All posts by craigae

Hasta La Próxima

I can’t believe it’s only been one week since our first day in Falfurrias…I also can’t believe how much of an impact just one week can have. 

Being able to work with Eddie at the South Texas Human Rights Center was a pleasure and a privilege. We got to see and be a part of the impact that the water stations placed by the Center makes on the community. Not only are these stations providing lifesaving water to passing migrants, they also provide an outlet for the community to participate in this humanitarian work. As we worked to refill and repair these water stations, we noticed in every single one that members of the community — not directly affiliated with the South Texas Human Rights Center — had been adding their own water and other beverages. This gesture showed me that there were people in the community that were taking their own steps to helping with the humanitarian crisis at the border and that was extremely impactful to see. It’s so easy to get caught up in the negativity that is so prevalent in the news and on social media that you forget how caring and positive people really are. This trip really highlighted the importance of a community that supports each other and the hardships that impact one another. 

Eddie holding an empty migrant's water bottle.
Eddie holding an empty migrant’s water bottle

A huge part of our January 2020 trip was performing search and recoveries. We went to multiple ranches and walked for miles through thick brush and sandy terrain trying to find migrant pathways. We used a lot of different skills to maximize our time in these ranches such as line searches, mapping, and our knowledge of osteology; knowing the difference between human and non-human osseous material is invaluable here given the amount of wildlife that exists in Texas ranchlands. 

Searching in the brush
Searching in the brush

A part of this trip that was significantly different from our May 2019 trip was our vast interaction with different groups of people that became involved in our search and recovery days. This was a significant part of the trip for me because I got to learn a lot about the different ways in which people have become involved with the border crisis. This trip we worked with Border Patrol, we performed a search with another humanitarian group (Desert Angels) and we interacted with the media as well as family members who had missing loved ones that had crossed the border. All three of these interactions were very different from each other but they all had a significant impact on my understanding of the border crisis. Yet, what affected me the most was meeting the mother of a son who had gone missing in the brush. While her heartbreak was most evident, she had nothing but kind words for us and continued to thank us for any time we were able to give to her to try and bring some closure to her family. These are the interactions that propel my want to continue in the field and use the skills I am privileged enough to learn to help others.

The team with Rafael of the Desert Angels
The team with Rafael of the Desert Angels

I cannot talk about this trip without mentioning Sheriff Deputy Don White. In our five work days we had in Falfurrias, he was by our side each day helping us repair water stations or walking alongside us in the brush. Not only is his knowledge of tracking, wildlife, and sense of direction invaluable to the success of our team, but his positive attitude and genuine care for the wellbeing of each and every one of us made it that much easier to keep one foot in front of the other. There are no words to express how grateful I am to have met and worked alongside such a dedicated individual. 

Sheriff Deputy Don White
Sheriff Deputy Don White

Ultimately, I am so appreciative for the amazing team I had the opportunity to be a part of. While I get to see Sammi, Tanya, Sidney, and Dr. Latham (almost) every day during the school year, getting to spend time with them in this setting is just another reason why I want to continue to pursue the field of Anthropology. I am so excited to continue to learn with and from them every day. 

The team on Day 1
The team on Day 1

Although it was a short trip, what I learned in that time and the experiences I was fortunate enough to have will stay with me for a lifetime. 

Alba

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Day 2: Getting the Hang of It

We started our second day like we did our first: 7 am breakfast at the hotel (including our daily dose of vitamin C from our individual Emergen-C packets). Before heading out to the South Texas Human Rights Center, we had to make a necessary stop at the gas station for more drinking water since we went through over 3 gallons our first day. We reached the center at 7:50 am and waited for everyone to arrive.

We were particularly excited for this morning because joining us was a cadaver dog handler, Melissa and her dog Katana. She gave us a lot of information on her long background of dog handling as well as how she currently trains her dogs to locate bones. After everyone was ready (Deputy Sheriff White, Eddie, Melissa, Katana, and the Beyond Borders team), we headed out to the ranch for our first search of the trip. 

The team with Melissa and Katana
The team with Melissa and Katana

Our team has an organized plan to perform the searches, but, as mentioned in the previous post, flexibility is a key element to our success. While we didn’t know exactly where we were going to search or the specifics of the landscape, we were as prepared as we could be with our Permethrin treated field clothes, sunscreen, bugspray, snake gaiters, and plenty of water.  Our strategy for this specific search day was to follow along a pipeline in line search formation. With one person walking directly along the pipeline as an “anchor” point for everyone to reference, we spaced out in the brush and began our search. 

