Back from Ciudad Juarez

Spent a few days on the border. The border patrol didn’t believe me when I said that I was, “just walking around.” I suppose there aren’t many gringos who just wander the back streets of Juarez unless they’re looking for drugs or sex or some sort of nastiness.

But the residential districts close to the city center were actually pleasant. I’d spent a good part of the day sitting in a park. There were two old men in straw cowboy hats and work shirts sitting on a wrought iron bench. The shady plazita’s gray-bearded caretaker hosed the pigeon shit off the sidewalk. The sound of playing children rose from behind the massive cinder block wall of the neighborhood school.

Two kids walked by, mop-headed and wearing rock tee shirts. One held a gut string guitar on which he plucked a pop song while they waited for the bus. An old dog walked by, gingerly, smiling at me for a moment in hopes of a handout. Her tail stirred but didn’t have the strength to wag. But like the old Indian women on the port of entry bridge, she didn’t hold out much hope. It was merely instinct to feign affability, part of her nature. She moved along, her belly sagging like a Holstein milk cow’s–evidence of a lifetime of litters. She squatted to relieve herself, her back legs quivering with arthritis.

A mother passed with a little girl, the child skipping and laughing as she stirred the pigeons off the hot cement. A field truck rumbled up the empty street, the bed in back arrayed with mops, plastic garbage pails, bottles of cleanser and brooms. A loudspeaker on the roof hawked bargains on house wares like an ice cream truck. There were no takers.

I had just walked at least five miles, the coating of grit on the streets thickening as I neared the town center. Now I was on my way back to the border and I needed to rest my feet. I didn’t want to leave the bench.

The Avenida de 16 Septiembre had been lined with wooden telephone poles, and it took me a while to notice the pink squares painted on the side, each containing a black cross. These were symbols of all of the murdered and missing women of Juarez. The boxes were now covered with soot.

The proprietor of the flophouse told me to stick to the tourist quarter and not to go at night. Some say that it is the most dangerous city on the border. But in the plazita in the midday heat, I saw no evidence. The only hint of something amiss was the occasional police officer arrayed in full combat gear or the surprised way people looked at me when I said “buonas diaz.” But then people in New York would also be surprised if you pulled them out of the gray concrete world of their urban routine.

I forced myself to stir, my blistered feet protesting. A male pigeon puffed his chest and grumbled, chasing a female who’d been hovering near my bench hoping for crumbs.

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