El Tiburon (The Shark) was the second of the McGee spy series. The main characters, Sean and Sport, have a knack for getting in trouble. Quite honestly, they are fun to write about… Especially Sport. She is a feisty, athletic, physician, and she can usually take care of herself. She’s extremely independent, but when she is kidnapped by a drug boss and dragged south to Guatemala she must depend on others to survive.
She escapes the drug lord’s compound and hides in a garbage can. On garbage collection day. The garbage collectors toss her into the dump truck and haul her off to the Guatemala City Garbage Dump. She’s rescued by a group of Guajeros.
This is where the research became intense.
Let me give some of my background. My husband and I have been to Guatemala several times. In fact we’ve had a seven-month long exchange pastor. What’s that? Periodically churches will send a junior pastor to the states to make connections and to learn new things (and teach us new things). We are known for our spare room. I’ve lost count of how many people have lived at our home in the last thirty years. So Marvin came for seven months followed by his sister Karina for four months. We flew to Guatemala for Marvin’s wedding, in which we were the God-parents (a big deal in Guate). Each time we’ve gone we’ve stayed for a month to go to language school, and to loaf around as only Americans can do. As I write this, Karina—my Guatemalan ‘daughter’, is sitting across from me at my kitchen table. She came for a Christmas visit.
So I know Guatemala fairly well. El Tiburon takes place in Antigua, a town I know. The wine bar, the restaurants, the textile shops, the rock-n-roll bar, are all real places. So research was easy for Antigua.
The garbage dump is a different story. This is a tremendously sad story of a people group who’ve lived for generations inside the dump, subsiding off the refuse and money from recyclable garbage. Their homes are made of discarded metal sheets and wood sticks. Last count there were about eleven thousand people living there… six thousand of whom are children. Now the research had to kick into high gear. The Guatemalan government isn’t proud of this community. Many years ago a magazine did a story on these people and there was a general uproar from human rights activists around the world. The result? The government built a wall through the dump to separate the Guajeros from their dump. Now the government can honestly say, “No people live in the dump!” So they crawl through the fence and resume their work. The community is officially called La Limonada. It is extremely difficult to go there and help these people. To visit you must have a guide, which I couldn’t manage.
My story celebrates the strength of the Guajeros. I chose to make them the heroes and characters with integrity. They rescue and protect Sport. In exchange she provides medical attention and education. The little school, Vidas Plenas, is real, but I’ve never been there so its description is a figment of my imagination. Their struggle is real. The harvesting of their youth for gangs is real. Their medical issues are real. I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed writing about a group more in my life. It was incredibly challenging to place my main character there.
Currently there are several groups working with the Guajeros. There is much to be done, but it’s almost impossible to help them. The best way is to provide education and continue the fight against drugs. It makes me sad to think of the reality. The only way I could make the situation known was through my story-telling. Let me know what you think after you read El Tiburon.