As we started walking, it seemed that our team was a little out of sync. With the new, tougher  environment and a first time search for some, it took us a few minutes to really get into the swing of things. But as we started learning from each other and keeping up with everyone’s rhythm, we quickly became accustomed to our new mission. Our team’s consideration for one another was the biggest contribution to our success today. We made sure nobody fell too far behind, that everyone stayed hydrated, and warned each other of any upcoming hazards. With a positive and supportive attitude, 4 miles with our team went by very quickly. 

There were a few notable things we encountered on our search today:

First of all, the terrain. This specific area of the ranch had a variety of flora of varying densities. While some parts were open spaces with some short grass, others we filled with thorned bushes and large trees that we had to maneuver through and, as you could imagine, it was not easy. Knowing the difficulty of walking through this environment with full gear and a lot of daylight, it was unfathomable what migrants experience when they travel these same areas with the bare minimum of necessities and, most likely, at night.

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Open area between the brush
Sammi, Tanya, Sidney and Dr. Latham in the brush
Sammi, Tanya, Sidney and Dr. Latham in the brush

We found some personal effects left behind by passing migrants. While most of what we found was quite old and scarce, this was important information to note because it told us that the paths we were walking were no longer as heavily trafficked as they have been in the past.

Sweater left behind
Sweater left behind
Worn backpack
Worn backpack

We also encountered some of the animals that live on the ranch.

Family of cows
Family of cows
Wild hog on the run
Wild hog on the run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, something that caught our attention was a small squash-like vegetable that we found, growing by its lonesome, in the sand. We decided to take it with is and each try a bite of it back at the hotel; it was surprisingly sour and, after some research, we believe is called a Citron Melon.

Citron melon
Citron melon

By the end of our search, while the weather was in our favor (a high of 71 degrees and some cooling winds), we were quite exhausted. After we took off our walking gear, we jumped into our minivan and started driving out of the ranch, but not before stopping at each water station we saw to replenish the water.

 

Sheriff Deputy Don White and Tanya refilling a water station
Sheriff Deputy Don White and Tanya refilling a water station

Our day was not quite over, though. We had the pleasure of having dinner with Sister Pam, and what a meal it was. Not only was the food delicious — we were so famished that we didn’t even remember to take pictures of our food — but the company of Sister Pam was unmatched. She is the most wonderful, caring and inspirational person you could imagine. Even though it is just our second day, we all left our dinner with the motivation we all had to finish this trip strong from Sister Pam’s kind words of encouragement.

End of our Day 2 search
End of our Day 2 search

Alba

 

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Volviendo

While it has been about 8 months since my last trip, not a day has gone by that I don’t think about everything I learned and the people I met. No matter how cliche it may sound, it was an experience that has and will impact my life forever and I’m so beyond grateful that I get to do it all again.

As our country’s political climate remains so tense, I’m fortunate enough to have an outlet and be given the opportunity to volunteer my time with organizations such as the South Texas Human Rights Center and Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery. I get to learn from the people who spend every day working at the border and experience first hand the amount of dedication they have. I also get to come back home and share my experiences with my community as well as have open conversations about the border crisis which is a privilege itself. 

Searching in the brush (May 2019)
Searching in the brush (May 2019)

Although our mission for this trip is the same as the last time, I know to expect the unexpected. I feel a little more prepared since I have some experience with the search and recovery efforts, but I know this trip will be different. With the cooler season in Texas, our work days will be much longer and that is the main challenge I believe I will need to overcome this trip. 

My goal for the time being until we depart for Falfurrias (it is Christmas as I write this) is to try and stay active to help with my stamina. In May, our days were cut short by the high temperatures and humidity, but they were still some of the hardest and most energy consuming days I have experienced. I know that no matter the weather or how long we spend searching, I will be exhausted at the end of each day. But, I want to make sure that my body can keep up with the passion and dedication I have for the team and our mission. 

Deputy Don White and I repairing a water station
Deputy Don White and I repairing a water station (May 2019)

I’m no longer that concerned about the landscape or creepy crawlies; we had our fair share of spiders, scorpions, ticks, chiggers and of mesquite thorns and sticker burrs. But, as for the weather, I don’t know what awaits us. While we expect it to be cooler, we still carry the same risks of dehydration and over exhaustion as we did in the summer, but it will be less obvious. However, I know that our team will take care of each other and, regardless of what we encounter, I know that we’ll get through it.

Apart from the amazing opportunity I have been given, there are a lot of things I’m looking forward to this trip. I can’t wait to see and spend time with some of the people I had the pleasure to meet and I am excited to interact with new people in the community. I’m excited for our trips to HEB and eating the delicious food that never disappoints in Fal. 

I’m just counting down the days.

Alba

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