The Woman In The Street

Important Note: This story is painful, and may be triggering for survivors of violence. I’m sorry.

On Sunday morning, there were four of us heading to the mountain school, all of us gringos…and we decided to meet at the big Catholic church in the central park of Xela. I had arrived early, though, so I spent a half an hour in the church, exploring the architecture, the stained glass and high, high ceilings, admiring the stations of the cross potrayed by full sized mannequins of Jesus behind glass displays…and watching people as they lit candles and prayed.

And then the four of us took a minubus (minivan packed full of passengers) to the bus terminal, where we then borded a chickenbus (a brightly painted old american schoolbus with primary school-sized seats…that same brown vinyl that I remember from growing up)…and sat for half an hour while people boarded trying to sell us stuff…candy, soda, fried meat of some sort…and then off, for an hour and half in a completely packed bus, through the windy roads and the beautiful fog, past all sorts of towns and billboards and brightly painted cemetaries (they don’t seem to do the anglo grey cemetary thing here…it’s all reds and greens and yellows and blues…) and the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on plants (I hear they’re called orejas de elefantes…elephant ears)…until we reached the town of Colomba, which…oops!…was past where we were supposed to go. No harm, though, the ayudante pointed us to the bus stop going back the other direction, and we sat in Colomba for ten minutes where all of the locals just stared and stared at us with our backpacks…very different atmosphere…not unfriendly, just not used to gringos.

And then back on the bus for ten minutes until we got to our stop, which is a big yellow sign for the village of Santa Domingo…and we got our bags from off the roof of the bus, and we were ready to walk down the stone street to the mountain school…

And just 30 feet down the road, we saw her…a woman lying in the street, maybe mid twenties, with flies circling around her, with a stick of bamboo awkwardly placed between her legs and under her skirt, and with a bundle of bananas under her skirt as well. I thought that I was seeing a dead body, and I can still feel my body’s shock response.

One of my companions grabbed the woman’s shoulder and tried to wake her up, but no luck…she was alive, however. And then my mind began circulating around the question of rape…of what to do, of how to support her…another companion walked to the house right there, and found a woman living there, who expressed no interest in helping us, and then we found another older man walking by, who also expressed no interest…so I and another volunteered to run to the mountain school for help while the other two waited with the woman…

…and we ran, and the mountain school was only about 100 feet further, with a nice little welcome sign, a driveway, and then a gate onto this beautiful property with a cute little white stucco house, with hammocks and chairs on the front patio, and a beautiful political mural…and I ran in, and an American woman and a Guatemalan woman came with me to check it out…and when they saw the woman…

…oh, well, it was just ____, a known drunk…and so we were urged to just leave her there, because she was known to try to fight people when she wakes up…and one of the women of the school said that she might try to talk with the family for them to go check on her later…and so we left the woman there, in the street, with the stick, but they moved the bananas and pulled her skirt down…and all four of us, I think, were unsettled and wondering about that woman for the rest of our time there…

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi

1 comment

Jeremy – wow, what a shock that encounter must have been! and, then, to discover that the thing to do was to ‘walk on by.’ The obvious comparison that comes to mind is the indifference of big city inhabitants up here to the plight of street people, etc. Sounds like the peasant village version, which, of course, is not entirely de-personalized (the locals knew the history and made the reasoned choice to let the situation take care of itself; and, if they had thought the woman was in serious danger they probably would have done something to help), but, still, if the experience was multiplied many times over, it’s not hard to see how it would be easiest to just’walk on by’ most of the time. Anyway, your description was vivid enough to make my stomach clench up at the first image of the woman in the road. . . . I also want to say that I very much like your concept for a science fiction story based on the notion of drug-induced highs from the sampling of arcane languages. Many possibilities elaborate out of that at-first seemingly simple idea, don’t they? Perhaps, the person who becomes an expert in a forbidden language has the power to self-induce a hallucenogenic state with rational and cognitive components that are usually eliminated or distorted by conventional drugs – a kind of ‘soma holiday’ with extras that is not an ‘escape from’ but an ‘escape into.’ Anyway, it’s a novel and fascinating idea. . . . Sounds like a tremendous experience you’re having down there. Continued good luck on Jeremy’s Summer Vacation (hmmm, IS it a vacation??? how about Jeremy’s Mind-blowing Excursion or, maybe Immersion) Basta! Keep the posts coming.

Jim