A flood of mixed emotions and thoughts are circling around in my brain as the days begin to dwindle down before our trip to Falfurrias. My initial feelings are those of excitement and gratitude to have the opportunity to participate in such a life changing learning experience. As an anthropologist and scientist, I’m eager to immerse myself in a new culture, connect with new people, and gain a more well-rounded understanding of humanitarian work. Likewise, I’m looking forward to soaking in some warm Texas weather and indulging in their world-famous local barbecue for the first time (Whataburger also sounds very tasty!).
On the other hand, I’m rather anxious about the physical, mental, and emotional hurdles that myself and our team will inevitably face during our trip. The major physical hurdles I anticipate include navigating the unforgiving desert terrain, coping with the punishing heat, and avoiding other dangerous hazards found on the ranch lands. Mentally, being aware of culture differences and avoiding any misunderstandings due to a potential language barrier or political views will be critical. Finally, I predict the most difficult aspect of our trip will be the interaction with the migrant families and hearing the many hardships they have endured, the sacrifices they have made, and the people they have lost during their trek across the US-Mexico Border.
While I feel confident in my anthropology and forensic skills, I recognize that no amount of training and education can truly prepare oneself for the raw sights and sounds that one will encounter out in the field. The key to adapting to this new environment and culture is understanding what behavior is and is not appropriate and making the necessary adjustments. Furthermore, observing others, being an active listener, and not being afraid to ask questions about local customs will also be significant. Each day I remind myself that it’s important to keep things in perspective, be prepared to make mistakes, and seek the support of team members when things get tough.
As I finalize everything on my field checklist, I have come to appreciate how fortunate I have been throughout my life. The fact that I have access to all the necessary items to navigate the harsh desert conditions with the click of a button has made me realize how privileged I am in comparison to so many others around me. I can’t imagine the overwhelming stress, uncertainty, and doubt that migrants must feel when making the treacherous journey with just a few items on them, if any. Moving forward, I believe this experience will provide me with a new perspective of the daily struggles that countless people must deal with everyday to survive. Overall, humanitarian work is a challenging endeavor that often opens our eyes to the worst of humanity and nature. How we handle the dismay and turn it into a positive force for change will look different for each individual, each community, and each crisis. What is important is to build on our past experiences and to never lose sight of a better tomorrow.