300 Q
category: Emilys Guatemala

The other day we were at the health center giving chicken vaccinations. It was a little crazy, as the center was full of women who were getting their children weighed and vaccinated, and the school yard next door was full of screaming kids at recess, and every so often out of the madness a woman would appear with a chicken in hand or five in a sack.

I was sitting on the vaccine cooler reading a book between shots when a teenage girl came up and said good morning. She and I got to talking about the weather and vaccinations and then she said, “I have a little problem, and I want to talk to you because I feel like I can trust you.” At this point I felt it prudent to ask her name, since I obviously didn’t know her as well as she thought she knew me.

Dominga goes to school in a neighboring community, and according to her story, a few days ago a couple of guys approached her while she was walking home from school alone and threatened to, in her words, abuse her if she didn’t give them 300 quetzales the following day. She said she didn’t know who to talk to about this, and then she thought maybe we could give her 300 quetzales so she could pay the men and they would just leave her alone.

I started off by telling what we’ve told everyone a million times over, and what no one seems to believe as true: we don’t have money. Three hundred quetzales in not a small sum around here, especially for a girl who has no way to pay it back. I told her she couldn’t pay the men, because then they could come back and threaten to abuse her any time they wanted more money. She said they’d promised they wouldn’t bother her anymore if she just paid them this one time…

Had she told anyone else about this? No. Who could we tell about this? Not her parents, she said, because they don’t understand her very well. I guess some things are the same for all teenagers the world over. She said if she told her father, she was afraid he’d take her out of school because he doesn’t really want her to study anyway. She looked like she was going to cry throughout much of the conversation.”Do you know any of the community leaders here who you could talk to?” I asked her. No. “What about the school director?” I tried to impress upon her the importance of talking to someone who could do something about this, and also that we weren’t people who could do much about this, though I was worried for her.

We offered to go with her to talk to the school director, but he was gone for the day, picking up uniforms in Huehue. I was worried about this, thinking about what I could possibly do when she seemed pretty unwilling to tell anyone but us about this incident. I told her she had a couple of immediate options, she could go to school but only in the company of her friends. She told me the men don’t bother her unless she’s walking alone. Or she could stay home from school and we could go with her to talk to the school director the next day. She had to make the decision, I said. I gave her my cell phone number, and she thanked me, gave me a hug, and then asked, “Can you just give me 50 quetzales then?” on her way out the door.

I’m so tired of people trying to get money out of us, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I was so drawn into her story at first, and genuinely worried. But the more I think about it, the more it all feels made up. Maybe I’m just jaded these days, but her story has all the elements that someone like me would fall for: innocent girl, villanous men, girl getting taken out of school for something that wasn’t her fault and banned to a life of housework forever more. Dominga hasn’t called or come to talk to us since she asked us for money, and it makes me wonder what the issue really was. What if she couldn’t tell her parents because they were the ones who sent her to us with this story, because they need money and everyone thinks the gringoes have a backpack full of dollars? I can think of a million possibilities.

Posted by: emily