Just past 4 a.m., under a star-streaked sky, the Central American migrants shouldered their bags and picked over broken sidewalks, – first as a trickle, then as a flood – to the edge of the Mexican town.
They walked straight, without hesitation. Few spoke much. Their compass point was north, towards the United States.
Their goal for the day was Pijijiapan. The town, 30 miles away, was the next stop on a trek by thousands in a caravan that has so enraged U.S. President Donald Trump he has threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border and slash aid to Central America.
Honduran boys Adonai, 5, and Denzel, 8, set off from Mapastepec still fogged with sleep. Their mother, Glenda Escobar, 33, clutched her youngest’s hand. Her friend, Maria, held onto Denzel’s T-shirt.
No-one had a torch. Potholes were treacherous. Only the floodlights of the odd truck in the opposite lane of the highway helped them see a few feet at a time.
Within minutes, a young man lay on his back, hugging his knee to his chest. He’d smashed his ankle on a rock, he said, and was in too much pain to stand. The single mother and her boys strode past, keeping pace with the long train of people.
Her ultimate destination: Los Angeles, a city where she knows no one. “It’s because in my dreams, God told me that’s where he’s sending me,” she said.
Trump, who campaigned against illegal immigration to win the 2016 U.S. presidential vote, has seized on this caravan in the run-up to the Nov. 6 mid-term congressional elections, firing up support for his Republican Party.
Yet its members make up a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people who every year flee violence and poverty in Central America for the United States.
Estimates on the size of the caravan vary from around 3,500 to more than double that. Some migrants have abandoned the journey, deterred by the hardships or the possibility of making a new life in Mexico. Others joined it in southern Mexico.
30 MILES A DAY
Escobar kneaded her shin. Agile and slight, she used to exercise regularly back home in the crime-wracked city of San Pedro Sula. But even the hardiest would have struggled to cover about 30 miles every day since she joined the caravan on Oct. 14.
If she and her boys were lucky, a passing car or minivan would give them a ride before the sun turned the day from sticky warm to sticky hot.
Soon the boys watched wide-eyed as dozens, mainly young men, sprinted for the backs of slowing trucks and jumped aboard – an impossible feat for a mother with two small children.
Escobar’s family had had no food or water since residents of Mapastepec provided them a dinner of rice, beans, and eggs about 12 hours earlier.
That morning, there had been nothing to eat at the school where they slept on a three-foot (1 meter) square patch of floor, squeezed among dozens of parents with small children.
At least they had found shelter from the night’s downpour that soaked hundreds who slept on the sidewalks.
A shifting committee of self-appointed representatives in green jackets decide when to rise, move or sweep the streets they borrow for a night. The caravan follows like clockwork.
Through Guatemala to southern Mexico, private citizens, church groups and local organizations offered help at almost every stop and on the walks in between.
Since entering Mexico, they have been assisted by members of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a migrant rights group that has guided caravans through the country for several years, including one that drew the ire of Trump in April.
His broadsides against that caravan generated enormous publicity, convincing others desperate to leave Central America that caravans are a safer way to travel. Others have begun forming behind Escobar’s group.
LOOKING FOR WORK
By 9 a.m, two hours past sunrise, the first hitchhikers reached Pijijiapan.
Far behind, the Escobars walked, paused, zig-zagged into the bushes, walked, and stopped again.
“We’ve been going so many days,” Escobar said, watching her sons flag, then suddenly leap to life and give each other piggy backs. “Should we rest here a bit?”
The boys dropped down and started wrestling, which did nothing to stir Maria, who fell asleep in seconds on her backpack. Escobar, splayed on her back, stared at the sky, relating the many reasons that led to her journey.
The eldest of seven children, she abandoned school and dreams of becoming a detective to help her mother.
Life spiraled down at 18, she said, when on her way to work, a man she knew kidnapped her. She escaped but was pregnant with the child of her rapist, a former policeman who turned out to be a member of Barrio-18, she said. That brutal gang, together with MS-13, dominates much of El Salvador and Honduras.
He disappeared, believed to have been killed, but no one ever found the body, she said.
She raised his girl and had a son with another man. In time, he fled to the United States, promising to send for her. Within a year, his sister told her he had married someone else.
Finally, she fell for a mototaxi driver, who fathered Denzel and Adonai. But he began to throw things at her and abuse her and the boys. Then he forced her out of the house she had paid for with money saved from years working as a cook and a seamstress, she said.
When a neighbor told her about the caravan, she packed fast: a plastic tarp, clothes for the children, some soap. She left her two eldest with family, hoping to fetch them later.
