Uriel Goldman’s bushy eyebrows knit together in dismay when he sees a cockroach skittering across the tiled floor near the entrance of his cramped Guatemala City apartment. Despite the warm spring weather, he is dressed in a heavy calf-length coat, velvet wide-brimmed hat, and bulky shoes with stockings — all black. He maneuvers his broad frame into the next room to grab a broom, careful to avoid a gantlet of obstacles scattered around the awkward space: a mini-fridge, a folded-up mattress, a basket of laundry, a bag of groceries. He gently sweeps the bug out the door and into an equally cluttered stairwell.
Goldman, who is in his mid-40s, sits down in a blue plastic chair and sighs. “It’s the seventh month,” he says, “that we are in this terrible situation.” Seven months of pretending that a run-down office building that once housed Guatemala’s immigration directorate is a suitable place for 14 families to live, sleeping six or more people to a room. Seven months of dealing with scores of restless kids who are tired of being cooped up indoors because their parents think the city’s Zona 9 neighborhood, thick with traffic and peppered with sporadic crime, is no place for children to play.