All posts by craigae

Unforgettable In Every Way

The week that I was fortunate enough to spend in Falfurrias is one that I will never ever forget. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in such a short time from improving my skills in the field with search and recovery to learning and trying to understand all of the behind the scenes work that Arianna, Selina and Eddie do at the South Texas Human Rights Center. Although there were some hardships along the way, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

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At the start of this trip, I knew that we would be working hard every day and that we would be battling the Texas environment (heat, humidity, and all of the little creatures), but I didn’t know that I would leave Falfurrias missing every single person that I got to personally meet and get to know. I was never prepared for the impact it would all have on me and I don’t think it has even all sunk in yet. Getting to know Deputy Don White, Selina, Arianna, Eddie and Byron was the absolute highlight of my trip. They’re all such an inspiration and I’m so proud and thankful to be able to have participated in their mission.

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Taking part in refilling and repairing water stations along the various roads, highways and ranches gave me a glimpse into how far and widespread migrants can find themselves in Brooks County. There were very few water stations that we didn’t have to replenish which, when I sit and reflect on that fact, shows how important the work done by the South Texas Human Rights center is; yet, it’s heartbreaking to know that individuals crossing the border are constantly running out of water in a state with a heat so unforgiving. The search and recovery operations were also a reinforcement of this thought.

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There is no comfortable path to take when you find yourself walking through the ranches of Brooks County. Being on these ranches and following the same paths of migrants crossing the border was exhausting, and we only did it for a few hours a few days. Experiencing Deputy Don White’s dedication firsthand was one of the things that kept me motivated to continue forward. On our second to last search and recovery day, while we waited to be picked up by Eddie in the truck, Deputy White proceeded to tell us how proud he was of us and that he couldn’t do it without us when, in reality, it’s the other way around. Coming from someone who spends countless days and all of his energy doing what we did for just three days, it really meant the world.

There were a lot of impactful moments on this trip for me, but it wasn’t until our last day in Falfurrias when Byron offered some insight into his own experiences crossing the border that I came to realize just how much sacrifice is involved in the decision to come to the US. Thousands of dollars, two and a half months of physical and emotional exhaustion, the fear of getting detained, and the knowledge that you may never be able to return home and see some of your own family members ever again. This is something unimaginable for me. Yet, as we said our goodbyes at Jalisco, Byron proceeded to hug every one of the Beyond Borders team and enthusiastically thank us for our work. Knowing that we had a positive and significant impact on someone who has experienced the hardships of being a migrant crossing the border makes everything worthwhile.

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There aren’t enough words in the world to express how grateful I am to everyone involved in giving me such an amazing opportunity and experience.

~Alba

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Day 4: Search and Recovery…and Tamales

This morning we began our day as usual with hotel breakfast and raspberry emergen-c. But, although our start was the same, the rest of the day would be completely different than the previous days. Today was our first day of search and recovery operations.

At 7:45am we left the hotel and headed towards the South Texas Human Rights Center where we met up with Deputy Don White, Arianna, Selina, and few new additions to the usual that included Eddie Canales, a few students from Texas State University and a couple of media reporters. It was such a pleasure getting to meet Eddie for the first time knowing how dedicated he is to providing humanitarian aid along the border. He’s truly an inspiration.

After a quick pow-wow on the day’s plan of search and recovery , safety precautions and waiver signing, we all headed out in our vehicles to the ranch. Lucky for us, the weather was quite overcast and hadn’t yet reached 90 degrees. Once everyone was parked, gaiters on and bug-spray sprayed, we were off. While it took a few moments of strategizing, we all lined up side by side 5-10 feet away from each other — some with GPS trackers in pocket — and began the search.

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The ground was soft and sandy, sticker burrs plagued the way and grasshoppers jumped frequently with every foot that hit the ground. Some parts of the landscape were flat and other parts were full of thorned trees with spiders hanging from their branches. We searched for 3 hours (it honestly felt a lot longer).

During our search we encountered a lot of personal effects left behind by individuals following paths across the border; these included plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, clothes, purses, etc. This was really eye opening. It was a rough terrain and the weather was not forgiving, but we all knew that we would return to our own vehicles and, at the end of the night, sleep in air conditioned rooms in our own beds at night. This is not true of individuals such as those that left their clothes and water bottles behind.

Clothing left behind by border crossers
Clothing left behind by border crossers

 

After our relatively short time searching, we stopped for a snack, jumped in the back of Eddie’s truck and rode towards our parked vehicles where we started. From there, we returned back to the South Texas Human Rights Center to have a lunch of sandwiches, pickles and grapes and allow everyone some time to check themselves and each other for ticks. Luckily, the Beyond Borders team was tick free, for today at least! The same cannot be said for some of the others in our group. Finally, Dr. Latham, Eddie and Deputy Don had a conversation on tomorrow’s plans and we all headed out for the day.

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Because we finished our search fairly early today, we had some time to spare. After jumping in the hotel pool for a quick cool down and taking a shower to wash off the debris of the day, we decided to head out to McAllen. There, we got to see a glimpse of “the wall”, and it was…interesting. Border patrol was already set up in their truck when we got there and told us to not get too close to the wall, so we only stayed long enough to take some picture of the wall and destroyed ladders along its periphery.

"The Wall"
“The Wall”

Lastly, and possibly my favorite part of the day, we went to Delia’s for dinner and I do not exaggerate when I say that I got to eat the best tamales I’ve ever had! I can say with confidence that we all greatly enjoyed that meal after what felt like a really long day and here’s the proof:

Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us
Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us
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Travel Day

Waking up before the sun is definitely a sign of adventure.

3:00 am Tuesday morning, I go through my check list for the 1000000th time and, yet, still have the feeling that I’m forgetting something (spoiler: this feeling still hasn’t gone away as I write this in our hotel room in Falfurrias). My dog catches on to my anxieties as I pace the living room racking my brain for anything that I could possibly need for this trip. While she sits on the couch following me with her gaze, I recount the most important things that I need for this trip: identification, field gear, medication. Anything else — whether I forget it or not — can be replaced.

Fast forward a couple of hours, after we all met at the airport, were able to check out bags with much ease, and ate a much too early breakfast, the real waiting game begins. One hour until we board our first flight and around 7 hours until we reach our final destination.

I wish there was more for me to say about the flights, but I took the time to catch up on some z’s.

Goodbye airplanes, hello rental van and welcome (briefly) to San Antonio! The change in temperature and humidity is immediately apparent, but my anxieties have now transformed into excitement and Torchy’s Tacos has much to do with that. Torchy’s did not disappoint.

With full and happy stomachs, we begin the drive to Best Western in Falfurrias. Again, I wish I could say much more about the drive, but the sandman had other plans for me. And before I knew it, we were here. We’re definitely not in Indianapolis anymore.

With our rooms settled and our suitcases in them, we make another trip out to the the H.E.B. and oh what a place. We got the essentials — and some non-essentials — that we will anticipate needing for the next few days including: sandwich fixins, water, gatorade, etc. And back to Best Western we go.

A quick grocery drop off at the hotel and once again, for the last time today, we are off to dinner (time really does fly). Another first food experience at Whataburger and another positive one at that. While there isn’t a lot in Falfurrias, I already know that good food is in abundance. This dinner experience came with an update for tomorrow’s plan: filling and repairing water stations with the South Texas Human Rights Center.

It will be tough, especially since there is no time to adjust to the environment and most of us are first timers, but I know that we are all ready and determined to do our best. Tomorrow is definitely a new day.

Alba

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