Monday, August 31, 2009

Out of Juarez!

Yes, we have left!

Today, after our appointment, we were running around helping Osiel’s family, getting our tickets out of Ciudad Juarez, and saying goodbye to the families. On the way from the consulate, where we were picking up some forms for Osiel, Ruben‘s van broke down. We were at a stop light, and when Ruben tried to accelerate, the van started shaking wildly and did not go anywhere. Everyone was honking and driving around us. Then a man behind us used his truck to push the van. After pushing the van in neutral a short distance, he hooked the van up to his truck with a rusty chain. He then pulled the van through the city for about 15 minutes while Ruben, Osiel, Emma, and I were all riding in the van. Every so often, the van would start to shake again. We went through intersections, sharp curves, and even up some pretty steep hills. We were only going about 10 miles an hour, but the passing traffic was going much faster, as it was one of the main avenues of Ciudad Juarez. It was a pretty nerve-racking experience, and we were tense the whole time, sure that it was one of the most dangerous things we could be doing. The man pulled us all the way to Ruben’s house, and his daughter then drove us to the airport.

Of course, by that time we were already 15 minutes late to check-in. The man who checked us in told us to go as fast as we could through the airport. Luckily we both had running shoes, because she sprinted up escalators and through our belongings into the boxes at security. We checked in at the gate 20 minutes before the flight left, but we did make it.

We are now in Guadalajara, at the bus station’s waiting room. We have three and a half hours until our bus leaves at 2:45 am, 12:45 am in California. There is free internet and purified water, uncomfortable chairs, and disgusting food. But we are safe. We took a taxi from the airport, which would have been a decent price had we paid in pesos, but we only had American money left, and the taxi office used a horrible exchange rate, so it ended up being expensive. The driver was very friendly, a wild driver, and also a complete rip off. He dropped us off at the arrival side of the station, so we had to high-tail it across a rather large parking lot to get to the departure side. We arrived safe and sound, yet vowing to never take a taxi again unless absolutely necessary.

We will be arriving in Barra de Navidad around 9 am, or 7 am in California. We will then take a ten minute bus ride to Melaque, where Betine, the man who cares for Joelle’s house, will pick us up. He will drive us to La Manzanilla, about ten minutes away. Finally, we will have arrived at Joelle’s house in La Manzanilla, where is looks like we will be until mid-October.

Beach, here we come!


Off to La Manzanilla

At 5:00 pm today, or 4:00 pm California time, Jose and I are taking a plane from Ciudad Juarez to Guadalajara, Jalisco. We will wait for a few hours in a fancy, ticket-holders-only waiting room in Guadalajara before taking a bus from Guadalajara to Barra de Navidad, which is very close to La Manzanilla. We will arrive in Barra de Navidad at 8:00 am, which I think will be 6:00 am in California. We will then go over to La Manzanilla and start our "vacation."


First Appointment...Good News!

Everything went well, and I am eligible for the waiver! The case number has already been faxed to the attorney, and she will be able to make my second appointment tomorrow! Last time I spoke with her, she notified me that the second appointments are being scheduled for mid October. My attorney will be calling us tomorrow once the second appointment is scheduled. Thank you very much for all the support. Everything is rolling along just like planned!


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ciudad Juarez Experiences

We went to Rubens church today, and were blown away by what we saw.

Ten years ago, the Mexican government wanted some good land, but there were already families living on it. The government offered to give the families different land if they would give up what they already had. A few families agreed, but the Mexican government had not expected that, so they had to quicky find some new land. Their solution was to clear some empty desert land, and let the families live there. This patch of desert is where Rubens church is. At first, the houses were only made of paper, and the church was a canvas tent. More and more families started to move into the area, so the government set it up for three hundred families. There was no school, so Rubens church started one. Two members of their congregation were teachers, and they were able to start a good school. After a while, however, it was too much for the teachers who already had teaching positions, so they gave the school up to the government. The government still runs the school, but they take all the credit for its creation.

