Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, October 17, 2014

The saddest, loneliest dorm in Ayotzinapa

Proceso (October 14, 2014)

By Marcela Turati, translated by un vato for Borderland Beat

Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers School at Ayotzinapa

AYOTZINAPA, Gro. (apro).-- Every day, they try to make Bernardo move to another dormitory, but he doesn't listen to them. When the sun falls at this boarding school, he spreads his red blanket over some pieces of cardboard and sleeps alone, surrounded by absent students, yearning for this room full of friends. They were eight, and they fought over every square inch of floor space, they would play at being careless and step on each other's feet.

His companions Julio Cesar, Cristian Alfonso, Israel Jacinto, Eduardo and Miguel Angel are not here, only their belongings are here, only their photographs remain, exhibited among the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers School  who disappeared on September 26, when the devil got into the Iguala police and they revealed themselves to be criminals working for drug traffickers.

"I'm the only one here. One went home, his mother came to get his things, the other six are disappeared", says Bernardo, thin, lanky, easy-going. Around him, leaning against the bare walls, are the briefcases, clothing. the shoes and memories that he is taking care of until their owners return.

On the fourth day, his companions had not returned, so Bernardo took it upon himself to tidy up the place. He folded and stacked the pieces of cardboard that are used as beds, he did the same thing with the sarapes (cloaks) and the many-colored blankets.
Classrooms used as dormitories in Ayotzinapa teachers school.
Relatives take shelter at the school.
On one corner, he piled up the torn tennis shoes, all made out of cloth, no brand names; the X-shaped huaraches (home-made sandals) that peasants wear; the dress shoes bought with great sacrifice for future teachers. Everything is sprinkled with particles of paint that fall off the ceiling, which is  crumbling from the humidity, and which makes it seem that the items belong to some master painter.
Students' shoes piled in the corner.

Backpack belonging to missing student.

A white sack, like those that are used for seeds, is standing up against the wall, stuffed with clothes. It's got a sign that reads "Mexican Postal Service" (Correos de Mexico).

"This was Eduardo's back pack", explains this young nahuatlaca youth, caretaker of memories. On top of the sack-luggage is draped an old jacket, inherited from some prior generation from this teachers' school, that protected its owner from the cold.

A plastic cup with the toothbrush and toothpaste used by Julio Cesar peeks out from a sports duffel bag. At the bottom, a metal plaque with his name: "Julio Cesar Lopez Patolzi".

Among the clothes, the first page in his ruled page notebook stands out, where Julio Cesar, in pencil and in fine handwriting, wrote on the first day of class: "Well, I entered this Teachers School with (sic) the simple fact that my parents are peasants with meager resources and my abilities (sic) is to be responsible in the academy, too, I try to pay attention to the teachers so that I can get ahead". 

Julio Cesar's notebook.

Study certificate belonging to Jose Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa.
A little farther, a plastic cup can be seen, containing a spoon, a knife, a fork, because the students had to bring even these items from their homes. A bag of "Foca" detergent. A folder with study certificates of Jose Eduardo Bartolo Tlatempa, an indigenous student, as one can tell from his last name; indigenous like the majority of the students in this school, in which the requirement for admission is to have no money, but to have a desire to go against the current, against the fate of the poor, until they can be somebody.

"I  tidied things up myself this week. When they went out on the (fundraising) activity, they didn't have time to arrange things, so I began to clean up the place", explains Bernardo, tense but smiling. A pair of brooms is standing in a corner.

With his arm, he shows how four of them used to sleep by the wall closest to the door with worn borders: Julio Cesar, Cristian Alfonso, Cristian ("that one is at home;  his mother took his things"), and, over there, Jonas.

During the first days of classes, in the room they call Section G, Julio Cesar Mondragon, "El Chilango", also used to sleep there. He was the young man from Mexico State who disappeared with the others on the 26th, and who was found murdered three days later, his torso full of bruises and flayed; without eyes, without skin, without a face. He was wearing the same red T-shirt he had on when he showed up for the first day of classes, the same one that is circulating on the Internet, where he is seen holding his newborn baby girl, kneeling down beside his wife.

"'El Chilango' moved out of here because there were a lot of us and there was no room-- he says --. Sometimes he would throw himself down beside me, then he moved to the other side (the other room), he stayed there for a while, then he said he was going  to look for a place to sleep. I told him that if he didn't find a place, to come back here, and he moved to the bakery"

Whoever says that in the rural teachers schools, where the poorest teachers in Mexico are trained, they live in luxury should take a look in this room, with a sign that says "Number 4"; Section G, as they call it. They'll find out that the door does not seal, that the wind comes in through the roof. The furniture consists of three boxes nailed on the walls to serve as shelves; one, a wooden crate,  and the other two made out of plastic.

The walls are smeared with white paint that the humidity is rotting away. There are no ornaments. There was no time to  put up any. There's only a sign written in pencil that somebody left behind which reads: "October 2". The young men traveled to Iguala (a little more than an hour away) to collect donations ("botear", literally, "to pass the can") to obtain funds to attend the annual demonstration commemorating the Tlateloclco student massacre in the Federal District, and to bring back three passenger buses for that purpose. (In the school's courtyard there are some thirty commercial passenger buses parked, their drivers waiting for their relief).

