So last night I participated in a four hour spin-a-thon in Ciudad Juarez. I’ll leave why I subjected myself to that particular kind of fun for another post, but the amazing thing is that the event was held in downtown Ciudad Juarez, in an open plaza, with approximately 200 participants.
When in August 2011 I was assigned to Ciudad Juarez for my first post, the city had a per capita murder rate that gave it the unfortunate distinction of the murder capital of the world. The rate had however dropped enough from the previous year to warrant a drop in the danger pay from 20% to 15% by November 2011. I had heard that officers in Ciudad Juarez during that time period generally stayed indoors and outings were reserved for border crossings to El Paso, Texas.
By the time I arrived at post in late July 2012, the city was already experiencing further improvements in security and a sort of rebirth was occurring. This has only continued throughout the time I have lived here, with families venturing out to visit family and friends regularly and filling restaurants and parks. The Plaza de la MeXicanidad and La Rodadora, a world-class children’s museum, both opened in Juarez last year.
This is not to say that all is well in Juarez. During the time I have lived here, there have been at least four armed incidents at the shopping mall just across from the Consulate and an easy 10 minutes walk from my home. This included a robbery of a jewelry store, a robbery of one of the parking attendants, and a shooting of a local employee at a gym. I twice adjusted my regular running route when shootings occurred along it. One morning as I prepared to head to work, I heard what distinctly sounded like gunshots as I prepared to head to work one morning. Even one from our Consulate community–a locally employed staff member–was gunned down in front of his family by armed men who burst into a children’s party.
But, when I see people taking control of their lives and participating in healthy activities, I think that it is a sure sign of a healthier community too. When out running I have always run into other locals running. Not a lot mind you, but if the prospect of insecurity wouldn’t keep people from running, then the harsh desert climate (hot, dry, dusty) with few running-friendly places ought to – and yet people are STILL out there running! Gyms have been sprouting up all over the city and these gyms are sponsoring events such as the spin-a-thon. Last October I took part in the 4th Maraton Internacional Gas Natural de Juarez. Despite a less than scenic course, I was impressed with the organization and participation from both runners and spectators. A local gym also organized a year-long series of 10Ks for this year and our Consulate organized the first Green Race held in May.
So there I am last night, some time into the third hour of the spin-a-thon and I start to feel a bit misty-eyed. I think about how far Ciudad Juarez has come in the two years I have lived here and what an honor and privilege it has been for my daughter and I to experience the city at this pivotal time. It could have been because the spinning instructor, waxing on at length over the physical and spiritual benefits of spinning, suddenly yelled “Viva Juarez!” or because my bum and palms were losing all feeling, but I felt extremely grateful not only to be participating in the event but to be in Juarez.
Viva Juarez indeed.