Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lessons on a Chicken Bus

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 My bus ride to Totonicapán on martes was an experience unto itself. I don't mean that in any derogatory sense.  My ride on a "chicken bus" was a singularly eye-opening experience.  

Passing another "chicken bus"
The bus was an old Blue Bird school bus painted in bright colors.  There were no actual chickens on this bus, but there was so much more.

. . .  There were the overpowering exhaust fumes as we rode through Xela.  I felt my asthma threaten, but never fully develop.
. . . There was the sound of the "conductor" of the bus shouting at people, hurraying them aboard, moving them to the back.  At intervals he would make his way down the aisle, like a ship through icy seas, collecting fares, talking continually.  When ensconced in the front of the bus, he pulled on a shaggy cord, sounding the air horn to alert pedestrians, to signal perspective passengers of the approaching bus, and to acknowledge other buses.
. . . There were the vendors who were invited on board to sell their wares: candy, iced treats, and peanuts.  The first vendor to board was a five-year-old girl in pigtails selling candy bars.  No, not all children get to go to school.
. . . There were beggars, who likewise, were invited on board to name their plight.  The man pleading on behalf of his toddler son with profound birth defects to his arm and leg.  The older man who systematically passed out slips of paper that outlined his circumstance.  He then retraced his steps collecting the slips with whatever offering was given.
fields and dwellings
. . . There was the feel of a stranger's body pressed close to mine in the overcrowded bus. With every curve we leaned into one another - strangers in an intimacy of space.
. . . There was the cacophony of color worn by the women.  Multi-hued, multi-patterned skirts, blouses, hair ornaments and shawls told of indigenous tradition.   Large swaths of fabric tied snuggly around their bodies supported babies or bundles.

As I watched out the window, fields in various stages of cultivation whizzed past.  I saw farmers along the road or in the fields with large hoes, tilling the soil by hand.  Concrete pools hosted women, many of them standing in the water, washing clothes, beating them on the ledges of the pool.  Political signs were stenciled on buildings, curbs, fences, and anything else available.  
women at the Totonicapán market

I witnessed such poverty.  Not in a neighborhood or particular area as I am used to seeing.  Everywhere. Poverty.  Houses made with corrugated tin, scraps of wood, concrete blocks or some sort of combination.  Dogs roamed, bones poking through their mangy coats.  Cows grazing on any spot of grassiness, some healthy, some severely underfed.

My trip to Totonicapán left me with much to ponder.  At times, the sights brought tears to my eyes.  Compassion? Empathy? Anger? Shame? Guilt? The experience brought a somberness to my consciousness. 

And then . . .

Then my eyes would lock with the bright, clear eyes of an infant, peeking out from behind his mother.  Well loved and cared for eyes that bespoke hope.

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