Yesterday, I had some time to kill, so I decided to take a stroll over to Juarez, Mexico. Yes, Juarez was the murder capital of the world a few years back, about 2010-2012, but it is much safer nowadays (though clearly far from perfect). The violence a few years ago was due to two warring drug cartels fighting for turf, but one has since then prevailed, meaning there has been significantly less conflict.
Let me begin by saying that it is ridiculously easy to get into Mexico. I took the short stroll down Paisano, took a right on El Paso (passing all the little clothing stores, some featuring jeans with butt padding, which I found to be quite interesting), and after a few blocks I was at the border pass. (A walk that took about 10 minutes) It is a bridge that goes over the ever-thirsty, dried-up Rio Grande, which has a sidewalk for people crossing by foot. I paid 50 cents to cross from the US side, and I walked over the bridge. When I got to the other side, there were some Mexican border patrol that I walked right past and onto the streets of Juarez. No one stopped me once, checked me for anything, or even asked for my passport (which was a little disappointing because I like passport stamps). It was completely different when I returned to El Paso, which had much more organization, lines and checks to go through, etc. Granted, I can understand why Mexico border patrol wouldn’t be too worried about people trying to get into Mexico or taking anything illegal there, because anything of alarm is typically outgoing rather than in-coming.
So, I started walking straight down the street that I had come upon, and I could feel the difference between the city I had come from and the city I was in instantly. There was a different feel; it was a little bit dustier, and this place was DEFINITELY Mexico. I walked past various shops, which were nothing like the clothing shops that I had passed on my way to the border. These were more like some places to get your eyes checked, some bars, some small food/sweet places, a few currency exchanges, etc. None were tailored to tourists, except maybe one, where I saw some things that I thought my brothers might like (such as those thick poncho-looking things that one sees modern-day American hippies wear). It was simply a main street that anyone could frequent. There were also some vendors on the street that sold things like cigarettes, gum, some small candy, and, my favorite, chopped up fruit (including mango and pineapple!)
I eventually came to another main street, blocked off from vehicles, and made a left on it, where I immediately came upon a live band playing in the street. It sounded like some kind of American rock, circa 1970s (or at least had a 70s feel to me). I leaned against a structure that looked like it should either hold a fountain or some potting plants that was near the band, listened, and took in the atmosphere. Not too far, there was a man selling some nice bags, pottery, and souvenirs on a blanket on the street. Not too far to my left, there was a beautiful stone church (or maybe it’s a cathedral?) that was stunning and appeared to be watching over all of the people on the square in front of it. After a few songs of listening to this live band, I headed for the church, passing a centro comericial and more stores/restaurants, walking through the small square full of trees and plants edged by short cement walls that people were lounging on, finding solace in the shade and enjoying the day. I came to the steps of the church, walked through an open gate, climbed some steps, and entered.
There were a few people in there, some just sitting, others kneeling in prayer. It was fairly dark, being lit by some of the light that made its way through the stain glass windows. Far off in the front of the church from a location I couldn’t pinpoint, there was some hymns being sung, filling the silence. I took a seat at the back, and looked up at the crucifix hanging over the alter at the head of the church. I looked up Jesus, hanging limp and dead on the cross, and contemplated life, reflecting on why I had left the Catholic Church (yes, of all my thoughts, this is where my mind went). While I have not identified as Christian for years now, I still admire Jesus Christ. But not like this. I admire the life he led, his teachings (as in his words, which is really the only thing I pay attention to on those rare occasions I choose to pick up a Bible). Him hanging there on a cross showed me death. I understand that the death of Jesus something that is critical for the Catholic faith, but I want to focus on his life, because I think that is what Jesus was teaching: to live a good and honorable life, to keep with your morals, and to not forget that there is something bigger than ourselves.
After a few minutes lost in thought like this, I left, going out a side door and back the way I came. I went back down the street the way I came, bought some pesos, which I used to buy some cut-up mango off the street, and listen to the live band a little bit more.
This entire little excursion was only about an hour and a half long, but it was a good way to dip my toes into Mexico. Some things that I didn’t mention were some occasional smells of sewer while walking, giving me flashbacks to Bangkok; some looks, assumedly because I was a while girl in a sea of tanned-skin Latinos, giving me flashbacks to Pune, India; and some beggars, which I still turn my heart off to so as to not try to sit down and talk to all of them. Overall, though, I felt completely safe the entire time, and it was a great first experience.
Until next time, I send you all some light and love,