“I just have to get there, I just have to get there” (to America) to make enough money to come back, marry his girl, and everything to be alright. Of course it’s a total dream, but it’s all a dream and it’s a dream like the fever dream of the dying in the desert who see crystal cities and demons. But you only have to be starving just a little bit to believe the American dream.
$1700 @ 15% interest is $255. It doesn’t say if that’s monthly (probably) or weekly (unlikely, but the world is cruel enough that it’s very possible). At a minimum wage job in America at the time was $5.15 /hr. If you worked 40 hours a week (and it’s unlikely they had it this easy) they would make $206 /wk before taxes (however that works for illegals) but let’s say it’s $175 /wk X 4 = $700 – $255 = $455 /mo. Jesus.
That’s heartbreaking about Enrique sending his boots back to Octavia and when she sees them she hugs them and cries because she knows he’s gone to try to get into America (and that he’ll probably die trying).
He compares the backtracking they did when lost to an inverted ‘V’ shape or a ‘U’ shape, as if they are making letters in the desert for the border patrol to read. And of course it’s all nonsense words because they are lost and dying and ready to strip naked because wearing clothes is actually painful when you’re about to enter heat stroke.
“Nobody looked at the occasional buzzard that eyed them with its infernal optimism”. I wouldn’t look up either knowing a buzzard was just waiting for me to die.
Who really is to blame? Everyone? No One? Seems like there is plenty of blame to go around.
“Pale yellow is the Evian of urine” The gallows humor in this is great but also makes it even more sad.
Interesting how he compares crossing the literal border with each successive border crossing of heat exhaustion: first it’s Heat Stress, then Heat Fatigue, then Heat Syncope, the Heat Cramps, then Heat Exhaustion, and finally Heat Stroke. I’ve gone as far as borderline between Heat Fatigue and Heat Syncope, which is an unusual feeling of disorientation. To go beyond that is just terrifying.
“The land tried to hide him and keep him for itself”.
The desert, even just a few hundred yards from the safety of a camp and RV is just brutal. You can get lost so easily and the heat cooks you as fast as a microwave.
Reading the tracks like it’s the grooves in a vinyl record is pretty fascinating that they can read each person’s track, what they were doing, who they were with, recreate the whole journey.
The incident with the lights is interesting. What did they see? Did a border patrol’s lights see them but not the agent in the Ford? Lights in the desert do weird things, especially since rain was coming so you never know with light reflecting off clouds or lightening. But I’d be spooked too.
While probably not as bad as the Great Sand Dunes National Park, hiking in sand is a bitch. It’s hot, your legs hurt almost immediately climbing, and you really do slide back half a step for every step forward you take I can’t imagine doing it for 2-3 days – damn near wiped me out when I was in my late 20’s, healthy, and only was at it for a couple of hours.
It’s sort of amazing how unprepared everyone of the walkers are. Granted, if I went hiking here in Rocky Mountain National Park I’d probably do not much better, but these people are drinking Pepsi’s – and it’s the Pepsi’s that sort of gauge how well everyone is doing: the warmer the pepsi, the worse they are doing.
In a lot of way seeing Mendez getting ready to take the walkers across the border is like someone getting ready for work – he’s tired, he needs coffee and breakfast, he says goodbye to his girl, he calls his people when his co-worker isn’t there. If they weren’t doing something dangerous and illegal, it would just be another day in the office.
“High spirits were a bad precedent. This wasn’t a vacation”. The whole trip on the bus sounds depressing, but also weirdly beautiful in a way that everything is so strange, but also so run down. The heart of Mexico is both alive and dead, happy and sad, the names are unusual and don’t mean anything but also mean everything, like the rabbit tattoo.
Groups of 30 or less were what went across the border, any more than 30 and it was too large of a group to control. But 30 is still a lot of people, that’s like a whole classroom of students, and even half of that size can be hard to keep everyone doing what you want or need. 30 is like a teacher feeling her class is overcrowded, and so the coyotes feel the same way probably.
Interesting juxtaposition between the US Geological survey maps against the hand drawn maps the coyotes draw in ball point pen in a notebook. One side has all the technology, but the other side is clever and daring and resourceful.
When it’s described just how many different groups and people there are in the desert doing border patrol work, it almost seems as if it’s crowded out there between the US Military, the agents, the civilians, and then the walkers themselves.
It’s not just the pop culture that is tied into how people think about immigration and being a coyote / gangster, but also how religion and culture play a role in that by being a coyote you are, in a way, acting like a “civil rights activist” taking back the America that was stolen from you at gunpoint. This argument is, for sure, far more enticing than anything else.
I mean it’s no wonder people are attracted to being a guia, when you have no money anything sounds better than being broke and having no respect. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is reality.
Jesus, these people are fed drugs – cocaine or diet pills – to make them walk faster? So you’ve got a group of poor (malnourished probably) people in the desert with no shelter, water or provisions, and they’re all on speed. So if you’re going to die out there in regular circumstances, the drugs are just going to make it worse.