Because Bernardo was signed up for the school's Military Band and stayed behind to clean the instruments, he did not go to Iguala with the rest of the first-year students, so-called "pelones" (baldies), because, by school tradition, all students newly admitted to this Teachers School get their heads shaved. Bernardo is also bald; the hairs that are growing on his head stand up straight as if they were bristles on a brush.

"I stayed at the door to wait for my friends. I waited. I saw that they did not come back", he says, sitting on the floor by the pile of shoes.

That night, the School got the news that they had suppressed the "pelones", the police had surrounded and arrested them. Information dribbled in; somebody was wounded, no, he was already dead, and the dead person was a "pelon".

The uncertainty passed through them, leaving the question of who could it be.

"We were calling all of them. The only call that got through was to Israel Jacinto, he said they were on the bus, that the police had surrounded them, that they had tear gas. We told them to break the windows so they wouldn't asphyxiate. He asked us to go get him, we told him that a Suburban had already left to go for them. (The call) lasted five minutes, you could hear the others yelling, him, too. You could her the noise made by the patrol vehicles. Until he hung up.

It was only later that he learned that all the passengers in Israel Jacinto's bus were forced to get into municipal police patrol vehicles. They were all disappeared.

That night, Bernardo tried to go rescue his comrades, but he couldn't find space on the pickups that left with reinforcements (some of the students who went to the rescue did not return, they were killed, others are still hospitalized).

He stayed up all night with all of them, guarding the school; he was tasked with guarding the corrals. Among themselves, they would check the news on Facebook and the Internet; that it was no longer one dead person, but two, then three. Three from the Teachers School, and another three who were not student teachers, but who were mistaken for them.

"They began to show the images, I didn't know anything, but they said they did something very ugly to a guy, they took off his face. That's where I recognized "El Chilango" because he was wearing the same T-shirt from the first day of classes. The last time they saw him was when they put them on patrol vehicles." He says this as if it was nothing, but fear lurks in his eyes.

He takes out his cell phone and shows the video they took on August 21, his birthday. It shows that Bernardo was taken by surprise and thrown into a pool of water. He looks at the scene affectionately and says, "There's El Chilango, he's the last one to arrive (and, yes, you can see a young man, not as thin as the others, who helps the rest of them throw him into the river); the one who recorded the video from above is Miguel Angel".

He no longer has the photograph taken on August 8, when the older students shaved their heads with a razor. It was in a cell phone that was stolen from him. But he does have the memories, and he pulls them out.

"We were going to choose "El Chilango" to be group leader. He wanted to do it, but, since he was from (the State of) Mexico, he was afraid he would be treated badly, so he chose to remain as support. He didn't like to argue, he was serious, reserved. We were going to elect him because he liked to participate in class. He had been in Teneria, and we asked him but he didn't want to talk about it; I think he was expelled. He went to take tests in Tripetio, Michoacan, he didn't say why they expelled him, and he came here."

Bernardo has just returned from three days leave in El Durazno, his home town, located in Tuxtla municipality, where four of his colleagues come from, and which is a nahuatlacas area.

At home, his mother asked him to leave the Teachers School, and not go back, to which he answered: "I want to stay there so I can find out about my friends".  Also,  he still wants to become a teacher.  

--Why do you want to be a teacher?

-- My friend Chilango would say... I still remember his words -- and he smiles, complicit-- 'to share my ideas with the children".

-- Ideas such as what?

He doesn't answer any more. He covers his face, stunned. Sadness takes his words and he cries silently, not with the noise of those who come from the city, he cries like a peasant. He looks like a cornered child. And how could it not be like this, since this is a gigantic pain for this young man, barely turned 18 years old, who is pretending to be an adult, who is carrying on his skinny body the heavy memory of seven friends and, like a kick to the soul, the discovery of this rotten country's root. 

"I just want them to come back," he wipes his tears.

When he recovers, as if he was in a hurry, he begins to pick out memories, as if it was urgent for him to talk about all of them, to name them, to remember them so they can be brought back.

"The section was very united. We were very united. We would never get separated when we went out to work on the module or to buy things, we would cooperate among ourselves. If there was something to do, we would go together. I would get there first, but I would not go in, I would not open the door, I would wait outside until all of them got there so we could go into the dining room together."

The smile returns when he makes Eduardo, "Boby", appear in the room, the one who liked break dancing, he would put on a song and begin to throw kicks around. And Cristian Alfonso, who loved to study dancing since he was a child. And Israel, who pretended to be careless at night, because every time he got up for any reason, he would step on the feet of those who were lying down; his victims would scold him, the rest of them would laugh. Jonas making trouble, like that time he fell asleep standing up in a class and made everybody laugh out loud. "He was from the coast, he couldn't pronounce '128' and used to say 'Baisa'  [slang for 'hand']".  

