Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Day at the Zoo

People are constantly warning me about living on the Mexican border. I expected that. Those who don't know about our situation with immigration think that I must have a death wish, or maybe I am clinically insane. Even before I tell a person which border city I live in, they immediately jump in, questioning why I would live somewhere so overridden with violence. And when I continue on to say that I live in Ciudad Juárez? Shit gets cray.

Everyone has an opinion on safety in Mexico. Everyone. Whether they received their medical degree there or they got a root canal there, they've got an opinion. Whether they were a foreign exchange student there in high school or they went to Cancun for Spring Break in college, they've got an opinion. Maybe they just ate a burrito once at On The Border or they heard a report on the 6 o'clock news last night. It doesn't matter. They've got an opinion.

None of those opinions matter to me, though. The only opinion of Mexico that has ever influenced my decisions are my own and I fear that I am far too stubborn for that to ever change. One of the opinions that I have always had, and will most likely continue to have, is that if something bad is supposed to happen to me, it will happen to me. I could be in the US, I could be in Mexico, I could be in Antarctica, and that shit will happen. When it's my time to go, I'm going. I could be caught in the crossfire or hit by a bus anywhere. I truly believe that I am not any safer on one side of the border or the other and when I was back in the states visiting my family a couple weeks ago, something happened that confirmed that opinion.




My family and I decided to take advantage of one of the annual free days at the Kansas City Zoo. We saw the polar bears and the chimpanzees and the kangaroos and much to my dismay, countless species of birds. We learned about water conservation and fed the goats and avoided the pricey camel rides and observed the elephants. After 4 hours we were all tired and hungry but decided to hang around to catch the 1:30 pm sea lion show. We left the park at about 2:00 pm.

Shortly after, my sister received an alert on her phone from a local news station that she gets updates from. Just after 3:00 pm, numerous fights had broken out amongst different groups of teens at the zoo and shots were fired leaving hundreds of people fleeing for safety. 19,000 people went to the zoo that day and surely never thought their day would end so violently. Luckily, no one was hurt.

As we marveled at the fact that we missed the violence by a mere hour, my phone began to sound off with incoming emails and Facebook direct messages from many of you. Most of the messages came from readers who live in Missouri and while I was very touched that so many people had been following my travels online and were concerned, I couldn't help but laugh. I know that sounds a bit fucked up because it was a very unfortunate event and I am saddened by the fact that such a thing can take away from the joy of a leisurely day at the zoo, but I just couldn't help my reaction.

There I was, in Kansas City of all places, getting emails about gunfire and people concerned for my family's safety. The only thing I could think was that it felt exactly like it does when I am in Mexico and people call, text and email every time they hear something violent about Juárez in the news. Everyone warned me about moving to Juárez. But why doesn't anyone warn us about all the bat shit crazy people North of the border?


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Intocable

Spanish music played a huge role in my life while I was learning the language and Intocable, X was the first Spanish language CD I ever bought. I listened to Es Alguien Mas as I finally decided between two boys. I pumped myself up with Es Mejor Decir Adios before I finally ended things with the other boy. I cried myself to sleep listening to Estas Que Te Pelas on repeat about 428 times the night before I finally decided to get off drugs. I would play Aire on the nights when I missed my family so much that I could barely breathe.

I bought that album on a recommendation from an old man selling queso Chihuahua door to door in Mesa, Arizona and it quickly became a huge part of my early 20's. And years later I still love Intocable. So when I heard that they added Juárez to their tour schedule for the first time since 2006, I jumped at the chance to see them live.

I bought the tickets online from the Don Boleton website. They were advertised at 160 pesos on the TV commercial that we saw, but while making the purchase, there was an additional 20 peso cargo por servicio, and then another 10 pesos for God-knows-what bringing the total to 380 pesos for 2 tickets. Just under $30 US. Not too shabby. After I ordered the tickets online we had to go pick them up from a record store called Sounds which has locations in all the major malls in Juárez. There was an option to print the tickets online but there was a 25 peso additional charge per ticket for that so I passed. To my surprise, when we arrived at Estadio Jaime Canales Lira the night of the concert, scalpers were outside selling tickets for only 150 pesos. It struck me as odd considering scalpers in the US always jack the prices way up the night of the event, but bienvenido a Mexico I suppose?

We paid 50 pesos to park in a gated lot right on Avenida de Americas and being that we were actually on time, there were plenty of spaces to park and we didn't have to do much walking. Outside the stadium there were crowds of vendors. They cried out to us from from every direction, selling pictures of the different bands that would be performing, elotes, candy bars, chips with Valentina, pop, water, etc. We got into line to get into the concert and right away I could see that I was totally underdressed. I always feel underdressed in Juárez though.

