Ten days ago my husband and I embarked on the journey of our lives. We set off on a short, 7 hour trip from Gilbert, Arizona en route to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico with hope and love in our hearts. I suppose I am already getting a bit ahead of myself… I met my husband in the spring of 2005. Although I knew he was a Mexican immigrant I had no idea that when we married in July of 2007 we would be unable to obtain legal residency for him because he had entered the United States without permission in 2001, left in 2004 and then re-entered that same year. Shortly after submitting the paperwork we learned that he would be ineligible to become a legal permanent resident at this time. We found out that if he were to go to the United States Consulate for his visa appointment he would be informed that he had a lifetime ban from entering the US, and would only be eligible to file for a waiver after 10 years (spent outside the country of course.) And so we began our plans to move to Mexico.
Even two years of planning could not prepare us for what we had in store. The trip was relatively painless considering we made it safely into Mexico without being stopped, which would have been detrimental considering my husband’s status. Regardless, it felt like the longest 7 hours of my life. My hands were clenched so tightly to the steering wheel that they began to cramp. As we approached El Paso I called a my friend Stacey whom I met online in 2008 through a forum dedicated to helping people work through the family immigration system here in the United States. She lives here in Juarez with her husband and five children and has proved to be invaluable to many families traveling to the area to visit the US Consulate located in Juarez. Stacey has already been living here for 3 years and 7 months and was no stranger to crossing the border. She met us at a gas station close to the border and guided us through. As we approached the border I had to hold my hands over the air vents in the car because they were slipping off of the steering wheel with sweat. I followed Stacey across the Cordova Bridge into Ciudad Juarez praying that we would not have any problems. First we crossed through the American border fearing that we would be stopped as we had been informed in the days prior that they were stopping vehicles to do random checks for weapons, ammunition, or excess amounts of cash. Of course we did not have any of those things, but they were also detaining immigrants who had been in the US illegally, which is obviously that very last thing we needed in our lives, or criminal records for that matter. Secondly, we had more concerns with the fact that our car was loaded to the brim with our most important belongings that could turn into a nightmare if we were asked to unload our truck and consequently taxed for the items we were crossing. Luckily, we passed the US Border Patrol with no issues at all, and then received a green light in the “nothing to declare” line of Mexican Border Patrol. Hallelujah!
I burst into tears at that point, and found it incredibly difficult to follow Stacey to the house that a friend of hers had for rent. We had planned to live in the home and were excited to be near the only other American family that we knew in this country which seemed as foreign to my Mexican husband as it did to me. Driving through Juarez was really no big shock for me as I had been to Mexico many times in the past and was no stranger to Nogales, which is on the Arizona/Mexico Border. Juarez seemed similar to me at the time. Now I see that it is so much larger than Nogales but the inner cities of the two are still comparable in my opinion. Many people coming into Juarez are turned off by the lack of greenery and weather (if not the crime and corruption of course), but having lived in Arizona’s desert landscape and climate for the past 15 years, I was fully prepared.
The neighborhood that the Infonavit home was located in was new, cute, and somewhat empty. Because it is a newly developed area there are many vacant houses on the street. Conveniently, the house next door had a back yard FILLED with rooster cages, presumably used for cock fighting. The house had ample space for the two of us but my husband was immediately concerned that the backyard had not yet been gated and we have two small dogs that have a tendency to take off running when given the opportunity. We also felt exhausted and completely incapable of making decisions at the time. Stacey was nice enough to direct us to a hotel that had a garage to protect our belongings which were still in the car at this point.
We arrived at Hotel Dona Anna in the early evening and were just happy to have somewhere to hang our hats, so to speak. At this point my husband was considerably comforted by the garage at the hotel and made a firm decision that we had to have a garage or gated carport. Even though we had limited funds, and I knew a garage would add some serious pesos to the picture, I understood his viewpoint considering the current “climate” in Ciudad Juarez. I felt terrible that night. I was trying my best to keep it together and not let on to my husband how miserable I really felt. I called my best friend Christina that night and she did her best to convince me that it was all going to be okay. “It will be an adventure! Remember, this is only the first night.” she said. “It is all so romantic.” And so I tried my best to stay optimistic and repeat this new mantra in my head. “This is an adventure, this is an adventure, this is an adventure.”
I cried myself to sleep that night thinking I had made the biggest mistake in the world. I cried because I felt stupid, homesick, spoiled, lost, sheltered, weak, and most of all scared shitless of what was to come.
In the morning I still felt drained from the uncertainty that was now our life. We had gone to the nearest Oxxo the night before and bought a newspaper, El Diario, to look for local rental properties. The classifieds did little to help us as we had no idea how to locate the homes. The streets twisted and turned and changed names in a way that seemed so unfamiliar to us. We had been spoiled by the perfectly planned suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona that had been laid out to our ease on a one mile grid system. We went back to the Oxxo after wandering for only 30 minutes to purchase a map of the area, hoping that at the very least we would be able to find our way back to the hotel.
