Mon 14 Feb 2011
In the last couple of weeks, I have received two emails from women who survived crises where they live. One incident in particular could have easily had a far worse outcome.
The youngest stepdaughter from my last marriage, Shaili, who will turn 18 next month, lives in Guatemala. Her location sometimes worries me even though her home is in a good neighborhood of the capital, Guatemala City.
Unfortunately, the country has become so dangerous for women and girls — an average of two are murdered each day — that the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last year ruled immigration judges must consider that fact when deciding whether to grant asylum to Guatemalan women. The country’s murder rate is 3.5 times the rate in violence-plagued Mexico, The New York Times reported last July.
Shaili reading by my woodstove two years ago.
On Feb. 3, Shaili wrote me, “I usually don’t walk in the streets near my house anymore, but yesterday afternoon seemed like a pretty day. I decided to leave my cell phone in the house — just in case. I went to my friend Alvaro’s house and spent the whole afternoon there.
“We were walking back to my house at about 6:20 p.m., so it was getting pretty dark. Alvaro never lets me walk home alone. Anyway, during our way to my house, I had many ‘bad feelings’ when seeing some people, a particular car etc. Something just didn’t feel right.
“I was very close to my house when an all-black car pulled over, and two men came out. The car quickly left, and when I saw the look on the men’s faces, I knew they were going to try to mug me, which was precisely what happened.
“The two men walked over to us and showed us their guns. They told us to give them everything we owned. Luckily, as I said, I was having a bad feeling that day, so I had put my money inside my underwear. I told the guy that I didn’t have anything.
“He heard a jingle in my pocket and asked, ‘Are you SURE you don’t have anything?’ I took four quetzales [the equivalent of 50 cents] out and said, ‘Would you like four quetzales?’ I couldn’t help sounding a bit mocking, just so he would feel stupid. He said no.
“Then the other guy told Alvaro and me to head back towards where we came from. I refused to do that, of course, because I refused to walk in the direction that I knew they were going. I was just so terrified at that moment that I didn’t think. So I said, ‘No, I live here!’
“This was so stupid of me, but the good thing is that I never really specified where I lived, but they now know I live close by. Anyway, they let me go, so I ran until I got to my house. I had never felt as scared. My legs were trembling.
“When I ran straight to my house, I accidentally forgot about Alvaro, but then I turned around, and he had already crossed the street to the other side, so I yelled for him to come, and he did.
“Alvaro’s cap got stolen, and it had sentimental value to him, but he wasn’t as affected as I was because it had happened to him before. For me, it was new and just very scary.
“I cried a lot after that because I was scared. Nothing really happened to me, and nothing of mine got stolen, but still I just hate to think I actually came face to face with two men who are exactly the reason why Guatemala is in such a disgusting situation.
“I had trouble sleeping the nights after that because I kept on dreaming about it,” Shaili later told me. “Now I feel much better. I’m just very paranoid right now. As always, I am being very cautious when leaving the house, and I definitely won’t ever walk here again.”
Second story: A Jan. 25 posting on this blog concerning Facebook prompted a Feb. 9 email from Sheila Castelli, formerly of Point Reyes Station and now living in Taos, New Mexico.
“I saw this post on the Taos Police Department Facebook page,” she wrote, “and chuckled and thought of your blog post. ‘Crews are at Wal Mart,'” the police noted, “‘and will follow you home to get you lit up. Let everyone know.’
“Since last Thursday [Jan. 20] there has been no natural gas here. The gas supply was intentionally shut off by New Mexico Gas as a preemptive move to save the gas supply in other parts of the state.
“Temperatures here at night have been well below zero.”
The Feb. 10 Taos News explained, “Early last week, El Paso Natural Gas — the company that oversees one of the pipelines from the Permian Basin for New Mexico Gas Company — said it was stockpiling as much gas as it could in anticipation of the frigid weather….
“When it became apparent that the gas supply was dwindling, New Mexico Gas Company said it advised large consumers like the Questa mine and Los Alamos National Labs to cut back gas usage. Other major gas users across the state were also asked to reduce operations. But it wasn’t enough.
“With almost no warning, the gas was disconnected in 14 communities across the state….
“It wasn’t just a matter of pipeline physics. At some point, a decision was made to shut the valve serving rural communities. In an emailed statement to The Taos News, New Mexico Gas Company said it had to move fast when deciding who would be cut off.
“‘The decision to shut off the gas line valve to Española, Taos, Questa, Red River and other northern New Mexico towns was made quickly because the actual valves were in areas accessible and were able to be shut down quickly.'”
Sheila wrote, “I heard of the gas outage on the radio here, and I also heard they were opening a Red Cross shelter. As I have trained as a shelter manager, I called and offered my services. Trinidad, the Red Cross head here, was overjoyed as Taos had never opened a shelter here before.
“So I have been at the shelter since then. I dragged myself home yesterday.
“All the gas meters had to be shut off until the lines were re-pressurized, then all homes visited and [pilot lights] re-lit.
“The National Guard have been here in full force, along with plumbers from all over the country, and they were very perplexed with Taos’ crazy roads and streets. They thought they had been to every home, but it appeared that only 54 percent were back with gas.
“They just couldn’t find a lot of these homes, so they were at Wal Mart, and people were supposed to go grab a crew and lead them to their homes.
“Luckily I don’t use natural gas, so I was fine, but I attended to many freezing folks coming into the shelter. I met lots of new people from the mayor to the homeless and spent several hours playing cards with Taos policemen.”
Sheila wrote that helping others at the shelter was “good therapy for me,” and Shaili wrote that her frightening experience “taught me a good lesson: whenever I have a gut feeling or some kind of intuition, I need to trust it.”
Neither of them expected she’d have to cope with a crisis, but both came away stronger for having done so.