Chicken Buses

In June, I had the privilege of visiting Guatemala as part of a residency experience for a graduate program in which I’m a student. While there, and perhaps even beforehand, I fell in love with the people and the country. Their story, their lives, their hearts have been impressed upon mine, to say the least. Two images stand out to me from my time there. Each ended up being the basis for the papers I had to write when I came back. I had no idea how interrelated these images were with my own spiritual formation until I began to write and saw what God has been doing in my heart.

One of these is that of the Guatemalan “chicken buses”. They’re old U.S. school buses that were no longer wanted so they were auctioned off through Mexico to Guatemala, and they are quite happy to have them! They paint them wild colors and write all over them, artistically, even beautifully. Often I would see “Jesus Cristo” on the ones we would pass by as we traveled on our very modern, comfortable, air-conditioned tourist bus. The chicken buses (I think they call them that because farmers sometimes ride them with their chickens under their arms!) are, to me, a wonderful display of the communal life of a people. They go sputtering down the road, sometimes leaning all too much to one side, packed with folks who are journeying together to the same destination, emitting all kinds of fumes along the way. There’s something wildly funny yet amazingly beautiful about that scene! Something that says it doesn’t matter – not the stuff piled up on the roof of the bus, not the black exhaust puffing out the back, not even the little details, perhaps the niceties and social graces and maybe even the differences and disagreements, happening within the seats. No…all that matters is that we are here, together, on the same journey, side by side on the bus.

Gustavo Gutierrez, an author of one of the books we read for the residency, said in regard to the spirituality of Latin America,“We are talking here about the journey of an entire people and not of isolated individuals” (We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People, page 72). It’s a spiritual life lived out, he said, in “its everyday activities” but it is one that entirely pushes against the grain of the “individualistic bent” I think we often have in the United States. I’ve been pondering, and experimenting with, how I am being called to push against this grain, to live out my spiritual life in everyday activities and within community. I wonder if any of you might be too…

Check out this site for a cool visual of the chicken buses!