Category Archives: Community

Interaction with the community of Falfurrias

A Busy “Rest Day”

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Our team at the wall

Today, we got to sleep in for 30 extra minutes… and we still left the lights off for longer than usual. A slugglish morning was quickly halted by a change of plans. Today emphasized the team motto of “expect the unexpected” as our plans changed within 15 minutes of departure. Instead of our original plan to assist the South Texas Human Rights Center with water stations, we loaded into Sandy and headed for the border. We are sad we won’t be able to see Eddie this trip, but know we will see him the next time the team is in town. Surprisingly, it’s a bout 1.5 hours from Falfurrias to the actual border. A nice long car ride for team bonding and the Texas playlist motivating us through it all. The landscape slowly changed from ranch land to urban civilization. I do have to include that I heard Dr. Latham’s first evil laugh because for the first time in my life, I said the words “I like Texas”.

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Border wall

As billboards and shops changed from English to Spanish, we pulled off the main road to avoid accidentally going into Mexico (if only we brought our passports!). We walked up close and personal to the wall, where we could see ladders and personal effects of those who crossed. In some areas, handprints and slide marks were visible on the metal. The areas where the fencing seems shorter was accompanied by a steep drop on the opposite side and layers of barbed wire. Buildings in Mexico were clearly visible in the distance. We prepared to be interrogated by border patrol as you are not supposed to be that close, so we prepared to play our “tourist students” card as we saw a border patrol vehicle speeding towards us. I think it was the matching outfits, strategically placed cameras, and lighter than average skin tone that signaled to border patrol that we “weren’t a threat”. They sped past us and gave the cordial Texas wave. Not being questioned and chased away was a first for Dr. Latham in her ten years of trips here!

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Before
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After!
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Agua fresca de piña

We returned to Sandy to head back to Falfurrias. On the way, we stopped for some lunch. I wish I could send tamales to you as you read this blog because they were absolutely fantastic. My teammates were introduced to aguas frescas and horchata that went right to your heart. I described my pineapple agua fresca as “taking one sip will make you feel like there’s nothing wrong in the world”. Once back in Falfurrias and buried under the weight of our food babies, we were able to relax for a bit to wait for an updated plan. [and by wait, I mean we all took a nap to ease our tamales] We awoke to Don and Dr. Latham at our door ready to bring us for more adventuring.

We visited the Brooks County Department of Corrections to view their newly updated mobile morgue. Don taught us about the impound lot where the morgue was found and said that the vehicles found there were usually a result of drug or human trafficking.

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Brooks County mobile morgue
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The girls on the confidence course

We returned to the hotel and passed the time until we met with Don, Ray, and some friends from Texas State to enjoy a cook out together. Don took us on a tour of the ranch and of course, taught us more along the way. This man knows SO much! We are all very thankful to hear any and every piece of knowledge he gives us, even if he gives us some *smart* remarks along the way. On our tour, we spotted a “confidence” course that we decided we had to try. Once we had climbed most of the way, the realization of how high up we were hit hard. I rolled into the net just to have the experience, but we all climbed down. My confidence was less than built up! It was very, very fun though. We continued our tour and learned how migrants may use pipelines and powerlines to guide them on their journeys. Many spots we stopped Don stepped out to look for possible tracks and check if there was any waters left in the water stations from migrants.

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The only picture I could take of my meal

We returned to their homebase, and Ray started up the grill. It is always fun to get to unwind and talk to others who have such different experiences from your own. The meal was SO GOOD!!!!! Many laughs and good conversations were shared.

Tomorrow, we plan to get right back to searching. A “day off” was good, but can really make you feel guilty at times because you feel you’re not making any strides towards your goals. It has been a lot of hard work, and we have learned so much. Yet, the differences in the hours we work now versus my last trip in January are prominent and are very much in the back of my mind each day. It is important to keep perspective, though. We are battling Texas heat, attempting to stay as hydrated as possible, and trying to keep everyone safe and healthy. Texas is a more than fair opponent to face. We strive to stay positive and do as much as we can while we are able. All in all, it was a great day with even better people.

Izzy

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Ladders on a fence line to prevent damage to the fence
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What was left after we ate pounds of tamales
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Don giving us the ride along tour of the ranch
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Ladders on the US side of the border wall
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A shooting range on the ranch
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Austin takes on the confidence course
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Me in the net of the confidence course
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Jordan leaving Olivia and I at a more reasonable height
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Powerlines used as guides
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Don examining a water jug left behind in the water station
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Our trusty steed, Sandy
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Jordan contemplating pushing Olivia into the pond
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Austin’s new friend that I did not get anywhere close to
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Don leading us to a new learning experience
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The impound lot in Brooks Co
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Austin playing his role as “student tourist” as border patrol sped to check us out
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The entrance into Mexico (green)
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Barbed wire on the Mexico side of the border wall
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Elements left at the border wall
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An Interesting Travel Day

Olivia’s candy stash being exposed

Bright and early at the airport for a 4:30 am meeting time. We got our boarding passes and headed for the TSA line, and things got a bit… bumpy from there. Dr. Latham was the only one to get through with no issues. I had to go through a different scanner and have my bag searched. Austin had to have his bag searched. Olivia and Jordan both had their bags pulled and searched as well. Their only find was Olivia’s extensive stash of candy, which of course was clean after they swabbed it and tested it.

