Three pictures from El Paso-Juarez


A week after returning from our Thanksgiving holiday in El Paso, and I continue to be grateful for family harmony. In three days under my brother’s roof, there were no arguments or disagreements about the recent election. We are all in accord about the frightening state our country is in now. We are bound together for reasons beyond shared DNA. We all hate bigotry. Everyone in this two generational picture voted for justice.

On the day before Thanksgiving, our friend Rosy drove my sister and me to an orphanage in Juarez. Eighty-eight children, ages five to twenty-one, live there with little electricity and almost no heat. They share two bathrooms, one for the girls and one for the boys. There’s no refrigeration. They have two meals a day. On the day we were there, they ate macaroni and potatoes. All white. No greens or fruit. We gave them clothes and blankets and books and chocolates. (Yes, I know we should have given them kale and brussel sprouts.) They gave us abrazos. Here’s the picture.hugs

Thousands of people cross back and forth from El Paso to Juarez every day. My brother, a physician, sees patients in both cities. As far as he is concerned, they are one community.

Leaving Juarez, we looked back at the unattractive slabs of cement and fencing planted on the bank of the Rio Grande. Graffiti abounds. If you live thousands of miles from the border, you don’t know what a wall looks like. You don’t see this ugliness. You don’t know what a wall does to your community. I looked at that wall and thought, “Why?” Why spend billions of dollars on a wall when people (little children!) in both countries need food and shelter? Where is justice in this picture?wall

On the Border


“So, Jack, is it safe?” I asked my brother.

“Yes,”he answered. I detected a bit of annoyance in his voice. It wasn’t the first time I had posed the question.

When Ariela was alive, I would never have considered risky activities. But without her, what have I got to lose?

I had been to Juarez, maybe twenty-five years ago, before anyone heard about drug wars. I went to see a tiny pediatric orthopedic clinic where my brother was volunteering. Back then, FEMAP’s Hospital de la Familia was a two-story building with about six beds all in one ward, closet sized rooms where Jack saw his patients, a small pharmacy, and little else. In spite of drug wars and ever-present poverty, the little hospital that could is now four stories, 110 beds, an OR (operating room), a NICU (Neo-natal intensive care), X-ray, and a nursing school. And, in the past three decades, my brother has crossed the border every month and treated over 7,500 children.

Anna, the executive director, gave us a tour. “Some of our equipment may be outdated, especially by U.S. standards.” This is a hospital for people living in poverty. Patients and families pay on a sliding scale. FEMAP started with family planning and women’s and children’s healthcare. Today, their programs provide healthcare, education, mobile medical units, nutritional counseling, and even microloans.

About a month ago, I sent Ariela’s medical equipment and supplies to FEMAP. Pulse oximeters and nebulizers and enteral feeding bags and C-PAP machines and therapy balls and medications, opened and unopened, that I don’t want to remember. Plus boxes of braces and orthotics from two orthotists, John Allen and Joe Muller, who wanted to help.

“Everything you sent is being put to good use,” my brother said.

“And the wheelchair? Is it here, at the hospital?” I admit to wanting to keep her chair. Her essence was in that chair. She traveled everywhere in it, out of the house and out of the country. The seat and back were custom molded to fit her frame. Paint splatters covered the arms. It had been recently repaired. Good as new. Looking at it kept her close to me.

Jack hesitated.

Rosy, our friend and a school administrator in New Mexico, nodded. “It went to a girl in my school district who is from Central America. She can go to school, but because she is undocumented, she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid. She can’t get a wheelchair. When the mother saw Ariela’s beautiful chair, she wept.”

I don’t know anything about the girl who has Ariela’s wheelchair. I can’t imagine the great risks that mother took to bring her child into the U.S. and the risks she lives with every day. Her child deserves a nice chair.