Category Archives: Environment

Talking about the weather, terrain, flora, fauna, etc…

Day 4: Search and Recovery…and Tamales

This morning we began our day as usual with hotel breakfast and raspberry emergen-c. But, although our start was the same, the rest of the day would be completely different than the previous days. Today was our first day of search and recovery operations.

At 7:45am we left the hotel and headed towards the South Texas Human Rights Center where we met up with Deputy Don White, Arianna, Selina, and few new additions to the usual that included Eddie Canales, a few students from Texas State University and a couple of media reporters. It was such a pleasure getting to meet Eddie for the first time knowing how dedicated he is to providing humanitarian aid along the border. He’s truly an inspiration.

After a quick pow-wow on the day’s plan of search and recovery , safety precautions and waiver signing, we all headed out in our vehicles to the ranch. Lucky for us, the weather was quite overcast and hadn’t yet reached 90 degrees. Once everyone was parked, gaiters on and bug-spray sprayed, we were off. While it took a few moments of strategizing, we all lined up side by side 5-10 feet away from each other — some with GPS trackers in pocket — and began the search.


The ground was soft and sandy, sticker burrs plagued the way and grasshoppers jumped frequently with every foot that hit the ground. Some parts of the landscape were flat and other parts were full of thorned trees with spiders hanging from their branches. We searched for 3 hours (it honestly felt a lot longer).

During our search we encountered a lot of personal effects left behind by individuals following paths across the border; these included plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, clothes, purses, etc. This was really eye opening. It was a rough terrain and the weather was not forgiving, but we all knew that we would return to our own vehicles and, at the end of the night, sleep in air conditioned rooms in our own beds at night. This is not true of individuals such as those that left their clothes and water bottles behind.

Clothing left behind by border crossers
Clothing left behind by border crossers


After our relatively short time searching, we stopped for a snack, jumped in the back of Eddie’s truck and rode towards our parked vehicles where we started. From there, we returned back to the South Texas Human Rights Center to have a lunch of sandwiches, pickles and grapes and allow everyone some time to check themselves and each other for ticks. Luckily, the Beyond Borders team was tick free, for today at least! The same cannot be said for some of the others in our group. Finally, Dr. Latham, Eddie and Deputy Don had a conversation on tomorrow’s plans and we all headed out for the day.


Because we finished our search fairly early today, we had some time to spare. After jumping in the hotel pool for a quick cool down and taking a shower to wash off the debris of the day, we decided to head out to McAllen. There, we got to see a glimpse of “the wall”, and it was…interesting. Border patrol was already set up in their truck when we got there and told us to not get too close to the wall, so we only stayed long enough to take some picture of the wall and destroyed ladders along its periphery.

"The Wall"
“The Wall”

Lastly, and possibly my favorite part of the day, we went to Delia’s for dinner and I do not exaggerate when I say that I got to eat the best tamales I’ve ever had! I can say with confidence that we all greatly enjoyed that meal after what felt like a really long day and here’s the proof:

Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us
Husks of 15+ tamales eaten by us

Day 9: Derechos Humanos

Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.
Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.

This morning we entered the Sacred Heart Cemetery full of mixed emotions. It was our last day in the field. Our hands were so sore and swollen we had trouble bending our fingers. Our bodies were aching. Sidney was getting sick. We’d been using icy hot, ibuprofen, ice packs and taping our blisters almost every day, but we knew once we got warmed up and moving that we could push through the pain. The UIndy team was on our third plot of the cemetery which was almost complete. We were all getting loopier by the day and singing songs that had nothing to do with archaeology as we shoveled and trenched endless mounds of dirt and investigated the area for missing individuals. Many of the Texas State students came over and helped us wrap up our final trenches before lunch, which was immensely helpful. We were proud to have met our goals this season and meet some long-term friends and colleagues in the process. This project is truly a team effort and we are all here for the same purpose.

