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Reflections & Realities

I am back in Indiana and it feels odd. Over the course of this trip, I have grown and learned so much and yet when I am back here it feels as if no time has passed. I worked on preparing for classes and went to the grocery store today. Mundane things I did often before our trip, but it felt different. Our team spent almost every moment together, and now I am attempting to adjust to being in my apartment by myself. I am so grateful for the relationships I made, and the relationships I strengthened. I know my teammates, what they like to eat, what their nighttime routine is, what music they listen to… They have probably learned so much about me too, maybe more than they thought they would. I miss eating together and getting into random discussions, like what animal or insect we would be. Most of all, I miss the routine. Wake up, get dressed, go to breakfast, lace-up my boots, and go.

Back of a truck with 4 individuals and a dog sitting in the bed of the truck, two men stand next to the truck

This morning when I woke up, for a moment I felt like I needed to get ready for another day in the field. Then, I remember that part of the trip is over. It was strange, I was ready for another tiring day in the field, but as I realized my mistake, I felt immediately exhausted. Yet I have no reason to. I slept in a comfortable bed, instead of out in the elements. I know that I have so much I could be working on, but I find that it doesn’t give me the same urgency it once did. When I know someone is out there struggling to survive, how could I find preparing for classes to be a critical task. With the goals we had in Texas, I felt like I always knew that there was something to be done. Now I am left with trying to fill my day with activities that seem insignificant.

I found that on this trip I learned that even the smallest actions can be meaningful. Searching an area and not finding something should not be considered a failure. Finding one more element for a loved one’s family is important. Still, it’s hard not to think about how I can no longer help in the same way that I did just a few days ago. Now, I am over a thousand miles away.

4 individuals surround a tree kneeling on the ground
Hannah, Chastidy, Claire, and Ella Clearing Vegetation and Surface Debris

I try to remind myself that everything we were able to accomplish meant a great deal and just because we have left, it doesn’t mean that the impact of what we did is diminished. I want to do more. I want to see more. I want to learn more. This trip has changed my perspective in so many ways, but it has also given me a stronger drive to seek out ways I can meaningfully contribute in a humanitarian context. Something I will be forever grateful for.


After We Are Home

I’ve been home now for a little while, and everything seems out of place.  I was only gone for a week, but coming home to my apartment and seeing everything exactly how I left it before I headed to the airport felt very weird.  While the week went by fast it was so full of activity and new experiences that it felt more like a month than a week.  Before heading to Texas I had a lot of hopes and wants, but I don’t think I fully knew what I was in for.  I hoped that we would find someone and be able to do a recovery, I hoped that I would be able to handle the tough days full of walking in rough terrain, and I hoped that I would gain something from the trip that I wouldn’t be able to in other places.  Luckily all of my hopes came true, though not necessarily in the ways I expected.  We were able to make three recoveries, I definitely made it through all of our search days (though I was quite sore after a few of them), and I’ve learned so much from all of our experiences.  

Two women with backpacks walking in grass covered area
Claire and Ella in Line Search Formation
Hannah, Claire, Chastidy, and Ella clear dirt with trowels from an area
The team working to clear dirt from the search area

Going in I knew it was going to be tough, but I figured most of the difficulties would come from the physical work we would be doing.  Dr. Latham warned us about the emotional toll this work can have on people and while I was cognizant of this, I thought I would be able to deal with it more efficiently than I did.  While we were in Texas there isn’t much time to process what you are doing.  We wake up, go to breakfast, finish packing our field bags and then we’re out the door heading to our next location.  When we get done its shower time, dinner, a debrief with Dr. Latham and then looking through the pictures from the day and we’re off to bed.  It wasn’t until I got home and could finally lay down in my own bed that I really thought about what we had done this past week.  Three families will now have more closure, and be able to bury more of their relatives, even though we didn’t find every skeletal element we found more and impacted those three families in a positive way.  

