Last night we watched the first episode of a new BBC three-parter in which various UK professionals are sent out to foreign locations designated as the toughest places to pursue their chosen careers.
Angie Dymott, the Welsh paramedic from Cardiff, handled herself very well during her posting at the Estación de Bomberos Voluntarios in Zona 11, especially as she had never seen a bullet wound before.
Aside from the usual cheap shots about corrupt cops and politicians and the now standard rather throw-away exposition of the relationship between Guatemala's recent past and present, this was a well-made programme. We particularly liked the way Angie got to stay with both the affluent volunteer in his walled 'compound' and the more humilde salaried bombero who resided in a small house with his large family in the pubelo of San Cristóbal.
Overlooking this location, which Dymott thought more typical of a quiet Guatemalan 'village' (in spite of the fact that it was patrolled at night by armed vigilantes) is Ciudad Peronia, where two rival maras, Los Metales and Los Caballos have supposedly reconciled. Even the bomberos seemed reluctant to accompany the Welsh paramedic on her fact-finding mission up the hill where she briefly spoke to an ex-gang leader who has now found God and drives a bus: perhaps not the best career choice for someone looking to get out of 'the life'. The interview was cut short when the gang's current intake passed in several vehicles revving their engines.
Archie, her first mentor, took his charge to the extraordinary Fraternidad Cristiana auditorium, which she clearly found moving. He's a full-time marketing executive who gives up some of his weekend to work with the Bomberos Voluntarios, and although his first dead body apparently gave him a sleepless night, his present attitude is clearly more desensitised. I quote my cousin Philip on this, as he was the one who flagged up to us the imminent broadcast of this documentary:
"She was totally shocked on the first shout when her mentor told her to forget it. He was handling it, breaking into smiles and grins, almost reveling in the power of life and death. No, there is nothing here to save, he's been shot five times, he's dead. She had to accept it and give up her conditioned response; we have to try something."
Next week it's the turn of bus driver Josh, who must be thanking his lucky stars that they sent the paramedic to Guatemala, while he got to go to tough it out on the streets of Manila.