Story of a Landslide
By Hector (Fito) Sandoval
For many years I have seen and walked alongside the tangible need that is both seen and smelled in my community, a community where only a few steps are necessary to become starkly aware that you are not in just any community in Guatemala City. A few days ago I was asked to write about the recent events that took place in Zone 3 of Guatemala City. For that reason, I have taken this space to process much of what I experienced over the past week in the communities bordering the city dump.
Wednesday, April 27 is a date that I will never forget. The memories from that day are like a scar that cannot be erased. During the afternoon I received a call from my wife saying that part of the dump had collapsed. Normally, I am used to hearing this type of news. However, this time my wife’s voice sounded different. For a moment I felt as though my heart was spinning, especially when she told me that it was possible that Neri, one of my best friends, was buried. I tried to order my thoughts. All I could think about was my friend Neri, with whom I have journeyed with for over 20 years. For a moment I thought, “that’s not possible, only 7 months ago we buried his brother Rudy who died in another collapse in the same municipal dump.”
As soon as I could, I returned to my community without imagining the magnitude of what happened. Upon arrival at the neighborhood everything was chaos. People were running from one place to another; the ambulances were arriving with their loud sirens; the recently unsettled trash left a poignant and overwhelming smell. The faces of the people were disfigured by the pain and filled with tears. Yet in all that, I saw Neri. He was alive! My heart returned to its place, however still agitated. Unfortunately the pain remained present as I learned that Neri’s other brother, David, had died in the collapse.
David, and at least 50 other people disappeared in the landslide in the dump. That same day I joined my friend Neri to go identify the body of his brother. When we arrived at the morgue I saw a line of bodies retrieved from the slide. Among all the bodies I recognized other people I knew. First I saw Mr. Sebastían, a man I had known for the past 25 years. Mr. Sebastían worked raising pigs and he would pick through trash in the dump to find food for his animals. I also saw the body of Mrs. María, a neighbor from the community of El Recuerdo, who a missionary group had built a cement floor for a few years ago. Mrs. María was a close friend of my mother and she was around 60 years old. Mrs. María was the grandma of a few girls that my wife Nancy is mentoring. To see lifeless bodies of people I knew and to see pain in such a tangible way left me with nothing else than to ask God, “Why?”
After visiting the survivors and injured over the past week I have been questioning many things. The question that constantly returns to my mind is, “why?” Many of my neighbors find comfort in saying that God allowed this to happen. However, that is a way to justify the poverty and misery in which many of them live in. It is also a way of resigning themselves to not having another way to support their families.
I feel very sad to see my neighbors return to such a vile place attempting to ‘normalize’ their lives, while having such horrific memories in their minds. It hurts to see my neighbors return with resignation to search for a way to survive for a few more years.
Meanwhile, the question remains unanswered. “Why?” As in many situations of my life it is very probable that there is no answer to this question. However, I am sure that neither life nor death, nor height nor depth, nor anything created can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.