28 February 2014

About Mars

Zona Rio, The Pacific Ocean, and San Diego in the very far distance, as seen from Colonia La Postal, Tijuana, BC 
So the title "Life on Mars..." is an inside joke between Hector and I. On one if my first trips there, we were in a cab and there was a sticker that said in English, "Fasten Your Seatbelts". Except that there was no seatbelt. And, crammed into the back of that Astrovan with about ten other people, the seatbelt thing became our joke. "This place is like no where else. This is like outer space".
The CamiĆ³n. An old school bus. A terrifying and super easy, inexpensive way of getting around town.
The joke is that Tijuana isn't really Mexico. With the Ready Lane, the USA is about 40 minutes away at most. English is widely spoken and most radio stations are broadcast from San Diego. Tijuana isn't the US; the poverty, the smell of the river, and the giant stadium lights along the fence remind you of that. But Tijuana isn't really Mexico either. It's its own world of color and music and gastronomics.
That's why we lovingly refer to the city as Mars.

First Entry

A First Entry blog post seems like a good place to tell the story of our first entry into Mexico.

My husband Hector was deported on May 7, 2011. After a naive and (mostly idiotic) attempt to get him back into the US, we gave up. It's kinda like, "knowing when we've been beaten". We had already lived in the shadows for too many years.

Upon Hector's arrival, he checked into the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, and was staying there. When he arrived, he had no ID, no place to live, and no family in Mexico. He comes from an atypical Mexican family that has NO extended family, and the close family all lived in the States. Quickly, I decided I had to get to Mexico. I made hurried preparations, grabbed my birth certificate (thinking I didn't need a passport), and I jumped on a bus, leaving my 2 kids with their grandparents for 2 days.

I was terrified of Mexico. The Drug War was (what I thought) raging and my mind was filled with thoughts of doom that Hector would somehow end up the next victim. The whole bus ride south from Modesto, CA (seemed like a good jumping-off point) I was in tears, freaking out that I would die and never see my 5-month-old son, Isaias, or my 4-year-old daughter, Cecilia ever again. I took off all of my jewelry, including my wedding rings and I took nothing but my wallet and my blood pressure cuff (it was in my purse, don't ask why).

Upon arriving in Mexico via bus, everyone has to get off while they search your luggage. In hindsight, I now realize I should have gotten off in San Ysidro and walked across, but you know what they say about hindsight. The bus driver literally drove me around the corner once across the line and dropped me off at their office. I felt like an idiot, but they were nice enough to this poor lost white girl. Hector was waiting for me at the gate however, and I was not at the gate. I stood in utter panic for about 5 minutes, thinking that I was going to be lost in TJ forever. But, he found me. And we walked and in hand around TJ, waiting for the world to wake up.

The day I visited TJ, it was my first experience in the difference of Mexico and Tijuana. Tijuana is a busy, bustling city of about 3.5 million people, and more arriving on Tuesdays and Thursdays (deportation days). I thought that things in Tijuana would be open at 7:30 in the morning, but it's not true. I can't grab a coffee for breakfast, because things aren't open until at least 9. We wandered forever looking for something to eat, and we managed a weird pancake house. We didn't order the most expensive thing, and the waitress gave us nasty looks the entire time we were there.
I think that weird mono guy is supposed to be a pancake-man?
After breakfast, we had to find Hector a place to live. The Casa del Migrante gives people a safe place to sleep, but it's not forever. Using my mom's cash-advance on her credit card that she so graciously donated to me, we found Hector a room to rent in a nice little colonia called Ruiz Cortinez. It was half-way up this monstrous hill that I have climbed more times that I like to remember (especially after Hector decided to move to the top of it, but that is another story). The room was clean and off from the street, but it had a bed and a little table and a mini-fridge. There was a shared bathroom that had a shower, and if the neighbors were nice, they wouldn't turn off the gas to the hot water while you were bathing. The owner was an old man who helped Hector a lot in those first few months, and I say a little prayer for him often. We began to sweep the room after giving the old man the deposit and rent (it was about $100 US), and we found traces of what would become the bane of our existence until actually very recently: roaches. 
The second half of the monstrous hill. In fact, I think Tijuana might actually be ALL hills, but I'm not sure. 

The second-culture shock I began to realize is that cockroaches are freaking everywhere. They are huge and they fly in the windows. The crawl on the walls at the laundromat. They come out of light fixtures and cracks in concrete walls. Even if you have everything sealed in air-tight plastic containers, they come. I had actually NEVER seen a roach before, and they still give me the heebie-jeebies. I dislike bugs of all kinds, but these are especially bad. I could not fathom how people just live with them. 

The third shock that I received on my first day there was that there were no-stoves. Anywhere. You have to buy a gas stove. For me, an American, I always assumed that when you rent somewhere, it at least comes with a way to cook food. Nope, not in TJ. Neither of us has ever cooked on gas. Hector ended up buying himself a small camping stove, and eating out a lot. He has figured out the gas thing, I'm still working on it. (How do you cook on gas without burning the prongs off of the stove that hold up the pot?!)

After 12 hours on the bus, and knowing that I had to catch a bus back to my babies, and having survived the ridiculously calm Tijuana, Mexico, I had to sleep. Hector and I crawled into a tiny twin bed, and I watched the palm trees out of the window while I drifted off to sleep. Waking up and walking to the bus in the morning was scary since it was dark, but we made it safely and I felt a lot less worried. Hector survived. He got an ID (his IFE). He got a place to live that wasn't under the bridge. Walking around TJ now, we realize how blessed he truly is to have gotten that room. 
Us, Together in TJ, May 2011. 

Fast-forward 3 years. Hector's small family is reunited in Mexico and we're still going back and forth between Portland, where my life and work are, and Tijuana, where his are now. The plan is as of June 2014 when Cecilia finishes the second grade, that we will be moving to join him in TJ and to get on with our lives on Mars, I mean TJ.