guatemala City as the trip was winding down, our driver made sure all of the van’s doors were locked. “A van full of Americans is a target for a robbery,” he said.
At a midpoint in the trip, there was a discussion among the Unbound staff members accompanying us and our group about “chicken buses.”
“Chicken buses” are recycled US school buses that have second lives in Guatemala. Many are decorated very colorfully. It’s not unusual for live chickens to be part of the cargo (hence the name).
This post is a good introduction to chicken buses. And the couple that made this video took an interesting ride on one!
My memory and my daughter’s is a little fuzzy, but there had been a really bad accident along one of the roads we traveled frequently during that trip. A chicken bus had crashed; to my recollection, it had fallen into some type of ravine and there was at least one death.
*** End of Five Minutes ***
There’s still a bit of a language barrier between my teacher and me. (His English is great, but my Spanish is still “progressing,” so it takes a few tries for me to get my point across sometimes if I don’t want to lapse into English.
Everything I was saying to him (the warnings from our hosts about not venturing out without guides, being locked into our van to prevent being robbed, the scary stories about the danger of riding in chicken buses (from the erratic driving, to the hazard of being robbed, and more) implied that it must be dangerous to be in Central America, his home.
I watched his reactions to my comments in real time. I looked for resources on the internet to show him (the blog and video I shared above). We came to the conclusion that Guatemalan chicken buses are similar to Colombian chiva buses.
Whether they are chicken buses or chiva buses, and wherever they are, my conversation with my teacher led me to question some of the assumptions of danger I have absorbed since 2011, when I took my first trip to Central America.
I don’t know when I’ll make it back to Guatemala again (but hello universe, I’m here mentioning it to try to manifest it!), but if I do, I hope to arrange a trip that has a different balance of rules intended to protect hapless Americans and experiences that are more true to what people living there experience day-to-day.
It may even involve a trip on a chicken bus.
Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via coordinator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.