Sunday, February 17, 2008

Juarez Reflection: Flame


The chilling wind bites into my hands and grabs hold of the bones in my fingers. I can feel my joints slowing as I push for every step further. I am fighting with my mind, trying to convince myself that it is fine to be out right now. I generally like to go out earlier in the day before the Chollos or gangsta-wannabe’s come out to play soccer or loiter about. It is not that they are ominous in general, but having never really seen anyone keep a regular running schedule in this neighborhood, I have become somewhat of a pseudo-celebrity for the kids and family, which means, of course, the attention of the older youth is exacerbated; sometimes they just need someone to mess with. At the moment, they are occupied in their game of Futbol and pay little attention to me. As I round the bend to one of my final laps, I see a figure ahead of me. It is a young boy holding a bit of a large stick. I come closer behind him and whisper, “¡Con permisso!” Obviously having startled him, he turns and raises the stick ominously ready for attack. I smile at him, and I say, “¡Hola Chavo!” as I pass by. I see his face relax, and he continues to poke around the trash and bushes. Continuing on my way, I see a group of his friends coming to join him. I continue around the outer fence of the school for another lap.

As I come around once more toward the place they are playing, I see that they are continuing to dig and prod in the neck high line of tumble weeds that is nestled between a high hill and the outer fence of the school. Finding this strange, not only for their careless attitude toward what grimy creatures could live in those dark branches but also for the fact that they are downright prickly, I proceed with caution at the sight of their actions. As I pass by at a very slow pace, I realize the malicious nature of their activity, for there at the height of my knee I see the kindling flame of what would soon become a blazing brush fire half a city block wide. What can I do, but be dumbfounded. I continue to run, wondering what, if anything, anyone would do in this neighborhood. No fire truck is going to come here to put out a brush fire. No police are going to look twice at a potential arson until the damage is done. No one is going to care about these kids’ safety. It is just the same as the time I saw a man being beaten in the street, and I knew no police would bother to think twice about helping a Chollo. And it is the same as the time it took the police three hours to show up when we had a theft at our place. Or the time some community contacts kept vigil over a house in their neighborhood all night because the police refused to come when a woman was being beaten by her husband outside.

I watch from the other side of the dusty field for a few moments as the fire rages and the kids scramble up the steep cliff embankment to try and escape the fire. No one even looks or thinks twice from the Soccer game. A few Chollos meander to the side to watch the flame, but most are enraptured with their game. Waiting for a bit, just in case, I head home humbled by the sometimes thick and striking presence of injustice in this place, and in the true fashion of Joyce, my eyes burn with anguish and anger.

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