A long entry about a long week

July 6, 2010

The preface

It took me forever to write this. I tried to keep the important stuff, leave out the minutia. Crushing 7 days – each of which felt like a month – into just one post is hard to pull off… I’m too long winded and too enthusiastic.

For those who’ve known me a long time, you might remember when I volunteered with a syringe exchange. I was so inspired I tried to write a book. This is kind of like that.

SO – consider this a very sketchy summary of a very meaningful week. I’ll try to be organized, so I don’t get off topic.

The intro

No More Deaths provides food, water, and medical care to migrants traveling on foot through the Arizonan -Mexican border. I volunteered with them in the desert, just south of Tuscon.

The landscape

Camp Bird is in the middle of Sonora. The horizon is mountainous. The landscape is beautiful, but not your friend. Everything has thorns, spines, or a stinger. The only roads available are like dried river beds with tire tracks. It’s between 104 and 108 degrees during the day, 70 degrees at night. The sky is as enormous as you’d expect. We woke up at sunrise (5am) and fell asleep after moonrise (9 pm). The moonrise looks like dawn at nighttime.

The people

There were twelve of us: Michelle, Jake, Lisa, Byron, Kevin, Kyle, Holly, Hillary, Darby, Molly, our coordinator Jim, and yours truly. We joked around a lot. As Jim put it one night, “If you can’t make each other laugh, you won’t be able to do this work for very long.”

The work

Like I said, 5 a.m. wake-up call. We were working by 7. There were three ways volunteers spent their days:

1) Patrolling. A team was equipped with a topographic map and GPS devices. We hiked the migrant trails. Usually there were three of us – one who knew the trail already, one who spoke Spanish, and one who with some medical knowledge (that’s me). We walked with back packs of food, basic med supplies, and water. The “trails” are difficult – meaning unmarked, sometimes nonexistent, along a cliff. [I discovered I have a fear of heights. Who knew?]. If we ran into migrants we offered them what we had. If we didn’t see anyone, we saw signs of night time traffic: empty red bull cans and water bottles, rusted tuna fish tins, abandoned clothes. I think of it as cowboy ethnography. We were on the right track. Patrolling was the most exhausting activity, but also the best way to enjoy dinner at the end of the day.

2) Water drop offs. The truck bed was stocked with dozens of gallons of water. We drove out to a specific point. From there, we hiked to a nearby drop off spot with a gallon per hand, maybe one more in a back pack. A nest of full jugs was left on the edge of the trail in exchange for empty ones, which we took back to recycle. Occasionally gallons had been slashed, we assumed by border patrol. When all the water drops within walking distance were refilled, we drove the truck to the next spot to for another round.

3) Stay at camp. Do chores, make lunch, domestic stuff. The easiest job, which no one wanted to get stuck with.

The politics


Clearly I think it’s a good idea to provide medical care to migrants, because I think it’s a good idea to help anyone if you can.

I promised myself to be 100% transparent about my political biases. You probably could guess them anyway. So, here it is on the table: I think SB 1070 is racist; I think the term “illegal alien” is a prejudice slur (vs. “undocumented person”); and from what I know about the history of immigration in the US – my own heritage included – I’m embarrassed & horrified by the political atmosphere I saw in Arizona.

An example: during our training, an immigration lawyer of Mexican decent told us that last week she received a prank call, “Is this the law office of Carla X? Could you tell her that her brother still needs to mow my lawn?”

I saw a court hearing of 70 people at once who were deported in less than an hour (look up operation streamline for more info). On one trail, we saw a shrine to a 15 year old girl whose remains were found there two years ago. I heard more anecdotes of struggle than I could stomach; I’ll spare you the gore. The details aren’t straight in my head, and I want to try to keep this as propaganda-free and unpreachy as I can. ( I know I haven’t done a great job so far… but man, you should have read the first draft).

The Ending

During the school year, there were moments when it felt like they’d taken my soul out and replaced it with a textbook.

On the last day, I felt like an instrument that someone decided to tune, after years of not being played.

I came home with bruises on my legs and ant bites on my wrist. I was sad to wash the dirt off my arms. That’s a good sign.


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