When we told people we were going to Tijuana for a week with the training school, we often got one of two responses. It was either “why?” or “be safe”. Certainly, Tijuana’s had its rougher years. Just a few years ago, when the drug cartels were at war, crime was way up, but now things have settled down, and believe it or not, there were more homicides recorded in Chicago last year than in Tijuana. (To be fair, my mom tells me to be safe when I go to the windy city as well.)
What was surprising about Tijuana was how close we could be to the US, and still be in a totally different world. Getting into Mexico was as simple as walking across the border. It was literally as easy as walking through a gate. No one even asked for ID. But now on the other side, I was in a place where the language was different, I couldn’t drink the water, and I had to pay to go to a public restroom.
One of our first stops was to the border. The line is marked by a large metal fence, then a secondary fence behind it, cameras, heat sensors, guards, helicopter patrol, and some barbed wire for good measure. I wasn’t really shocked by all of this, because I’ve heard that the border is strongly guarded. But the view from the Mexico side showed how overwhelming and intimidating the border is.
This visit brought up many tough questions about immigration laws that I’m not really interested in. I came away with really just one thought: What do the people living right next to the wall think of America?
While in Tijuana we stayed at Tijuana Christian Mission (TCM), an orphanage for about 30 teenagers in the city. Here we tested our Spanish, as that was all the children could speak. Staying at the orphanage also put us in a great part of town, just walking distance from things like late night taco stands. The tacos were so good we went every night.
During one of the days, we went to a canyon that had been used as a city dump. It hasn’t been an active dump for seven years, and many families have now moved into the area.
We walked through the streets, still littered with the sights & smells you’d expect in a dump. Some houses were built with salvaged materials, some were built with concrete. Regardless of the seeming permanence of the homes, we heard that most people won’t leave the dump– they just live their life amongst the trash.
It’s hard enough to believe people live in these conditions. It’s even harder to think it’s only 20 miles from San Diego.
Near the end of our walk, we came upon a small church in the canyon. While talking with the pastor, we learned that some of the people in the church make lunches and take them to other communities who don’t have food. I couldn’t believe it. I had just walked through this community, amazed by the poverty they live in. Now, here this pastor is telling me that their faith calls them to reach out to help those who have greater need. It was beautiful, and truly humbling.
We encountered some rain during the trip, which meant we couldn’t see the younger kids. TCM has their orphanage in Rosarito– a nearby town with dirt roads that become impassable when they get muddy. We were disappointed to miss that opportunity, but enjoyed an afternoon inside with the older kids, playing cards or music and rolling tortillas for dinner.