Baggage Claim

san-antonio-airport
Leaving Texas

It’s been two days. Two days that I’ve been out of the Texas heat, three since I’ve walked through the harsh terrain many others still traverse. The difference is that their lives are dependent on how they cross it, how well they conserve water, how well they hide. My life was not dependent on these things. Throughout my journey across the Texas scrubland, I had plenty of access to water, I was covered head-to-toe in sunscreen and bug spray, I had food and air conditioning to look forward to, and I did not have to worry about being seen by others. Before this trip, I had read about the migrant crisis, studied it through books and documentaries. I thought I could understand what these people face on their journey to what they believe will be a better life. The truth is that no one can know what migrants face unless you’ve faced it yourself.

The work the Beyond Borders team did was difficult, something I expected. What I didn’t expect was to realize how little I actually knew about the conditions migrants face. We covered 23 miles of land but I cannot describe it in a way that sufficiently demonstrates the true nature of the environment. I can say it was hot, I can say we picked ticks off our bodies by the dozen, I can say that sand is really hard to walk in. None of these explanations truly cover what our team experienced. If I cannot explain the harshness of the environment as we experienced it, I cannot imagine the true nature of the journey as a migrant does. I can’t tell you how it feels to sleep under the cover of trees, how panic sets in when I’ve run out of water, how adrenaline kicks in when I hear movement that may be from another person. I did not have to worry about those things, but the migrants that make this journey do.

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Material evidence shows where migrants have been. Here, a forgotten sock.

Since we’ve returned from Texas I find myself thinking of those who are still on those ranches, including the living and those that have perished along the way. I love being back home with my husband and my cats, but I know there are others separated from their families. I love sleeping in my own bed, though I know there are others trying to find a shady spot under a tree to sleep under. I’m able to go out to eat, go to the gym, to sit inside my house if I want to while others are missing, deceased, and/or unidentified. Why am I so lucky? Why am I not forced to make a decision to either remain in a place ravaged by conflict and poverty or to make a treacherous journey north that may very well cost me my life? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I feel with all of the luck I’ve had in my life that I have an obligation to help those that are not as privileged as I am. I only hope that the work the Beyond Borders team did will mean something, help someone, or at the very least give someone hope that there are people in the world who have not forgotten them.

Before this trip, we were asked what we hoped to gain from this experience. I wanted on-the-ground knowledge about what the crisis was really like. Though the Beyond Borders team have only experienced a fraction of what migrants face on their journey, I feel that I have learned so much. I additionally feel an added weight that accompanies this knowledge. The emotional baggage is something I would never give back and I fully claim it as my own. While out to dinner with Sister Pam she said something to the group that stuck with me: “You become different people when you put your feet in other people’s shoes…it changes you”. I am forever changed by people I have never met. I have a drive to learn even more about the migrant crisis and to provide humanitarian aid sometime again in the future. To those who do this work day in and day out, thank you.

 

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Sunrise in Falfurrias

Angela

At the Wall

Back Home Again in Indiana

After getting back to Indianapolis late Friday night, there were just a few days turn around before heading out to our annual regional conference in Nevada. The weekend was spent unpacking and resting, trying to get over the cold I picked up in Texas before taking another trip. My lengthy to-do list was staring at me, but it was too tempting to put it off another week until I’m home for good again.

These past couple days have been kind of like limbo in different ways – recovering from one trip, gearing up for another right away; knowing there’s a list of things to do, but not many tasks that can be finished before I leave again; playing the balancing game of buying just enough food to have enough but not too much to finish before I leave again for four days. I’ve never been crazy about this type of unsettled feeling, and this time it’s about more than just daily logistics.

Cleaning barrels
Cleaning barrels

While we were in Texas, we were working towards something big. Though it was easy to lose sight of that in the heat of the day and being focused on the work, there were always small reminders that we were there because of something much bigger than ourselves. Things like U-turns and window markers, phone calls about missing loved ones, fresh footprints in the sand, little kids’ backpacks, and the stories told by Eddie, Deputy Don, and a few other friends we made while down there.

I found myself forgetting the bigger context while I was working, or at least feeling one step removed from it. I had a blast building and filling water stations, riding around in Eddie’s truck and loving the kind of manual labor I used to do growing up on a farm. I also took notes on water usage, knowing that it meant there were people that had come through that route, but never really letting it sink in. In some ways, I feel like I’m still in that limbo of knowing the information, but not yet completely realizing the complete context that goes with it.