Today, the area houses thousands of families. Buildings are made of cement cinder blocks mortared together. Fences are made of wood pallets nailed together. The sand is so fine it is just a pink dust. Before all the new houses were built, the sand blew in the air so thick that people could only see a few feet in front of them, and had to walk around with rags covering their faces. It is the worst area we have ever seen in our lives. We couldnt believe we were actually there, seeing it with our own eyes. Even though it is really poor and dirty, adults and children walk around comfortably in the area, unlike in the actual city. Children can play with each other there, and we have not seen any children playing outside in the city.

That is the area where many of the lost women from Juarez have been found. Huge graves with many women have been found in that barrio. Ruben did not tell us until we had left the area. It is such a sad, desperate area. It is amazing that he puts so much energy into it. He lives in a relatively nice part of the city. While it is still nothing like the United States, you could easily live without knowing that the desert barrio is nearby. Even so, he chooses to have his church in one of the poorest, saddest parts of the city, and he does it with love for the people. When we drove through the barrio, almost everyone waved at him. Many of the young people do not have fathers, and he has made sure to give every child as much help as he can. He will visit homes and help families make important decisions, as if he were the father the family is missing.

Rubens church is now in a real building. He and his congregation have been building it for the last 5 years. They have paid for all of it with their own money. In the barrio, where the church is, families earn 50 USD a week, yet they have donated over 100,000 USD to the construction of the church. It looks like a warehouse with a stage in the front, and hundreds of chairs. They still have a lot of work to do, but they are doing it bit by bit.

We have realized that you have to believe in God and be strong in your faith to live here. No one goes out unless it is necessary, there is little money, it is dirty,dangerous, and there seems to be little hope for improvement. There is no way you could live here without faith that God is watching over you. Religion is a necessity here. We have never seen that before.

Holly and Kevin are going to donate some money to the church, as part of our thank you to the family. We would also like to donate some money to them at Christmas, and if anyone else is interested, it would be a great way to give during the holidays. The church is the only thing that creates a sense of community, where people can unite together, so a donation would be so much more than a donation to support religion.

It has been amazing to stay with Ruben and see the role that religion plays in his life. For him, religion is only about helping others and making the world better. That is what his church encourages and supports, even when they are living in the most dangerous place on Earth. He is a great person, and we are so happy that he has been able to show us and teach us so much.

Jose and Emma

Our Host Family is Amazing

The family we are staying with is so great. They have done everything they can to make us comfortable, and they have succeeded well. Jose and I have been getting long nights of sleep, eating good food, and having great company.

Ruben, the father, is a pastor. He picked us up at the airport, and was super friendly from the first second. His wife, Olivia, is really serious about not using any gluten in her cooking, and she hasnt yet. She is also serious about only giving us bottled water and juice. Amy, their 20 year old daughter, has been very friendly and has talked to us about what life is like in Ciudad Juarez for a teenager (it does not involve going out much). Amy is in college working on a degree in Social Welfare. Ruben and Olivia have a 1 year old son, named Ruben also. He is very cute, and very quiet. They also have a 22 year old daughter, named Rebecca, who lives in El Paso, Texas during the week with her grandmother. She is a graphic designer there. She is engaged to a man in Juarez, who she spends most of her time in Juarez with. She arrived last night, and seems to be very frienly.

Olivias food is wonderful. There is a lot of meat, but I have been eating it. I am really impressed with how well I am doing eating meat. I wouldnt be able to do it in the United States, but here it seems so trivial compared to everything else, that I can eat it. We have been eating well, and our trip here is much easier because we do not have to worry about finding food.

The other family that is here is also applying for U.S. residency. Evi, the wife, is a naturalized United States citizen. She is applying for her husband, Ociel, and his daughter from a previous relationship. The daughter has been living in Mexico with her grandmother. Ociel, Evi, and their one year old daughter, Abigail, live in Wisconson. Their 12 year old son did not want to miss any school, so he stayed in the U.S. with his grandmother. Abigail is an amazing baby. She is very curious and happy. She loves hearing English, and when Jose and I speak English to her she smiles the whole time. Jose was teaching her English last night, and now when he says "shoes", she looks down at her feet.