I was wearing jeans with a black top that has some lace in the back and black boots. It seemed appropriate back at the house but the girl teetering in her stilettos in front of me in line was wearing a mini-skirt, a hot pink sequined top and a black leather jacket. The woman behind me wore knee-high black stiletto boots with leather leggings and some sort of elaborate fur vest. I really wanted to see these ladies try to walk to the top of the stadium seating in those fancy shoes but alas, they were seated in the VIP section below.

When we entered the stadium we walked right into a huge crowd of police officers. I was ordered to open my purse for a female officer while Ray got frisked by a male officer. We were waved along and sent up to the General Admission area. With our tickets we had the choice of standing on the actual field, behind the VIP section, or sitting in the stadium seating above. Ray thought it would be better to sit up above, mentioning that he would feel more in control up there. I didn't know what he meant by that but followed his lead. We sat on the top row, right in the center, behind home base.

After the crowds started coming in I could see what Ray meant about not having control below.
This grassy area you see between me and the crowd turned into a big dancing and drinking area.
I guess now is a good time to mention that this is the first concert I had ever been to. I am passionate about music but just never felt compelled to spend big bucks to see my favorite bands on tour. I did go to Primavera Musical in 2006 at Tempe Beach Park but I would hardly call that a concert. The tickets were free with the proof of purchase of a 12 pack of Tecate and each band only performed a couple of songs. So I didn't really know what to expect.

The concert was to start at 8 pm and there were 4 opening acts. I assumed that each opening act would be somewhat unknown and would just sing a couple of songs. Boy was I wrong. For starters, although I didn't recognize any of the bands by name, they all had songs that get serious radio time here in Juárez. The young girls next to us were belting out the lyrics to practically every song at the top of their lungs. And the opening acts went on and on and on.

I probably wouldn't have noticed the time if it weren't for the fact that I was freezing my ass off. The temperature was in the low 50's when we arrived but as the night went on, the wind picked up and temps dropped into the 40's. It still wouldn't have been so bad but the wind was howling and in the top row of the stadium we could really feel it. It was nearing midnight when people started to get a bit desperate. Intocable still hadn't taken the stage and people were starting to stand up and just run in place to stay warm. I was taking trips to the bathroom, warming myself by walking up and down the steps of the stadium.

The bathrooms were pretty bad though so that got old quick. After you waited in a long line, you walked into this:


I actually snapped this shortly after we arrived and the Tecate hadn't quite hit the ladies yet. There was no toilet paper in the stalls, which is common in Mexico, but you could purchase a few squares for 5 pesos from a man posted outside the bathrooms. There wasn't any soap but there were sinks with running water. There were no pipes running from the drains though, only into the faucet itself, so the water would just pour out of the drain and onto the floor. I suppose that's what that drain in the middle of the room is for. People seated in the VIP section had access to porta potties. I still can't figure out who had it better.

After making my 4th trip to the bathroom, just to warm my bones, I begged Ray to go get the blanket from the car. I keep it there for my parking lot naps in El Paso. At first he didn't want to because he thought we would look stupid but eventually the wind got to him too.


I'll admit, I did feel a little silly with the blanket at first, but comfort trumps style and I wasn't wearing high heels anyway so I was already fucked, right?

Here's Mr. We'll-Look-Stupid-With-A-Blanket a mere 5 minutes after he brought it back from the car.
Once we had warmed up a bit we got more comfortable. The beer was really calling our names at this point and the Tecate vendors would pass by every couple of minutes with buckets of ice cold beer. We gave up alcohol for Lent though and stayed true to our promises by staying sober. If you know me, you know that was no easy feat, so I'm pretty proud. We drank Cokes instead and sampled some of the best tacos I've ever had.


Shortly before 1 am Intocable finally took the stage and I got my first experience of a real concert. Not that the opening acts weren't great, but we came to see Intocable. The crowd cheered and sang in unison and there was just this buzz of excitement in the air.

Our seats ended up being perfect. We had a nice view of everything and could see everyone on stage clearly from the big screens that were on either side of the stage.

So many of my friends love to go to concerts and music festivals and I never really understood why. I enjoy listening to music at home so much, I never really imagined something could top it. Saying that aloud actually sounds ridiculous to me now. After going to this concert I totally get it. I finally understand why people pay so much money to see their favorite bands live. You aren't just listening to the music. It's the entire experience. The people, the dancing, the fans singing off-tune, never missing a lyric. There is some sort of magic that happens when you bring so many people together for one simple reason; their love of music. And there was also something magical about all these people in Juárez, out until 4 am, just to listen to that music and feel that love. And I felt an overwhelming sense of unity because of it. I felt like I was a part of it all.

