Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The tale of the Hens and the Ostriches

In a shocking demonstration of how reality can resemble folklore, a 78-year-old American woman was found murdered in her San Miguel home on October 26, a week before the big Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Road to heaven: Locals on the way to the cemetery pick up
the traditional Day of the Dead flowers.
And as usual, the local expat social media sites, such as the Civil List, and a new Facebook page exclusively dedicated to the topic of public safety, as well as restaurant and sidewalk chatter, buzzed with theories, condolences and other comments, coming generally from two groups—the Hen House and the Ostrich Farm.

As usual, the hens run around in a panic, wings flapping and feathers flying, amid mostly incoherent clucking about how dangerous our town has become, and what are we going to do, and what are we going to do. After this last murder, some gringos even suggested hiring a private investigator to handle the case.

Things are far quieter among the ostriches which, predictably, just dig their heads a little deeper in the sand, and insist there's nothing to worry about. Whatever happened was the result of carelessness or bad luck on the part of the victim, and it happened on the other side of town and, anyway, more people get killed in Los Angeles, Chicago and other U.S. cities.
After living in San Miguel for ten years, Stew and I find ourselves dashing between the hens and ostriches, depending how a spate of bad news affects us personally.

Despite all of San Miguel's charms, its law enforcement system is spectacularly inept, and so is the legal machinery for prosecuting and jailing the guilty which, indeed, seldom occurs.

After a while, you come to regard police officers with snazzy uniforms, reflective vests and aviator sunglasses—the blue and red lights on their patrol cars and motorcycles constantly and uselessly flashing—not as reassuring sights but as hapless figures who are just part of the scenery.

Since we moved here we've heard of over a dozen American and Canadian victims of rapes, assaults, burglaries, home invasions and murders but except for two cases, we know of no one who has been arrested, charged and imprisoned for those crimes.

Several years ago a serial rapist targeting American women triggered a bona fide manhunt in San Miguel after authorities began to worry that national and international publicity threatened the town's image as a tourist and retirement utopia. The other case, involving a mentally unstable young Mexican woman who murdered an American who had adopted her, was closed when the suspect was essentially turned in by friends or relatives.  
Impunity is a familiar concept among Mexicans who generally treat law enforcement in their own country with derision if not outright contempt. When the notorious drug trafficker El Chapo escaped from a maximum security prison several months ago—by digging a mile-long tunnel that will go down as the most awesome civil engineering project of modern times—the reaction of Mexicans I spoke with was either to relate the latest El Chapo joke or, with a shrug of the shoulders, ask: So what else is new?

Give us our daily dead: One trashy local newspaper, sold to
motorists  stopping at speed bumps, features a daily front-page 
murder in the city of Celaya or neighboring communities, 
including San Miguel. This headline: "Death at Dawn". To 
soften the blow of so much gore, the paper also features 
a centerfold of a scantily clad young woman.  
But impunity and its accompanying feeling of powerlessness—the sense that criminals can do terrible things to you or your property with little fear of sanctions or consequences—is far tougher for Americans to swallow. And so the reaction often is panic or denial, depending on whether the latest murder or assault took place near where you live or the victim was someone you knew.

Indeed, several months ago an American couple who live near our ranch were terrorized and the husband badly beaten in their ranch by four armed bandits. A few days later the house of another American friend was burglarized while he was out of town.

That's scary stuff, particularly close to where you live. Our fears since have been compounded by absence of any arrests, despite much forensic fireworks, dusting for fingerprints, interviews, paperwork and such.
It's at those moments that I can understand the alarm and hubbub in the Hen House, particularly among the women living alone in San Miguel.

And at those times, Stew and I can cluck and cluck as loudly as any scared hen would. Following the home invasion and burglary near our little ranch we even looked into getting a firearm, a silly idea we abandoned shortly.

But after a few months passed, and the initial panic faded, we moved back in with the ostriches, primarily because there is really nothing we can do except to make sure that every opening at our ranch, from the main gate to the garage door, is securely padlocked at night, and to hope that our Rottweiler-ish mutt wakes up if someone tries to get in.

The latest murder is really awful, particularly the vision of an elderly person being pounced on in her sleep. But we didn't know her, and she lived clear across town. So, for the time being, we're staying with the ostriches, praying that something terrible like that won't happen to us or someone we know.

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