He also talks about his school routine, about the 'struggle' activities they had, milking the cows, getting the diesel out, "passing the can" (asking or donations), until he chokes up. "On the 26th, we came in at 9:40 (a.m.), I don't even remember what class we went to. I had the schedule, but the guy who kept it has disappeared. I was going to ask him for it."

He knows that his other first year friends are worried about him because Section G is the only room where there was only one student left -- in other rooms, at least two or three remained. When they invite him to change sections, he tells them the same thing he says now: "no, that I'm OK, that I want to stay here with them".

Some nights he has dreamed that they are all in the get-together that they had planned for this weekend.

Photos: Relatives of disappeared students take shelter in school

A student moved into his section for a few days so he would have some company, and sometimes he would scold him with a, "don't be sad, cabron, they'll show up. Think positive'. One day, they simply began to pray with more or less these words, that Bernardo recites now: "May the Lord protect each student from our section, may He give them strength, protect them and bring them back unharmed; they're coming back here and we will be waiting here'.

After the tears have passed, the memories polished, friends revisited, empty spaces retaken, Bernardo speaks honestly: "There's times I want to get away from looking at the families, how their faces look, how they cry. One loses hope. I feel sad and alone, I feel bad, I'm the only one who stayed here. I always used to say: 'If we all go out, we all come back.'"

That routine of waiting for them at the door, of not going in until they were all there; that promise of "if we all go out, we all return" is what makes Bernardo rearrange his friends' belongings every so often, sweep the floor and cultivate the hope of a reunion until night falls, when he returns to the saddest, loneliest room in Ayotzinapa, spreads out his red blanket, and sleeps, always vigilant, to welcome them back the moment they reappear.

"I'm waiting for them to get here -- he says -- For that reason, I haven't left. I know that if I was disappeared, they would do the same."
Waiting for word of the normalistas


  1. El Espiritu de lucio cabañas y genaro Vazquez vive en el corazon de la gente de la region...defendiendo al pueblo y sus derechos...que Barbaros y que respeto para esos verdaderos

    1. A bunch of cartel cheerleaders give props to a bunch of cowardly Narcos with guns! This kid is what a true man represents! He is a person with the guts to be what life has given him and make the best of it! Fuck those cartels and their fucking greed! Oh, and fuck the politicians and corrupt law enforcement also!

  2. Hombres de verdad!!

  3. Que mierda el gobierno asesino!!! Vivan los estudiantes y los maestros de las escuelas rurales!!

  4. They should form auto-defensa and get guns and ammunition.

  5. "the simple fact that my parents are peasants with meager resources and my abilities (sic) is to be responsible in the academy"

    Different people,as a person reading this i want to help them not hurt them.How could you hurt these people?Because they protest for more rights and respect,because like all of us they want to get ahead?You start to get a feeling of the discrimination they must encounter,which in turn makes them band together for safety.If general Mexicans feel somewhat alienated imagine what these people must feel?They were killed as if they didn't matter,literally treated as rubbish.Crazy brutality,and this is the police and authorities?
    Thanks un vato

  6. Who may appear there is the government, to finish the job.
    The government looks at the students at the teachers, college as expenses not worth it, the education of mexico has been chosen by private enterprise for takeover, for twice the money and half the results, bill gates, jeb bush and mitt romney's investments in education using computers instead of real living teachers can not be contained on the US, all the teachers unions on the US can't do anything when big wigs pensions are on the line, police, firefighters, teachers, anybody with a 401k or whatever kind of investments hastheir ass on the line, and mexico has to produce some yield$$$, la chucky or not la chucky...
    --Now it looks like la chucky was the lesser evil than foreign investors in mexican education...
    AMERICAN PEOPLE, with pension fundz, being administered by global satraps, should be more aware of the shit trap they are in...
    --and social security and medicare funds are wanted too, on the basis of inflated results produced by crimes concocted by private administrators of public and private investments, who certainly, have taken their shares offshore to some safe harbour, away from the US government's despised little handzz...

  7. October 17, 2014 at 8:20 AM
    I thought you only came out in the dark millie?
    You didn't mention the students or the story once in your crap ?

  8. These were poor people working hard and studying to educate themselves to support thier families .They were doing what you are supposed to do to move ahead in life and they get killed by a corrupt mayor and a corrupt government .The President is supposed to protect the population.

  9. fck this makes me want to just take an AK47 and spray all of those politico bastards. im sure nobody would weep for them.

    1. Obama has nothing to do with this!

  10. An incredible, and incredibly sad post. Thank you

  11. sad.. that's how i see it.

  12. Vato
    The "dorms" are reminiscent of schools I have worked with in far rural areas. Only its the teachers and director who fashion classrooms into "dorms" of rope and blankets in an attempt for a little bit of privacy. , a makeshift kitchen and usually showers are an obscure side of a building and buckets of water unless they are fortunate to have a hose and hose bib. Teachers are always "newbies" who are MIA by mid term. I have constructed shower rooms and small kitchens in these schools in hope of keeping teachers for at least one year.

  13. May God Have Mercy and those who are responsible repent!

  14. Great writing.Tragic beyond words.Thanks for posting and the translation!


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