Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nos Toca

Hours after writing my last post, still enjoying a quiet Sunday at home, the phone rang. It was my supervisor to tell me that as part of the consulate's phone tree, he needed to let me know that one of our FSN (foreign service national) staff had been killed the night before. He said his name and noted that he worked in the Facilities Maintenance Department. He had been attending a kid's birthday party in his neighborhood when two trucks of men armed with long guns burst into the party and killed three men, wounding a fourth. He said his name was Victor Ochoa, and I recognized it instantly.

You see, just two weeks ago our garage door broke and Victor came out to repair it. It was 4:50 on a Friday evening, but he came out knowing that a broken garage door represents a security risk. The following Monday, he spent the whole day not just fixing the door, but completely reworking it so that it hung correctly, the springs were adjusted as they should have been and it would be good as new. That entire day, my husband chatted with him as Victor meticulously worked. They knew each other already, as it was Victor who came out a few weeks prior to repair the gas leak we'd been smelling. That time it was the clothes drier, and two previous attempts by other workmen had been unsuccessful at stopping the worrisome odor. We were so impressed with his work that I wrote an e-mail to his supervisor, asking for the full name of the nice guy who had done such great work, you know, the one who wears the cotton "Gilligan" hat? I wanted to write him a formal thank-you note, and include the head of his section. It was something I'd been formulating in my head, trying to get the right way to say it in Spanish. I figured I'd ask one of my Mexican colleagues to look it over before I sent it out; it was something I was going to get to... yesterday. 

Victor had worked for the Consulate for 15 years, since he was 23 years old. That last night, he was with his family at a neighbor's house for a kid's birthday party. Children's parties here aren't just for cake and presents and going home at 2 pm. They often last into the evening or night as the adult family members are invited, too. It was just after 10 pm when the men burst into the house with their guns, demanding to see a man who wasn't in the room. When Victor stood up to plead with the men to leave, that this was a family party with kids present, they shot him to death. His daughter had been pleading with him, "Papi, no, get down!" The next man in the room stood up to do the same, to ask why they'd done that, could they please just leave? Tragically, he met the same fate.

Why did a little girl know that it wasn't right to stand up to men with guns? What has she already seen or known of in her young life to know that? When there is so much violence in our world, it is so easy to come up with reasons why what happened to someone else won't be our personal reality. It won't happen to me because I'm not a drug dealer or cartel member. I'm not a guerrilla overthrowing the government. I'm not in the wrong neighborhood at two in the morning. I'm not in a crowded popular movie theater. I'm not in my kindergarten class. I'm not delivering books to children in the countryside. I'm not watching a world-renown athletic event. I'm not with my friends and family, quietly enjoying the evening. 

Where IS safe?

Today I walked back to work from lunch, passing through an area of the Consulate grounds where the maintenance guys often take their lunches together with an impromptu game of soccer in the parking lot. On Fridays, sometimes they have the grill going. It seems like such a great team, and I think to myself, "What a super place to work and what camaraderie they have. With all the violence and danger this region has seen, these guys are here working hard and then safely having a lunchtime game, some laughs, some carne asada and then back to work in a stable, secure environment." It makes me smile each time I see them out there.

They weren't there today, or yesterday. Instead, I found a few of them signing the condolences book that had been set up in the Consulate lobby on a table full of framed photos of Victor and his coworkers, a fragrant vase of lilies beside the book. I tried to sign that book three times, and each time I'd start to read what these callous-handed men had written to their friend, and the tears prevented me from seeing the lines in the book clearly. On my third try I was able to get out a few words and a signature, but nothing will compare with the sentiments on the pages before. 

During the morning I'm busy with interviews, distracted with the facts and faces in front of me. It's so easy to do that, and I think it's necessary and unavoidable. Hours go by and I don't think of what just happened, or what his family might be going through. But then just as suddenly, I remember, and think of his little daughter who witnessed what no child should, and I feel sick. Sick that humanity could so easily waste a life, a life full of friends, family, childhood memories, fears, hopes, talents, weaknesses. Each person we've lost recently, from Boston to Afghanistan to Juarez was full of all these things. Sometimes it's just too much to let ourselves feel as much as we could for each loss. But once in a while, one of these stories and faces is allowed in, allowed to sink into that place so real that we can put ourselves in the shoes of those left behind who were closest. Whether it's an eight year old boy in a crowd, a 25 year old American woman in Afghanistan, or a Mexican father of four who happened to be a whiz at fixing things - it's just not right that they shouldn't be here with us anymore. 

And I don't know what to do about that. 

Regarding the title:
Nos toca = it's our turn
But literally, it could also translate to "it touches us."
In this case, both are true. 


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about the tragic loss of our coworker, Caitlin. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the whole consulate community. It's true that every act of senseless violence touches many real people, and I'm sorry it hit so close to home this time.

  2. I'm so sorry. The violence there is so, so senseless and it's heartbreaking to see it affect such wonderful people. Wishing y'all lots of strength...