Then we began to wander, like a pair of chickens with our heads cut off, in search of a home with a garage and gated back yard. In the midst of our search I got my first glimpse of the Policia Federal. It only took a quick gaze of their all black uniforms, black ski masks showing only their eyes, and their machine guns, to cause me to burst into tears. I immediately felt as though I was in a war zone, because I was. My husband assured me that I should not fear these men because they were on our side, here to fight the war against the drug traffickers and human smugglers. I was not so easily convinced. I had been trained (by the media?) to believe that all Mexican officials were corrupt and ready to rob or hurt me if given ample opportunity.
I tried to push the images of the Policia out of my mind as we combed the streets of Juarez for “Se Renta” signs. After about 20 minutes we had no idea which way we were headed, where we were, which way was North, etc. When we finally did encounter properties that were for rent we couldn’t figure out how to dial the Mexican cell phone numbers from our US phones. It took hours of trial and error to get it right and we still aren’t quite sure we have it figured out. We knew about 011. We knew about 52. Then we were thrown for a loop with 044 and 1 and the likes. It seemed like an act of God when we heard “¿Bueno?” on the other end of the line for the first time. It felt like a huge victory on our part in the midst of all of the chaos.
When the landlord asked us which of his rental properties we were at, all we could say was, “It’s the red and yellow one.” We had no idea where we were. Luckily he knew which property we were calling about and agreed to meet us there. He showed us the interior of the house, which turned out to be an apartment/condo, as well as 2 other single family homes. We liked the apartment the best because of it’s proximity to a major road, gas station, restaurant and convenience store. Our jaw dropped at the price of 4,500 pesos because we had only budgeted 200 US dollars for rent which is the equivalent of about 2,500 pesos. However, we were won over by the location and garage in the home. It even had a sliding glass door like our apartment in the US so we could insert our doggie door panel for our Pomeranian, Meeko and Miniature Pinscher, Lucy. Considering it was only a 6 month lease we decided we could make it work for at least that amount of time. We signed the contract that day paying the first month’s rent and the same as a deposit.
I had worked up until the day before our move and therefore entrusted all of the packing responsibilities with my husband. When it came time to unpack I saw that my husband’s ideas of “necessities” were far from that of my own. He had neglected to pack a fan (even though we anticipated not having air conditioning,) or pillows, or a cooler, or the microwave, yet remembered to bring our tennis racquets and a tent for camping. That, coupled with the fact that rental homes in Mexico do not come equipped with ANY appliances such as a stove or refrigerator, was stressful to say the least. The cheapest cooler at the local Wal-Mart costs over 500 pesos (or 40 dollars) and seemed like a foolish purchase considering we had one back in Arizona with the rest of our things. And so we resorted to buying a Styrofoam cooler and spending insane amounts of money on ice and eating out for the first few days.
I didn’t have any time to find my way around Juarez or sulk with homesickness because I had a job interview lined up in El Paso only 2 days after our arrival. I had been warned that the wait to cross the border can be brutal and draining over time so I expected it. It was not bad considering it was all fresh in my mind, and interesting, and there were plenty of new things to look at. There were burritos, sunshades and Virgin Mary figurines for sale. There were one legged children who wanted to wash my windshield, blind mothers begging for just one peso and men selling US insurance. I could practically read the whole “37 People Murdered Yesterday” story on the front page of El Diario in the time it took the salesman to convince me to buy it. My car was mere inches from the car next to me and I could easily distract myself by watching people do their make-up, read magazines, chat up their lover, eat T-bone steaks, etc. I had a sinking feeling this would all get old fast. By my 3rd trip to El Paso for a job interviews and getting the car registered in Texas, it already seemed like old, boring news. I quickly learned to fear and loath the border patrol’s aggressive demeanors and redundant questions.
In my attempts to never be late or give the impression of a border jumper, I crossed super early every day that I had an interview or meeting scheduled. I was too early, of course, and filled my time with trips to the Wal-Mart in El Paso. I took the opportunity to stock up on non-perishable items as everything seems to be at least twice the price in Mexico, if not more. A 3 pack of Fruit of a Loom underwear that costs 7 dollars in the US was priced at 130 pesos at Wal-Mart in Juarez. I also had to pay 3 pesos to park my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Mexico yet wasn’t provided toilet paper in the restrooms there. It disgusted me, to say the least, to see these companies charging so much more to a society which earns so much less.
