Dear Jake,

I tried to send you an email, but you didn't give me an address.  That's why I'm answering your letter here.  I hope you get this.  In my opinion Mexico is already in a civil war.  It's complicated because several drug cartels are fighting for control.  They battle each other as well as the government.  The level of violence is as bad as Afghanistan and it is aimed at everyone, not just enemies.  Ordinary people get shot all the time for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Children are being killed, even babies.  It is clear that a lot of the drug thugs enjoy torturing people and continually come up with new horrors.  If I were in Mexico right now WITH a job I would still try to get over the border, especially if I had small children.  (And quite a few drug lords send their families to the U.S. to protect them.)  Please understand that as a U.S.. citizen I am not in favor of an open border -- the tide of illegal immigrants is killing our hospitals, schools and welfare system.  Also, a fair number of these people are drug mules and criminals.  I don't give them a free pass, but I know that if I were living in Ciudad Juarez, for example, I would break the law and flee.  It depends on where one lives.  I honestly don't know what will happen when law and order breaks down completely in Mexico, as I think it will in the next couple of years.  Most people north of the border don't know how bad it is because the U.S. newspapers don't write about it.  I don't know how old you are, Jake, so be careful with this next bit of information.  If you really want to know what's going on down south, look at the website  There are some truly horrifying stories there from the Mexican newspapers.  It is updated every few hours.  If you are much under age 15 you probably are too young to look at it, or if you get nightmares easily.  Take a peek at it and stop looking if it upsets you.  I'm mentioning it because it has the best coverage of the Mexican situation I know.  Of course you can use my name.  Good luck on your paper.All the best,Nancy Farmer

Harold and I are still recovering from our massive move. The last three days of packing were awful and I wound up throwing junk into boxes because I was no longer capable of making decisions.  When the movers collected the furniture I discovered that water had leaked under the fridge, making a dark and moldy stain.  No matter how long I trained the hair dryer on it, it didn’t get any lighter.  There were dust bunnies the size of rotweilers in the closets. We spent the last three nights in a sleazy motel next to a bowling alley.  I tried to make microwave popcorn and the dish inside the microwave exploded.

Harold had booked a room in a hotel in Yuma because they had a happy hour with free drinks.  But we forgot that Arizona is one hour later than California and arrived just as happy hour was ending.  The first room they showed us was dark and dirty and had a howling dog next door.  I complained and got a much nicer room.  Then we went out to eat.  Harold was so tired he could barely see.  We ate at a nearby restaurant that smelled very strange.  I thought it was some kind of exotic incense, but Harold said it was urine.  I got sick in the morning, so he was probably correct.

Our new house in Portal gets water from a well.  Harold turned on the electric well pump to discover that a pipe had burst during a recent cold snap.  Then he couldn't turn off the well pump and water gushed out all over the place.  But then -- first piece of good luck  – Gary, the man who helped build the house, drove by and came to our rescue.  He fixed the water problem and checked the pilot lights and gas connections so we wouldn't blow ourselves up.  We have lived in apartments so long we are like babies when faced with repair jobs.  Gary said everyone’s pipes had burst during the cold snap, including his.  He said he had seventy pets and that they needed a lot of water.  He has iguanas, snakes, peacocks and pot-bellied pigs, as well as a pond full of goldfish and mallard ducks.

A herd of about twenty javelinas invaded the yard.  They look like pigs, but are called peccaries.  I’m not sure what the difference is.  There were adults, teenagers and babies that bounced around like puppies.  They ate some of our prickly pears and drank water from the ponds we keep for wild animals.  Javelinas are very near-sighted, but they have good hearing.  The boss boar stood in front of the glass doors on our front porch, raised the fur on his back and made insulting noises at us.

I had a visit from a niece (Andrea) who is married to a ranger (Brian) stationed at Fort Huachuca.  He is a specialist in interrogation techniques and intelligence gathering, and is training recruits in his methods.  I did not ask what these were.  They have field exercises in the Huachuca Mountains where the trainees have to catch and question fake Afghans.  They have built fake villages peopled by civilians.  Andrea got to dress up as an elder with a long white beard, a goatherd and someone planting a landmine.  She says that quite often, when the trainees are hunting for Afghans, they find Mexican illegals sneaking across the border so the operation becomes quite realistic.

Last week a group of about ten illegals dressed in black and carrying black water bottles crossed the Portal road in the middle of the night.  Unfortunately for them, Portal is inhabited by astronomers and old folks who have trouble sleeping at night.  The month of March, according to the Border Patrol, is the high season for laborers to sneak across the border.  Drug mules come through the whole year round.

Our son Daniel is in the Navy on the USS Green Bay.  His ship set sail from San Diego early in March to do pirate ops off the coast of Somalia.  When he first told me that I thought he was joking, but he really is out there along with dozens of other ships from various countries.  The Green Bay was between Hawaii and Guam when the tsunami hit Japan.  They rode out the wave easily because a tsunami is fairly small in deep water.  It only gets huge when it comes up on shore.  The sailors waited in Guam to see whether they would be called to help the Japanese, but were sent on to Somalia.

When they got there, they got a message from a freighter saying that it was being chased by pirates.  The captain of the ship called for help on the radio and an Indian coast guard vessal also picked up the message.  When the Green Bay arrived, the men on the freighter were trying to hold off two boatloads of pirates with fire hoses.  When the pirates saw the Green Bay they sped off, heading back to their mother ship, which looked like a modified fishing boat.  In fact it was a fishing boat that had been captured and its sailors were being held hostage.

The mother ship took off quickly.  Unfortunately, a big ship like the Green Bay takes time to really get going.  It was passed by the smaller Indian destroyer.  The Indians told the Americans to clear the space around the mother ship.  They then told the pirates to stop, but as they were speaking Hindi and English, the pirates probably didn’t understand them.  Or didn’t care, because they speeded up.  The indians fired warning shots.  Daniel saw several puffs of smoke coming from both boats and splashes in the water between them.  The mother ship was getting away when Daniel saw another puff of smoke from the Indian ship and the fuel tanks on the pirate ship exploded.  Within five minutes the whole ship was engulfed in flames with one little skiff full of pirates and hostages floating beside it.  Some of them were in the water.  The Indians dropped a life raft and picked everyone up.  Daniel said everyone survived although the mother ship burned to a crisp.

Since then, as you may imagine, I’ve become awfully interested in piracy.  One of the best websites, with links to other sites, is  You wouldn’t believe how many pirate attacks there are when the weather is fine.

I have set up my office and am hard at work on the sequel to The House of the Scorpion.  One of the best sources for information on what’s happening in Mexico is but be warned that sometimes the pictures are too horrible to look at.  I mean it.  If you are under 15 or have sensitive nerves or get nightmares, stay away from this website.