Violence is something that a lot of people claim to understand; there are many anthropological and sociological studies about its causes. But, the truth of the matter is that violence is a mystery that comes with being human. I can’t say that I actually understand how violence works. What I can say, is that I am in search of a better understanding of violence in order to also understand peacemaking and conflict resolution. In most of the communities where we work, violence is a constant. What is interesting to me is the result of the violence I see: Internal violence usually ends in suicide and external violence usually ends in murder.
One sunny afternoon in 2005, my friend Brady (who is from Knoxville, TN) and I were hanging out with Clemente, Kevin, and other kids from a slum in zone 3, Guatemala City. Most of them teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19 years old, with the exception of five-year-old Rigo and his seven-year-old brother. Rigo and his brother were playing with marbles on the floor. Chepe and I were talking with the kids, cracking some jokes and having a good time laughing at the “gringo” with the funny accent. For some reason, one of the two brothers lost his marbles and wanted the other one to give him his. I assume Rigo was the one who had the marbles, but I do not know that for sure. Out of nowhere the atmosphere filled with violence and the next thing I saw was a fight between the two little kids.
I have seen kids fighting for toys before, but this time it was just vicious. Rigo’s brother was on top, with his fists closed, beating Rigo down. I do not even know if I have the words to describe the scene, but the fight was brutal. The guys we were hanging out with were fueling the fight, cheering and yelling “Come on! Come on! Harder! Harder!” Brady and I could not intervene. We did not know what to do. I was really afraid the little kids were going to hurt themselves for real. I did not know how to react and stop the fight. Somehow, Rigo made it out of the beat-down and saw his mom walking down the street. Dropping his marbles on the floor he ran as fast as he could to embrace his mom’s legs. He was looking for protection. For a moment I thought, thank God she just showed up, now I do not have to stop the fight! Amazingly, when Rigo hugged his mom’s legs, instead of finding care, security, and love he found a kick right into his belly and an angry voice yelling, “Don’t be such a pussy! Go fight your brother like a man! That is how you learn dumb ass!” I could not believe what my eyes were witnessing. It felt like being right in the middle of an intense Flannery O’Connor story.