Saturday, January 11, 2014


My car has been in and out of the shop for the last few weeks with one repair after another. Although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, we picked it up from the mechanic on Thursday night. It's at least drivable for now and I need it to get to and from El Paso so we are going to hold off a bit for the rest of the repairs.

I was on my way to work on Friday morning, my first day back in my car, when I noticed that the semi-truck in front of me had a little message etched into the dirt built up on the back door.

Labame culó

Clearly, grammar is not the writer's strong suit. Or subtlety.

I smiled quietly to myself. Then I glanced in my rear view mirror and my smile quickly disappeared. Something had been drawn on my dirty back window as well. It was a bullseye. Clear as day. Un blanco.

A target.

What. the. fuck. I instantly started to freak out. I wish I could say that I just have a little leftover paranoia from my tweaker days, but there is something that happens in border towns that is always in the back of my mind. My fears are real and valid in every way.

Ever hear of Ana Isela Martinez Amaya? In 2011, the 35 year old Juárez resident, mother of two and teacher of the year, was accused of attempting to smuggle over 100 pounds of marijuana into the US. While crossing the border one morning, going about her regular routine, she had no idea that there were 2 suitcases full of drugs in the trunk of her car. You can read more about her story here.

This isn't anything new. When we first arrived in Juárez, we were aware that we needed to check the car frequently. Every morning. And we did for quite some time. Opening the back hatch each day. Giving the back seat a once over. Popping the hood. Peeking underneath for anything suspicious.

Eventually, this got old. I started to feel exactly how I felt before we left Arizona. Back then we would have to check all of the lights before we would go anywhere. Brake lights, head lights, turn signals. Anything to prevent us from being pulled over in Maricopa County because a random stop would have surely led to a deportation for Ray.

And so, as time passed, we checked the car less and less. We became lazy. We became overly confident. I thought to myself, that will never happen to me. Why would someone choose a gringa as their drug mule? I stick out too much. It just didn't make sense.

But on Friday morning, at the site of that target, I began to question myself and my assumptions. Why in the hell would someone draw a bullseye on my back window? I asked Ray if he checked the car since it came back from the mechanic. He said he hadn't had the chance.


We pulled to the side of the road and Ray quickly jumped out and dusted off the back window to erase the target. He told me not to worry, that someone was just playing a practical joke. And with that, he bent down to look under the car quickly, peeked into the back seat, gave me the thumbs up and ran into the maquila.

As I made my way to the bridge, my mind was spinning. I imagined the worst. I thought about Miss Martinez, Teacher of the Year. I thought about all the stories I've heard about mechanics who plant drugs in the cars of regular border crossers. I wondered how I would explain myself to the judge. I wondered if anyone would believe me. I wondered what prison is like in Juárez.

Of course I was afraid when I crossed that morning. Beyond paranoid. Shaking nervously. But I didn't have any problems at the bridge after all. Luckily, I didn't have to explain anything to anyone because there was nothing to explain. This time. I'm hoping that little drawing was nothing more than the work of a bored chalán at the shop, or maybe some neighborhood kids with a little too much time on their hands.

All I know is that from now on, we won't be forgetting to do a once-over of the car every morning. We won't get lazy again.


  1. It seems like you have as many car problems as think about trading it in? I am seriously thinking I have to and I am going to try monday. That paranoia I felt too when I first moved here, my dad told me people were checking vin#'s to plant drugs in cars in Mexico, scary! I remember hearing about that teacher but I haven't heard anything new...I'm going to read the article:)

    1. I am going to need a new car this year for sure. I haven't quite figured out how, but I'll make it happen. I might trade it in, but I'd rather keep it as a second car so that we don't continue to get stranded everytime we need to do a repair. I don't know that I would get much on a trade in. My car is 12 years old with 165K miles on it. And obviously not in very good shape. I hope it goes well for you Monday!

    2. Haha...mine is a 98 with 188,000:-( ....i have to get another cheap car just cuz I'm afraid to drive this one anymore even tho i love it....

    3. My daily driver is twenty years old, and has 215K on it. Thankfully the average use per day is about three miles, the engine idles bad, and I will run tires as long as they hold air for at least a week. Got you all beat!

  2. I head read about someone there who had drugs planted on the underside of their car with magnets. Whenever I am in Juarez, I constantly check even under my car. But I can see how easy it would be to get complacent, living there day to day.

    1. So crazy Wayne. We will definitely be more vigilent.

  3. Please start translating your Spanish words for us white girls who only know swear words and "Hola". ;)