All posts by Jessica

Day 3 (Lab) – It’s the Eye of the Tiger

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“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight…” Settling down for the evening and reflecting back on today’s events, I can’t help but to think about the lyrics of our ‘pump up’ song that we played on our way to ORPL this morning. For the first leg of our trip, we had a goal of completing a total of 6 skeletal analyses- approximating 2 a day. I am excited to say that we not only met our goal but completed an additional 3 analyses ending with a grand total of 9. To say we ended the first part of our journey on a high note does not cover the feeling of accomplishment that our whole team felt as we drove away from ORPL. For our group members, this was our first time participating in an analysis season and I feel that we set our goals fairly conservatively. The fact that we were able to surpass those goals and accomplish three more is incredibly exciting. This means that we have an additional three more people who are ready to have DNA samples submitted and have the potential of being identified. While we are able to reflect on these feelings of accomplishment, we know this trip is not about us. It is about getting people identified and today we came that much closer.

The past two days we were able to complete 4 analyses, today we did a total of 5.  I feel that today we were able to complete as many analyses as we did is because we had found our rhythm. One of the more beneficial things that our group does every evening is discuss the positive aspects that occurred that day and where we can improve. When we got to the facility this morning, we knew exactly what we needed to do to get as many analyses accomplished in the short amount of time we had to do them. We were also joined today by veteran team member Ryan, who currently lives here in TX.

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Taking measurements for skeletal analysis

This experience has been extremely rewarding for many reasons. Our group has spent the last year sitting in a classroom learning different methodologies and this trip has allowed us to apply those methods in an actual case setting. Each case, each analysis, is incredibly different and has allowed our team members to see a wide range of variation with in the skeletal system that we may not be exposed to back in Indiana. We were able to see how different traits are expressed in different human populations and at first it was quite challenging. It forced us, as students, to think outside of our comfort zone and adjust how we would normally approach a case. Not to mention the one on one experience we got with our professor and fearless leader, Dr. Latham. I know I can speak for all when I say that we are incredibly grateful for the patience and time she spent with us going over ever feature and then giving us the opportunity to give our own assessments and being completely hands on through out the entire process. I am excited and anxious to see how our trip continues as we set forth into the second half of our journey. This past week has not been easy and I know that once we get to our next destination that we will have a new set of challenges that await us. That is what makes this process exciting; it is venturing into the unknown and not really knowing what to expect. What I do know is that I have a great group of people who will be by my side as we push our way forward and for that, I am incredibly grateful. Until next time, let Journey guide us on our way…. “Don’t stop, believing”.

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Our last photo at ORPL

Jessica

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Round 2

Tomorrow, myself and the rest of our group will be heading to South Texas to start another field season. This will be my second time in Texas and I am excited to be able to participate in this humanitarian effort. This field season will be different from the last because the first part of our trip with be spent at Texas State University to assist with skeletal analysis. This will be a first for me and I am not entirely sure what to expect. I am excited to visit the lab at Texas State University and to see their facilities. As for the skeletal analysis, I suspect this will be especially challenging for many reasons.

The second part of our trip, our group along with Texas State faculty and students, will be traveling to Starr County Texas to start excavations of  graves of unidentified border crossers. Although I had the opportunity to go to Texas in January, I feel like these two trips are going to be vastly different for many reasons. In January we certainly lucked out with the weather; in fact, one day it felt like we never left Indiana with how cold it was. Our group also benefited with having been to Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias, TX for several years before the most recent trip. This field season we will be going in the middle of May where the temperatures will most likely be in the high 90’s (if not higher) not to mention we will be in a completely new area. New city, new cemetery, new soil- all of these things play into our old saying of ‘expect the unexpected’. I am confident in saying that the title of this trip, like so many in the past, will be centered around the unexpected. The excitement I feel for this trip also comes with a heavy heart knowing that this trip would not be happening if these people had not died in an attempt to flee their home countries. Something that I find comfort in, is knowing that at the end of every field season, we are one step closer to getting identifications and one step closer to returning them to their families. This will be the most challenging field season yet and I’m confident in my group, as well as Texas State, that we will be successful in our endeavors. I can also say that I’m not terribly excited to be faced with my only true enemy, the dreaded sticker burrs. They are literally the worst.

I see this excursion as an adventure of hope, happiness, and hard work. I love the challenge and the inspiration that comes afterwards, it just shows how rewarding this experience is to all of the volunteers. Here’s to a new season of hope and adventure- stay tuned for our blog posts and if you have not already, check out our short video that our team members made! You can also help support our trip by donating here or here.

Thank you! Jessica

 

 

 

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Until next time…

It has been two days since I have been home and talk about a temperature difference! Our first official day back and just in time for an ice storm. The temperature isn’t the only thing that has changed, coming home to Indiana and it feels ‘different’. I can’t quite put my finger on it, things just don’t feel the same anymore. My experience in South Texas was intense and incredible. The high points were working long, intense hours in the heat shoveling dirt and then coming back to the hotel for dinner and a quick dip in the hot tub. For some reason, those meals tasted AMAZING- I have no idea if the food was actually that good or I was so famished from working all day; either way, it tasted great. The Respite Center and visiting ‘the wall’ was also a high point- very insightful and I learned many life lessons. Some of the low points, was that we would not be doing this work if those individuals had not died. Bringing this whole experience full circle, it is incredibly heart breaking that these individuals have been waiting for so long for the opportunity to be identified. That no one attempted to do this sooner.

Last day at Sacred Heart
Last day at Sacred Heart

I loved how well our UIndy group worked and communicated together. And then to come back and share a hotel room for 10 days, with no arguments or issues? Simply amazing, I could not have asked for a better group.

The cultural anthropologists that were with us were equally amazing. The cultural anthropologists, which consisted of two undergrads (Sarah and Rachel) and one professor (Dr. O’Daniel), were very hardworking and always willing to lend a hand. I am certain that we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we did without them. They left two days before our group departed and it was quite noticeable how much they helped us. It was also very insightful to hear what they learned at the end of the day; they brought an interesting perspective to the group.

The UIndy team
The UIndy team

Our fearless leader, Dr. Latham, who guided us through this 10 day mission. Thank you for the opportunity to be apart of this, this experience has changed me as a person and has impacted my life in ways that I didn’t expect. Texas State as well, thank you for being so inviting and welcoming- I was a complete stranger to everyone but I never once felt like a stranger. The night we were able to come to La Copa and have dinner with everyone, was lots of fun and a great night of relaxation that we all needed. Our last day, being able to finally work together was a great experience and I wish it could have happened more often. While in Texas, I also had the opportunity to meet Sister Pam. Sister Pam will hold a special place in my heart and I will always admire her strength and endurance. I can only hope we have the opportunity to meet again. Until next time, cheers.

Group photo
Group photo

Jessica

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