Where there is Poverty: Broken Windows and Armed Robbery

14 August 2010 at 07:00 13 comments

Some days start out like all the others, and let you take a deep breath before spiraling out of control.

Today was one of those days. Waking up, eating slowly and enjoying my coffee, taking pictures of the sun rising over the rusted rooftops and avocado trees while waiting for my ride to park in front of the hostel honking.  It was 7:20 am when he finally arrived. We would sit in traffic for 30 minutes and arrive at the office right before eight.   Typical.  Like every day last week.

But today, we stopped at a gas station so my ride could run to the ATM before work.  Locking my door, I hid my camera and backpack out of sight and the two of us walked into the station.  Two minutes later, when we walked out from the store, my heart dropped.  Shattered glass is strewn in the spot next to ours.  I secretly hope it´s not our car but know that it is.  Running to the car, my door was unlocked and I already knew the rest.  My backpack, with both my cameras (one my baby D90), my laptop and all my Kiva work vanished into thin air.

Knowing that my stuff was already long gone, we watched the security tapes, and talked to the guard. Although he was only 15 feet away, he didn´t “hear” the window break or see any unusual activity, and the guy who was parked in the spot next to ours, who was on his phone for the two minutes we were away, also “saw” nothing.

Fifteen minutes later, a man pulls up and says this happens a lot at this ESSO station, and if we want to get our stuff back we should drive over to Sta. Catarina out in front of the church and ask for “El Pizza”. Straight out of a movie, I thought; we go there and then probably get robbed again.

Filing the police report, I found the officer finishing our sentences.  “When we were inside, they…” and he cut me off, “broke the back window”.  I got the sense that this happens a lot, and there is nothing they can do.  It’s a cycle where passersby turns the other way, the security guard figures stopping the robbery isn´t worth his life (guards at gas stations aren´t legally allowed to carry guns because of the danger of explosions) because the robbers are armed, and where the victim´s complaints get heard by the police and then filed.

I wrote last week about the best story.  A story that we are creating together.  And I believe that we are, but the places where Kiva´s field partners work more often yield stories like this.  Where there is poverty, there is desperation.  Where there is desperation, there is robbery, killings, wars.  Helping to alleviate poverty through microfinance is an important tool in the creation of a better situation for those involved, but it takes time and is merely one solution to a very dynamic problem.  Until then, I´m going to wander the city hoping I never run into “El Pizza”.

Eric Burdullis is a Kiva Fellow currently serving at FAPE in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  He currently spends his nights reading, his days working and running from “El Pizza”, and his evenings watching the t-storms roll over Guatemala City.

Entry filed under: blogsherpa, FAPE, Guatemala, KF12 (Kiva Fellows 12th Class). Tags: , , , .

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  • 1. Guatemala Rundown (2) « Eburdullis  |  28 October 2010 at 08:15

    […] punched out on the van and my backpack with my tools, phone and car keys got lifted), and the third here (window broken at 9am and laptop, two cameras gone in the first week).  I had heard that Guate City […]

  • 2. eburdullis  |  18 August 2010 at 09:43

    Thanks for all the kiva love guys!

  • 3. Adrienne  |  16 August 2010 at 15:56

    If you do an internet search on ‘leaving valuables in cars’ you will find this is a ‘global’ issue not necessarily a third world one.
    Its a crime of opportunity.

    • 4. eburdullis  |  18 August 2010 at 09:52


      Thanks for your comment. Although I realize that crime happens the world over, it is rare to find a place like Guatemala City where armed robbery, murders, and corruption happen on a daily basis without repercussion. It is estimated that 96% of crime in the city goes unpunished. Certainly a crime of opportunity, but I don´t think you would ever find such a tangible and well-placed fear of this particular unchecked crime in the states. Below is an article on the subject.

      Essentially, the cases that we hear of in the states are isolated and generally speaking few-and-far between. They make it into the daily paper. Here, this sort of crime is a way of life, a cycle that even the police don´t dare touch.


  • 6. donaldhart  |  15 August 2010 at 23:10

    Sorry to hear about it bro… did you happen to have travel insurance? Sounds like you’re rolling with it though, in spite of the frustration. Suete compadre.

  • 7. Brittany  |  15 August 2010 at 22:19

    Eric, that is so difficult, I’m really sorry :/ But I think that you have a really great point at the end of your story. Thanks for sharing it with us

  • 8. Lina Goldberg  |  15 August 2010 at 07:15

    I’m sorry buddy, that’s no fun.

  • 9. Marcelo Pinheiro  |  15 August 2010 at 06:01

    Sorry to hear about that but something similar happened to me in Vancouver. The lesson learned is, wherever you are don’t leave any valued possessions hidden in the car as it’s not safe. Be safe out there and all the best˜

  • 10. EB Moore  |  15 August 2010 at 04:53

    Ahh sorry Eric, what an awful way to start off the job… I’m sure you’ll bounce back quickly though!

  • 11. Tamara  |  14 August 2010 at 19:57

    Eric, so sorry to hear about that! I also hope you never encounter such an experience again as well. Your last paragraph resonates with me as I believe the same thing. Continue to stay safe and positive!

  • 12. Margarita Salasyuk  |  14 August 2010 at 13:33

    Oh no! I bet this hurt. I am sorry Eric!

  • 13. Lorena  |  14 August 2010 at 08:09

    I am so sorry this happened to you. We tend to read about these occurrences, but never actually think it’s going to happen to us personally. I hope you don’t encounter acts of “El Pizza” again.
    I must say though something similar happened to me in NYC, but in my situation I come out of Blockbusters and actually see the guy reaching into my dad’s car. When I yell for my sister to get back into the store and call the cops he yells back at me saying that he was just walking by and saw the car vandalized and wanted to make sure the car was okay and then he starts running away. When the cops arrive they take down the report and they already say that I have no case b/c I didn’t see the guy actually break the window, although I did catch him reaching inside the car. It’s just difficult at first to know that the crime goes unpunished and there’s nothing you can do.

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