Guatemala’s Favorite Pastime: Firecrackers!

How people spend their tiempo libre is one characteristic that differentiates a culture from another. Predictably, in a relatively poor country such as Guatemala it is much more likely to see kids throwing a partially inflated ball at a lopsided hoop than crowding around a Nintendo Wii. Or—as happened to me the other day—have a drunkard come up (after yelling, “Hey, Chino”) to talk about fútbol and tell you why the U.S. will never win the World Cup.

But neither basketball or soccer can hold a candle to the pastime shown in the following video that I took while volunteering at Maya Pedal:

I say this because as soon as I stepped outside the Guatemalan International Airport, I was surrounded by kids who were tossing marble-sized firecrackers onto the ground whose supply of ear-splitters was quickly replenished by their fathers passing them out like candy. Granted, it was Christmas Day when the kids and adults were in a particularly festive mood, but I heard these types of deafening explosions every single day during my two-week stint in Guatemala. Almost every single hour, too, including some vampire-stirring times of the night.

Why a country that was torn by war just a decade-and-a-half ago—and is currently struggling with growing violence while under siege by powerful drug cartels—would be so fascinated with these little explosive devices is a little curious.

Without a doubt, firecrackers are unregulated here. Around New Year’s Day, some vendors even spread a table length’s quantity of them 100 feet from Maya Pedal. On the night of New Year’s Eve—with a loud bang reverberating off Maya Pedal’s metal door with every one of my heartbeats—it sounded like we were being shelled. A white flag would do nothing to abate the Guatemalans’ enthusiasm for the little Big Bangs.

I suppose the people here might as well continue trying to deafen their neighbors and themselves. Everyone needs some diversions to fill their free time; why not firecrackers? It’s not like Guatemala is ever going to win the World Cup in soccer, you know.

Bruce breaking out in an explosive sprint in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala, just outside of Maya Pedal.

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