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.