Today’s front page of the El Paso Times had a warning from our mayor advising Americans not to cross the border into Juarez, our “sister city”. The violence related to the drug cartels, uncontrollable gangs and other criminals has made international news, especially since last weekend when three victims were connected to the U.S. Consulate in Juarez. So the message is “Stay home. And feel sorry for the people who have to live there.”
We read this as we packed the car for our Thursday session at the Santo Niño Project for children with special needs in Anapra, a colonia on the far west side of Juarez. There was a check-point on the U.S. side of the port of entry where we were asked where we were headed and what was the purpose of our trip. The two agents looked in the car and noted our 3 crockpots and 2 coolers and said, “Evidently you’re going to eat. Smells good!” Then they asked if we were taking any firearms or money in excess of $10,000. No sir. We drove through the Mexican customs with a green light, passed the soldiers in full military gear who are camped near the port of entry, and continued our thirty minute drive to Anapra.
The families of our children come from other parts of Juarez in addition to Anapra. We have a van that picks up some of them and we drive to get others closer to the clinic. It’s difficult to push wheelchairs or carry children up the sandy roads. We had an ordinary day: Tai Chi, massage, Reiki, baths in the jacuzzi, games, lunch, crafts, haircuts. Before lunch one of the mothers led us in prayer. She thanked God for the clinic and for our benefactors. She thanked God for the blessing of children with special needs who teach us so much about love. She prayed for an end to the violence and for protection for everyone. Amen.
I spent most of my day with Nena. She played. I wiped her nose a hundred times. She gave me many hugs . I fed her lunch. While she took a bath I sat with Miriam. She held my hand. She looked at me every now and then with her mysterious autistic smile.
Then we went home.
Is there violence in Juarez? Yes. Is it absolutely necessary that we cross the border? Maybe not for Nena, Miriam and the others. But it is absolutely necessary for me.