Griggs: Dateline: Panajachel, Dec. 25, 2014

Panajachel, Guatemala
Formerly of Los Alamos

Dateline: Panajachel, Dec. 25, 2014

The sounds of gunfire and heavy explosions had been increasing since 11 last night, but after 11:50 p.m. the noise became a continuous barrage – the crackle of machine guns, rifle bullets coming so fast that they sounded like the heavy rain of a thunderstorm on our metal roof, sharp rips of automatic weapons, echoing explosions of larger bombs competing with the distant sharp concussions of exploding shells.

Cordite fumes wafted through the closed windows and under the locked door.

By 12:05 a.m. the noise was noticeably slacking off, and you could hear the frantic howling of terrorized dogs and the wailing siren of an ambulance. By 1 a.m. it was totally quiet.

Another banana republic revolution? A CIA-backed coup d’état? The start of the Third World War? No, this was the traditional Guatemalan celebration of La Noche Buena (the Good Night, aka Christmas Eve), which is more important here than Christmas Day. All the noise was fireworks, not gunfire.

So when sweet little 12-year-old Francisca asked me yesterday to buy her some “cuetes” (fireworks), she didn’t mean “jugetes” (toys). No Barbies for this chica – she wanted some heavy artillery to make La Noche Buena go off with a bang.

So much for “Silent Night”!

(I am once again back in Guatemala, where the bougainvillea is still flowering in December, and every day I walk past some red and green poinsettias that grow outside and are taller than I am.)

Editor’s Note: Since retiring from Los Alamos County in September 2013, David Griggs has been traveling the world. He intends to submit future columns of his travels to the Los Alamos Daily Post for publication.

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