Translated by KatrinaHassan
It was about the mid 90s in Ciudad Peronia, when a married couple moved in from La Bethania, another town on the outskirts. By then Ciudad Peronia was already populated. Left behind were dusty plots of unmeasured land, empty lots surrounded the market, the bus stops, El Gran Mirador, La Surtidora, and La Cuchilla.
Don Luis and his wife came to town and bought a house that once belonged to a family of ulphosterers. It was normal to see the skeletons of furniture surrounding that house. Their house was the first one on the block, going up the main boulevard. It was the end of the block if you came from La Arada neighbourhood.
They were a very particular couple, very full of energy. Within a few days, they got to know everyone on the block. By then, the kids from my generation were becoming adolescents. We dreamt of the impossible, for example, like having lamp posts to light our dark streets. Ciudad Peronia was a shanty suburb of Guatemala City, lost between empty lots of dirt, cliffs, and villages. Who cares for these kind of towns?
It was a town without a park, or recreational areas, inhospitable. A place where the ambulance came 3 days after the emergency. A place where the police never showed their face. Some said you could get stabbed by a stale tortilla.
Don Luis had had polio as a child. It was difficult to move one of his legs. He was always on his motorcycle. He never let polio stop him or his strong will. In no time at all, Don Luis was cheering for our local football games and the winners got a round of cold drinks on him. He was also visiting neighbours and organising the adults from our block into going to Villa Nueva (the municipality that our town belonged to ) to demand that the mayor install two lamp posts on our block.
One evening he heard us kids wistfully talking about lamp posts and he chimed in “We can do this!” This was the beginning of two years of back and fourth from the city hall building. We managed a deal, for us to purchase two lamp posts, and the city was to install them. We did do it!
Early morning on the 15th of September (Guatemalan Independence Day) with the innocence of those that don’t know their own history, we swept clean and painted the streets and sides of buildings and our two lamp posts. We also adorned the rooftops with decorations. In the evening, those of us that went to school, went to collect the flaming torch.
When we had the idea to bring our own torch from our block, we told Don Luis. He had become our very own unofficial youth support worker. He said to us “We can do this!” Next thing you know, we had loaded and rented a bus to take us to San Lucas Sacatepéquez to light the torch and return running from there. To rent the bus we made money selling raffle tickets. Not once had an adult from our block ever motivated us like this.
That 15th of September, we went to light the torch and with that performed a small civic act by stopping in front of Don Luis’ house, which was first in our block or at the end if you are coming from La Arada.
At the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s Ciudad Peronia was jam packed with make-shift homes. Cubby holes and dens everywhere, made up of bits of leftover wood, nylon, fabrics of all kinds, and sheets of metal. Rare was the house made of bricks or adobe. This outskirt town was a mix of ethnicities that came from all over Guatemala. People from other suburbs came with hopes to invade an empty lot and stay there to live.
By the end of the 90s you could see more brick houses. Slowly the cubbies and dens and make-shift homes disappeared from the central part of town. Our block was one of the first in my town to change. Some of the neighbours had managed to save for the luxury of having a sidewalk. Others had hard packed earth squares that were watered to prevent dust devils from forming when a sudden wind came up.
But, something was missing on our block, trees! Us kids got together to discuss the idea. When Don Luis, who was ever present in our gatherings, heard about our idea, he said as he always did, “We can do this!”
Where were we going to get those trees? Don Luis said that he knew someone in a tree selling business, not to worry about that part, and to count on those trees. Our job was to talk to the neighbours and get permission to plant two per house.
One afternoon, Don Luis asked me to accompany him on his motorcycle. We were going to the tree sellers. Which was my surprise? The man knew no one there! He just knocked on their door and asked to speak to the manager. He presented the project as if it was the best investment the manager would ever make in his life. In 15 minutes, the manager agreed to donate the trees, completely believing in our project, presented to him by this stranger. We returned to Ciudad Peronia to find a cargo truck to pick up our trees. That weekend we filled our block with trees.
That same year we completed our masterpiece project. We created the first ever women’s football team in Ciudad Peronia. This had been impossible until Don Luis came into the picture. He exclaimed his usual “We can do this!” The only pitch in town was unavailable because the bus drivers had their own leagues and they took it up all weekend. The rest of us had to play on the streets of our blocks.
At La Arada, there were grasslands that soon became the Jerusalen neighbourhood. We turned a patch of it into a pitch by constantly kicking the ball around it. This became our own hard packed dirt pitch. We had the knee scrapes to prove it. This served as our official pitch. It is still in use to this day. The local kids hold their games there.
When I remember these feats, because they are feats considering the poverty of our town and our block, I am confident that in life, the only thing a person needs to reach the unattainable is a strong will. On our block, our strong will was woken in us by Don Luis, with his invincible “We can do this!’’
It is not unattainable and for us it’s impossible that we can make spring bloom. We need that power the moves the world. We need a strong will and that inner voice that tells us “We can do this!” Small changes make big change.
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Ilka Oliva Corado @ilkaolivacorado