Seven Months in the Desert

The history of Mexico is the history of a man seeking his parentage, his origins. He has been influenced at one time or another by France, Spain, the United States and the militant indigenists of his own country, and he crosses history like a jade comet, now and then giving off flashes of lightning. What is he pursuing in his eccentric course? He wants to go back beyond the catastrophe he suffered: he wants to be a sun again, to return to the center of that life from which he was separated one day.

Octavio Paz

Seven months ago I was not talking like this;  I was not writing like this. Of course, seven months ago I did not live in the so-called “Murder Capital of Mexico”. Maybe you all should not have sent us down here. I could still be tooling around with a saw and  a hammer and following Chad up routes that are way over my head on the weekends. I could be finishing the flagstone on my endless landscaping project, or buying dented cans and cheap coconut oil from the ‘weird store’. I could be skiing, maybe in some new AT setup or at least enjoying a mid mountain ale. 

Instead, I am looking out my barred window at razor-wire and trying to convince folks back home to join us here in the desert. 80 Mexicans have been killed in our tormented city since January 1. 13 over the weekend. Add that to the estimated 1600 in 2008. In 2007, there where less than 400 murders in the city, and it was a record number. The military and Federal Police have made the entrance to our patio a consistent parking spot for their Hummers and Pick-ups so that they can conduct their coerced searches. I was working in our future garden a few days ago with Cesar, our 10 year old neighbor and friend, when the convoy set up a check point just outside the gate. El Toro and El Lobo had been lazily and innocently enjoying their Mezcal and juice in the sun across the street. The soldiers, with the help of the Feds, rushed over to my inebriated amigos and stood them up, and obliged them to put their hands against the wall and spread their feet apart. This was nothing new for the Bull and the Wolf and I was impressed with their calm cooperation. At the same time, other soldiers were shaking down the ‘Yonke’ (Junk Yard/Car Parts/Mechanics) across the street. Nothing new for those cats either. The dissatisfied raid ended with the captain forcefully grabbing each hand of their detainees and pulling their fingers up to his nose hoping to smell residue from a ‘rooster'(marijuana cigarette). Nope. Innocent they were. The military searched a few cars, then the captain whistled to his men, pointed his forefinger to the empty blue sky and made a whirling motion, all the men jumped in their trucks and they zoomed away. I will never forget Cesar saying to me after the convoy was gone, “I cannot wait until things are normal again.” Yesterday Misty and I were eating breakfast at our kitchen table while we watched the soldiers running around outside again. What is ‘normal’ for Mexico?

Still want to come to the desert? Still think that we should be here? There is a lively debate taking place about the stability of the country, some are saying that Mexico could easily become a failed state. “Experts” from around the globe are calling the streets of Juarez a no-man’s land. The mayor of Juarez is supposedly living in El Paso. All U.S. soldiers are banned from partying in Tiajuana and Juarez. But I am not super concerned with experts making such claims, especially if they have never spent much time in this city, and our soldiers should probably stay home anyway and rest up for a new war or play cards in their barracks. What has me concerned are all of the aid organizations, churches, and well known ministries that are pulling out of the city. Without these groups who have historically lead in the struggle to bring peace, hope, and opportunity to this city, there is something very powerful missing.

Being present in a dark situation is a powerful tool. Imagine what Gaza would be like without aid workers. Imagine what Darfur would be like without peacekeepers. Recoiling from the situation, closing up our homes, putting up fences, and giving in to fear only empowers that which we are fighting against. Like Desmund Tutu says in God Has a Dream, “The statistics are discouraging and can be numbing. Only when we remember that the people in each statistic could be a member of our family, ARE members of our human family, do these statistics come to life. When we look squarely at injustice and get involved, we actually feel less pain, not more, because we overcome the gnawing despair and guilt that festers under our numbness. We clean the wound, our own and others, and it can finally heal.” I wrote this same statement as  a comment on a recent internet article posted by an El Paso blogger called Border Explorer. She posted her article on the All Voices site writing about the start of the New Year in Juarez where, the first day, three people were killed. I cannot help but feel that gnawing idealism creeping on again when I talk like this. I mean, how much philosophizing can we do before something actually gets done around here?

Seven months in and I am still stoked to be here. As much as I would like to be in the mountains, with all the richness and familiarity of my life in Colorado, this is where I am supposed to be. This is where God is waking me up, schooling me, breaking my heart for the things that break his, bringing my spirit to life in a way that I could never have imagined. Ironically, in this city where there is so much death running rampant, in this desert, I am coming alive.

Razor Wire

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5 Responses to “Seven Months in the Desert”

  1. Love your last statement! Keep holding up the flame, M & M, and as soon as it seems like it’s about to go out from the evil that is suffocating Mexico, God will send a soft breeze to fuel it once again.

    Just picked up God’s Middle Finger today from the library. Cannot wait to get started. It’s going to be mind blowing & eye opening.

    Love & Peace! Ok, & Hair Grease!

  2. Glad you got the book. It is a super interesting story. I just got Down by the River by Charles Bowden; it is more about the drug history between the U.S. and Ol’ Mex. I hear it is a good one.

  3. It is so easy to be a “vacationary” when there is so many difficult places to go. I remember when I was in my teenage years reading about the christians behind the iron curtain and what they would go through just trying to smuggle bibles taped to their bodies.
    Keep up the faith, keep up the strength and by all means, keep your head ducked.

    We support you.

  4. There’s plenty of stuff to “follow me up” at Hueco.

  5. Bring it on.

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