We are all very comfortable here, and we appreciate this family so much for taking care of us. Ruben knows everything about the immigration process, so he has been in charge of everything that needs to happen. I dont know how we would be doing down here if we were not staying with them, but because of them, things are going well!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ciudad Juarez

We arrived last night in Ciudad Juarez at 7 30 pm their time, 6 30 pm California time. It was just starting to get dark when we arrived, but boy were we surprised! We have never seen land like this. Its desert. There was a random patch of pure sand, that had been blown into interesting lines for about a square mile, and then it went back to flat dry land. There were small, sharp, and short mountain ranges that popped up quite often. They looked really impressive coming out of perfectly flat land. There were also small ponds spread around. It was really dry, and always flat, except for the sudden mountains. Maybe they werent even mountains, but they sure looked like it from the airplane. They could have been miniature mountains, I suppose. The outskirts of the city has shack houses that dont look like they could keep people alive. There were quite a few of them, and we could see people moving around on the ground. It looked straight out of a picture of a third world country.

We met Ruben, the pastor we are staying with, at the airport. He was immediately very nice and made us feel much more comfortable. He took us to his house, and talked to us the whole way home about how we will be safe and what Juarez is like. He was really honest, and told us about all the danger, but made it clear that we will be fine. Ciudad Juarez does not look like you could ever be safe, though. Everyone we have seen looks dangerous. No locals go out at night, because they know of the danger. Only the dangerous ones go out at night. Its exactly like the pictures we have seen of poor Mexican cities. Its dirty, the buildings look weak and are covered in bars, and there are big colorful signs and adversitments everywhere. I cant tell if stores are open or abandoned. People sell things at every corner. There arent cross walks, so people are always running accross busy streets. I dont know what the Mexican driving laws are, but they are way different from the US. There is no way I could drive here. People do U turns in the weirdeest places, barely avoid hitting each other, swerve around everything, and who knows what else. I never have any idea whats going on when we are driving, because it is so wild. And the police officers! They are everywhere, with their huge guns! Truckloads of them drive through the city, and they are in front of stores, at parks, and on the street. Its incredicle how many they are, and how big and scary their guns are. We have never been anywhere like this, and we still cant even really understand what we are seeing. Its so new and foreign, when we are in the car we are just staring and trying to soak it in.

The house we are staying in is beautiful. It has a metal gating closing everything off about 20 feet before the house starts. Its on a small, quite street, but there is a busy street behind the this one. The family is really nice. Ruben, the father, Olivia, the mother, their 20 year old daughter, and one year old son live here. They have another daughter, who is 22, who comes on the weekends, so we will meet her soon. They have made us feel very comfortable and safe.

So far, everything is going much, much, much better than we ever expected. Its so reassuring!


Mexico City

Jose and I arrived at the Mexico City airport at 1 30 in the afternoon their time, 11 30 am California time. The flight here went well, I slept almost the whole time, and Jose just waited. We had a four hour layover.

When we arrived, we had to separate when we went through immigration. Jose went to the Mexican line, and I went to the foreigners line. It was wierd for both of us that Jose was suddenly a Mexican and I was a foreigner. He feels like a foreigner here, so it was strange for him to go into the Mexican line. It was worse for him, too, because he had to wait in line for over an hour to get to the immigration check in, and it only took me about 20 minutes. No one bothered me while I stood alone, but I made sure to keep a mean face on.

As soon as we got through immigration, we walked through some doors and met Joses grandfathers sister. We were surprised by how much she looks like Joses mother, Veronica. I knew right away that she was who we were looking for. The picture she had of us was from our wedding, and she said she only recognized us because of me. She said Jose was so much fatter in the picture she didnt expect hiim to be skinny! I loved that one. It was really nice to meet her, and be able to guess how Joses grandfather might have been. She was really nice, and helped us with everything we needed. She even brought us popular Mexican candy. They have gluten, but Jose has been loving it, she brought his favorite kind of candy, tamarindo.

