Farewell Juarez

Wow. I can hardly believe this, but I have departed Juarez. Let me write that again. I have departed Juarez. Yeah. This afternoon I drove across the Zaragoza Bridge into El Paso for probably the last time (always leaving room for that future possibility). For the last time, Customs and Border Patrol invited me into secondary. Yeah, I don’t know why either. I have been “invited” into secondary only three times in my two years in Juarez, but twice have been in the last two weeks. Thanks for the memories, CBP.

Thursday afternoon was my Despedida or farewell party. And suddenly this departure thing got REAL. Oh my goodness…I am leaving, actually leaving. I woke up Friday morning around 5:30 a.m. worrying whether all the things I have left in my house will actually fit in my car. Yet my daughter and I spent one final staycation in El Paso this past weekend. I could not stand the thought of spending the whole weekend in my nearly empty home. So instead I took my daughter to a children’s museum in El Paso and then we attended the El Paso Chihuahua’s baseball game. On Sunday morning we hit a few final places on my El Paso bucket list, including a trip up the Wyler Aerial Tramway for an “after” photo (we first visited in September 2012).

Then Sunday afternoon we returned and I had a panic attack. How was I going to get all this stuff in my car?? My daughter and my cats wanted to help, which means they made it absolutely impossible for me to pack up the car Sunday. At 11 pm I gave in.
Yet, obviously I got that car packed (though my nanny happily walked off with a LOT of stuff that just want not going to fit) and I departed. Here I am writing this from Fort Stockton, Texas, which does not have very much to show for itself, yet it is not Juarez.
Still, I spent two years in Juarez and I should say goodbye to it properly.

What I will not miss:
The lack of water pressure. In two years in Juarez I have not ever had an awesome shower. The miserable stream of water that suffices for my shower at full blast is laughable. Except I do not laugh. Every single time I went on vacation I looked forward to the shower. I wish I were kidding.

Pigeons. I have no idea why Ciudad Juarez, this dusty city in the Chihuahuan desert attracts so many pigeons, but it does. Several houses in the neighborhood have fake owls and eagles set atop their roofs to dissuade pigeons from landing. It does nothing whatsoever, other than providing the pigeons some fake roof companions. I disliked waking in the morning and hearing the cooing and clawing of little pigeon talons on my roof. It reminded me of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Speed bumps. Though I have no exact data, I am fairly certain that at any given time 85 to 115% of Juarez roads are under construction. Besides constructing and reconstructing terrible roads, the Juarez government enjoys building speed bumps. Giant two feet wide speed bumps. One-foot-high, transmission-killing speed bumps. Stealth speed bumps with no discernible notice to alert the unsuspecting driver they are there. These are their specialties. Arriving two years ago, I was not in the city ten minutes before I heard a sickening scrape along the bottom of my car. I think my favorite is the one on the main road from the Zaragoza-Ysleta border crossing: smack across a three lane road with a 60 kph (37 mph) speed limit and no notice that it is coming. I might really miss that one.

Sand storms. Strong winds are always fun, right? So strong winds with gritty sand in them = extra fun! Especially, when this windy period seems to last for months on end…

Morning Mariachi. It happened only a few times in my neighborhood – the mariachi wake-up call – but it is an experience one cannot easily forget. Nothing like having your sleep interrupted by loud yip yip yip vocals accompanied by high-energy guitar and trumpet playing, and not for just a few minutes, but for two hours, starting around 2 or 3 a.m. I actually enjoy the sound of Mariachi or Norteño music. Just not in the middle of the night.

Border Crossings. When I first arrived in Juarez my mother joined us for the first three weeks to help with my daughter as we settled in and I looked for child care. While we waited for mine and my daughter’s SENTRI passes (it’s a long acronym that basically means rapid entry for trusted travelers) we traveled in the regular lane. The first weekend we waited in line approximately 30 minutes to enter the U.S.; the second, over an hour. Yet later, although I had SENTRI, the crossing became more and more cumbersome to do. It cannot say it was harder, only it felt harder. I know, I know. I have colleagues who are in some pretty difficult places far from home who might give their right arm or their first born to be able to travel to the U.S. for just a few hours of shopping. But all things are relative, right? I know in many ways I was spoiled as a Foreign Service officer posted to Juarez. Yet, over time, especially as the probability of being stopped, subjected to unfortunate questioning by the CBP or a car inspection by Mexican immigration authorities, increased, I simply found it less desirable to cross.

What I will miss:
Doctor’s hours. This might seem an odd thing to miss. Yet, when my daughter or I needed to see a dentist or a doctor and I did not want to cross the border, we went to them in Juarez. They were so convenient. The dentist’s office, located a five minute walk from the Consulate and ten minutes walk from my house, is open 10 to 2 and again 4 to 8. Yes, after work! She also had Saturday hours. Yeah. Think on that for a little while. The pediatrician, located in the same building as the dentist, is open 4 to 8 in the afternoons by appointment. Also, if I did not feel like getting an appointment, my daughter and I could head over to the drugstore, just a five minute drive from home, where a doctor sits for several hours for consultations for 150 pesos (about $11.50).

Parking spaces. Especially at the S-mart supermarket near my home. They were HUGE. I mean, you could easily fit 1 ½ cars or a car and a motorcycle or a tank in them. No precision parking skills needed, such as at the stingy spaces in many a U.S. parking lot. No worries about trying to extricate my daughter from the back seat.

Beauty. Many people might not think of Ciudad Juarez as beautiful. One of Mexico’s largest cities, it is flat, dusty, spread out. It is monochromatic. The few spots of green are hard-earned with lots of precious water. Otherwise even the green gets covered in a coating of tan colored sand. Yet, there is an incredible beauty to the Chihuahuan desert. The contrast and detail of the Juarez Mountains set between the crisp azure sky and blazing tan desert is stark and stunning and could be seen from just outside my neighborhood. I also never grew tired of the incredible sunsets. I have been all over the world and I am not sure any place can really rival the sunsets over Chihuahua.

El Paso and the Southwest. I know that some of my colleagues were less than impressed with El Paso, Texas, our neighbor to the north, though while it is no New York or Chicago or Washington, DC, it is a pleasant city. My daughter and I visited the Museum of History, the El Paso Museum of Art, the Exploreum (Children’s Museum), the Railroad and Transportation Museum, the National Border Patrol Museum, the Museum of Archaeology, the Magoffin Home State Historic Site, the Wyler Aerial Tramway, the Old Fort Bliss Replica Museum, the Mission Trail, historic Concordia Cemetery, the Zoo, and took a historic walking tour of downtown El Paso. El Paso also served as a gateway to the U.S. Southwest, a place that beforehand I had seen very little of. We traveled to Marfa, Alpine and Fort Davis, Texas. We also visited Mesilla, Roswell, Truth or Consequences, Albuquerque (for the famous hot air balloon festival), Santa Fe, Alamogordo, and Columbus, New Mexico. That last one the site of Pancho Villa’s 1916 incursion into the U.S. and the site of a small but high quality museum run by the National Park Service. I absolutely love history and this area is full of it.

I am sure that as time passes I will discover there is more that I miss about Juarez and our life there. It just has yet to sink in that I am not merely on vacation but rather will not be returning. This was my first posting with the Foreign Service. This is where my daughter grew from an infant to a toddler (she has spent more of her life in Mexico than in the United States – four times as long in fact). Juarez, the good and the not so good are part of me now. Farewell, Juarez.

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