6, Guatemala City
by Ashley Kircher
come to Guatemala to, as I like to put it, “live with
the tribes of Mennonite,” which makes my father roll
his eyes. This makes Mennonites sound both exotic
and dangerous, as though I am an anthropologist who
may or may not come home with a bone needle threaded
between the bridge of my nose. I have come to Guatemala
because I didn’t want to wander through Mayan ruins,
Lonely Planet glaringly in hand, looking for the next
American I could share a Gallo cerveza with untill it
was time to head back to the hostel and a Stephen
Hearing of my desire to actually live in a Guatemalan
community and put down some gringa roots, a Mennonite
professor friend of my father recommended I try CASAS,
Central American Study and Service. Run by Guatemalan
Mennonites, I was the first American ever to be affiliated
with the program who was not Mennonite. Luckily, though,
I passed the test, and found myself one sudden February
morning in Guatemala City, staring at my new front
In front of it, a man has evidently
just finished an epileptic fit, for he is passed out
on our front step, a thin slick of blood on the side
of his dusty face, his body still roiling and shaking.
Maria—my new fourteen-year old hermana who has picked
me up at the bus stop, steps over his body without
a second thought, asking me if I wore makeup, and
how much, and could she see it—like right now?
Inside the darkened house, her
blind father sits at the kitchen table, his grey hair
greasy and slept-on. His eyes are two milky globes;
his fingers work their way around the tabletop in
endless, empty patterns. The flies rise and settle
with his rhythm, stealing quick licks at the honey
I can see slick and dried on the oilcloth from across
the room. Beyond him are the two dark maws of bedrooms
with the stove in between, and Maria leads me to the
one on the left, ignoring her father in her haste
to see my makeup—not that she is allowed to wear any.
Soon after, night begins to fall, and a few serious
stars push their way through the lights and the smog.
They hang, uncrowded, in the purple dusk. Maria’s
father, holed up in his room for the night, listens
to the Bible on tape. Britney Spears shakes it loud
on MTV. (We don’t have running water, and enjoy only
sporadic electricity, but it appears that we have
excellent cable reception.) Maria attempts to shake
it “como la chica mas sexy del mundo”, wearing my
lip gloss (which has mysteriously vanished by the
time I leave three months later). It is a gorgeous
and horrific site. Deciding that 8pm will be my new
bedtime, I bid my host-mother Fialiley goodnight.
Next door the Baptists are singing to reach the heavens.
They have the worst voices I have ever, ever heard,
each chorus vibrating through our shared wall with
the resounding vigor of joyful tone-deaf toddlers.
I pull out my headphones, climb into bed, push play.
My first real morning in Guatemala
City, and I have arisen at dawn, refreshed despite the
night’s long serenade, pushing aside the thin curtain
that hangs in the doorframe and walking out into the
yard to shower. The mango tree is heavy with fruit and
the dirt yard below is rotten with them full and juicy
on the ground. An overripe mango balances where it has
fallen on the windshield wiper of a broken-down car.
A mango, split, bobs face-down in a bucket of water
meant for the turkey, who is being fattened for Maria’s
quinceiñera. The air is redolent with mangos,
turkey shit, and the sweet stench of burning trash from
the dump next door.
The shower stall is cinderblocked off about neck-high,
and holds a bucket of water with a cup. It shares a
cinderblock wall with the toilet—a normal, American
porcelain god with zero privacy. In fact, many were
the mornings when I would be bucket-showering, only
to hear the careful sounds of my blind host-father settling
in for a friendly constitutional.
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