Louise Kenny: Two men down and a ’99 flake

I’ve spent the last week relaxing in Antigua, Guatemala, hauling myself through 6 hours of Spanish lessons a day in a last minute attempt to quell the panic before I start work. I’ve discovered that learning to take a history in Spanish is somewhat like those 3rd year days of worrying; what came after the ‘history of presenting complaint’; was it the ‘social history’ or the ‘family history’?  Will the patient notice if I get it round the wrong way?  Do I really need to think of a memorable, inappropriate rhyme to recall the order of a medical history?

Of course at some point we all switched from being concerned about whether WE were saying the right things, in the right order, to more usefully concerning ourselves with what the patient is saying.  Currently I’ve reached an all time low, in that I not only have to concentrate on the order of my history, but more frustratingly with the order of each individual word.  I’m so busy dissecting my questions into nouns and verbs that I’m yet to hear an answer.

I spend my evenings with my Guatemalan family learning slang.  And understandably, it’s much easier to remember the word for ‘dirty, sleazy man’, than the third person preterite of the verb ‘to asssasinate’.

I use these as my examples because, for very different reasons, I find myself using them in daily, normal conversation much more frequently than back home. 

On my return from a quick dip in the pacific last Sunday (oh such hard times), 2 amigos, both veterans of the Guatemalan lifestyle, and myself drew to a stop at a traffic jam of 10 or so cars.  The road ahead was blocked off by crowds of families who’d brought their youngsters out for what appeared to be the Sunday afternoon performance. As we got nearer it turned out the police were tending to the nasty business of cleaning up two men, shot dead in the road minutes before. You could have been forgiven for thinking it was a street entertainer, particularly when the ice-cream truck showed up, opened shop and lucked out with some opportunistic business. 

I resisted the urge to get closer, and instead we stood a little further back observing the circus.  My friends wondered how long the traffic jam might hold.  I on the other hand was pretty shocked, initially by the broad daylight, public shootings on a road with children kicking a ball around.  I am, perhaps incorrectly, under the impression that homicide in the UK is usually a more private affair. I’m told that murder drawing a crowd is the norm here, as is the curiosity of human nature but I am surprised by the willingness of parents, and authorities, to expose small children to such no-nonsense violence. 

I’ve spoken to a few Guatemalans since, cautiously, for who am I to judge?  There is such dismay in the response, and I’ve learnt that as general opinion, the killings are all ‘gang-assassinations’.  But the striking thing about each reaction has been the underlying feeling of acceptance.  A gentleman I met in the plaza told me he felt it was important that children see the violence, and understand the consequences of gang involvement or how else would they learn? However I can’t help but feel that exposing young children to violence, guns, and murder could never work as a avoidance tactic, and that surely the normalisation of such things can only perpetuate the cycle.

The Ministry of Justice for England and Wales in 2008 reported 263 rulings of unlawful homicide at coroner court. That’s 263 killings over 366 days, among approximately 54 million people. The local news reported 52 murders in Guatemala City last weekend alone.  The response of my adopted mama here in Guatemala?  ‘but, it was a long weekend, yes?’.

The population of Guatemala city is approximately 3.1million, somewhat similar to the centre of London.
Granted it was a 3 day weekend, but can you imagine if 52 people were murdered in London on a bank holiday?  And somebody sold ice-cream? Everyday there is news of murders here. Monday there were 10, yesterday just 3.  If multiple people were shot in Britain everyday, with little consequences for the perpetrators, would we not be staying at home, calling in the troops and awaiting some sort of international intervention?

Louise Kenny has completed F2 year in the Northern deanery. She starts work shortly at Hospitalito Atilan in Guatemala