I wake up early, 5:00am. It's still dark, and too damp and chilly for a cold shower. I sponge bathe in the pila, get my things ready, and go out to catch the 6:00am bus. Olga told me yesterday that today they'll probably burn the "culpable's" house in retribution for don Mario's death last week. So I thought it best to spend the day in Coban, run some errands, and avoid being witness to a lynching. I need olive oil, after all. Olive oil is as good a reason as any to avoid being caught up in an angry Guatemalan mob. Sure enough, as my bus pulls out of the roundabout, a small mob of people head towards the guilty man's small pharmacy, and not fifteen minutes later, when I turn to look out the back window of the microbus, a column of dark smoke is rising from the middle of Campur.
Sunday was don Mario's funeral; Dilan and I watched the long, somber procession from my window. Don Mario was a COCODE, or town leader, and apparently highly respected in Campur. He was young, only 35 years old. I spent three days asking around, hoping for a real answer to how and why he died. After three days I had a story that's real only in the cultural context it was told in. Apparently don Mario got into a bit of a land dispute with another man from town, don Carlos, who subsequently put a curse on don Mario, who had a "derrame cerebral" (which is either a brain hemorrhage or a stroke, I'm still not sure) and died in the hospital a few days later. Rumors of a lynching have been circulating ever since he died, and don Carlos went into hiding.
I get back from Coban late in the afternoon and visit with Olga who catches me up with what happened. "They tried to burn the pharmacy, which isn't actually his pharmacy but his brother's. But because it's made of block, only the wooden store next to it burned. They found the guilty one and beat him. He's in the hospital now; he was bleeding from his ear so he might die, too." She got to go in to work late this morning, she tells me, since everybody went to go witness the burning there was no business on this side of town. We talk about how it's a pity that an innocent's store was burned because of all of this, and that Don Carlos might die. In hopes of lightening the mood, I dig in my bag and give her the box of microwave popcorn I bought her at the Walmart in Coban. She just got a microwave through her Avon sales and has been talking about it for a week. I explain to her that this popcorn is especially made just for microwaves like hers. She opens the box and hands me a packet--"you take one, too, so you can make it in your microwave." I don't have a microwave, I tell her, just an oven. "You can't make this in the oven?" No, I tell her, it's only for microwaves. "But what's the difference between a microwave and an oven, then?" she asks me. I stall for a minute, wondering how I'll ever be able to explain in Spanish how a microwave functions. "A microwave simply agitates the food by zapping it with tiny waves until the food is so agitated that it heats up by itself"?? Hah. I cop out and tell her that a microwave is able to get very hot very quickly which is why it can make the popcorn pop. When everybody around me apparently believes you can curse a man into having a stroke, how can I expect anybody to understand the mechanisms of a microwave oven? I may as well just claim that microwaves function on the same witchcraft that killed don Mario. Would everybody burn their microwaves, then, too?
Dreams of a Beached Cow
3 years ago