Circus is in Town

You hand in your ticket 
And you go watch the geek 
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak 
And says, “How does it feel 
To be such a freak?” 
And you say, “Impossible”
As he hands you a bone 
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is

-Bob Dylan


About once a week a truck with a large loud speaker attached to its roof cruises by the house, creeping along, broadcasting the local circus. It is usually carrying a live leopard or a puma in a small cage mounted to the bed of the truck. Sometimes there is a giant boa constrictor. “Only in Mexico…” is all that we can say. It is amazing that it is legal to allow these animals to be toted around the dirty streets in rickety cages to attract a crowd to the Juarez circus. (One of these days I am going to surprise Misty with two tickets to the circus for a date night!)

A few days back a light fixture randomly exploded and caught fire. The bulb popped and glass crumbled onto the tile. Apparently there was a short in the connection. Misty and I were both right next to the light when it exploded. I yelled for the mop, it was the only thing that I saw when I frantically scanned the room for something to extinguish the fire. I slapped at the fire with the mop like I was keeping back an angry lion. No, it did not work. We finally had to throw a glass of water onto the fixture. The flames had blackened the drywall on the ceiling, melted all the wires, and scorched the metal of the light… “What was that all about?”

About an hour later there was a knock on our front door. This was unusual because anyone trying to reach us has to knock on the metal gate, the ‘Porton’, (see photo in “Wide-Eyed”) that is the main entrance to our house. But this knock was right at our front door, which meant that someone was already inside our patio. Very odd and a bit off-putting. I opened the door half expecting Juan to be there; instead there were about 5 soldiers carrying machine guns standing at the door. We had been warned that this could happen. Juan told us that if the Federal Police or the military want to inspect a house, car, business, bus, train, or the inside of your burrito, whatever, they have the warrant to do so. They will break off or shoot locks, kick the door down, or use a pick-axe to get in. They can shoot anyone that they “need” to. They are the law and they do what they want.

So, when I was greeted with guns and the ever popular stern-machismo glares, with a grand wave of my hand, I said, “Pasale!”, which means, “Come on in everybody!” I felt calm, a little excited, but I when I saw them it was like, “Oh, here they are. I have been expecting this day…” I turned to Misty and said, “Babe, we have some friends here.” [Misty’s aside- heart rate excellerates to 98618613547: “Stay calm Misty, everything will be okay. God help us! I think that guy just told Matt to tell your wife not to worry, ‘preocupe’, worry, yeah…”] At the time most of our stuff was still in boxes and the house was nearly empty. There was no furniture except a kitchen table, four chairs and a coleman air-mattress. These guys were full of questions and strange looks. What are these gringos doing here? What is your job? Is this your house? What is in this box? How much does this guitar cost?  Did you buy this camera in the U.S.? They were as bewildered as we were.

It turns out that there was a very large convoy truck parked in front of our gate and about 20 more soldiers standing around with machine guns and sporting those same crazy glares. Supposedly, these guys are in Juarez to keep the peace and to find and remove the cartel. But the way things are going makes me wonder where all the energy and pomp has gone. The next 30 minutes were spent showing these macho-men around the house and the Amigos property, and talking about cameras, guitars, and other items that they were interested in buying at a better price across the river. 

What is it about a circus that is strange, freaky, weird, and yet so compelling? Live endangered animals in the back of pick-up trucks, exploding light fixtures, machine guns and military trucks, all poised to beguile and swindle our emotions. When the dust finally settled after the military left, we realized we had been given a gift: dozens of neighbors and members from Juan and Carmen’s family had rushed over to our house to shield us from the military. They all had a panicked look in their faces, sweating and gasping for breath as they ran over to our house. They were stern with the soldiers asking them what they were doing searching our place when we were in the neighborhood to help. They hovered around the truck, our front door, and walked with me as I was explaining to the soldiers what Amigos was all about. There is a dark vein of mistrust between the military and the public. The soldiers have a reputation of taking food and items from the houses that they are inspecting. Supposedly they are underfed and underpaid; surprising? Most people believe that the military is here not to quell the drug trafficking, but to usher in and secure the Juarez port for the government lead cartel. However it is, we learned that there are many folks we may not even know looking out for us.

At times, walking down the street, people do not seem welcoming or friendly toward us. Only a few people go out of their way to say hello, namely El Toro, even if it is a drunken salutation. We had wondered what our presence in Palo Chino, our hood, had meant for the people here. That day we saw that there are many people looking out for us and there are at least dozens who are glad that we are here. The owner of the convenience store was the one who had sounded the alarm. Later that day I had little boys running up to me dying to know why the army had been at our house that day. We were treated well by the curios men-at-arms, and I feel like we even made some friends that day. Nevertheless, it seemed that we had been at the circus, not as spectators, but as the circus freaks.


2 Responses to “Circus is in Town”

  1. isaac Says:

    holy cow…as if i needed motivation to keep praying for you guys. that is so awesome how God protected you through the poor, unarmed, “powerless” people of the community. so many scriptures come to mind. we don’t wrestle with flesh and blood, the meek shall inherit the earth, yea, though i walk through the valley in the shadow of death…

    just reading this, i get the sense that you guys are officially part of the community now. wow.

  2. Kiery Says:

    Well, time has passed since you entered this blog. Matt, I have heard you say that this was only the first of many times the military has “inspected” you and your belongings. And yet, they have not harmed you. It is awesome how God used that incident to build friends in the neighborhood. He really does make all things work out for good to those who reverence him. If we could all only just relax and trust God in the middle of a “situation”; lay down in the boat and relax in the midst of the storm –even when Jesus is taking a nap. Remembering times like you experienced here should help us to see that God really is watching out for us at all levels. Do we really believe he would do any less?

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