My Friends Call me Crazy

By Ariel Presbitero
October 27, 2011

Ariel Presbitero

A few weeks ago I visited Rancho Anapra, the western part of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico – known to be the most dangerous city in the entire world because of the competing drug cartels.  As I entered the place I never stopped thinking of the many murders that are happening in various “colonias”.  Rancho Anapra is obviously no exception.  The arid land, dry and desert environment mesmerized me by its similarity to Lima, Peru.  In some way, I felt I was at home. Loud latino music welcomed and excited me as I listened to salsa, merengue and ranchero.  It is very obvious that the presence of the military still continues since President Felipe Calderon, the Mexican president declared war against the drug cartels, to protect its citizens and stop the violence that has been going on for the past 3 years.  In 2010, more than 3,000 had been killed.  At the beginning of this year 2011, it was projected that 5,000 would be killed according to an artificial intelligence model by a local researcher in Ciudad Juarez.  To date, there are 1,300 deaths already for the last 10 months and may increase because the year is not over yet.  It appears to be lower than what was projected at the beginning of the year, but the fact that the killings still continue definitely makes people uncertain of their future.

As I walked in the streets of Rancho Anapra with the two Columban Lay Missionaries, Monika Lewatikana and Sainiana Tamatawale, I’ve noticed a huge vacant lot being flattened and I was informed that they will build a new grocery store called S-mart, like the one they have near the city center where people go to buy bread, fruits, meat, rice, vegetables and a lot of things.  It will be closer to the people living in Rancho Anapra – much closer to the Columban missionaries as well.  The first thing that came to my mind was the small business stores in the area and the Sunday “segunda” where people set up a community market in the main street.  Obviously this will affect a lot of business especially the small ones when new S-mart starts its own business. Once again we’re into this game scenario of those who have and those who have not.  The little ones might stay but most probably will eventually disappear as the competition becomes very steep and clientele will divert to a much modern, bigger and Albertson’s type of grocery environment.  Trucks of goods and products will soon be coming in and out of this small community in the years to come and those people who will be working in this place will be coming over from different directions.  It will be interesting to see how this affects the new emerging dynamic of people living in the area with the people coming in just to work. Some people might move in as residents because of work. As things evolve in the next three years, they may be asking the local parish priest to bless more new homes when the big store opens.

I stopped by a small hamburger shop where Christina works as a vendor.  She only works on weekends bringing the two children with her: 7 year old Jesus and a few months old baby.  I met Christina about a year ago when I visited Rancho Anapra for the first time after a couple of years.  She was pregnant with the second child then.  She works to help augment the family income because of the newly born baby and the other son, helping her husband in some way.  Two days in the hamburger stand helps a little to cover their everyday expenses to buy milk, food, clothes and pay transportation. When Christina goes to work the two children go as well.  They go early morning and stay until late at night depending on the traffic of people who come and eat. The children had no choice but to stay as well.  Sometimes you can see the two children sleeping on the chair.  Jesus who is 7 years old also helps in delivering orders to surrounding neighbors.  Christina earns very little but she has no choice but to do it to sustain her family.

Rancho Anapra appears to be a quiet place, life goes on and people make themselves busy to whatever work may come their way.  My stay in the lay mission house was like an oasis for me.  The weekend was very quiet.  Thank God that I had no problem sleeping in spite of the threat and danger that is going in the greater city of Juarez.  I enjoyed cleaning some parts of the lay mission house garden with the company of a tamed dog, Estrella.

Listening to stories of people is undeniably a moment of grace.  They are very open and welcoming, most of all, very friendly.  Sometimes I couldn’t reconcile why violence and injustices happen to these peace-loving people making them very vulnerable.  When will this be over?  Nobody knows.  I feel drawn to visit them as often as I can and be a living witness to the many ordinary vulnerable people of Rancho Anapra, to support them amidst danger and threat of life because of the war on drugs.  They also share with me their faith no matter how uncertain it is for them to survive.  They teach me to be strong spiritually by focusing their life on – and in – God.  They pray unceasingly, praise God with much enthusiasm and live the true Christian spirit amidst the poverty, danger and vulnerability.  I always pray for these people as they do for me.  There is no harm if one goes to meet them just being there and witness how life goes on in this part of Ciudad Juarez.  It transforms me to understand their reality and it helps me connect with the local people.  The visit changed me in so many ways, and I believe that God works in this change.  It helps me to see a reality different from my own.  In this way I understand better why I have to go in the first place.  My friends called me “crazy” but when you are with God your faith is measured by your action.   I will never have a second thought of inviting people to cross the border and meet the people especially the community in Rancho Anapra.  They have something to teach us. They already appreciate that the God of life is right with them in their struggle against the agents of death.