Day 2 in the field started with sleepy faces and gas station breakfast tacos, the best fuel for a hard day of work in my opinion. We made our way to the South Texas Human Rights Center to meet Eddie and Deputy Don White before leaving to start our day. Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery received a distress call earlier in the morning from a migrant abandoned in the brush. Thankfully, the young woman from El Salvador was located and assisted to safety.
While the members of the Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery were working to get her processed, we went to work with Eddie to repair and replenish water stations located on the way to the ranch we intended to search later in the day. We made a few extra stops where Eddie explained to us the meaning behind some of the things we were seeing. One of those stops was at a ladder attached to the fencing of a ranch. Ranchers place these ladders so the migrants can climb over the fences without breaking them, which is what usually is happening. At the pictured ladder, a lone glove hung from the dangerous barbed wire.
When we received a text from Don saying they were done and headed our way, we left for the ranch gate to meet them there. To pass the time, we had a small snack and a jam sesh to our team-made Texas playlist , including great songs like I’ll Make a Man Out of You from Mulan, Low by Flo Rida, A Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys, 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton, and so many more. Music is an important mental health break and coping strategy for the Beyond Borders team. With the group back together, we went into the brush to really start our second day of searching. Thank the Texan gods that today was warmer because I think my lasting reputation here will be that I was the Louisiana girl that was always cold and is a “tourist” (Don’t ask — Just know I’m thankful my momma built me sassy and strong.).
Alex previously wrote that the terrain is unforgiving, and he was not wrong. The terrain was different today from yesterday, being more of an open field instead of working our way through mostly trees and thickets. With that, we got the gift of actually being able to see more than just the color of your closest team member’s shirt, and thus, our UIndy team was able to better perform our line search.
We detected very little migrant activity, only finding elements that indicated to us that it had been long since someone had passed through the area. We are also working with South Texas Mounted Search and Recovery. Melissa, Oakley, and Matt were off on their own. Oakley, a cutie sweet baby search dog trained by Melissa, showed a distinct change of behavior, meaning she found a scent to track. Melissa and Matt also said they were getting whiffs of something that smelled like decomposing remains. This gives us a new target area to search tomorrow. We communicate through walkie talkies as we are so spread apart, so we were also alerted when Don received another distress call from a nearby ranch. Border Patrol kept Don in the loop about their search for the distressed individual as we finished our search today.
In my opinion, tensions ran higher on our way back. It can get very frustrating having to repeatedly check and correct yourself in terms of directionality in a line search, while trying to stay aligned with your team, while being flanked with people who aren’t necessarily following the same plan as us, and on top of all of that, you’re hot, sweaty, sore, tired, hungry, and have to pee (this part is mostly if you’re myself, Tanya, Olivia, Melissa, or Dr. Latham because we don’t have the easiest way to pee outside if you know what I mean.). In retrospect, this was the most challenging part of our day, which is a win honestly.
We returned to the cars and went to shower and clean up for the evening barbeque! We met up with Eddie, the Remote Wildlands Search and Rescue guys and Melissa for some chicken, sausage, bacon wrapped jalapeño poppers, baked beans, potato salad, guacamole, and some quality time with everyone. I previously wrote about how excited I was for the food, and I have NOT been disappointed. Getting to see everyone in a more relaxed environment let us see a new side to each face.
As tired as we all are, we returned to our rooms smiling after another hard day of work. When we’re at UIndy, I like to say that one of my primary jobs there is to provide comic relief as tensions running higher than skyscrapers tends to be the norm. I tried to carry that over to this trip as well. Bugging Don and Eddie has been one of the highlights of this trip and memories I will carry forever. It is still serious work, but we do not have to be grave while we do it. Today, though, I felt a lot more emotions than yesterday. You never fully grasp the true gravity of what people go through until you experience a part of it.
Today started with the distress call. The young woman was 25 years old, only 2 years older than me, and from the same country my dad migrated to the US from. Seeing her face and hearing her story hit me hard. She was out there alone while I complained of being cold while dressed in multiple layers. I stared at the single glove hanging from the barbed wire for minutes as my mine wandered who lost this? where are they now? are they safe? are they injured? are they alive? I said there was low migrant activity detected where we searched today, but someone’s water jug was there. Someone’s cereal bar wrapper was there. Two individuals called authorities in distress to be rescued. Two individuals realized it was life or death and were luckily able to call in distress to be rescued. This journey people endure requires so much in every single aspect, physical strength, mental strength, strategy, knowledge, trust, and none of it is guaranteed to get you all the way to safety.
I don’t say this to bring the tone of this post down, but to recognize what I have. I am able to make jokes and keep a situation light. My life is not on the line, but I am searching for evidence of someone whose life may very well hang in the balance. You feel guilty for being “excited” to find something because you’re driven by forensic anthropology, but you also don’t ever want to find something because that is someone’s life lost fighting to better it. It’s another reason why the cookout was so nice as well, because we got to hear and express how everyone felt about this work that we do. That, although we all come from different backgrounds, use different protocols, have different political beliefs, etc., we all have the same goal. Keep people alive. Keep people safe. Help those in need.
To end this blog on a lighter note, here is a picture of Don being my bestie.