I looked through the window of my hotel room down at the tall steel-piling border; it traversed up and down the hill, separating me from everything familiar. I felt smaller and heavier as a sinking feeling swept over me: I was alone with my baby in a country where I didn’t belong and knew only a smattering of words in the local language.
A few days earlier, my husband and I with Medha, our 2 yr. old, had driven down a 60 mile from Tucson into the border town of Nogales in Mexico. Our Green Cards were going to be filed. But before that I needed to exit the country and re-enter with a new US visa that reflected the few corrections my passport needed before the filing.
We chose Mexico instead of Canada because of its proximity to Tucson. My Visa interview was going to take place the next day at the US Consulate. I tried convincing myself that Nogales wasn’t exactly under the US travel-warning list but the images of Narcotics-related violence in parts of Mexico flooded my brain. As we rounded a corner, just before the end of the US freeway, I felt a veil had been lifted to reveal a painting with hills densely occupied by homes in all shades of fluorescence. It appeared chaotic, unlike the deserted and creepy image I had in mind. That’s when I began looking forward to the adventure beyond the border.
We parked our car in the US and crossed the International border on foot. Entering the crowded streets of a foreign country without having to go through a baggage or document inspection was a pleasant surprise. Taxi drivers swarmed us and in their broken English asked where we were headed. One man almost dragged my husband towards his taxi. There was no choice but to climb into his smoke-smelling confines after haggling over the fare. He drove us straight to the Applicant Service center where I had to be finger-printed and photographed before my interview. Later we took a cab to the Hotel Fray Marcos De Niza. It nestled right by the border; Being the tallest building in the block, it stood like a beacon of hope. It even staffed the friendliest of employees. Since almost everyone there knew conversational English we didn’t feel we had strayed far from home. We booked a room for a single night not knowing that we’d have to extend our stay.
That day we decided to explore the neighborhood. We walked on the cobblestoned pavement, Medha toddling between us. Jewelry, decorative metalwork and beautiful pottery crowded the tiny stores and sometimes spilled onto the pavement and the owners beckoned us to buy their ware. Street-side vendors sold tacos, tortillas, fresh vegetables and other colorful concoctions that we did not dare try. After a bit of negotiating in gestures and whatever Spanish we could muster we bought souvenirs of our trip, handmade bead jewelry, reminders of our multi-hued experience in Mexico.
When we looked around for food we realized, as we have on other trips, traveling and a pure plant-based diet don’t get along so well. Our extensive search did result in a few eateries that offered some kind of vegetarian food. So, for the rest of our time in Nogales, daily, I had a bowl of frosted flakes and milk at the hotel, a mid-morning cappuccino at the Oxxo supermarket, a large salad at Salat haus in the mall for lunch and a dinner of asparagus soup and cheese sandwich back at the hotel. In the evenings, we found it safe to eat by the window of our hotel while the parade of Policia scoured the nearly-empty streets in their monstrous F150s. Some cops toted their AK47s and appeared ghost-like in black masks as they stood vigilant on the backs of their trucks.
(to be continued…)