When many people think of Juárez, they think of fear. They think of crime. They think of a city that has been ravaged by cartel violence over the years. They think of all sorts of horrible things. And a lot of those thoughts are accurate. But none of those things seemed to matter last Saturday. 

The only thing that mattered that night was the music and feeling the love. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hold Your Applause

El Chapo was arrested on Saturday. Some of you probably don't even know who that is and couldn't give two shits, but if you live in the Americas or Europe, you should and you should.

Joaquín Guzmán Loera aka El Chapo (Shorty) is a Mexican drug lord who was so successful in drug trade that he has been ranked on Forbes magazine's list of the most powerful people in the world every year since 2009. He was the head of the Sinaloan drug cartel which imports more cocaine, meth, heroin and marijuana into the US than any other cartel in the world.

Not only do I try to steer clear of discussing the cartels for my safety but I tend to avoid drug-war coverage in the media for my own sanity. In 2010, at the height of the violence in Juárez, it was difficult to convince myself that I was safe when I was getting a running report of the day's homicides every evening on the news. So I stopped watching the news and just read selectively online. But the news of El Chapo's arrest could not be avoided. I first heard about it while scrolling my Twitter feed on Saturday morning. Twitter is my go-to news source on the weekends because NPR comes in all fuzzy on Gordo's old boom box and like I said, I'm not really a fan of televised news anymore. There is was, plain as day.


@AP
BREAKING: US official: Sinaloa drug chief 'Chapo' Guzman arrested by US, Mexican authorities in Mexico.

Hold your applause.

I am not happy with his arrest and I am not sorry to say so. The Mexican and American governments want to thrust their clasped hands in the air on the podium as the crowd cheers for their victory. Fuck that.

My initial reaction is to feel that it's only a matter of time before someone else takes his place, and this may mean little more than a new slew of bloody turf wars for Mexico to deal with. Border cities in particular. I do not doubt that there is a plan already put into place in the event of his capture, but take a minute to think about that.

Let's say you work for a company that has a plan set in place in the event that your boss is out ill. Let's say all of the daily duties have been assigned and everyone knows what they are supposed to do. Does everyone follow the plan? Probably not. One guy doesn't like the tasks he was assigned but never mentioned it before because he never thought he'd actually have to do them. Another guy really likes your boss but isn't a big fan of the person who's in charge today so he's just going to go work to the beat of his own drum. And then you've got the guy who thinks he's been under-appreciated this whole time and should have been given more responsibilities from the get-go so he's going to take matters into his own hands.

Are you following me here?

Someone else will put on Chapo's twisted business suit faster than we can count to 3 and there's going to be plenty of disagreements throughout the drug world in the process. And violence will escalate once again. It's a hard pill for me to swallow considering my querido Juaritos is just starting to put the pieces back together from the last war. Although I suppose that war never really did end.

I saw journalists and politicians on Twitter praising the DEA and Mexican officials for this arrest. They were calling it a "win" against the drug war. But if you ask me, this wasn't a win.

A win would be redistributing tax dollars and making improvements to the educational system in Mexico by providing free public prepa so that all children have the chance to get a quality education. A win would be the US ending prohibition and shutting off the demand for other countries to import narcotics illegally. A win would be setting up job placement programs for young men and women so that they have career opportunities and aren't compelled to join the cartel or immigrate to the US illegally out of financial desperation.

This arrest was many things, but it wasn't a win.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tales From the Bridge

The line getting back into Juarez was really long tonight. Nothing unexpected for a Friday. Even though I raced from the office to the bridge, it was already backed up a couple miles by the time I arrived.


I was in a good mood as usual because it's Friday. Duh. I was posting videos to Instagram, listening to some music and just kicking back. A friend commented on one of the videos saying that they don't know how people could cross daily because it seems so stressful. It's almost funny to me now because the line rarely stresses me out anymore. If someone would have told me 3 years ago that I would ever get to this point without sedatives, I wouldn't have believed them.

Nowadays, I'm just so thankful to even have a vehicle to cross in that the wait doesn't really bother me anymore. So of course, whenever I see a car broke down in the line, I feel horrible for that person. Not having a vehicle is awful but breaking down in the middle of the line gives awful a whole new definition. Just imagine... 5 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic, hundreds of anxious and impatient border crossers who are in a hurry, and your old beater just gave out on you in the midst of it all. It's happened to me twice so far.

