guatemala-city: Susana (46), Elsie (26) and Georlene (4)
There is a quiet little corner on a slope in the slum near the dump. Steps turn downwards to reveal a small courtyard overrun with kittens and ruled by a small white poodle attached to a long piece of string. This is where I met Susana, her daughter Elsie and grand-daughter Georlene.
Of all the families I visited in Guatemala City, Susana's seemed the happiest. The dog was spoilt rotten, the rich smell of tamales which she made to sell mixed with woodsmoke drifting over the steps, and her wide smile was as welcoming as the sun. Elsie ran a small grocery and general goods shop on the corner next door, and Georlene played with the other neighbourhood children.
Some weeks after my visit, I heard that all three of them had moved back to El Salvador, where Susana is from. They had been targeted by the local gang, who were demanding Q 5,000 (over £400) a week for the shop, and Q1,000 for the tamale business as protection money. This kind of extortion is common. If they weren't able to pay the vast sums demanded, they were told that all three of them would be raped and killed, and their homes burned to the ground. Unable to sell either the shop or the house, they left.