The biggest problem was that we didnt get our bank to approve charges from Mexico, so we had to spend quite a bit of time calling back and forth to get access to our money. Jose, like always for one a short time longer, had a harder time than me getting it taken care of. Because he doesnt have a social security number, he had to know when his last deposit was and how much it was, the usual charges and amounts on his card, his card number, and his account number. He thought the last deposit was $1250, but it was only $1200, so they wouldnt approve travel charges. Finally, on his fourth call to the bank, he guessed $1200, and was able to get an approval. All that for 50 dollars! We now have everything taken care of, and have been able to get money without any problems.

In the airport, an employee directed Jose to another employee, who took Joses ticket and bag and quickly walked us to our next gate, even though our flight was until 4 hours later. He set down Joses bag and asked for a tip. He wanted 20 USD, but he didnt get that. I couldnt believe that the employees had that scheme going, I thought we only had to look out for robbers and whatnot! It all happened so quickly, niether of us really knew what was going on. It all worked out though, and now we know not to get near the employees!

A few interesting things we have to report about Mexico City...
1. Emma has so far communicated with airport employees without messing up!
2. All trashcans at the airport and divided into organic and inorganic compartments.
3. Many of the houses in Mexico City really are painted wild colors, which we always thought was a stereotype of Mexican culture. You see all kinds of colors when you fly over the city.
4. Emma fits in. In fact, Joses dark skin stands out more than Emmas light skin.
5. Mexican money is plastic, not paper! If feels pretty gross, if we do say so ourselves.

Thats what we came up with in 4 hours at the airport.

Then, we were off to Ciudad Juarez!


Leaving The US

Jose and I stayed up all night on the 25th to get ready for leaving Healdsburg at 3 am on the 26th. We went to the airport with Kevin, Holly, Anna, Veronica, Joses grandmother, Fidel, and Laura. I was hard to say goodbye, but the importance of what we are doing finally hit me more, so it went much better than I expected. I was sad to say goodbye when we dont know when we will see everyone again, but Im sure it is going to pay off when Jose comes back legally.

We are ready to do this!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One Week and Counting

We have exactly 7 days left in the United States, and I don't know how we are going to be able to get everything done by then. Everytime we get chores done, just as many more pop up!

We really need to start collecting letters, so if you haven't gotten your letter done yet, please, please work on it. The attorney is on our backs to get everything to her so she has time to prepare the packet Jose will give to the immigration officials at his second meeting in September.

I've gotten another ulcer from the stress of getting ready. I've been taking medicine for a few days now and it's starting to feel better, and by the time we leave for Mexico I should be feeling perfect. I am going to have some extra medicine to take to Mexico with me, just in case. Jose and I haven't been able to stop thinking about what needs to get done--we've even been waking up in the morning finding To Do lists that were written in the middle of the night!

We're working hard and spending almost all of each day preparing for the appointment. Hopefully it all pays off quickly!


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Packing Up

We just bought our tickets to Ciudad Juarez for August 26th at 7:00 AM from San Francisco International. We'll fly from SFO to Mexico City, have a 4 hour layover, and then fly on to Ciudad Juarez, where we will arrive at 7:20 PM.

Our departure is getting really close, and Jose and I have lots to do! We've moved out of our apartment in San Luis Obispo-- all our belongings are stored in a garage there until we get back. We're working on getting our paperwork and all your letters in order to start dropping them off at the attorney's office, so she can get our last packet finished.

Jose's mother had someone in their hometown of Los Cuachalalates, Mexico take pictures of the town to show to the immigration officials. It is so rural and different from here, it would take a lot of adjusting to get used to living there. Hopefully our stay in Mexico will be short enough to be considered a trip rather than a move!

That's all for now.