Worst feeling ever.

Luckily, in both instances, I had friends who came to my rescue. But what if I didn't have anyone to help me? What if I had to rely on the kindness of strangers? That is the situation that played out tonight for one woman. She was broke down on the side of the road, a couple hundred feet shy of the US Border Patrol checkpoint. From a distance, I could see that she was approaching each car as it passed, saying something to the driver. The people kept passing her by.

As I drove up to her, she looked at me with desperation in her eyes and timidly asked if I could push her over the bridge with my car.

Por favor, me puedes empujar sobre el puente? I give 10 dollars.

My front bumper already has a couple of scratches, and once a man actually reversed into me in line as he tried to switch lanes and smashed in my license plate holder. Fuck it pareja.

Si. Te ayudaré.

I agreed to help her but told her to keep her ten dollars. I explained that I had broken down in line a couple of times and was blessed to have people who were willing to help me so I was happy to finally be able to return the favor.


The concept seemed simple enough but the stop-and-go traffic and gargantuan speed bumps that USCBP recently installed made it slightly complicated. After the first speed bump a Border Patrol officer with a crazy AK-47-looking weapon burst out laughing at me. He explained that I needed to wait for the cars in front to clear the area and then press harder on the gas to give her a good hard push over all the speed bumps. I thanked him for the tip and did as suggested. It worked out much better than my original technique.

I pushed her over the bridge and we immediately caught the attention of the Mexican Aduana. They asked her to pull to the side which was just silly because obviously her car wasn't working. They pushed her into one of the stalls that they inspect vehicles in and gestured that I needed to be on my way. I was a bit surprised because I had expected that I would need to get out of my car and help push her through the winding maze that the Mexican military created out of cement road dividers just after the crossing.

I gave a friendly wave to the woman, trying to convey well wishes I suppose, but she didn't seem to notice. Obviously, I don't know what happened next and I'm not really sure why they made her pull to the side. Hopefully she isn't having too rough of a night and her car is easily repairable.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, car problems are the worst.



Now I just have to listen to my husband lecture me for a week or so about how our front bumper was already loose and that this tiny little scratch is going to bring down the resale value of our truck.  #Yawn

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Amor de Lejos

I had an amazing Valentine's Day weekend, don't get me wrong. We bowled and drank and danced and laughed and binge-watched more Netflix than any sane person would ever admit to. But my mind kept drifting. Behind the laughter and wine and oily bowling balls, there was a slight twinge of sadness that would overcome me now and then.

I have a large network of people online that I am very close with. People who have been there for me through the ups and downs, time and time again. And I'd like to think I've been there for them too. I may not be able to point them out if I saw them in a real-world crowd, but they are people who know the significance of numbers like 601 and 212. People who know the emotional weight of acronyms like EWI and NVC. These people came into my life unexpectedly and continue to do so each day. And most days, I feel like they are the only people who will ever truly understand me or my family or our "situation."

Many of these people were separated from their spouses on Valentine's Day. And for many of these couples, this wasn't the first time, and it surely won't be the last.

You see, some people feel sorry for me because I was forced to choose between my marriage and my country. Some people feel pity for a gringa in Juárez. But most days I tend to think that pity is ridiculous. I feel pity for the people that can't move because they have children from a previous marriage and their ex won't allow them to take their children outside of the country. I feel pity for those who can't move because they have an ill family member that they must care for on a daily basis. I feel pity for people who have illnesses that can't be properly treated in a 3rd world country and prevent them from leaving.

Those are the families that are hurt the worst by the draconian immigration laws in the US. I don't mean to make light of people who are in my shoes, because it's no walk in the park. But I'd rather be in this place than where a lot of others are. I'm glad my family had a way out, a way to be together.

My heart goes out to those who didn't get to spend last Friday with their husband or wife. I don't consider myself to be especially romantic, but on a day that can feel like an endless cluster-fuck of Hallmark cards and teddy bears and Facebook feeds full of bouquets of roses and pink balloons, I would imagine that separation is just a little harder. I know that every day apart is beyond difficult, but I imagine that it stings just a little more on the 14th, even for the strongest couple.

I want you to know that I thought about you guys. I hope this was the last Valentine's Day that you will be apart. I hope you can all find your way home, or at the very least, a way out.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mexican Medicine

I have three things working against me here. The first is that my husband is an undiagnosed hypochondriac. The second is that IMSS hands out medicine like it's fucking candy at a home & garden show. The third is that I don't buy any of it and I definitely don't like hard, dollar store sucking candies that aren't even worthy of my grandma's purse.

