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came up with the four girls and Chuyito, then newborn, and lived during February at the Juarez trian station since they had no coats; then she moved in with cousins and one of them lent her a grubstake to buy several kilos of avocados and limes, and showed her how to smuggle them across the Rio Grande into my neighborhood and sell them much cheaper than at Furr’s, and at first she was scared but now she’s used to it and the people around here know her and many are nice, though others chase you away like a stray cat and some even call the Border Patrol. Her husband joined her and they squatted on their own piece of land on a mountain near the Channel 44 TV tower and built a cardboard shack, and dug a pit into the ground for a toilet, and bought an old bucket to haul water in from the pipe down the hill. He picks up construction work pretty frequently \(well, yes, it only pays Mexican minimum: About $4 a day, but he’s deathly afraid of crossing into El Paso and anyway, there’s so much that she’s got the fruit business down it seems more lucrative than working at the mdquila, except when the Border Patrol and the Department of Agriculture grab her and take the fruit, or when the kids are sick and need medicine. Then the family budget goes into a tailspin. And now Chuyito’s got diarrhea. *** In much of Latin America, diarrhea brought on by lack of clean water is a major killer, particularly of small children. It’s usually caused by gastroenteritis, but there are many other diseases related to dirty water: typhoid, hepatitis, amebiasis, schistosomiasis \(a fatal disease of the blood caused by a species lack of water to wash oneself: scabies, for instance, lice, pink eye; or illnesses borne by animals that breed in stagnant water. Malaria is one. In 1980, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the International Decade of Drinking Water and Cleanup. Ten years later, the organization lamented that its goals hadn’t been met. A fifth of Latin America’s urban population still had no piped drinking water. Less than half had sewage systems. In the countryside the figures were much worse. *** Perla and her kids walk around encrusted with grime; their hair is stiff with dust. They love to use our bathroom, especially the little girls. They scuttle upstairs, lock themselves in and stay for ages. For an eternity you hear the shower running, running, running. Always when they come out their hair is combed and glistening; they look warm and drunk with pleasure. After they go I enter the bathroom. It’s still misted with steam and I see they’ve helped themselves to the towels and the shampoo and creme rinse and the baby powder and Vitamin E lotion and Jean Nate; and for many hours thereafter, the bathroom reeks of cheap Mexican cigarettes. *** It was no accident that cholera hit Peru first. The statistics there on who has and doesn’t have water closely fit the UN’s grim numbers for the whole continent. Cities like Lima have mushroomed with outlying slums places that a more hopeful and thus conscience-stricken era condemned as “marginalized,” but which cynicism now cheerfully labels “pueblos jovenes.” The poor in these “young towns” get their water, mere liters at a time, from trucks and buckets, or they poach from other people’s pipes, which lowers the municipal water pressure and backs sewage up into houses. Chlorination systems don’t always work, or they are prohibitively expensive. Once, perhaps 20 years ago, Peru might have hoped for international aid to fix the chaos. But by the end of the Decade of Drinking Water, the World Bank, one of Latin America’s two biggest lenders for water projects, had shifted funds away from health, nutrition and education projects towards schemes to stimulate economic development. Water, one Inter-American Development Bank official said, ceased being a priority because it wasn’t “productive.” Neither did Peru’s president help things when he suspended most of the country’s debt repayments in 1985. In retaliation, the IMF and World Bank halted loans to the country. When the Inter-American Development Bank loaned $3 million to South America for water and sanitation projects, none of it went to Peru. Few were thus’ surprised when cholera did. In a few months, one out of every hundred Peruvians were stricken. Thousands died. *** Perla’s back. This time I’m trying to get ready for a conference over at the university. At least I’ve got my dress and makeup on. She’s still giving Chuyito water and the pharmacist recommended an anti-amebic medicine. It hasn’t worked. Chuyito’s stomach, she says, is hard and bloated. I’m worried. I give her money. I hurry so I won’t be late to the university. Oh, and I buy two bags of avocados. They’ll make a fine salad for tonight’s dinner. *** Some officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency went to Peru this spring to check the water. In city after city they found fecal coliform and cholera in the wells, broken pipes and oyerland flows of raw sewage close to drinking water lines. People in the pueblos jovenes were sticking their dirty hands in their water jars. Fields of vegetables were being irrigated with sewage. Dirty ice supposedly used only to chill raw fish was all over the place; street vendors were dumping it into their fruit juice. So far this year there have been 300,000 cholera cases in Latin America. One percent have proved fatal. It is estimated that to eliminate the disease, $200 billion will have to be spent on new water and sewerage systems. No one knows where that kind of money will come from. *** The seminar at the University of Texas at El Paso is slated to start with an overview of cholera’s history and epidemiology. Then the doctors and lab techs will describe how to identify the darting organism under microscopes. Dr. Nickey, head of the City-County Health Department, opens with a slide show, cumbersomely titled “Welcome to the Other America, or the Forgotten Texas. And Welcome to the Other Mexico.” Dr. Nickey, a native of El Paso and its unremitting sun, is an Anglo past retirement age whose face, nevertheless, still looks rosy and smooth. He has taken care of himself and he often sighs that when he was a boy, you could actually swim in the Rio Grande! At this conference he shows slides of current crossing spots in the river, sleepy little ranchos and burgs far from El Paso/Juarez, contrasted with our own frenetic, vehicle and people-ridden bridges. Last year there were 42 million border crossings northward, Dr. Nickey says \(and these With all this growth and business, the two cities have been unable to keep up with water, sewerage and health infrastructure needs, Dr. Nickey says. Especially water. Greater El Paso has 350 colonias chockablock, illegal subdivisions out in the desert where you can buy a plot of land for maybe $160 a month and rig up a cinderblock dwelling or anchor an old RV in the sand, without water hookups or sewer service. At least 10 percent of metro El Paso’s population is living like this, Dr. Nickey says. He shows how these people try to make do with their own infrastructure. He flashes a slide of an illegal outhouse \(“There are hun”We have lots. tic tank flowing into the Rio Grande; a rivulet of feces with children romping next to it; a pipe emerging from a house and draining onto a piece of plywood \(“I don’t have to tell you what All this is just El Paso. Over in Juarez, 400,000 people are living in similar conditions. And over there, even rich people’s sewage goes untreated the water from designer toilets and outhouses alike simply flows through stinking canals in the middle of town, then down through the Lower Valley, where it empties into fields to irrigate the crops. The American Medical Association recently witnessed similar scenes up and down the border, on both sides. The group issued a report. It called the US.-Mexico line a “virtual cesspool and breeding ground for infectious disease.” *** Chuyito got measles during the epidemic two years ago. What happened was that first, in El Paso. A Border Patrol agent had spotted Perla and the little girl with their fruit. They hid in an arroyo for three hours, waiting for him to go away. It was sunny and terribly warm, and when they got home that evening Cristina was hot and flushed. Perla was surprised because no one else up near the Channel 44 tower had measles. She suspected Cristina had picked them up in El Paso. Chuyito was next, and his case turned really bad. He was in the Social Security hospital under an oxygen tent for three weeks. The whole time, Perla and her family camped out on the concrete benches all except 11-year-old Perlita, who stayed at her cousin’s place. In the end Chuyito lived, but he’s never really been the same \(he stopped learning how to talk so well and he’s developed the strange habit THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13