A sore left cheek and a slight burning from the after-effects of mace, isn’t the most desirable feeling to wake up to. Last Wednesday night, Sergio and I got into an altercation with the MS gang-members that have been bothering us for the past month. Well, more like just me getting punched and maced in the face rather than a full fledged fight.
What started it was innocent enough. We had just finished another night of dancing and were on our way to pick up some cheveres (hot-dogs), as we typically do every evening. On our way there, we passed by a Salvatrucha from Honduras, and being that Sergio had just witnessed someone getting robbed some 90 minutes ago, we couldn’t help but be precautious. I guess our glances to make sure nothing was going to be attempted translated into a direct, physical challenge. I’m not sure who started yelling first, but I soon was surrounded by shouts of “¿Qué putas?”, pretty much the Spanish equivalent of “What the fuck bitch?”. I quickly grabbed my host-brother and began shouting “¡No no, esta bien! ¡Todo esta bien! (No, no, it’s good! Everything is good!). We continued to satisfy our mid-night cravings, but we also noticed he began following us.
With some excitement, we were deciding which size chevere to purchase, as my new Minnesotan friend Jenny, offered to buy me one with the promise that I’d eat it in front of her to entertain her paranoia about Guatemalan street food. Being that I ate them nearly every night, I didn’t see the big deal, but also wasn’t about to turn down a free dog. Suddenly the person we had passed appeared with that same Nicaraguan guy that had smashed a bottle over Pablo’s head roughly a month prior. Immediately, he began asking threateningly, “¿Tienes un problema?” (Do you have a problem?), while simultaneously shoving Sergio and winding up his fist for a punch.
Maybe it was instinct, but I grabbed his arm and put my hand on the shoulder of the Nicaraguan. Now I could have sworn I yelled “¡No, esta bien! ¡No pelea! (No, it’s good! Don’t fight!), but Sergio can only recall hearing “What the fuck!?”, a reaction to the blow landed to the left side of my face. Before I could gather myself, I felt a burning sensation in my right eye and I quickly realized I had been in the crossfire of the mace Sergio had always carried for situations, I guess like this. The first two minutes I felt uncomfortable, still able to joke about him spraying the wrong guy, but after a few more seconds it felt as if my pupils were being grounded with sand. As we stumbled into the house, I quickly drenched and flushed my eyes until the water pressure of the house weakened to a trickle. Finally, the burning began to subside, but for the next three hours it felt as if I had gone apple bobbing in a tank of hot sauce. And damn, I really wanted that hot-dog.
When I arrived here four months ago, one of the biggest injustices I found were the untried murders by police death squads, of people that were once gang affiliated, or believed to be, for simply having tattoos. After reporting the incident, Sergio told me that more than likely these two were either going to be executed or deported. Last night there was a confirmed option of execution. The feeling is a lot different when it’s placed right in front of you rather than reading it on a newspaper headline.
I tried to plead with Sergio that it wasn’t worth it, that violence only begets violence and blood like this couldn't be washed. I explained that I almost empathized with the guy for hitting me in the face. Looking back on it, my actions could have been construed as wanting to fight since I grabbed both guys and just said “What the fuck!?”. I probably would have reacted the same way. He rebutted saying that with these people, it was either their lives or ours. I couldn’t help but think that there had to be an option where none of us would have to die.
But then I thought about my position in this entire situation and realized how little my opinion mattered.
Sergio had sprayed the mace directly into the Nicaraguan’s eyes, nose and mouth. If the agony I felt last night was only a fraction of that, I can only estimate that his pain has to be at least ten times as much, perhaps permanently damaging. There is no question him and his friends, which amount to about 15 now, will come looking for us. For me, I can freely choose to flee this situation, tomorrow if I want, but for Sergio and his family, this is a constant reality that they have to deal with. This is his home, not mine. It is again how I feel about traveling in general. How global trekkers can enter into a reality, affect it, negatively or positively, and then leave without suffering any consequences.
Inevitably, I have to leave due to the Bonderman stipulations, so I realize that well, this isn’t really my battle to be fought, and therefore I don’t have much of a right to say what is or isn't the better decision. I try to stay firm on saying that I don’t believe these two should be killed, but really, I don’t know what would be best. In all honesty, I would feel safer if this problem just went away, for both myself and his family, but damn, it goes completely against my beliefs and ideals.
And that is what I feel this whole incident has put to the test. I feel that some of my past blogs have been about calling people out to being true to what they say and I feel this is my time to be true to my words. Being that I am quite heavily tattooed and that I grew up with and worked closely with active and former gang members, I can’t help but believe that in the end, despite what people look like or have done in the past, they are still people; that they shouldn’t be judged without being given a chance. I still believe that people are not born evil, that somewhere along the line something in life turned them bitter and it is those injustices that need to be fought against, not the by-products.
Agreeing to have these two killed or severely punished would be like believing in your ideals only when the consequences don't apply to you rather than taking it in its entirety: pain, discomfort and sacrifice included. It would be like "human rights activists" comparing poor finca kids who stole a camera to monkeys in a zoo. It would be a complete lack of integrity. I don’t think I could live with myself if I sunk to that level.