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village life

Life in San Jose looks pretty slow and torpid but there are certain tensions under the surface which gradually become more clear to me.

I make a visit to the San Jose Health Centre for my final rabies shot. Despite two trips to the Centre the previous week to ensure that the vaccine was available there, the mission proves fruitless in achieving its intended purpose. However, while I was waiting to be appraised of this slightly problematic fact, I had ample opportunity to peruse San Jose’s annual health statistics.

These figures adorn the Health Centre walls and reveal the rather startling fact that 35% of the people who died in the municipality of San Jose in 2010 did so as a result of gun shots wounds. This is the leading cause of death by a considerable amount accounting for the demise of 16 people. The next most prevalent cause of death is pneumonia and other respiratory conditions which are responsible for around 15% of local mortality, a mere 6 people. Other deaths include the odd heart attack or two. One woman died of breast cancer and another person succumbed to some un-named tumour. One person died of AIDS.

I am frankly shocked by these figures and my amazement almost manages to over-ride my considerable irritation at the utter lack of responsibility of the Health Centre staff in promising me the rabies vaccine was available and then reneging at the critical moment. I appeal to the staff at Bio Itza and they drive me into Santa Elena to the Heath Centre there and so my own health concerns are satisfactorily resolved leaving me to marvel undistracted at the apparently relentless violence of Guatemalan life.

A short walk around San Jose is also instructive. Most of the population live in simple structures of tin and wood, often with dirt floors and no sewerage. The tap water is not safe to drink. However, the area along the lake shore is the site of a series of recent public works, the most prominent of which is an aquatic park. Entrance to this facility costs Q30, half the daily income of someone on the minimum wage. With a massive expanse of limpid water a few feet away perhaps this is not a huge injustice but it strikes me a revealing somewhat strange priorities among the municipal decision makers. In a small village where few people own vehicles of any kind, a rash of wide new concrete roads also prove to be a ubiquitous project.

Contrasts...people live in tin shacks above the brand new aquatic park.

Keeping the two divided. I photographed this as a random symbol only to discover, on showing the photo to my teacher, that this wall secures San Jose's mayor's house. The mayor owns the construction company that is responsible for all the public works taking place in San Jose.

The lake where people of San Jose swim ...

... and the aquatic park, where they don't.

Is this the trick that keeps it all under control?

By the end of my three weeks in San Jose I have heard various stories about village life and they are often pretty harsh.

The AIDS death turns out to have touched the family of one of my teachers and left four young motherless children in an extremely precarious position.

One of the staff of Bio Itza has a thirteen year old with serious developmental problems – the girl has never attended school and there are no services at all to help her parents deal with this challenging situation. The child was born two months premature as a result of a undiagnosed case of pre-eclampsia during the pregnancy and this is the cause of her brain damage.

A couple married for fifteen years are still ostracised by both their families: she is a local Maya Itza and he is ‘white’- his family originally from Guatemala City. In a village of around a thousand people this couple’s families still ignore them on the street but the woman has stopped receiving daily hate mail and threats from the man’s mother.

An intelligent man with a house full of books hasn’t read for the last six years because the cost of a eye examination and a pair of glasses is beyond his means.

This cantina is called La Ley del Monte which translates more or less as Law of the Jungle.

The only public computer with internet in San Jose is housed in the dress shop.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Vinko Grgic | January 27, 2011 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    Lovely blog post, and such a well observed summary of village life in San Jose (applicable to San Andres as well).
    I am reading books describing life in Guatemala and that together with my own experiences makes it difficult to ignore the obvious contrasts in daily life here.
    I hate it and love it at the same time.

    Nice work, safe travels dear!


  2. anna | January 27, 2011 at 2:52 am | Permalink

    Hey Vinko


    I am now at a very comfortable eco-camping and San Jose seems worlds away…

    Thanks for the fuel and fuel bottle – when I stop being plied with all I can eat organic goodies here I’ll be needing it.

    Hope your revised plans work out well for you and Collette.

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