Chicken buses and Jesus. Yes, there is a link. An obvious one, even to an atheist like me.
Most Guatemalans are catholic, and even if the Mayas incorporated some animist and shamanist elements that the Vatican may or may not frown upon if it still cares, chances are you will notice an amazing number of churches and quite a few people named “Jesús”. Religion seems to be a huge part of folks’ life and it’s everywhere. Even as an atheist—or maybe because of it—I was struck how “alive” beliefs are.
Here, religion isn’t a pastime for old conservative folks in remote villages like it is rumoured to be in France, for instance. While it’s hard to say whether people actually believe and where to draw the line between cultural upbringing and personal beliefs, religion is a fact of life. Churches are bursting with activity and evangelist missions gained ground. The mass isn’t only celebrated on Sunday. You can hear people chanting and witness other praying pretty much every day of the week.
Religion also influences people’s life. For instance, I noted quite a few posters against abortion, in the name of God of course. While it is no doubt a very difficult decision to make, I’m pro-choice and I would rather let people decide what’s best for them. Just saying…
So, where is God? Well, in churches, for once. Massive brand new churches, dilapidated ones that are still standing, houses or schools converted into prayer rooms at night… mi casa es su casa—God took that pretty literally in Latin America.
God is also a passenger on every single bus, tuk tuk or minibus traveling in the country.
I don’t know much about religion or Roman Catholicism, but I’m pretty sure I heard something about “thou shall not call my name in vain.” Well, it obviously didn’t translate well into Spanish because “Dio” has to be the most overused word around here.
And that brings me to chicken buses. When they are shipped from North America, they are these safe bright yellow buses that rarely go over 40 km per hour. In no time, they are customized and taught to take sharp turns at ungodly speed. When it comes to customizing, anything goes and the brighter the colours the better. Some chicken buses, aka camionetas, still have their U.S. license plate at the back, with the Guatemalan one besides.
On the windshield or on the back of the seats, you can read inspired sentences such as “Sonrie, Jesús te ama” (“Smile, Jesus loves you); “Dio bendiga este bus” (“God blesses this bus”) or “Jesus guia mi camino” (“Jesus leads me”).
I have this theory that the crazier the driver, the more “feel good” religious stickers and inscriptions the bus will have. And trust me, when said driver negotiates yet another sharp turn in a narrow mountain road, even an atheist like me is pretty happy to know that “God blesses this bus.”
Funny enough, these religious sentences are often framed by Playboy pinups decals and other pop culture stickers. I guess here, God doesn’t mind the company.