After lunch, we were very fortunate to assist the South Texas Human Rights Center  with their water station refills. These water stations are amazing tools that aid in the survival of human beings who are on their last leg. Each station consists of a 55-gallon barrel, 6 gallon-sized jugs of water, a post to keep them upright, and a flagpole to indicate their presence 1cd886ea-8b3c-48d2-bb6e-32f6ba1878e4from afar. In addition, the Human Rights Center prints instructions on how to contact them and attaches them to each water bottle in case someone is desperate for help. The lids to the water stations also have contact information, and the GPS coordinate of that water station’s location so they can read it to the person they are contacting if they need assistance. Individuals who stumble upon these may have gone incredibly long periods of time without food and water. Many become lost for days in the thick, desert brushlands, but this route is their only option if they want to remain hidden. These water stations save people’s lives who may otherwise have be reduced to bone within days in the Texas heat.

img_6324We were all very grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in this process on our last day in Falfurrias. According to their website, the South Texas Human Rights Center currently services 144 water stations each and every week. Arden, Emily and I went with Eddie Canales to refill some stations on the nearby ranches. To complicate matters, Texas is almost entirely made up of privately owned ranches that do not allow Eddie to set up water stations on their properties. He informed me that only about 25% of the ranch owners allow him to do this work on their property. In addition, water jugs may spoil and water will leak out rendering them useless. Sometimes he finds them with intentional punctures or damage from people who disagree with helping the migrants.


Angela and Sidney helping with water stations.
Angela and Sidney servicing water stations.

Eddie, Arden, Emily and I got to see two ranches with about four water stations each. Eddie Canales is an amazing person and it was so much fun to spend time with him as we did this. It was fascinating to hear about his daily experiences as the founder of the Human Rights Center and year-round resident in the area. We also spent quite a bit of time laughing while we bounced around in the backseat of Eddie’s 20-year-old 4×4 truck while we navigated sandy terrain to reach the water stations we intended to fill. Angela, Sidney and Dr. Latham went with Selina and Arianna (two other members of the South Texas Human Rights Center) to fill water stations on a different route.

In many ways, nine days in the field seems like a long time digging, but it was so much more than that. We do not solely feel passionate about digging in the dirt. We feel passionate about the humanitarian work that is being done here and feel a duty to continue assisting in the identification of the voiceless and deceased. We feel passionate about helping family members find out where their loved ones might be. Anthropology in the U.S. encompasses a multifaceted approach that includes cultural integration, and I feel that this experience has really shown me the importance of that approach. I am grateful to have been able to participate in a mission in which we work closely with people from different walks of life that have a common goal at heart.


Day 9 group photo (featuring Eleanor)



Déjà vu

This morning brought the team to a local ranch where we were able to participate in a search and recovery exercise with Border Patrol and the Sherriff’s Office. I was very excited to participate, as part of my last trip to South Texas with the Beyond Borders team this past May focused on search and recoveries. I’m not sure if I was more excited because it reminds me of my first trip, or maybe it’s because I have had not had the time to reflect on the effects of this season, but something about participating in searches really resonates with me. I feel a closeness in walking the same paths that migrants are taking and observing materials they left behind. Water bottles, sweaters, and jackets – all necessary for the journey, and all items that we carry around ourselves. It’s a reminder that these are living and breathing people, with wants and needs just like our own. I was happy to be able to share the experience with SammiSidney, and Arden, not only for the physical act of performing a search, but in all the other parts that encompass it: the sandy soil that requires a little more effort to walk in, the various spiders and wildlife we come into contact with, the mesquite and cacti that have to be dodged, the feeling of being completely alone and not knowing where you are because everything looks exactly the same. I have presented on our previous trip a few times over the most recent semester, but hearing about searches and actually doing them are completely different things.  The team was even fortunate enough to be covered in ticks by the time the search was over – a truly authentic part of the search and recovery experience! Though we only participated in the search and recovery exercise in the morning, I feel like the whole team was able to take something away from it. A quote from Sister Pam that I stated in my final reflection post from last season still applies here, “You become different people when you put your feet in other people’s shoes…it changes you”.