6 September 2008

Letter 3.25

Rivers do more than gurgle, betimes. Sometimes, like people, they rage and destroy. The river here has never had much claim to banks -- a rather impoverished affair, it's always seemed, in a bed a hundred times its size, like an ill-fitting suit on a hobo -- and it's meandered down to the lake uncertain which way to go but choosing, for convenience, the path that led downhill. It was easily gone over with the help of a log for a footbridge. [...]

Rumors were rife. On the evening of the third day a friend made his way back to the village from Guatemala City and confirmed reports of vast destruction and high death tolls. It was also learned that the nearby village of Tecpan was completely destroyed and so those in Panajachel collected food, clothing, and medicine and made their way to the village.)

I've just returned from Tecpan. I went up there with no idea of what destruction looks like. Tecpan simply doesn't exist anymore.

There are streets of thick choking dust surrounding blocks of rubble and tin roofs sheltering ruins. And there a door stands, holding onto bits of wall, still standing, opening up onto fields of rubble.

People seem totally dazed, we wear kerchiefs on our faces against the dust. An emergency hospital has been set up in the school yard because little rubble is there. I've come up here in a van with some other people, including a doctor -- a young German woman.

We try to help at the hospital; people are screaming. The smell of decay is in the air. We treat a woman whose head has been cracked open, exposing her brains. A girl's hand is crushed and broken open, the wound filled with dirt, stones, and pus.

People wear the meanest of rags -- all that's left to them.

(Bob and his friends learned that in fields outside Tecpan a tent hospital had been set up and so they proceeded there.)

On the way, we see a man who has put his injured wife in a chair and is carrying her on his back. We stop and give the woman something for pain and then take her to the hospital.

(The 'hospital' was two tents with hundreds of people milling among armed soldiers 'doing nothing'.)

I helped pitch a third tent... brought water from a nearby well, dirty, and brackish. We began trying to treat people. I help the German doctor for a while, then find a Guatemalan who doesn't seem to know significantly more about medicine than I do. Except for the German, the doctors don't seem to know what to do. Casts are put on wrong. People who have huge bruises and probably internal injuries are given a painkiller and sent away without proper examinations.

(All the help he saw was from civilian volunteers with no government aid except in the form of the military which was there strictly to keep order -- or, as he also saw, occasionally to pilfer. He wondered about the plight of the other towns, Patsun and Chimulterengo, which at that time had not been heard from. -- Hūm)

If Tecpan is typical, this government is doing nothing for the countryside except sending its most inexperienced doctors reserving all benefits for Guatemala City itself.

This is due to the split in the culture between the European-born Latino minority which controls the country and the native Indians, by far the majority, who have no power at all. The Latinos have a long history of ignoring the needs of the Indians, and this is an example of it.

There are signs posted everywhere that we foreigners are using up precious food supplies and therefore should leave... that enough help is available.

But these are base government lies. Until I see convincing evidence to the contrary I have doubts as to whether the Indian population is receiving any significant help at all from any source other than the volunteers. I plan to stay until I'm forced out... We just had another jolt...

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