Coordinators have left open when and where the caravan might reach the U.S. border, saying it will likely fragment as many people stay in Mexico.
Escobar and her family heaved to their feet. Denzel unfolded a discarded pamphlet that workers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) distributed to the caravan two towns back.
To disperse the convoy, Mexico has offered the Central Americans temporary jobs and identification papers if they submit requests for asylum in the south. But most have rejected the offer.
“No, no,” Escobar told her son. “The United States is better. For everything.”
POLICE FLAG DOWN RIDES
After six hours, Escobar started hitchhiking.
Just ahead, Captain Aispuro of the Mexican federal police was flagging down rides for women and children.
With no orders to stop the band of travelers, Aispuro said he felt a duty to help. That day, he had found around 10 rides for mothers with children, he said.
Escobar managed alone.
Settled inside a minivan, their faces shone with gratitude.
In Pijijiapan, hundreds had turned the main square into a mix of carnival and refugee camp. The family headed for a warehouse-sized shelter reserved for anyone with children.
A medical aide squeezed iodine on a woman’s bleeding foot. People swarmed into the bathroom. Many fled for a dip in a river.
In mid-afternoon, the warehouse was stifling with the crush of bodies. Escobar searched outside and set her plastic tarp under a tree. Two more stops and they would board a northbound freight train known as ‘La Bestia’ (the Beast), she said.
All around, adults fell asleep, exhausted.
But Adonai was sprinting for his third bottle of water. And Denzel was climbing a tree.
“They’re as strong as adults,” she said. No sweat then, rousing them for the next day’s 3 a.m. start.
UN Says 10 Children Among 13 Killed By US Air Strike In Afghanistan
The United Nations has on Monday confirmed that ten children, part of the same extended family, were killed by a US air strike in Afghanistan, along with three adult civilians.
The deadly attack occurred early Saturday near the capital city of volatile Kunduz province a northern province where the Taliban is strong where Afghan and U.S. forces were conducting a joint operation against Taliban insurgents.
Sgt. Debra Richardson, spokeswoman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, confirmed on Sunday that US forces carried out the air strike. She said the mission aims to prevent civilian casualties, while the Taliban intentionally hides among civilians.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in releasing its preliminary findings about the incident. UNAMA said in a statement that it is verifying that all 13 civilian casualties occurred around the time of the air strike.
U.S. officials confirmed the killing of two service members and carrying out an airstrike in the area, accusing the Taliban of using civilian areas as hideouts.
The strike which happened between late Friday and early Saturday is to support the pro-government forces on ground fighting against the Taliban militants in the area. The ensuing clashes have killed two American soldiers and several local commando forces, prompting the U.S. military to launch the airstrike
Seven Wounded As Gaza Rocket Strikes Home In Central Israel
Seven people were wounded early Monday morning after a rocket allegedly fired from Gaza Strip stuck a house in central Israel prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Washington and return to Israel after his meeting with President Donald Trump.
The Israel Defense Forces said that the rocket, which struck a home in the community of Mishmeret, was fired from a Hamas position in the area of Rafah in the southern Strip, some 120 kilometers from where it struck. It said the rocket was manufactured by the group.
Israel’s ambulance service said it treated seven people overall, including two women who were moderately wounded. The others, including two children and an infant, had minor wounds.
Israel has also closed the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings into the Strip.
Netanyahu said that Israel “will respond forcefully” to the rocket fire and that he was returning “to manage our operations up close.”
Teacher From Remote Kenya Village Is World’s Best, Wins $1 Million
A maths and physics teacher from rural Kenya who donates most of his salary to help poorer students has won the $1m Global Teacher Prize for 2019 beating 10,000 nominations from 179 countries.
36-year-old, Peter Tabichi, a science teacher at Keriko secondary school in Pwani Village, in a remote village in Kenya’s Rift Valley, Tabichi, a member of the Franciscan religious order, who gives away 80 percent of his salary to support poor students, received the prize at a ceremony on Saturday in Dubai, hosted by Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman.
“Every day in Africa we turn a new page and a new chapter, this prize does not recognise me but recognises this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved,” Tabichi said.
In a society where drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, dropping out early from school, young marriages and suicide are common while over 90% of his pupils are from poor families and almost a third are orphans or have only one parent, students have to walk 7km along roads that can become impassable in the rainy season to reach the school.
- UN Says 10 Children Among 13 Killed By US Air Strike In Afghanistan March 25, 2019
- Seven Wounded As Gaza Rocket Strikes Home In Central Israel March 25, 2019
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