Nov 9, 2003, 8:29 AM
Post #1 of 27
(Editor's note: The following is the first of a series of postings from a young Mexican woman performing social service work at the Mexico/US border.)
You can't imagine how I look forward to my day off to come to the cyber to check my E-mail. Oh, yes! I'm a cybermaniac now. Everything is OK up here. Too OK. Too crazy, though.
Well, to tell you about what I'm doing I guess I'll have to first put you in context. To those of you who don't know about it, I'm in Nuevo Laredo now working for a shelter for illegal migrants. It's located in a populated area with not too good of a reputation. Situation around here is quite dense. You have to keep both eyes wide open for coyotes and narcos, who try at all costs to get into the shelter to do business with the people we receive. Nuevo Laredo is the favorite border crossing spot for Central Americans with no money, those who come in by train. Most of them are chapines [Guatemalans] and catrachos [Hondurans]. The train, infernal machine, is always busy chopping members off or cutting people in pieces. Heavy, man! The México-Guatemala border is much more difficult to pass than the line to the United States. Only ten percent of Central Americans seeking the American dream are able to reach this frontier. Those who finally get here have spent a month or more on the road, so you may very well imagine their condition upon arrival. The migra and Mexican police abuse them freely, preying on their illegal status. To that you may add the abuse from the maras (gangs of Central Americans) on the trains; and for Hondurans, the abuse from the Guatemalan police. Police in Nuevo Laredo is one of the most corrupt in this country. After the narco open battle that took place here a month or so ago, there have been several police operations in the area, and there are zones where you may see a PFP agent in every corner. This is a blessing for the shelter: maras are rarely seen around here nowadays. We receive about 40% of Mexicans and a good deal of deported persons too. Many of them arrive after a five-day walk, blistered, some of them with sore ulcers, insolated, disenchanted, tired to the death. One came in yesterday begging us to turn him in, saying that he was not capable of trying it again. He is not the first one I see in this condition, and I'm new here.
My work is mainly centered in keeping the shelter livable. I triple as private security agent, psychologist and clerk. My mornings are generally made of study, statistics processing and report scribbling. Cleaning days find me toiling in the rest rooms (Untouchable work). In the afternoons I generally do monitoring, migrant's interviews or I just stay close to them, specially to the women. In the evenings we have to keep watch, make sure there are no coyotes, talk to the migrants and tend to the sick. (Verified observation: I'm no feminist, but men are way less brave than women. For sure.)
This is a work full of challenge, helplessness, desperation and anger, but also replete of emotive moments that the very tension of the environment helps to create.
For example, I encountered a Honduran I've met at the CERESO [jail] in Tehuantepec a month ago. We embraced each other as if we were life long friends. I cannot explain the emotion you feel when you see someone who arrives in one piece. Truth is, it is not a rule that something bad most always happen; it doesn't happen to everyone. Many of them arrive well, but we receive a thousand persons a month, so a mere 10% of accidents or casualties gives you a lot to work and grieve upon. And when things do happen, they are always horrible things. At the end of October police took a man from the shelter. They disappeared him. We have not known anything about him since. We hope that he got away with only a beating and a deportation to account for.
First thing when I wake up every morning is to check the papers for news like, 'Rotten corpse appears on the Bravo river bank'. It is tough to imagine that that decomposed body perhaps belonged to the same person with whom you conversed days ago, a person whose only dream for the moment was to work for a couple of years to give a better future to his family. I must say local newspapers are a bit too sensacionalist on these issues: they even publish the picture of the dead.
As I said, it consoles me to know that most of them make it to the other side.
Things for women are much more heavy. I've never heard a woman raped eight consecutive times. I did not know what to say (not "Oh, how terrible!", not in my life). I saw one of them with her face in ruins and bruises on all of her body. Some bruises! She had fell from the train. Another one asked me to 'approve' on the coyote offering to cross her and her five year old child to the other side. God, they are traffickers of human beings! How can you 'approve' any one of those bastards! You can find only very brave women up here. (And me? I keep trying to learn from them. I feel like in a school, taking lessons on Life, Dignity I and II, Emotion Handling, and the like.)
Well, I think I've described this as if I were in hell, and it is not like that at all. I feel that I am where I need to be at this moment. I keep laughing all the time, for some strange reason. The urging to get into the University I felt weeks ago is all but gone; I don't miss my coffee revolutions, nor reggae (not most of the time, anyway), and with every day I get more and more involved with my work. Everything that happens is happening to me.
I have not told you: we are going to inaugurate a brand new House of the Migrant this December. We will be able to take better care of them. I'm so happy about that. They say Fox will be here for the opening ceremony.
My only complaint here is against the city: no green areas whatsoever to relax. And it is ugly, ugly, ugly. I admit I've been too tense; I've not grown accustomed to see a police patrol following me when I walk on the street, nor to be surrounded by traffickers and gangsters; my back hurts all the time. But things are coming around, slowly; I'm learning to find my place here and not allow the situation to intimidate me. I've been looking for a gym to let steam out, but most of them are known to be narco stores in disguise. Yes, this is a mess. Well, this is the way things are for now. I will look for a sport team of some kind this afternoon. As I live in community and in austerity, I only get 200 pesos a month. That means I don't have enough to pay for a decent gym. I don't know what to do; I'm thinking about this. I try to get up in the morning to jog, but my working day starts at 7 and ends at 11 PM, so it's really hard on me, I'm tired...
Hope to see you soon. A big hug and a kiss. Take care.
(This post was edited by DavidMcL on Nov 9, 2003, 8:40 AM)