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

Beyond Borders in Falfurrias

The travel day started early when we woke up at 3am eastern time.  Two flights and a long drive south and the team made it to Falfurrias.

HWY 281 South
HWY 281 South

Today we saw blue skies and mile temperatures. We hope this weather continues since we will be outside working all week.

Blue Skies
Blue Skies

Stay tuned for more information about our travel day and about the work we will be doing as part of our humanitarian science mission over the next week.

~KEL

Preparation

No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care

– Theodore Roosevelt

 Being a forensic scientist in a human rights context requires maneuvering the social, political and cultural landscape in ways quite different from what a forensic scientist in more typical US medicolegal contexts encounters. In my usual forensic casework I communicate with the coroner’s office and local law enforcement, and not with the families or the communities of the deceased.  This will be my 10th trip to the Texas Borderlands. Each trip I am still learning different aspects regarding the crisis at our border, how my team fits into the sociopolitical and scientific landscape and how I can both provide my expertise as a forensic scientist to work towards identifications and provide a meaningful learning experience for my student team.

Beyond Borders
Beyond Borders

Each trip is ultimately successful in providing an opportunity for University of Indianapolis students to apply the forensic skills they’ve learned in the classroom to real world situations. Whether searching for, locating and exhuming burials or conducting systematic line searches, they are gaining valuable experience. However, they have the opportunity to participate in forensic casework  in the Midwestern US.  Therefore, these trips are a way to provide them the opportunity to navigate the unexpected challenges and intensive work associated with the migrant crisis response.

A path through the woods
A path through the woods

It cannot be expected that they fully grasp the sociopolitical situation at the border in one brief trip. But by putting our work into perspective within the bigger migrant crisis in the Texas Borderlands it allows them to make connections between what they read or hear and what they are actually observing while on one of our humanitarian science missions. They interact with the immediate community to better understand how the humanitarian crisis impacts their daily lives and livelihood. They have visited detention and respite centers to interact directly with migrant families to better understand the conditions that produced this crisis. They have also worked with  social justice organizations to provide water along known migrant routes and worked with local law enforcement to do large scale searches along known migrant paths.  And while every student does not get the exact same experience, the goal is to provide them with a broader understanding of the social conditions in the Texas Borderlands.

Each trip takes a lot of preparation. It’s always awkward to speak of the physical and mental preparation and the items we pack to facilitate our work. We spend weeks mentally and physically preparing for a glimpse at the lived conditions and lived reality of thousands of individuals. That itself is proof of the privilege we have. As students and teachers we are by no means wealthy, but this teaches us that “wealth” is a perspective. We may not get to purchase everything we want, but we do not fear of days or weeks with no food for ourselves or our families. We have the potential to be and do great things in the US, especially as college educated individuals. We do not fear for our lives on a daily basis.

Supplies
Supplies

As we move through the landscape we have everything we might need to protect us from the harsh environment: water, food, bug sprays, sunscreen, first aid kits and antihistamines, to name a few. Again, this shows the privilege that we can “prepare” for what awaits us in the Texas Borderlands. We leave tomorrow for our next mission, unsure of exactly what awaits us there. Thank you for your support and for following our journey.

~KEL