The centre of Tijuana looks like a scene from a dystopian science fiction film. At first sight, you see glitzy skyscrapers and fancy shopping malls. In between, a jumble of highways, fly-overs, underpasses and bridges. But underneath, invisible to most drivers who whizz past, a population of paupers crawl around like zombies. They move around on traffic islands and bivouac behind crash barriers and concrete traffic divisions. There, they drink cheap beer and get high on crystal meth.
They look scary, but I overcome my fear and walk up to a small group, who turn out to be friendly and talkative. Ramón is a scruffy old man with a beard. He introduces me to his friend, José, who has only one leg. After an infection, he developed gangrene and his leg had to be amputated. José stirs a little jar with a brown fluid. They use a mixture of heroin and crystal meth. There are hardly any veins left on his last leg and his arms. Ramón helps his friend to inject the mixture in his neck. With a grimace of pain, but also of bliss, José undergoes the procedure.
A hit of meth costs around 50 pesos, roughly $3. They can earn that in an hour or so, cleaning windshields at traffic lights. Yes, they would love to quit drugs. But they cannot afford to go to rehab, which costs a minimum of $300. According to the Tijuana-based anthropologist and human rights activist Victor Clarke, roughly 5 per cent of the city is addicted to meth – resulting in a population of 60,000 addicts.
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