Archive for the 'Life in Juarez' Category

Home Leave

Somehow when I wasn’t looking the last 2 years flew by. Tomorrow is my last day in Consulate Juarez. This time tomorrow we will officially be on home leave. I’m going to miss my amazing co-workers and the friends that I’ve made in the last 2 years, but one of the best parts about the Foreign Service is that it is a small Foreign Service. I know I’ll see most of them again in the next few years. In fact, I’ll see a number of my co-workers back at FSI in a few months. I’m looking forward to being back in DC and excited about learning French and Arabic (I get a few months of French and then 8 months of Arabic) but first there is home leave!

Before I met Shaun I started planning home leave. For some reason I’ve always wanted to get to Monument Valley. And I figured if I was going there I should go to the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. Then when I met Shaun and told him about my plans for home leave,  he went from saying “cool, that sounds like a neat trip” to “oh and we should stop here and here and here….” That was how I first had an inkling that he was thinking about coming with me. After nearly 2 years of talking about the Epic road trip it has grown to cover a pretty good swath of the US. We’ve added a bunch of Archaeological sites to our itinerary and ended up with quite the trip. If I’m not totally brain dead from all the driving I’ll try to chronicle a bit of it. It will be a nice tour of the US before we depart for Morocco next year.
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But first one last day in Juarez and one last trip across the border.

Cancun and Braving Juarez

Since I seem to have caught the plague that has been circulating around the consulate and I’m home sick at the moment, it seems like as good a time as any to get caught up on the blogging. It’s hard to believe I’ve been back from Cancun for a month and haven’t actually gone anywhere since! A whole month in Juarez/El Paso, this is kind of a new record for me.  Last weekend was spent getting out of my 2 square miles of Juarez. A small intrepid group of us trekked down to the main market in Juarez. We had been there before on a CLO tour, but since it is the holiday season the market seems to have expanded and taken over the streets outside the normal market building. I’ve also never been so happy to see a parqueo before, because without a parqueo we seriously might have circled the streets for hours. Bless the parqueos (words I never thought I’d utter)! I’ve been to lots of markets in Mexico by now. Most of them sell things like handicrafts and sculptures, or artisan works. Not the Juarez market. Pretty much what you find there is love potions, vodoo dolls, and herbal medicines. Ah, gotta love Juarez, it has a character all its own.

Cancun was beautiful though. It doesn’t quite feel like Mexico since I think I heard more English spoken there than I do in El

Chichen Itza

Paso, but the beaches are gorgeous. The highlight of the trip was heading to Chichen Itza to check out the ruins. I’d never been to a ruin when this year started, but in the last 9 months I’ve been to Tikal, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, and Chichen Itza. Not bad, now if I can just get out to visit my friend in Peru and check out Machu Picchu, I’ll be set. The main temple at Chichen Izta, is pretty amazing. If you stand in the right spot and clap it sounds like a bird call echoing out of the building. Also on the solstice the sunlight forms a serpent on the side of the building, tragically we were not there at the solstice. I was also able to meet up with my friend from the Merida consulate, and spend a night out experiencing Cancun nightlife, which is insane. I thought Oaxaca was wild at Day of the Dead time, Cancun is just crazy all the time.

Since then I’ve spent most of my weekends around El Paso battling border traffic. I’ve never seen anything as insane as the shops and the bridge crossing in El Paso around Christmas time. I’d also thought until recently that the scariest thing I’d seen in El Paso/Juarez was the cow I saw tied in the back of a chevy a few months back, until I started seeing all these cars with reindeer antlers and Rudolph noses tied on them. It is a strange, strange world down here sometimes.

Reader Searches- Part I- Life in Juarez

So, I have been a very bad blogger lately for a variety of reasons mostly stemming from a lack of time and time spent at home with my computer.  I still have more to write up from the trip to Oaxaca and also my trip to Cancun but to atone for my blog inattention I thought I would try to address some of burning questions out there. I also promised a shout-out to the co-worker who keeps gently reminding me that I need to update this thing. Hope you’re enjoying the vacation and the TDY- Juarez misses you!

So  I enjoy checking my google analytics from time to time to see how people are finding the blog. Based on the top search terms (ignoring the ones that were people looking for a bakery called diplomat– which sounds like it has a tasty menu) it looks like what people are most interested in is the process of joining the Foreign Service (specifically failing a test and trying again) and life in Juarez. Life in Juarez searches broke down in to two general categories–what is it like here on the ground and “the joys of working in Juarez” (and there are joys to working in Juarez, really!)

I’ll tackle the Juarez question first tonight and write up my not so pithy advice navigating the entry process in a not-to-distant post (really, I promise!). So what is life like in Juarez? Well I do honestly feel safe most of the time. I haven’t seen anything other than a few car accidents since I have been here. You do see a lot of federal police armed to the teeth rolling around the streets, but you get used to them after a while.