Truck adventures
Truck adventures

For every gallon of water we put out at existing stations, it meant that there was someone that had taken one previously. Without knowing their story of what came before or after their visit to that water station, it’s hard to know details about the individual people we are helping. But we can imagine, from the memories of others who have crossed. Regardless of the reason, it was strong enough motivation to risk their life crossing what I know to be a very unforgiving terrain. This summer will be especially hot and dry, which will only increase the danger of taking hazardous routes through the brush and the sand.

I know all this, and yet it was alarmingly easy to slip back into my normal routine at home. Already, our trip to Texas seems like a memory instead of happening just last week. I brought a few small snail shells back with me, to set on my dresser as a daily reminder to not forget my experience and what others will continue to go through. I look forward to sharing more of my stories with my friends and family, both to introduce them and remind myself of what’s going on outside my own little bubble in Indy.

Rachel

Footprints on my heart

A path: A way beaten, formed, or trodden by the feet of persons or animals. Paths consume our lives. We walk down paths to jobs, houses, families. And each person’s path is different. Some of us walk slowly, while others run. Sometimes we encounter road blocks along the way, maybe the size of a mesquite tree or a prickly pear cactus. Sometimes we get a thorn stuck in our leg and we have trouble walking and sometimes we feel weary and like we can’t walk anymore. Paths cross and twist and turn and hopefully, through perseverance, hope, and a goal, we reach our final destination.

A path formed by migrants
A path formed by migrants

Most of us are afforded help along our journey. Help can come in the form of a friend cheering us on or giving us advice. It can come in the form of a hug from a beloved parent, friend, or animal. It can come in the form of a story, a hardy meal, a drink, a conversation. Help comes in a variety of forms. It shapes our paths and our stories. My story changed this past week.  In my life I have experienced great joy, happiness, and love. I have also experienced heartache and loss. Some would say I am lucky because I have not experienced the loss of a family member or close friend. On March 18 I experienced the loss of my beloved dog. I cried myself to sleep each night for 54 days wishing I could get my best friend back. This loss changed my life. My path shifted. I felt lost.
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I have walked down countless paths in my life, both consciously and unconsciously. Each path has been my own though until this past week when I walked down somebody else’s path or rather, many persons path. While in South Texas, we had the incredible opportunity to conduct foot searches for missing migrants on a 64,000 acre ranch. We walked through what seemed like hundreds of spider webs, changed our paths to preserve spider webs, ran into low hanging branches and lost our hats and sunglasses, drank bottles and bottles of water, searched the ground for rattlesnakes, bones and any signs of human presence. We struggled to walk through miles of sand and attempted to guard ourselves against the Texas sun, ticks, and the thorns of cacti and mesquite trees. We walked along paths trodden down by individuals attempting to seek shelter and make a better life for themselves. We saw personal belongs left behind by these individuals.

A path through the woods
A path through the woods

In our time in South Texas, we also had the unique opportunity to help build water stations to hopefully help save the lives of migrants walking through the area. We built 13 water stations and serviced 66 additional stations. We dropped 160 gallons of water in total.

One of the 13 water stations we built
One of the 13 water stations we built

For me, this trip was life changing. I saw with my own eyes, the remnants of individuals traversing through the Texas ranchlands. I experienced the extreme heat of the Texas sun coupled with 90% humidity and above. I walked 23 miles in sand, through thick brush without knowing what was ahead of me and putting all of my trust in Deputy Don White. I heard countless stories that would break anybody’s heart. I was able to experience a tiny portion of a migrants journey, and it changed my life.

Deputy Don giving us instructions on our search for the day
Deputy Don giving us instructions on our search for the day

I returned home to my 423 square-foot apartment in Indianapolis with a heavy heart. I am so happy to have been a part of this Beyond Borders trip to South Texas and I am so proud of the work we were able to do while we were there. However, I am deeply saddened to think about the individuals walking through South Texas right now as I write this as well as those families who have not found peace yet because their loved one(s) is missing. I wish them peace, safety, hope, and happiness. I wish they could know that without meeting even one of them, they have changed my life for good.

Sunset on the border wall
Sunset on the border wall

Haley