A Travellerspoint blog

my guatemalan welcome

racism, threats, a story

so i figured that while i'm still sitting in front of this computer at xela internet cafe i might take the opportunity to relate the story of my arrival into guatemala, something i've been hoping to tell for quite a while.

so i arrived in livingston, guatemala on the 9th of february, coming from punta gorda, belize. i quickly found a cheap hostel, threw my backpack down, and went out for a walk to get to know the new city. i went up along the northwest coastline, a black sand beach, strolling between beach cabanas and palm trees. awed with the scenery, i turned around to take a landscape portrait of whence i'd come. as i raised my small digital camera, a small voice behind me, in a lazy, slow carribbean melody, totally belying its threatening intent, muttered "who told you you could take that picture?" bristled, but ignored this first assailment. he then said to my back again, "you fucking can't take that picture!" and i turned, and found myself looking down at a short garifuna man, with ragged baseball cap, worn leather sandals, brilliantly white teeth showing out in an ebony black face, the middle of his pursed lips bleached probably from years of toking. he was standing back on his heels, hands hanging limply at his sides, and i quickly judged myself to be well clear of physical threat. bewildered, i said "no one, is it a problem?" he said, "fuck yah, it is, this ain't your hood. you don't belong here." he paused, then interrupting my subsequent weak and unformed rebuttal, "you don't belong here. where are you staying? the latin side, right? this is garifuna, do you see any other whites around?" again, i bristled at the race card he pulled out, and lifted my sunglasses. he said "woah", like he was calming a horse, "woah, why'd you do that with your sunglasses. that's an indication of changed intention...", all in his lazy, slow carribbean droll. i said i wanted to see him clear, without anything in the way, and he said "that's fucked up", crossed his arms. he found better footing, and i impressed upon him that i did not want to start anything, just wanted to walk in peace, and look. i think he understood my nonviolent intentions, but was affronted that i hadn't spooked off yet, and we stook dumbly staring at each other for a while. i told him i just wanted to see, to look, and told him of my time at the tea guesthouse with the mayans in belize, in a pathetic attempt to demonstrated that i was a culturally sensitive, nonthreatening guy. he said, there's no way the mayans wanted a white there, "you're so fucked up." as nonconfrontationally as i could, i said i resented that. he continued that whenever the mayans, just like he, saw a white, first they thought money, and second they thought how could they get that money. if they couldn't get at it, they didn't want hell to do with any whites. he then mocked me, "did you just want to find a nice mayan girl?" this accusation, and blatant stereotype of me as being a colonializing white here to senselessly rape and pillage, repulsed me. a horrible affront, i thought, i told him i had a girlfriend back in california. he, again, laughs AT me. he thinks to himself a while, then admits he knows the bay area, played music in berkeley, knows stanford, menlo park, and lived about five minutes from my house in palo alto, both of us tempering our surprise and trying to out-cool the other. he certainly didn't allude to it at the time, but i think that was an "in" for me in hindsight. i asked him directly, would he allow me to continue my walk. and he said, "no man". fine, i said, it's your home, it dissappoints me, but it's you place. how should i leave? that way? or that? " i ain't gonna fucking tell you what to do, man. you whites are always supposed to know what to do. always gotta be fucking do-ing." i threw my hands into the air, signaling my surrender to the conversation and began to walk off up a steep road running perpendicular to the beach and continued despite his mumbled protests. he got louder -- "hey! HEY! CALIFORNIA!" i stopped and turned and said i felt he was being racist. slightly incredulous, but with a little more respect since i turned my back on him, he invited me back to explain that to him another time, which he accepted with sort of a soft grunt. he started walking off down the beach, the way i was headed, and i followed him, eagerly relishing in his admittance of me into his hood. he refused me his name, and i began to become aware of a growing admiration for this guy and his quiet tenacity, and he seemed to have a potent mind, though he assured me "you don't know fucking nothing about me, gringo," in response to my attempts to pacify the situation. we meandered in silence, and he seemed to know everyone we passed, and though some people he greeted with love and compliments and some with vulgarity and insults, he got mostly the same, half-interested responses, no one seemed to care much one way or the other. to try to continue the conversation on a positive note, i asked him how long garifuna had been here. he scoffed, cussed, and said "garifuna ain't nobody's business but garifuna. that questionç's got loads of implciations -- to say that means that garifuna ain't always been here, which means it ain't natural here and don't belong." i smiled and admitted my mistake, still slightly on edge. everyone looking at me with my guide with mild interest. over the next two hours, he told me about politics in just as astutue a manner, but much more concise and direct verbage, as my professors at vassar. he analyzed me life, insulting me (becoming quite comically as he lazily did so), stereotyping me, judging. of my stated year off away from the scarcity and smallness of vassar, "oh you think you're a real gringo rebel now, huh?" (interestingly: "if you want to be a real rebel, you should have gone to berkeley." i told him i almost had.) i asked him what most people did here. "just sit", he answered me. "sit and wait." he told me about religion, about god, repeated much of my recent interests in a buddhist-type worldview, in his own garifuna vocabulary. and told me about love. that i shouldn't be wasting any love that was blown my direction. after all, all women are the same, he said. i don't know why, and especially since i don't even have a girlfriend in cali, i said that i was bored with my girlfriend back home. "your bored with yourself. what are you down here looking for? you won't find it -- it's inside. it's peace of mind." all the while, he greeted people in spanish, in english, in creole, and i began to realize that this wasn't some drunken bum cussing me out, but a real community leader. he abruptly wondered aloud how much he could get as ransom for me. i tensed, checked my surroundings, but sensed he was testing my threshold. i said, probabably ten grand. he thought it over, then explained he could take me way up to the jungle, hide me away, kidnap me till he got the money. we passed a school he had started, and strolled slowly back through town. at the very end, he quietly said he wanted to give me a cd (which he did and then demanded 100Q, whatever, i was enraptured.) he gave me a cd-r, written on it was "poco mendez", apparently he, also apparently he was the drummer painted life-size on the wall mural of the music bar we had ended in. he suddenly held out his fist, we pounded, and he wordlessly turned and walked off, leaving me thinking about our 2.5 hour encounter. being that this was all within the first afternoon of my arrival in guatemala, preceding an anticipated two month stay in the country, i estimated that my time here in the country would be pretty rich.

Posted by tyrobinson 15:06 Archived in Guatemala

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Thats NUTS! glad to hear that your manly physique has finally come in handy.

by noly2000

Dude. That's intense. Like peaceful warrior, sit down hard and think sort of intense. Hope you abosrbed it.

by AngryScot8

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