This post is admittedly a little late in coming, a picture recounting of my first trip to Sasabe on March 27th. Like I mentioned before, I was overwhelmed with kindness and generosity from people already living in decidedly difficult times.
I drove into Sasabe, Sonora after a lively border inspection (they are quite thorough at the Sasabe Port of Entry...) and eventually came upon this small store. I was greeted inside by Miguel, a friendly man with a generous smile who helps his wife Gloria run the store and the other businesses she owns. Miguel is from Puerto Vallarta, and though he is happy to live and work here with Gloria, he would much rather be in Vallarta and near the ocean again. After some conversation I asked if there was anyone around that spoke English, and it just so happened that Gloria was at their house next door and speaks English perfectly; she was raised in the U.S. and is a naturalized citizen, and taught at a school in the U.S. Sasabe for many years. Gloria owns the store pictured above, a Casa de Huespedes behind the store (basically a hostel), her house next to the store, another store, and a restaurant just down the street. The other store and the restaurant have been closed for a while due to lack of business, but she hopes to reopen them when things get better. She chooses to live in Sasabe despite having family in Tucson, AZ because she prefers living there. She likes the slower, quieter way of life, the people, and the sense of community in Sasabe and in Mexico in general. This was a sentiment I have heard amongst many Mexicanos, even as they were headed to cross the border into the U.S. They only wanted to go and work for a while, make some money, and return to their family, friends, and communities in Mexico.
A lazy afternoon on the porch and an enthralling game of dominoes. I actually never knew how to play, but I think I've got it figured out now after watching these guys play for a couple hours (haha).
My room at the Casa de Huespedes that Gloria owns. She said migrants often rent rooms here and at other similar establishments before they leave to cross the border. She also said that this is the nicest of the rooms because it actually has bed frames; the others just have mattresses on the floor. I was plenty happy to have the room. It might look a little rough but it was safe, the sheets were clean, and there was a bathroom. I've come to know these items as luxury.
Gloria was kind enough to take me on a Tour de Sasabe in her truck. Sasabe is a very small town that has fallen on some very hard times. There is Mexican military stationed in the town as part of an effort by the government to combat the cartels. Though the townspeople I think are a little resentful of having them stationed there, they said the military men in town were good people, and that they help to keep the town safe. Apparently at one point a cartel had moved into town and was trying to "take over", but they made themselves scarce once the military showed up.
This picture is from the back of Gloria's truck on our way to her ranch the next morning. You can see another military hummer in the background. The town is quite safe- children play in the streets relatively unsupervised, people walk freely about, there are soccer and basketball games, and other community gatherings often- but the cartel controls both of the roads that lead to Sasabe from the South. People are a little curious as to why there is plenty of military in town but they don't do anything about the roads to the south. On the road directly to the south that connects Sasabe and Altar, the cartel charges migrants to pass through to Sasabe. In Altar I was told that they generally charge Mexicans around 1000 pesos (approx. $100 USD), but charge people from other Central and South American countries much more. Luckily, locals can usually pass through for free or for a small charge. No one was quite sure what they would charge me (being from the U.S.), or how they would feel about me passing through from Altar to Sasabe like I planned to do later on my way back to my car. The road to the southeast is another story. It used to be passable similar to the road to Altar, but Gloria said that recently a group of four people left town traveling on that road and disappeared, never to be seen again. Apparently that area to the north of that road, the region between Sasabe and Nogales, is a major area for the cartel's drug smuggling, and the road is the "launching area" for their operation- the reason they seem to be so terribly guarding of the road. They don't want anyone interfering with the operations or any migrants passing through the area and drawing more attention to what they are doing on the border.
The quaint downtown of Sasabe. Not as busy as it used to be, apparently, with many fewer people passing through now that the cartel controls the access from the south and Border Patrol controls the access from the north. Sasabe just got its first two sections of concrete road pavement in town and a couple miles of asphalt leading into town from the south- a modest gift from the Mexican government after many years of neglect. The rest of the towns roads are dirt.
Gloria and Miguel's adorable daughter, on a quick trip to the ranch in the morning before going to school. Sasabe doesn't have a high school. Children can attend school through the 8th grade if they and their parents wish it so, and most do, but if they want education beyond that they must move to the city of Caborca, around 2 hours away to the southwest of Sasabe. Some do so, but many others start working instead, with adobe-making an occupation for many Sasabe residents.
Driving out of Sasabe south to the ranch. Gloria joked that sometime in the next two years Sasabe might have its first real, functioning gas station. Residents otherwise buy it from a small station on the U.S. side of the border or from town residents that have large tanks they sell from. Many Sasabe residents ride horses as their main form of transportation around town and to work. It certainly gives Sasabe that good ole wild west feeling.
These are some badass cows (excuse the language). They survive in the desert (of course with some help on the water side of things), their noses often covered in cacti from their attempts at grazing. Gloria raises them to sell for their meat, but always keeps a couple cows for fresh milk for the family.
Del Fino roping up a cow to be milked, and a calf getting in the way. Del Fino was a great guy, great sense of humor, and we worked on learning one another's languages together a bit. He had lived and worked in California for a bit, and he expressed concern about how similar the words "beach" and "b#tch" sounded to him, unsure of which one was which. We worked that one out. He said that he came to Sasabe to work on the ranch and has been there for several years, but the town is a bit small and isolated for him.
A delicacy: Milk, fresh and warm from the utter mixed with sugar, chocolate, and Don Pedro. Absolutely delicious, and an excellent excuse to get a buzz on well before noon. BorderVenture isn't just suffering in the desert, you know, there can be enjoyment too.
A worker at one of the adobe manufacturing areas- you can see the freshly formed bricks in the background. They take the "soil", wet it, form it into bricks, allow it to dry, and then fire it in an oven like the one pictured below.
The adobe bricks are mostly exported, often to Tucson to build fancy homes, sometimes south into Mexico, and sometimes used to build homes in town.
Another recent gift from the government, a pleasant park on the northern end of Sasabe. I watch a group of children play around it late into the evening. It is obviously appreciated, but I got the sense from some townspeople that the money could have been spent better in another area to make a better park.
A look back on the town of Sasabe.
Taken in front of Gloria's store shortly after we returned from the ranch, and just before I left to return to Flagstaff. Sasabe is a small town chock-full of great people with a strong sense of community, caught in between a rock and a hard place. Despite the adversity these people face on a daily basis, there is a generally cheery atmosphere around town, the kind of feeling you get when people are content with themselves, where they are, and what they are doing. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find hardier, nicer, and more welcoming people anywhere.
Sorry for the lateness and extensive length of this post, and thanks for reading!