There are of course great deals in Mexico too from time to time. Stacey came through for us once again when it was time to buy a refrigerator. She showed up to my house with her children and was somewhat shaken. They had just seen the aftermath of another one of Juarez’s unfortunately frequent shootings. I didn’t have to take her word for it because as we were pulling out onto the main road from my house, we saw a long line of different Policia towing the truck (with its windows shot out) that had been involved. I tried not to let it phase me. I comforted myself with the same reminder that I frequently told my family who was completely frightened by my decision to move to Juarez if you do not do or sell drugs or associate with people who do, you will be okay. Of course I can’t be sure that this is true, but I have a gut feeling that I am right. And so we continued on with our mission to buy a refrigerator and attempted to forget about the gruesome acts of war we had just seen.
I felt lost yet again as my husband and I followed Stacey through the confusing streets of downtown Juarez. I quickly lost my sense of direction. This time I wasn’t really upset about it because we had Stacey with us and that was comforting. She brought us to miles and miles of what I can only consider some type of flea market. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen and I was secretly irritated that it was so hot out or otherwise I could have spent all day roaming those streets. The trip was a success and we were able to buy a used refrigerator and a washing machine for only $180 US dollars! I cannot wait until the weather cools off so that I can go back and get a better look at that area.
A few days after my arrival in Mexico, I returned to Arizona to get the rest of our things. I hate driving long distances and struggled to stay awake during the trip. Right after my arrival I headed to Christina’s stepfather's who was nice enough to take the time to make some extremely necessary adjustments to the 7 x 14 utility trailer that I would be using to take our things to Mexico. We had long ago made the decision to take everything with us to Mexico after having looked into the prices of furniture and other household goods in Mexico.
By the time I got to my friend Heather’s house, I was ready to pass out. She was a wonderful hostess and completely understood that I was totally drained. This trip back was bittersweet in that I was excited to finalize our move yet so sad to leave my closest friends in Arizona behind. Having come from a small family that is sprinkled throughout the United States, I had come to rely on my friends as one would typically rely on their family. They became just that, my family. Heather’s husband Danny, as well as another family friend, Rodrigo, helped me load the trailer. Hell… they loaded the trailer. I supervised. I headed out from Queen Creek in the direction of the I-10 at about 6:45 am on Saturday. My biggest fear at that point was a flat tire. I am an idiot for not learning how to change a tire before embarking on this road trip solo. As the hours passed I became more and more comfortable driving the trailer and my concerns shifted to actually crossing our things and whether or not the US Border Patrol would make me unload the trailer in their search for weapons and ammunition.
Not so fast. I was 149 miles outside of Juarez, in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico when my trailer tire blew out. I pulled to the side of the freeway and felt comforted when I saw the DPS officer slow upon seeing me, turn on his lights, take the next exit and reverse. I thought for sure he would return. I called my husband and asked him what to do. Because it was the trailer tire I knew that Geico would not apply my emergency roadside assistance coverage. My husband seemed as upset as I was, probably because he felt so helpless being that he was unable to cross the US border and come to my rescue. My husband seemed as dramatically irrational as I did at the time so I decided to call Heather’s husband Danny for step by step instructions on how to change a tire.
It took me 30 minutes to loosen the lug nuts, only to realize that my jack was not tall/large enough to reach the trailer’s axle. I sat in my car for another 30 minutes, bawling hysterically, and feeling sorry for myself. I became more and more angry as I saw 2 more police cars pass yet not one felt the need to stop to see if I was okay. I was clearly alone and had opened the hood of my car so it was clear that I was having problems. You know how stress can magnify all simple problems so that they seem to be more dramatic disasters? Well in that moment I felt as though life as I knew it was over and I would be forced to build a hut from the wood of my trailer right then and there and live the rest of my life alone on the side of the I-10 East. No one stopped to help me that day, not even the police or DPS officer. In the end I called Geico who transferred me to a company (aka one-man-band) in the area that could help me, on my own dime of course.
Two hours and $110 later I was back on the road and on to my next hurdle, crossing the border.
I had done extensive research in regards to this move and had originally planned on doing a Menaje de Casa in which a Mexican Citizen who has been outside on the country for 2 or more years can import their household items into Mexico tax free. It would have entailed creating a detailed, itemized list of everything on the trailer and having everything clearly and precisely labeled. However we ultimately decided not to bring the trailer on the first trip with my husband because it would have made us stick out like a sore thumb on our journey across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And so here I was, crossing at least $5,000 dollars in household goods across the Mexican border on my own. It could have gone terribly. Upon reaching the border I was asked to estimate the value of the items on my trailer, “$1,500?” I answered meekly. I was then asked no less than 7 times as to whether or not I had ammunition on the trailer. After repeating, “No.” about 100 times, I was asked how I felt about paying 800 pesos in taxes for my items. 800 pesos? Hell yeah! I’ll take it! “Si, esta bien,” I said calmly, trying to hide my excitement. I paid the 68 US dollars and sped off to what will presumably be my home for the next 10 years.
This is a romantic adventure. This is a romantic adventure. This is a romantic adventure.