These trips are something I am so grateful for. I not only learn so much but I am learning through experiences not many people get to have or even know exist. We were able to visit the border wall, meet Sherriff Benny Martinez, perform successful search and recoveries, and learn so much everyday from not only our brave leader, Dr. Latham, but also Ray and Don who took care of us and put up with our attitudes (I know y’all miss my voice already).
This team grew so much over the week in Texas. Not only as teammates but as friends as well. From the first day of searching to the last, our skills as a team grew immensely. Our communication skills while searching were the highlight of our growth, in my opinion. We went from reiterating how straight a line should be to maintaining a line without even questioning where our “person”, what I call the person who keeps track of you no matter the conditions, would be. This team was extremely efficient at taking our own notes (what we thought we did well for the day and where we thought we could improve) and applying them to our work the subsequent day. Along with that, we shared so many smiles and laughs along the way, from trying to get turkeys to respond to our calls to almost getting attacked by a turkey (Sorry Liv). We faced a number of challenges, including physical and mental. We worked together to keep morale high and keep a sharp eye on each other to make sure each of us were hydrated and took breaks when we needed it. The heat was no joke. It constantly made me think of the migrants facing these conditions. I was pushing forward extremely prepared and still feeling the effects of the heat. I can’t imagine what those individuals must go through to fight for each day. The day all team members got benched because of heat stress was an especially hard one for me. The physical stress felt nothing compared to the frustration I was facing mentally, which in itself was also worsened due to the heat. Our safety always comes first, even when we want to throw it to the side and push on for our cause. Regardless, we moved forward as a team and supported one another. This team exemplified there truly is no I in team because every win was a win for all of us.
This blog post always is always the hardest to write. I truly thought that because I had gone on the Beyond Borders trip in January that my transition back to my “normal life” would be easier, but less than 24 hours into that transition (as I write this) and I know that isn’t true. The feeling of being able to put your entire life on hold to devote your time to not only others but to a truly brave and good cause is immeasurable. We discuss feelings like this in our final debrief that, again, feelings like this are normal. I cannot speak for everyone, but personally, there is an immense sense of guilt as I plan my days here at home. It’s hard to go from actively working towards a cause to struggling to find things to fill the hours of the day as you had before. Its even hard to make myself stop constantly searching everywhere I walk. Tedious daily operations like ordering Starbucks or deciding on an outfit for the day seem trivial. It feels if you are not working towards a goal or for a cause that your days are meaningless. I know this isn’t true (even though it really doesn’t matter what fancy coffee I order or what clothes I wear. Those were simply examples). This is the challenge of transitioning back to what I am referring to as normal life.
Being able to travel with the Beyond Borders team is a privilege I am so lucky to have experienced. It has also left me with the tools to continue my humanitarian efforts concurrently with my normal life. I am still working on my degree at UIndy to be able to be more qualified in doing this work. Spreading the word of the humanitarian crisis occurring at the US-Mexico border and my experience with it is a small act I can do to help others understand that what they see on the news is only one perspective and not always the truth of the matter. Behind the headlines and stories are millions of people affected.
The cemetery we viewed the first day of arriving in Texas was one previously worked on by multiple forensic teams, including UIndy. Approximately 150 unidentified migrants had been recovered from their “communal resting place” with hundresd more deaths of unidentified migrants documented, meaning there are more individuals there that are unidentified, more families still wondering about their loved ones, and more work to be done. Additionally, there are so many other individuals who perish on their journey into the US that are not only still being searched for but still being missed by their families. I can never say I know how those families feel, but I cannot imagine what it must be like to live each day and not know where your loved one is or if they are even alive. This is one of the main reasons I do this work and is also the thought that not only kept motivating me to push harder in Texas but continually motivates me to do what I can for those affected while home. No one deserves to feel this way, regardless of race, ethnicity, size, shape, etc. It can be easy to distance yourself from the reality of what goes on at the border, but these are real people, enduring real tragedies, often at the chance for a better life that they may or may not reach.
One of the most fulfilling parts of my experiences with the Beyond Borders team occurred on this trip. A message from a migrant, who had been apprehended by border patrol, was sent in to Dr. Latham. The message was about a woman who had been left behind in the brush and her descriptors. I was able to translate the message and get the information back to those who could continue searching. This is truly an experience I will never forget. I will carry it with me always, and I hope that the woman has reached safety. The opportunity to directly help a migrant had such an impact on me that I honestly can’t put it into words how much it meant, so forgive this small paragraph because it deserves pages.
I want to thank Dr. Latham for the opportunity to work in Texas again. Being a member of this team is an honor, and the perspective and knowledge I have gained is priceless. Thank you to Papaw Don and Pop-pop Ray for teaching me, keeping me safe each day, and answering my nonsense questions to keep everyone smiling.
This is work I will never stop asking for. There is so much left to be done and so much knowledge to be shared. I hope I can continue not only through Beyond Borders, but in a number of ways, to help those affected by this crisis.