This hasn’t been a good week for news in Guatemala. On Monday the government announced a ‘State of Siege’ in the northern province of Alta Verapaz, which ironically translates as the ‘high true peace.” The Mexican gang known as Los Zetas has been running rough-shod over the region, overseeing their transit employment as drug facilitors from points south to Colombia to Mexico. Antigua, where I hang my panama, has been hit with a ‘card reader’ in a popular bank with ATMs, resulting in some unauthorized withdrawals. A few local businessmen, who happen to be gringos, have targeted for extortion from a Salvadoran based gang, the Mara Salvatruchas.
The rest of the week has been upbeat: in a nearby convalescent home located in an adjoining community known as San Felipe, a veteran and member of the American Legion has been improving since his forced hospitalization a few weeks ago. A visit yesterday by the executive board and a few volunteers revealed a Christmas miracle in action. There were volunteers bringing gifts, songs and cheer to the 72 residents, while a sheet-draped recently deceased person lay in the foyer. Some of the staff were selling raffle tickets for some donated items (three motorbikes and a television). The hospitals laundry machine has been broken for six months and today’s bid of $10000 to replace it is over the budget. The hospital has 80 beds with 29 staying there as charity, i.e, no one pays their expenses. The monthly cost for room, care and board is $180 a month.
The local post of the American Legion has stepped up, with fresh donations from some anonymous donors. The hospital, serving 72 patients, has only two bathrooms, each with one crude shower. The kitchen runs on bottled gas and firewood but serves a hot and nutritious meal three times a day. The laundry? Washed by hand and it dries in the afternoon sun. This is a clean and bright place, unlike any other long-term nursing facility I’ve ever seen or worked in.
If Santa is reading this, donations (tax deductible, of course) will be used for better bathrooms, perhaps a repair of the industrial size washing machine and maybe even a new couch for the sleeping area. Extra blankets would be nice, given that there’s no heating in the main dormitory, a cinder block and metal-roofed structure. There’s a fountain that could be repaired, and perhaps some sort of occasional recreation therapy, besides the television. Their spirits are high, and the staff is dedicated. Their salaries are long overdue and some have left. This could be the epitome of true Christmas spirit. Donations can be mailed to the American Legion, Codigo A-178, P.O.Box 669004, Miami Springs, FL 33266 or email inquiries sent to William Shetz, Post Commander, (firstname.lastname@example.org)