After our last day, Eddie asked all of us what we had learned this trip. While a valid question, all of us found ourselves unable to formulate answers. This isn’t because we didn’t learn anything, but because what we have learned is hard to articulate. The things we have learned will stay with us well past our flight home, and well into our professional careers.
But I can say: I have learned that any person who choses to cross the border is braver than I am. There is no way I could survive crossing. I had a hard time making it through three hours in the brush, let alone three months. Seeing the strength in Byron and hearing his story was incredibly eye-opening.
I have learned that Falfurrias is the most enigmatic place I have ever encountered. The few days before we leave, I don’t want to leave the comfort of my home. I know what lies ahead: hard work, foreign beds, and emotionally draining situations. When we are there and working, I am counting down the days until I can return to the comfort of my home. Then, the last day, I cannot imagine leaving, going back to the comfort of my home, away from the hard work, foreign beds, and emotionally draining situations.
In Falfurrias, we have a purpose. We wake up every morning after debriefing the night before with a plan in our head. Even though the work we do is difficult, we are working towards something. In Indiana, we are always working — on cases, on lab upkeep, on school work. But after being in Falfurrias and interacting with the community, our works seems so privileged. It’s still important work, but it is privileged work. Even our work at Sacred Heart is privileged compared to everything those who are working to aid in the border crisis do every day.
I am so thankful that those who dedicate their life to the border crisis allow us, season after season, to come back and help them as much as we can. I am even more thankful that they are dedicating their lives to this crisis.
Today marked our last day of work in Falfurrias for this season.
We began early as usual, meeting at the South Texas Human Rights Center at 7:30. Our goal for today was to finish the ranch we started yesterday. It was fairly small in comparison to other ranches in the area, so we felt that if we finished the periphery, we would be able to officially clear the ranch as of right now. Our team, Arianna, Selina, Eddie, Deputy White, and Byron loaded into our various vehicles and headed to the ranch gates.
In order to reach our goal, we split up into two teams, each taking a leg of the periphery. I went along with Megan, Dr. Latham, Eddie, and Bryon and we searched the northern border. Alba and Holley went with Deputy White, Arianna, and Selina and searched the west border.
Different from yesterday, we were able bring vehicles onto the property, so we were able to have a place to keep our gear as we were searching. This lightened the load we had to carry on our backs as we were navigating the brush, and allowed us to more easily search for clearings or paths going off the main road.
We systematically made our way around the ranch, looking for any signs of human activity. We had no finds, not even trash, until we were almost done for the day. Dr. Latham and Megan found a rest area with shade, new trash, socks, a can opener, and more. They found their way back to the truck to tell Eddie, and then the three of us went back to take coordinates of the area.
During this excursion, Eddie was trying to get in touch with the owners of the ranch next door to try to get us on the property to search for Byron’s cousin. We met up with the other team, and decided that we were able to say with as much certainty as possible that the ranch was clear. So we headed back to the gate. Eddie was still trying to reach the ranch owners, so we all piled into the minivan to soak up as much air conditioning as possible.
After about a half hour, Eddie still couldn’t get ahold of the owners, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the center. There, we ate a small lunch and sat and talked for a while. Byron shared a little of his story of how he got to the US, which was incredibly eye opening for all of us.
We wrapped up our conversations, made plans for dinner, and departed. At the hotel, we all jumped in the pool for a minute (apparently ticks don’t like chlorine), then showered and started to pack.
We were lucky enough to have everyone join us for our last dinner in Falfurrias! We went to Taqueria Jalisco, which is right down the road from our hotel. We ate great food, swapped stories, and decompressed from the week we had spent together.
I am so thankful we were able to spend just a little more time all together, giving our trip a tiny sense of finality, even though we know the work will never be finished.
Our second day started as normal: waking up, eating breakfast at the hotel, and meeting Arianna at the South Texas Human Rights Center. Since we spent most of yesterday attending to water stations, we have gotten into a groove. My main role has been the note taker. At every station, I note which station we are at, how many good gallons of water were left, how many spoiled gallons were found, and how many we leave behind. We also note any evidence of human activity (trash, footprints, etc) or any repairs we perform.
At one point, we were about to head to a station on a path our rental van couldn’t reach. Dr. Latham parked the van on the side of the road and we all squeezed into the truck. We made the water drop fairly quickly, and started back. When we were almost back, we saw a Texas Highway Patrol car pulled up behind our van. Dr. Latham and Arianna got out of the truck to figure out what was happening. Apparently they had watched us all get into the truck and drive off, and waiting to see what we had in our van. They saw our water and cooler and thought we were partaking in either a pick-up or drop-off migrants. They ran our plates and even took Dr. Latham’s information. Thankfully, they believed us when we said we were simply filling water stations, and sent us on our way.
We finished the last of one of the routes we started yesterday, and headed back to the center. There, we met a group of engineering students from Trinity University who have been working to design new water stations for the center. These stations are solar powered and transmit a satellite signal of the weight of the barrel, so that they are able to tell how many gallons of water are in each station without someone having to drive all the way out to the station. They also have a drawer for first aid supplies and the ability to charge cell phones. They are still working out the kinks in the systems, but they currently have two prototypes on a route that they are field testing in a place they can get to often and easily.
While we were at the center, a familiy member of a missing person, Byron, came to join us. He has a cousin who went missing in Falfurrias, so he often comes to town from out of state to search, get updates, and to help however he can. He went out with everyone after a quick lunch to the route where the field prototypes are. While the Trinity students tried to fix the glitches in their programming, the rest of us ran the route they were on and filled more water stations. At our last station, we were met by the ranch manager. He is familiar with both Arianna and our team, he stopped to chat and said he would fumigate near a specific station because there was a family of scorpions living there.
We finished the route, and the engineers fixed their programming issues, and we headed back to the center. Our role then was to be the trainees on how to build the new stations. Selina of the STHRC was filming, and the students taught Arianna and ourselves how to put one of the new stations together. This way, when there are different volunteers, Arianna can be sure to assemble them correctly. There are a lot of wires and different parts involved, so it’s more complicated than the normal ones. The hardest part was raising the flag pole: they are heavy, tall, and if any wires get pinched the whole station won’t work. Thankfully, we built two without problem!
After we were finished, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. We drove to La Mota, where Peggy and Bill Clark live. Getting to visit them is my favorite part of our trips here. I’m not sure why, but something about their home is so inviting and warm that it makes it seem like you are just down the street from your own home, not hundreds of miles away.
Before dinner, we all sat and talked a little. Bill told us stories of when he was a big game hunter and how he has many skulls from his excursions. We sat down to dinner, and Peggy prayed over us and the food. While I am not religious, the genuine emotion of her prayer was moving. We then ate a wonderful dinner of brisket, rice, salad (with Peggy’s homemade dressing), grapefruit and avocado, and bread. It was so nice to have a home cooked meal after eating out for every meal since we’ve been here.
We cleaned up the plates, and had some ice cream for dessert. We left after a while, making sure we had enough time to debrief at the hotel and get things set for another early day tomorrow.