When I was home, I stopped at Bath and Body works and bought one of their Wallflower air fresheners for my house. You connect scent bulbs that are filled with some sort of scented oil to the Wallflower and then plug it in to an outlet. Since the bulbs are filled with a liquid, they need to be vertical or else the liquid will spill. Which is fine, except I didn’t realize that all of the outlets in my house are horizontal! I’m not sure if it’s common in Mexican houses or if it’s just my house, but it wasn’t something that I’d honestly ever paid attention to in my house. So, I have one vertical outlet where I might be able to use it but it’s in my bathroom and I usually have other stuff plugged in there. Ooops. At least the candles I got work well. Apparently, fire is the same across the world. I suppose I need to stick with low-tech scent solutions.
Monthly Archives: March 2011
Monday was Benito Juarez Day, so I did the only logical thing I could think of and left Juarez. We had Monday off since it’s a Mexican federal holiday and I took few more days off to make a nice, 5-day weekend out of it and went home to my parents’ house and to visit friends and shop in Austin. Judging by my mental health the past few weeks, I was well overdue for a break and it was wonderful to be home. The bluebonnets were starting to bloom, the weather was nice and clear, it was great to see friends and family, and it was just so darn relaxing to get out of here. I’m already pondering my next get away. 🙂
I’ve been writing about thing that I think that might be interesting, but I was wondering if any of you have any questions you’d like me to address in an entry. They can be questions about the foreign service, life in Juarez, my work, whatever. So, let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to cover in an entry here.
My work here is usually pretty repetitive and once I explain it once, there’s not much of interest to add, blogwise. There are, of course, crazy applicants but due to pesky privacy laws, I can’t post about them on the interwebs. Though, ask me about the lady that called the police on herself and the guy who was arrested for hitting his wife in the face with a pie sometime. 😉
Today, however, I had the chance to do something a little different. As most of you have probably heard, there was a 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan, followed by a massive tsunami. The State Department has set up an e-mail address to respond to inquiries from American citizens in Japan in need of help and to families and friends of US citizens who are trying to get in contact with their loved ones. There are lots of people in Japan working on this and lots of people in DC working around the clock on it as well, but through the wonders of technology, there are also people at consulates and embassies all around the world working on this.
So, I spent the better part of the afternoon triaging these e-mails, entering contact information into the database, and routing e-mails to the correct office or person for follow up. Since there are embassies and consulates all around the world, the State Department can use time differences to their advantage and as I’m leaving work, someone in the Asia is getting in to work on a weekend and pick up where I left off. It was neat to work on the Japan Task Force and to know that I’m helping out my coworkers in DC and Japan by easing the burden on them, and helping to ensure that e-mails from US citizens in trouble are getting responses quickly, and helping their friends and family in the US get in contact with them.
I have been asked many times what it’s like to live here and I never feel like I’m able to give a good answer. Not to say that it’s indescribable, but I’m just not good at putting it in to words. I think that part of it is that life here is both very normal and very abnormal at the same time. If you read news stories or see pictures, you might think that there are constant shootouts on corners and that the whole city is one big gunfight. However, while there is a lot of crime and violence here, there are somewhere around one million people living here and the vast majority go about their business without incident each day.
I go to and from work without any incident for the most part. I go out to eat with friends or to hang out at a friend’s house, also usually without incident. I have met some wonderful people here who love their community and are trying to do everything they can do to stop the violence. Many of the local staff here talk about how nice Juarez used to be and how difficult it has been for them to see it change over the past few years.
However, when you drive around Juarez, you can see signs of the violence here even if you don’t witness it directly. More and more neighborhoods are putting up barriers to restrict traffic and are hiring guards to enforce that. Lots of businesses are closed or abandoned because they’ve lost revenue or because they can’t afford to pay off the cartels. Even though I’ve been fortunate enough not to witness any violence here so far, I can point out dozens of places along routes I use and many places that I’ve actually visited where people have been shot and killed.
Normal, everyday things also become more concerning. Many things that you would normally write off as strange but innocuous make you nervous because you’re here in Juarez. Sometimes you wonder if the street vendors are really just street vendors or if they are providing information about the cars and people on the road to the cartels. It makes you nervous if someone looks at your car funny. You wonder if that person standing on the side of the road is just waiting for a bus or is looking for a car to carjack. If a car cuts across several lanes of traffic suddenly, it makes your stomach lurch a little because even though it’s probably just a crazy driver, it could be something much worse here. So, even though you’re going about business as normal and not seeing shootouts on every corner, there are signs of the violence and you’re always at least a little bit on edge when you’re out because you don’t know whether someone or something is friend or foe.
Since things are so normal and so strange at the same time, it’s hard for me to accurately describe what it’s like to live here. I almost always feel like I’m either Debbie Downer for focusing so much on the violence and ignoring how normal it can be or that I’m painting an unrealistically rosy picture of life here if I don’t talk about the violence. So, forgive me if I try to explain what it’s like to live here and it doesn’t make much sense. There’s a strange mix of violence and normalcy that’s truly hard to capture in a short description.