Saturday, December 11, 2010


Today I feel like talking about drunks.

Yes, Guatemala has drunks – I think we can acknowledge that alcoholism is a universal disease, and that just like any country in the world, my little hilltop town in Western Guatemala has its share of alcoholics. That part, about drunks existing in Guatemala like they do in the United States, that part shouldn’t surprise me. What is it then, that is so striking to me when I see people passed out in the street?

I guess it’s the degree to which people seem to get drunk here, barefoot and staggering with a look that can’t tell whether the sun is rising or setting. Or maybe it’s their public presence, which seems strikingly large for a town of 6,000. On that note, the police definitely have bigger fish to fry here, as the average inebriate begging for a tortilla or a quetzal (12 cents) is far less of a problem than the drug violence in this region – in the nearby town of Malacatan, about 1.5 hours away, a famous soccer player was found cut up in 6 pieces about two weeks ago. So unless the drunks are wielding machetes in a rage, most seem to get a stumbling pass.

Other times I wonder if it has to do with despair, given that the daily wage for a migrant laborer picking coffee is around $7.

The bottom line is that I’m in a different culture (and witnessing a different community response to alcoholism). I deal with drunks the way my counterparts do, evenly and patiently, waiting for the inevitable request (“Profe, regaleme un quetzalcitoporfa….”) and then I’ll demur. Meanwhile, it blows my mind to see these people later on,dead to the world, wet-their-pants passed out with a smile on theirface. All people do is walk by, and that’s what I’m supposed to do – which is crazy because I can’t remember the last time I saw someone that drunk in public.

Today – I swear to you – I saw a man passed out with his cheek flattened against the pavement. Most of his body was crumpled up on the sidewalk, but his upper torso spilled over the curb and pushed his face against the street. He actually looked dead. People just walked by like it was natural, playing their roles as Upright Citizens while he played his of the Town Drunk, like they’d all wake up tomorrow and repeat the show for foreigners who gape on their way home.

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