Yes, I have heard gun shots but none of them very close to my community. The violence here is very random and some people have seen more than I have or heard shots closer to their community. There are people who have driven by crime scenes, I’m just not one of them.  I do go out to dinners in Juarez and to bars with friends at least a couple of times a week. It involves a lot of common sense, things like knowing where the exit is… just in case and not staying out late in Juarez. I have come back over the bridge late at night from El Paso, and honestly sometimes I feel safer at 1 am crossing than I do at 1pm just because there is no one around and I can easily see if anyone is coming towards me. I also don’t go deep into Juarez. There is about 2 square miles around the consulate that I mostly stick to. I do almost all of my shopping in El Paso. There are plenty of people who do most of their shopping in Juarez without a problem. I did more when I first got here. For me it isn’t so much the violence as the fact that I can speak English in El Paso, and well sometimes that is just easier after a day of speaking Spanish in the window. Yes it would be nice to be in a city where I felt comfortable going out and exploring every inch of it and I will probably finish my 2 years here in Juarez without ever having seen much of well, Juarez but I don’t feel like I am going to die at every minute. I don’t feel like I am living in terror. I miss things like running outside but I got a treadmill so you learn to make do. I’m mostly not tempting the fates and taking advantage of being in Mexico to get down into southern Mexico where I feel completely safe and getting out and seeing the American Southwest. Despite all the drawbacks of living in Juarez (not running outside, not getting out into the city, ect.) there is a great community at the consulate and I am having a great tour. It’s hard to believe that I’ve finished nearly 7 months already. Time is kind of flying by.

Home Sweet Juarez

It’s good to be home after living out of a suitcase for three weeks. To celebrate the end of the week a group of us went out to deep fried Sushi on Friday night, nothing says welcome home like clogging your arteries with deep-fried fish. It was also great to spend time with Juarez buddies, after 3 weeks of being in Guadalajara. Not that the people there weren’t fantastic, but I missed my fellow Juarezidents. Unfortunately I made the mistake of letting the Sushi place staff know where we work. I asked for a factura at the end (receipt to get the tax back) and you have to present your factura card to get it, the card says where we work. Personally I though the jig was already up, I couldn’t imagine any other reason for a group of Americans to be in Juarez other than working at the consulate. Apparently though, they used to think we worked for a maquiladora. Opps, hopefully we won’t start getting a slew of visa questions every time we go in for sushi now. I already get them when I get the red light at the bridge. Sigh, the joys of consular work. Speaking of which, my return to Juarez was also celebrated with my exile from NIV. I got kicked out of the nest and sent over to the immigrant visa unit this morning. Just when I finally figured out what was going on with NIV. Oh well, despite being exiled it is good to be home!

The Hazards of Juarez

Like any city, Juarez has its hazards.  Most of Juarez’s issues are well covered by the news media. There are however a few little gems that go unnoticed… those would be parqueos, speed bumps, window washers and car buffers. Yep, every day it’s like a little game to see how many of these Juarez hazards I can avoid while getting all my business done in the city.  My friend and fellow Juarezident has already done a great job describing the perils of Juarez speed mountains bumps, so I’ll skip that little delight and go straight to parqueos. These industrious fellows lie in wait in ordinary parking lots, ready to direct the hapless driver into a “space” and then later back out again. I put space in quotes because sometimes their idea of an open spot seems to be up on a sidewalk or on top of another car. There seem to be 2 types of parqueos, those  that eagerly try to help you in and out and then those just magically appear right when you are about to pull out, and manage to stand right in your blind spot waving madly to “assist” you out. Of course, they all manage to appear by the window at tip time.  I’ve heard of parqueos directing people in to cement barriers and other cars, so unfortunately my recommendation to any future Juarezidents doing battle with this particular hazard is have a few pesos ready and proceed with caution.

Window washers and buffers, both work the same territory. These gentlemen hangout by traffic lights waiting to catch those unfortunate enough to get the red light. It doesn’t matter if you got attacked by the window washer at the last light and there isn’t a speck of dirt on your windows, they’re ready to wash again if the intrepid Juarez driver isn’t fast enough with the “no, gracias.” Sometimes they don’t even take no for an answer. I will say that for the most part they do a pretty good job. I must have given a heck of a tip the other day because the one who washed my windshield then proceeded to wash all my windows, my headlights, and my side mirrors. My car was pretty dirty, I will give him that, but I didn’t think it was that amazing of a tip. The most insidious of all these hazards is “the buffer.” They are the hardest to spot. You think it is just some nice guy crossing at the red light when all the sudden you hear a thump on the roof of your car and you realize you are getting buffed. They carry rags around for the purpose of well, rubbing the dirt around on your car in the name of shining it. But the problem is, it doesn’t actually do anything other than move the Chihuahua dust from one spot on the car to another. Lest you think I deprive these industrious gentlemen of their tips, I will admit I do carry a small cache of coins for when I “lose the game” and don’t manage to wave them off quick enough. I figure it’s my tax for failing to be quick enough on the “no, gracias.” Thus far, I’ve only been caught by the buffers and washers 5 times in 3 months and most of those were in the first month; I’m getting better…