All posts by kreherr

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

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Day 4: Divide to Conquer

We started and ended our day with a “divide and conquer” plan of attack. In the morning, by splitting the team in half so that one could search while the other repaired water stations. At the end of the day, by tackling the grocery store run at breakneck speed before going to get food at one of the few restaurants still open until 10pm here.

Erica painting new barrels
Erica painting new barrels

Erica and I were on the water station repair team with Eddie.  After painting a handful of new barrels and running to Walmart for 100 gallon jugs of water (we had to ask for a pallet of cases), we loaded up the truck and headed out. After the huge accomplishment of the whole team building 13 stations on Monday, the three of us were pretty proud of ourselves for doing a route refurbishing and refilling 12 existing stations.  Although Eddie had checked it just last week, we still ended up putting out 30 jugs of water – which means the barrels are well placed to be seen and used by migrants. Since most of the barrels were put on the route almost 5 years ago, we also spent a lot of time updating them: replacing barrels, cracked lids and dried out ropes, and stabilizing them with T-posts while taking down old flag poles for repair back at the STHRC.

Tuesday has been both the hottest and longest day we’ve had yet, starting with our alarms going off at 5:30 am. Wednesday, predicted to be even hotter, will start bright and early at 5am so we can get out on the ranch and continue searching as soon as there’s enough light.

Day 4!
Day 4!

You can tell we’re halfway through the trip and starting to feel it, in the quietness at mealtimes and in the car as everyone conserves their energy and thoughts. For me, the mental strain is almost as strong as the physical – but while my body can be replenished fairly rapidly with food, water, and shade, being hyper-alert and mentally active for such long periods of time leaves me snatching moments of peace and quiet when I can find them to just “be”, without trying to remember all the things I feel like I keep losing track of, or constantly watching the brush for signs of human presence.

Two more days of work, and then a day of travel.  Though it will be tough, I have no doubts our energy and sheer tenacity of will will carry us through these last few days.  Wish us luck!

Rachel

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Day 1: U-turns and Window Markers

Where I come from, things like U-turns and window markers are staples in every teenager’s life.  It means driving around town with a newly minted license and a car full of friends, getting lost with no destination in mind – just because you can.  It means boys in trucks showing off for girls by doing donuts in the parking lot after school.  It means cheering on your high school soccer team by decorating all the cars, or leaving notes for your friends during free periods. In South Texas, U-turns and Window Markers mean different things.

Yesterday we spent our first full day in Falfurrias working with the South Texas Human Rights Center, starting the morning by catching up on everything that’s happened in the past few months and discussing a game plan for the rest of the week.

Cleaning barrels for redistribution
Cleaning barrels for redistribution

We began with washing out some water station barrels destined for redistribution before eating lunch and heading out to check one of the routes.  I had the pleasure of accompanying Eddie in his truck and being the record keeper for the stations we checked.  The rest of the team took the minivan, and between the two vehicles we were able to divide and conquer the route.

 

Having the opportunity to talk with Eddie a bit more gave me the chance to ask a few questions – about him, his past, his experiences here and his knowledge.  We chatted about my childhood growing up on a farm, finding similarities and (many) differences with how the ranches are set up here.  Ironically enough, it was a short remark he made during one of the longer legs that stuck with me and inspired this post.

On the route
On the route

As we were driving, we saw tire tracks in the sand of one of the driveways. Eddie asked if I had seen them, telling me they were probably either from a drop off for migrants starting their journey on foot, or from a Border Patrol vehicle making a U-turn in response to a call or sighting.  This got me started thinking about how drastically different my experience with U-turns are to what he had just described.  For me, they bring back fond memories of adventures chasing storms and meteor showers in the summer, but in this context they mean something much less light-hearted.

In South Texas, a U-turn in a driveway can mean the end of a portion of a migrant’s journey.  Whether it’s followed by the hazardous trip on foot through the thorny brush, or getting picked up by Border Patrol and an unknown future, it marks a checkpoint of sorts.  However long it took, and whatever they went through to get there, they made it at least this far. But they’ve still got a long ways to go.

Watching the brush pass by as we drove, I tried to imagine how I would feel standing there and looking at the terrain ahead of me, knowing I had to cross it on foot in this heat, with the sun beating down relentlessly.  Would I feel dejected? afraid? renewed determination?  I guarantee above all, I would be weary.  I can’t imagine the strength it takes to continue.

 

STHRC Water Station
STHRC Water Station

As we were filling one of the water stations, we realized someone had added to the writing on the side of the barrel: “Help Build The Wall – Donate Here”.  It seemed to be written in some sort of window paint or chalk that didn’t want to come off easily.  The phrase was so contradictory to the point of the water station that for a minute, my brain had trouble processing it.  I don’t know if it was written as a prank or out of malice, but seeing those words next to the AGUA painted on the barrel brought the conflict of attitudes about migrants into stark relief.

I thought about someone pulling up to the station and grabbing a window marker out of their vehicle to leave the message.  Flashing back to doing the same thing to decorate my friend’s car for prom reminded me just how lucky I am to have had a happy, relatively uncomplicated life that meant I never had to go through the kind of prejudice and stressful experiences that others do.  It reminded me that I am here because I am fortunate to have resources, and want to do whatever I can to help.

As an Anthropologist, I strive to understand things through my own experiences as well as putting myself in others’ shoes to get a glimpse of their perspective.  Sometimes, it’s little things like U-turns and window paint that really make the breakthrough for me.

End of Day 1 at the STHRC
End of Day 1 at the STHRC

Rachel

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