I keep finding interesting how the Indian population is at odds with the migrants because the walkers are creating an environmental nightmare with ll their trash (and corpses) on the land. We always think of this as a white American vs poor Mexican conflict, but it’s far more complicated than that.
A lot of mention of popular media, such as the film Traffic, the TV show The Sopranos, and even the cartoon character, Chespirito. All of this seems to add up to a sense that popular media informs how reality works, how the coyotes use these media tropes to maintain power and elicit fear in not only their “clients” but also in the people who investigate them.
The absurdity continues as we learn the Mexican patrols had been giving the walkers water and food and condoms, but the Americans, not concerned with the lives of Mexicans, were concerned for the lives of American women who they thought (propaganda; they didn’t actually think it) were coming to have sex with their women.
There are probably a lot of Don Moi’s around, all of them taking advantage of the poor and hopeful. I always wondered how people afforded the huge cost of getting to America if they had no money ” loans from loan sharks who worked with the smugglers and took a bug % of future earnings (not that there’d be much so they were basically serfs living in America).
The economics of scale – “It was easier for a Sinaloa farm to get the beans to California than to Veracruz – and more lucrative”. The workers starve as they are surrounded by all that food – water, water everywhere (and reserved for the dead who died of thirst)
“In one of the million ironies of the desert, those who die of thirst become waterproof” and so the dead have to be hydrated to get a fingerprint. The dead don’t need water, yet here we are giving the dead water, sometimes for days, just to get a fingerprint.
I didn’t know Chinese and Russians were also crossing the border – these (as well as central and south Americans) are the OTM’s. Also crazy to think about the vacuum of opportunity in this part of the world has allowed for al Qaeda to come in and spread their message, teaching little kids Arabic and training them to fight in camps in Brazil.
They come here with literally nothing in their pockets in hopes that they will get a job plucking chickens for KFC who will then also use them to cook the chickens in their restaurants. This is juxtaposed with the total lack of opportunity in Mexico and inability to get the government in order to make anyone’s lives at least better than risking a journey across the border to puck chickens for KFC.
Reference to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which makes sense since that was about each of the soldiers’ individuality and what they prioritized, and since this also like a war, it’s a way to identify the combatants, so to speak.
Sad, but also sort of funny tho think people are sneaking around the desert with foam on their feet to avoid being detected. It’s all so absurd while also being a matter of life and death. When did the world become so surreal?
Yeah, it’s probably mean, but the story of the jackrabbit is pretty funny. It also adds to the mythic legends of this region while also reminding us that the origin of a lot of great stories was probably just some bullshit or a prank that got out of hand until now the legends scare the hell out of everyone.
He juxtaposes the mythic spirituality of death and dying in the desert with the banality and boredom of being a Border Agent. While the migrants are dying in the scrub, the agents patrol 150 miles at 30mph with the AC on. The disparity is wider than the distance across the border.
Funny how the horse has been replaced with a 10,000 pound Ford Explorer.
Interesting, “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a relatively compact portion of the Tuscon sector, was withering under two hundred thousand walkers passing through every year”. 200,000 – I had no idea that many people were passing through just one corridor.
OTM = Other Than Mexicans.
“Cops tend to asses a situation at first glance – people are always up to something” and so he could just as easily beat these people or give them water. There isn’t a lot of humanity out here because “in the desert, they were often involved in some form of dying”
He’s setting up the spiritual aspects of this land, the superstition, the religion, and how it’s a land full of death, not life. Everything here is hard and barbed and you will die slowly over 20 days while the flies lay eggs in you and the dogs pace around you waiting for you to die – or maybe not even waiting that long.
I also like how he equates the Nazca style lines to that of the highways.
I like how he sets the scene as if it is part of a mythic epic where men battle against the forces of the gods who are then made manifest in the husks of abandoned army tanks, like a terracotta army memorial. Beautiful, but also terrifying and beautifully strange, like much of the North American Southwest
The next time someone asks me for a recommendation about a book involving time travel, wormholes, high technology, and something resembling a dystonia, I would recommend this book. Not because this book is a science fiction book, but it uses elements of science fiction (or you could call it magic realism, though I think sci-fi is more appropriate) to tell the story of the times we live in, how technology, science, communications, war, and refugees all play a role in the dramatic events of the world we live in. In other words, this is a science fiction novel that genuinely explores who we are as a people living at the edge of an uncertain future.
And the paradox is that this story is also timeless because all through history humanity has lived on the edge of an uncertain future. We carry the past with is as we go about our present lives as we plan for the unknown future. We exist in three different states: the past, the present, and the future, and these three states are always converging back in on themselves. The future influences the present because we must plan for it, and the past influences the present because it informs us of who we are (which we rely on to plan for the future). Space time is, after all curved, so perhaps time itself is trying to fold back in on itself?