After that, things calmed down, thankfully. Our flight from Indianapolis to Dallas was smooth. I got to discuss some of the politics of our work and just general chit-chat with Dr. Latham, while Austin and Jordan slept and Olivia wished she was asleep. We got to sit in the exit rows with extra leg room on both flights. From Dallas to San Antonio, we got to meet an amazing flight attendant, Jess. He was so kind and gave us the scoop on some lesser known perks of flying. We had a great time with him, and I honestly hope he is our flight attendant on the way back. It was a unique seating situation to say the least, but I’d be lying if I said he didn’t sway me to considering flight attendant as a career.

Jess, our flight attendant, sat directly in front of and facing us
My Torchy’s Meal

Once we arrived in San Antonio, we got to our new rental van (name tbd) and set off for Torchy’s Tacos. I have heard stories on stories about how good their food is, so I was happy to finally put it to the test. I got the tipsy chick and the mofaux and yalllllllllllllllllll (southern for oh my goodness) it was SO good. Everyone cleared their plates, which if you know some of us personally, you know how big of a deal that is.

After our meal, we left for Falfurrias. Shotgun always stays awake with Dr. Latham, so as we drove, we listened to the new Texas playlist and chatted. The Texas scenery changed from downtown to ranches, cacti, and cows. Some of us nodded off, but the drive went by quickly! Starting to see the same environment I experienced in January made it all feel real again, and I am so ready to get to work tomorrow.

We checked into our hotel, rested for a bit while watching Spongebob, ran to the grocery store for essentials, and then headed to the county cemetery. Dr. Latham took us on a tour of where our team has worked in the past. To learn that they have uncovered over 120 unidentified migrants over about four different years was shocking. In areas that just look like small, open spaces. Latin cultures honor their passed family members, and that was shown immensely in the care taken by family members to the resting places of their loved ones. It emphasized to me the importance of getting these unidentified individuals back to their loved ones.

Dr. Latham teaching us about the cemetery
Beautiful Cemetery plots
County Cemetery

As our team learned more, a familiar face met us there. It was so good to see Deputy Don White again. It feels like we were just here and are now picking up where we left off. We caught up for a bit then went for snowballs. The rest of my team will all say snow cones, but I have always said snowballs. From snowballs, we went to whataburger and discussed our tentative plans.

Today was pretty low pace compared to the days ahead. We finished out today with our first debriefing, where some of us were already feeling the weight of the meals. We talked about what to have in our personal field bags, what to expect in the upcoming days, and some jobs we needed to take responsibility for, such as the walkie-talkies and camera. I am honestly nervous about the upcoming days with the heat. The high tomorrow is 98 degrees. We will have to be very aware of each other and watch for any signs of fatigue. Regardless, it is so good to be back. Tomorrow morning we will have our safety debriefing before we start our search, and then the ball will be rolling for the rest of the week.

Send us cool thoughts!

Izzy

Dr. Latham practicing her selfie skills
Early morning group picture
Team picture of the day!
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Destination: Falfurrias

It’s hard to believe that in just a few short days, I’ll be heading back to Texas. With all of the hubbub of wrapping up the semester, the trip has managed to sneak up on me and is just around the corner. I couldn’t be more excited, though. I have all of my supplies, and I’m ready to pack my suitcase!

As a returning team member, I have some idea of what to expect, but I also know that each trip is unique and has its own triumphs and challenges. Having gone in January, I think the biggest change is going to be the weather. We were lucky on the previous trip to have pretty mild weather. Going in May, however, is going to be extremely hot and humid. Looking ahead at the weather, we’re going to be working in sunny, 95+ degree days. Just keeping moving is going to be challenging, but what we are doing makes it worth it.

We were also lucky with our environment on the previous trip. The mild weather kept most of the snakes and insects hidden away, and the plants were still dead-ish. This trip is most likely going to be chock-full of slithery snakes, biting/stinging/itching/sucking creepy crawlies, and plants that want to stab you. I firmly believe in the motto “everything in Texas wants to kill you.” I can’t say I’m looking forward to the interactions I’ll have with these things, but I just have to remind myself that everything I’m facing is only for a few hours a day, and I have all of the supplies I could need to face them. The migrants aren’t so lucky. They’ve traveled for days or weeks with little in terms of supplies, and no idea of knowing when and where they will finally end up.

This trip will be a little bittersweet in terms of team members. While I’m sad that Alex and Tanya won’t be on this trip with me, I’m excited I get to work with Jordan and Austin and experience another trip with Izzy. The team dynamic plays a vital role in how successful we are during our time in Falfurrias. Our previous team was a close-knit, well-oiled machine, and I have high hopes that this team can be the same. We get along well on and off campus, and I hope our friendships translate well in the field.

I am also eager to see Don and Eddie again! They are truly awe-inspiring individuals. While they approach the migrant crisis from two different angles (law enforcement vs humanitarian), they do so with the same goal in mind: save as many lives as possible and bring home those who perish along the way. Their dedication and passion for what they do is incredible. I wish everyone could meet and work with them in the ways we get to. We’ll also be reunited with Melissa (and Oakley!) and the guys from Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery. Working with them was a blast, and they also taught me so many things. I’m excited to see and work with all of them again!

Just as with the previous trip, I know the memories I make and experiences I have on this trip will change me and last a lifetime. What we do is just a very, very, very small piece of a much larger picture. I couldn’t be more ready to go!

~ Olivia

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