Uno Hamburgessa con queso
Uno Hamburgessa con Quesso.
“Uno Hamburgessa con Queso I Papa Fritas Por favour”. One hamburger with cheese and fries please. These were the most important words I learned whilst residing in Las Margarittas, Amatitlan, Guatemala C.A. Most evening’s I would go to our local takeaway and speak those words. I’d walk out by our housing estate security guard, “Buena Noche Irlande”, he’d say. Irlande was my local name as it was easier for the locals to say than Fergus. Buena Noche I’d reply, and be on my way through the barrier and down for my food.Every night the same route. Down past the food stalls on the road and smell the same smells; fried beef for their burrito’s, fresh onions just chopped, hot chilli sauces bubbling away, waiting on their chance to burn your mouth on impact. I wondered why they ate really hot spices in such a hot climate. The average day temperatures soared well over thirty five degrees, and the nights were humid and sticky.
Having spent eight weeks living amongst the Guatemalan people, they still showed a lot of interest in “Irlande”. The same stares, some trusting, and some still cautious. Guatemala, although largely friendly, was still a volatile land. Banditos, as the locals would say, had a very strong influence in the communities. Drugs, kidnapping, murder, prostitution, they ran it all. I’d been giving all my warnings about how things worked. You are white, you speak English, you dress well, you are a rich gringo (American). They will nab you, collect as much ransom money as they can, and kill you anyway. If you suspect you’re being followed, RUN, as fast as you can till your safe. Do not go up the back lanes after eight p.m. The lanes are where the crack users hang out.
All the warnings I’d been given, I adhered to. Going into a shop I would greet the keeper in Spanish, lift the local papers and try my best to read in an effort to learn more phrases. This brought great amusement to my Guatemalan friends as they knew I could not understand what was written.
Four more weeks, and I’d be leaving to return to my friends and family in Ireland. A part of me was thrilled to be going home, yet the other half of me was heart broken. I knew I’d probably never see a lot of my new friends again. Where else could you walk outside your house in the morning, look to your left and see the magnificence of a water volcano overlooking your city, and look to the right and witness the intimidating sight of the fire volcano puffing out its volcanic fumes. A constant reminder to all that Mother Nature will always be the boss. Ancient ruins still standing from the Mayan people, the first inhabitants of this beautiful country. You feel a sense of tranquillity and peace on entering their ruined stone walls. A history, much like our own, a peaceful nation torn apart by foreign invaders, and once their lands and riches, and their language had been plundered the invaders moved on, and left them with nothing.
“Uno hamburgessa con queso i papa fritas por favour”. I ordered my food, picked up the paper and started to read. When I was out on my own I was in the habit of greeting people in Spanish. If anyone walked into the takeaway and greeted me, I would answer in Spanish, never English, as English also meant “American”. As I stood waiting for my food a pick up truck pulled up outside. A small, really dark skinned, stocky guy gets out and walks into the shop. “Buena Noche amigo”, the guy says to me. This is where I make my one and only mistake. “How’s it going man”, I reply. The guy stops suddenly, looks directly at me, from head to toe he scans me, I can nearly see the information being sent from his eyes to his brain, “Americano, Gringo”. He turns and heads straight back to the pick up truck. “Shit, stupid, stupid, stupid”. When I look out there are four of them in the truck, all staring at me. As I watch they drive very slowly up the road. My food is ready. The four hombres in the truck are ready, but their not hungry for food, these are wolves of a different nature; I’m the meal in their eyes. I take my food in one hand, count to ten, “oh angel of god my guardian dear….” I say this little prayer in my head; I ask the spirits of my Father and Mother to protect me from the wolves who await. I take one breath; my adrenalin is now flowing and taking over, RUN. Out the door I go, it’s now me versus the wolves. My legs start pumping hard; I hear the screech of tyres from behind. It’s on, their coming, and coming fast. Only one way for me to go, and that’s the crack lanes, but its late that too is dangerous. Decision time, head for the lanes. My legs move like never before. Lights flash by me like I’m moving at two hundred miles per hour. They are catching me, I can hear the v8 engine growling behind me. Sharp turn right. The truck misses the turn, brakes hard and turns back and shoots up the lane after me. Middle of the road Ferg, got to stay in the middle. The crack heads lining the lane are now trying to grab me, they don’t get near me, but they slow the pursuing pack. My heart is really pumping now, no time to take a breath. Right turn at the top of the lane. I’m five hundred yards away from safety, come on Bates no giving up, one hundred more yards, last big push from my legs. I collapse onto the security barrier. “Irlande, coma estas Irlande?” the security guard shouts at me, I point to the road, “Banditos,” I puff out. He runs onto the road and fires off two warning shots at the oncoming truck. They get the message and the hunt is over.
Later the guard said something in Spanish to my friend which he translated. The guard found it quite amusing that while I ran for my life, I never had gotten rid of my food. The locals were worried that my tales to my people back home would be tainted by this night. In fact it did the opposite as it added to a great adventurous time in my life, a time that I will never forget or regret. I would return in a heart beat. These words will live with me forever “Uno Hamburgessa con Queso I Papa Fritas Por favour”. Every night these words helped me, and on that night they nearly cost me my life.