A couple of weeks ago Ray made an appointment at the local hospital (just a regular doctor's visit really) because he felt like his stomach was abnormally hard and it had become difficult to breathe. This is not the first time he's had these complaints. Given our diets the last couple of months, my response was that he/we should just eat less crap and more whole foods, drink less alcohol, and suck it up buttercup.

However, after his visit tonight, he was told that we need to desparasitarnos. Basically, take medication to clear our bodies of parasites. "If your family doesn't all do it together, it won't work," the doctor explained.

Now I don't mean to be such a skeptic. I really don't. And I don't mean to discredit Mexican medicine either. But I believe there is a stark contrast between the knowledgeable doctors throughout this country and the pill-passing-physicians at the Seguro Popular.

They prescribed him 4 boxes (doses?) of Bruzol Albendazol. One for him. One for me. And... one each for Meeko and Lucy. Yes that's right, when I said  "we," not only did I mean myself and my husband, but our two dogs as well.




As with every visit he takes to the local hospital, I was left googling like a motherfucker when he came home.

"Albendazole, marketed as Albenza (United States), Eskazole, Zentel, Andazol and Alworm, is a benzimidazole drug used for the treatment of a variety of parasitic worm infestations. Although this use is widespread in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved albendazole for this indication. It is marketed by Amedra Pharmaceuticals. Albendazole was first discovered at the SmithKline Animal Health Laboratories in 1972. It is a broad spectrum anthelmintic, effective against roundworms, tapeworms, and flukes of domestic animals and humans. Albendazole may cause abdominal pain, dizziness, headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, or temporary hair loss."

Great... Just what I need. More hair loss. And what about the perros?

"Albendazole has been used as an anthelmintic and for control of flukes in a variety of animal species, including cattle, sheep, goats, swine, camels, dogs, cats, elephants, poultry and others. In many countries, it is very commonly used for ruminant livestock."

Ray immediately suggested we all take them tomorrow. I told him I needed some time to investigate. I asked him how a doctor could prescribe a medication to four people (errr, two people and two animals) if three of them weren't even present?! What if one of us has an allergy?

No allergy, baby. Cada six months. Everybody. No allergy.

Shoot me now.

We've made an agreement to wait until Saturday to take these stupid pills. I am holding out hope that someone who reads this might have more info. At this point, he is convinced these pills will not only save our lives but bring joy to all bitter people in the world while simultaneously securing peace in the Middle East. I am perfectly happy with worms in my panza. They bring out my cheekbones.

Thoughts? Ayuda? Warnings?

This is me being desperate in case you haven't noticed...




Sunday, February 2, 2014

Shake It Milk Shop

How many times can you drive past a sign in Mexico that says, "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard," before curiosity takes over?


I'd been dying to check this place out for obvious reasons. I wasn't positive what Shake It Milk Shop would be like but I had some assumptions. A few weeks back I finally convinced Ray to take me there and it ended up being a really interesting experience! I was surprised at what I saw when we walked in...








It was totally not what I expected, especially not in Juárez. But I guess I should learn by now that I can't make assumptions about this city. It surprises me more everyday!

The two young ladies working were very sweet and helpful, explaining the menu to us. The possibilities were literally endless! Skittles milkshakes, Cap'n Crunch milkshakes, Ferrero Rocher milkshakes...




I was having trouble deciding until the word Nutella popped out at me. Duh.




Right after snapping this picture of Ray in front of the jukebox (his idea, I swear) we peeked through that glass door behind him. It almost looked like it was a... museum? Weird. So we ask the gals behind the counter if we can check it out and they gave us the go ahead.




Sure enough, it was the Museo del Concorde that one of my blog readers had told me about last year! Such an awkward entrance... If I was at all interested in avionics or engineering I might consider this to be the Secret Garden of Juarez.


Me still trying to get over the fact that this was what
 was behind the back door of the 50's malt shop in Mexico.


After paying a 10 peso donation and watching a short film about the Concorde, we wandered the museum a bit before realizing that my milkshake was probably starting to melt. We came back to the table to find our order ready to go and the check in a cute little metal gift box. 




I ordered the Bill Haley malteada which was Nutella and peanut butter. It was beyond delicious. Just imagine the Holy Spirit. In your mouth. Gordo got a Neopolitano cappuccino because he's too cool for milkshakes.  

My shake was 55 pesos and the cappuccino was 30 pesos. A bit pricey for us to go on the regular but certainly a fun place to splurge at once in a while. They also serve some light meals like paninis and croissants. I loved the theme of course and the service was impeccable so we'll definitely be going back.