Life in the Barrio

Latest News: Guatemala’s Congress has approved the government’s declaration of a state of emergency for 22 municipalities in the country’s northeast after three soldiers were killed in an ambush by alleged drug traffickers near the border with Belize.

The measure approved Saturday by lawmakers allows police and the military to detain suspects in those jurisdictions without arrest warrants. The emergency declaration also imposes a night-time curfew, while restricting the right to protest and hold large meetings. Guatemala serves a trans-shipment location for Colombian cocaine headed to the United States.

I live in Zone 8 in Guatemala City, which is considered a red zone in the Capital. “Red zone” refers to places with exceptionally high crime rates. Don't worry, my home is safe because I live on the grounds of the Cathedral and Seminary and because I have 2 gates and 3 locks to get through before I can crawl into bed. I take an Uber to get pretty much anywhere except for the tienda around the corner and only when the sun is shining. My days usually consist of either working in the office or Zone 4 which feels like being in the East Village, only with a lot more Reggaeton music and children working on the streets. I'm usually sitting in front of my laptop reading UN reports, having meetings with local NGOs and priests, attending conferences or retreats, and practicing my Spanish in nice cafes until I figure out how to get around. To get my shopping, I often go to Wallmart because the nearest market is too dangerous-not to enter but to exit. I was told once that you can go in with your clothes on and don't know if you'll have them on when you leave.

Luckily I found a climbing gym so I can process my new surroundings. The only problem with going climbing is I'm usually returning home at night. I'll never forget the first time I took an Uber at night and my driver didn't want to slow down as we neared my house. Now I know why. Last night I saw my first dead body on the street and later heard a woman being viciously attacked. 

I'm not complaining about where I live because I have fallen in love with the people, the city, and my work. I also think that I'm made for this type of work and I'm just the right person to do it. However, this is the reality, everyone knows it, and it's more than just a sad picture in the news. Those who have, stay safe and those who don't take risks every day. I find myself more tired than ever sometimes-clocking where armed guards are for protection and anxiously waiting for the car to go so not to be stopping on the road for too long. I can only imagine a constant state of anxiety for young people as I watch them constantly looking over their shoulder. I thank the Divine every moment of every day that I am safe, even if it is behind gates, an unmarked car, or sitting in a cafe with a guard right next door. 

Luckily I've made a lot of friends in the City but because of where I can and cannot go, they usually drive fast expensive cars and speak fluent English. The wealth inequality is nothing like I've ever seen before with 59.3 percent of the population living below the poverty line. It has one of the highest disparities between rich and poor as well as one of the highest poverty levels worldwide.

There are also barely any youth programs besides Guatemala Youth Initiative which is doing amazing work. However, most Organizations prefer prevention work with children. That being said, most kids return to the barrio as a young adult and still have to face the streets which offer a better life in the gang and an appetite for drugs and alcohol. With little support, a shortage of job opportunities, and family dysfunction- the years between 15-25 can grow into a perfect storm. 

All that said, I can't put into words how optimistic I am about the possibilities of an incredible youth program. I wake up to a wave of excitement every single morning and can't wait to learn, grow, and be challenged by this new place.