The heart of the story, however has little to do with anything science fiction because this is a work of literary fiction and it deals with the lives of twp people, Nadia and Saeed, two people who are very different, but who have converged in a particular place (an unnamed country which experiences a civil war from which they flee), and we follow them as they make their way further and further west, first on a Greek Island, then the Island of Britain (London), and finally Marin, California on the shore edge of the frontier of the New World. How they get tho these places is immaterial – literally, since it seems a sort of wormhole created from the past, present, and future collapsing in on themselves have allowed for travel anywhere in the world.
Yet the wormhole idea is only a way to explain how the whole world is experiencing the vast migrations of people, many of whom are refugees from war torn countries and now find themselves in western countries who are full of people who are anxious about them being there. One element which jumped out at me, and which Hamid explores a few times, is how the “nativists” (as he usually calls them) would stir up trouble under the guise of it being caused by the refugees in order to exacerbate anxieties and tensions in order to make the refugees pariahs. This is not to say Hamid makes everyone of the refugees out to be saints, but he is pointing out how difficult it is for someone who no longer has a home to find a new home. And it’s not like refugees are unaware that they are living in a new place and that if the roles were reversed they might also be anxious about a bunch of foreigners showing up in their homes.
And what this book is ultimately doing is humanizing the refugees. Saeed and Nadia are the “every-people” who represent all those nameless and faceless refugees we see on the news. Hamid gives them a story, gives them a life, and he allows us to see their humanity, to feel as they do, which is to say that they are no different than we are in the most important ways: that we are all human. And Hamid is also saying that we are going to have to deal with the future being a state of unknown change and that it’s going to go better if we work together more instead of fighting with each other. This might seem idealistic, but the counterpoint is one of civil war and violence.
Because in the end our time, the time for each of us as individual humans, will come to and end. We will lug our past so far into the future that the future will no longer have time for us and we will be cast out. The best we can hope for is to not have done too much damage to ourselves and each other and perhaps leave something of ourselves behind, perhaps in the form of children, or at least in the the kindness we show others.
Beautiful ending, the two of them sitting at the cafe, 50 years later, and still able to “find a rhythm together, and they grew younger and more playful as the coffee in their cups diminished”. They are the past alive in the present awaiting the future, but “did not know, then, if that evening would ever come”.
And that’s the end of their relationship, “eventually a month went by without any contact, and then a year, and then a lifetime” and so life goes on, the globe keeps spinning (though the fast changing seasons makes it feel as if time is speeding up – which it sort of does the older you get). People are connected and other are disconnected (but still connected in a way, at least through memory and time).
Nadia is discovering her new sexuality and Saeed seems a little less conservative sexually in being with the preacher’s daughter. I like how Nadia and Saeed still meet, however. They meet on the shore, that liminal space that is not well defined, just as they :lonely and somewhat adrift in this new place”.
I wonder what the thimble that allows a person’s vote to be counted once is all about?
Now THAT”S how you write a scene of great and painful emotion, “her raw face was wet and alive”. James Joyce just popped out of of Michael Furey’s grave and is dancing in the snow because he loves that line so much, and so do I.
Nice little story about the Chinese lady who lived her whole life in the house in Palo Alto but still felt as if she had migrated without ever moving from her house. “We are all migrants through time” is more true than we realize since we can’t help but arrive in the future as strangers and tourists from the past and the people we find in the future are all new and different than us, but they’re migrants too.
The tiny, hummingbird sized drone that crashed and that they buried is a beautiful scene. To say this is a simple image would be a lie – that drone represents fear, the media, technology, artificial life which sort of mirrors how their relationship has become, maybe not artificial, but different, changed.
“We are all children who lose our parents … and this loss unites humanity, unite every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow”. He’s right, of course. The only thing really separating us is life and death, but even with prayer we are still connected through remembrance and ritual. Nothing is forgotten as long as it is remembered.
Saeed’s praying is like earlier when Hamid describes the cell phone’s “antennas sniffed out an invisible world, as if by magic, a world that was all around them, and also nowhere, transporting them to places distant and near” (39) – a way of connecting without being present. For Saeed, praying is the connecting to his idea of being a man, of honoring his parents.
I wonder if he’s playing with the idea of cultural relativism as also being related, as in a relative. Aren’t all humans related? Aren’t all our experiences relative to each other in that they are related because we all think and feel the same? Something being relative does not have to mean distinct, it could also mean related. That’s the trick of English, anyway.
Letter 3, sheet 7,
Very romantic image of them alone in the woods, an image of extasy, of being in “bloom”, of flying in the “Ether”. There is a release at the end tied to the image of “in white” which alludes to marriage, to virginity, to a new beginning?
These letters feel uncomfortably personal, like she wouldn’t want us reading them?
Letter 3, sheet 6,
The imagery is like that of a bride “in white” and growing into old age (“cane”) but there is a great distance between them, perhaps the distance between heaven and earth, between horizon and shore. There is a real longing here, a genuine desire to be together with “master” but also the anxiety that perhaps she might “disappoint” (wound?)
Letter 3, sheet 5,
Carlo sighting! So then when the sea / horizon overtakes her, she imagines her and master switching places? Is this what she means by dying as fast as she could, that she wants to switch places? Is she waiting for death, to go to that “untried country”?