The longer I live in Mexico, the more I learn about it's complexities. I often compare them to that of my native land(USA). There are similarities and contrasts, positives and negatives. In this humble, dishwasher's opinion, the American culture and the Mexican culture are both filled with strengths and weaknesses. I consider myself fortunate to live in this frontier town. Regardless of what the world thinks about Tijuana, I feel that living here in this land of clash and fusion gives the open-minded person the opportunity for a cultural enrichment unavailable to most of the two countries citizens. If I may, I would like to share with you a lesson I learned here in El Fin Del Mundo.
Having lived in Barrett Junction for ten years, I had experienced my share of wildfires. Three times we'd been put on evacuation notice as fires raged all around us. Yes, you fear the flames but you know there is a massive force of brave men and women being mobilized to defend you. Firetrucks, helicopters and tankers are on the way. You know you are not alone.
The fire that I survived a couple of years back, here in my palatial wooden shack in el Fin Del Mundo was different. There were no firefighters, trucks, planes or choppers. Just three individuals, a few buckets of water and a lot of faith. The last big fire that SD County suffered  around the Otay area also crossed the border and burned homes in Mexico. Some of those homes were in the Valle Imperial neighborhood next to ours in Lomas Del Encinal. During the height of that wildfire, I arrived home from work to find the long block of homes where I live completely evacuated accept for two people.
There is an elderly Indian couple who live on our block. They are one of the poorest families in our neighborhood. Yet I feel from them an amazing combination of pride, humility and spirituality that impresses me to no end. All the kids on the block call them Abuelo and Abuela.
Abuelo was standing beside my girlfriend, Trini. He looked calm and collected. She was terrified and showed it. Trini was born and raised in the lush, green regions of Nayarit. She'd never seen a wind driven, out of control, fire in her life. 
Where we live there is no running water. Picking up a garden hose to water your garden or defend your home from fire is not an option. You use cisterns and fifty-five gallon drums. I had six, fifty-five gallon drums filled with water to defend my palatial wooden shack. I knew the burning vegetation on the mountainside wasn't a threat to my house because the dirt road in front would serve as a fire break. What worried me was the sea of burning embers being blown directly at our house.  
I tossed the car keys to Trini; "Take the car to the bottom of the hill (where the block's evacuees had gathered).
"No," she said defiantly It took a lot of guts for her to say that. I could see her literally trembling with fear. "I'm staying with you. And so is Abuelo. He says he's going to protect the neighborhood." That struck me that he had said that. I was here to save 'my' house. He said he was going to protect the 'neighborhood.' His words caused me to change my strategy. As I grabbed two plastic buckets and filled them with water, instead of just dousing my house, I started wetting all the houses I could on either side of mine. As well as my own. I took the water from their barrels first. Then started using mine. Trini saw what I was doing, grabbed a bucket and joined me. Above the roar of the wind and flames, I yelled to her, "Where's Abuelo?" I had an extra bucket for him.
"He's sitting down!" she shouted back.
"What?" I looked up the street to where Abuelo and Abuela lived. 'Had the old man gone crazy?' He was sitting in the dirt road in front of his house. Eyes closed, knees to his chest, and his back to the fire! I dropped my water buckets and ran to him. 
"Abuelo, are you sick?"
"No," he shook his head.
"Do you want a bucket?"
"No," he shook his head again. He wouldn't speak to me. He just shook his head. It was like he was trying to put himself in a trance. I ran back to my girlfriend's side. 
"Trini, what's wrong with Abuelo?" 
"Nothing," she answered. "He's protecting the neighborhood. His way." All night long I threw buckets of water onto the wooden shacks. I shook my fist at the flames and cursed the wind. My eyes burned and my arms ached. Trini wouldn't leave my side. A devout Catholic, she prayed out loud and carried buckets of water until forced to stop from sheer exhaustion. She climbed into our car and passed out, prayers still spilling from her lips. Just before dawn, I ran out of water. The wind had abated somewhat but the fires still burned in the hills around us. It was the most helpless moment I'd felt in a long time. Covered in soot and mud, I trudged to my car and climbed in beside Trini. Just before I fell out cold, I caught a glimpse of Abuelo. He hadn't moved from where he sat. 
In the morning I awoke with a start. In my dreams I'd still been battling the embers. I quickly glanced about. The hills around us were blackened and smoldering. A haze filled our little valley. Abuelo was gone (to get Abuela) but the houses still stood. Who saved our neighborhood? Abuelo and his Indian mysticism? Trini and her titanium strong Catholicism? Or this pig-headed, non-believing heathen and his water buckets? Don't give me the credit. I am positive, that on that remarkable night, I was just a thick headed oaf who was taught a valuable lesson by another culture; There's more than one way to fight a fire.

                                      COFFEE'S READY, GOTTA GO !!!

More like this:


SDaniels Aug. 27, 2009 @ 3:19 p.m.

Another fascinating glimpse into El Fin del Mundo. I do give you credit, John--for thinking of your neighbors as well as yourself in such a situation. You are a hero, and I'm sure they agree :)

As usual, some thoughtful and vivid prose:

"Regardless of what the world thinks about Tijuana, I feel that living here in this land of clash and fusion gives the open-minded person the opportunity for a cultural enrichment unavailable to most of the two countries citizens...

Trini was born and raised in the lush, green regions of Nayarit. She'd never seen a wind driven, out of control, fire in her life."


David Dodd Aug. 27, 2009 @ 3:48 p.m.

I can vouch for John's content. Most Tijuanenses live in cinderblock buildings with cement roofs so the danger from fire is mostly absent. But on the fringes, the shacks and shanties are affected. The Fire Department here does what it can. They are brave and hard working people, but there are no fireplugs here, they fight fires with tanker trucks. They don't save the shacks because there's nothing to save, people there don't have a lot of belongings, and the shacks are mostly temporary while they save to build out of cinderblock. The method for the Fire Department is generally simple: Let burn that which is already burning and save what isn't.

Also, the Abuelos of Tijuana and all of Mexico, faith-based and determined. Good Stuff, Rangel. Good stuff.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!