The unity team walking through grass back to the truck and jeep
Heading back to the cars after a long day in the field
Ray and Don lean against a tree branch
Don and Ray supervising our work

Before I went to Texas I was thinking very selfishly.  I was hoping I would find something more so because then I could say I found something, and I wasn’t thinking about the impact it would have on others.  I was thinking it would be cool to go to a different state and get to see parts of their culture that I haven’t experienced.  Now that I’ve returned home, I think back to our trip to the Don Pedro Jaramillo shrine and reading the heartbreaking letters left for him, and finding socks out in the middle of the brush with little hearts on them or seeing your favorite snack wrappers littering the ground around a tree out in the middle of nowhere.  There are so many aspects of the trip that will stick with me forever, reminding me of how other people live and why we make the trip down to help.  I never would have guessed just how much work we would be able to accomplish in a week, and as tired as I am I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I’m so proud of my teammates and I for using our knowledge to do something good and productive, and I’m incredibly grateful to have gotten to work with Ray and Don who taught us so much, not only about the work we were doing but about how to be a good person and to use your skills to help others.  I’ll never forget our hotel breakfast meetings, flying an infrared drone on the side of the road, playing with Socks during our water breaks and getting teased by Ray and Don.  Most of all, I’ll always remember the work we did and what we were able to accomplish together.  

Taking a break to give some pets to Socks.
Taking a break to give some pets to Socks.
Five women stand next to each other in a field
2024 UIndy Beyond Borders team


the UIndy team at the end of the day leaving the airport

Our Trip Back Home

Today is our last day in Falfurrias. Our trip has come to an end. We’ve accomplished so much yet there’s still so much work that needs to be done. Of our five search and recovery days, we recovered human remains on 3 of those days. We should be proud of the work our team has done, but I can’t help but think of all the families out there still looking for closure. As I reflect on our drive north into San Antonio, these thoughts are running through my head. It feels weird to be relaxed and have a less rigid schedule, but we must return home at some point, right?     

We did a short debrief during breakfast at the hotel. Dr. Latham explained our layout for the day. Our first task was to have breakfast and clean out our rental car. We tracked in lots of sand and dirt, so we swept that out quickly before loading up our luggage. We decided to take some time to be tourists in downtown San Antonio before heading to the airport. We first stopped at The Alamo to visit the historic site. The Alamo is known for being a symbol of US courage during the Mexican-American War of 1846. We walked around the grounds admiring the sites. We were able to see a timeline wall of the five flags of independent nations that served these grounds. Adding in a sixth flag would be the United States which is where the amusement park, Six Flags, got its name as it originated in Texas.

front view of the San Antonio Alamo
The Alamo
Large oak tree planted at the Alamo for fallen soldiers
An oak tree planted in 1965 in honor of fallen soldiers
A timeline of the ownership of the Alamo land
The timeline of the Alamo history

Once we finished touring The Alamo, we headed downstairs to the Riverwalk. The San Antonio Riverwalk is 15 miles long and flows through downtown San Antonio. It is especially lively in the summer evenings. You can walk along the river and visit shops, restaurants, live music, history, and art. It was very beautiful and filled with various activities to do. I would love to come back at some point and spend a long evening on the Riverwalk. Today, we went to lots of souvenir shops, and I was able to purchase some gifts for my family. There were so many shops filled with handmade and authentic accessories, clothing, and trinkets. We spent time walking around, taking photos, and spending some time in a relaxed environment for the first time in about a week.

walking under a bridge towards the riverwalk with plants on the wall
Heading towards the Riverwalk
view from under an arch looking over the river at a stage for live music
Entering the Riverwalk
bridge over the riverwalk
The San Antonio Riverwalk
part of the Uindy team overlooking the Riverwalk
Part of the UIndy team shopping for souvenirs

      After leaving the Riverwalk, we headed to the San Antonio airport to get ready to fly home. We made it through security with no bags being checked so doing much better than our trip down south. We got our belongings together and headed to get some lunch. We had limited options, so we got some pizza and chatted about the trip during our final debrief. Dr. Latham prepared us for some of the feelings we might have in the next couple days. She said we may be feeling anxious, restless, or even unmotivated because we had such a routine down while in Falfurrias doing so much meaningful work. Something I know I will struggle with is finding out what to do next. But, the only way I can do that is if we actually make it home. The engines were running and we taxied out to the runway until the lights flashed and the plane stopped. Our flight was delayed due to air traffic control essentially saying there’s too many planes coming into the Dallas airport, where our connecting flight was. We sat on the runway for an hour waiting for traffic to die down which sounds strange when you’re referring to the sky. The worst part was that we had just about an hour layover meaning there was the possibility of missing our flight back home. Thankfully, after sprinting off the plane and through the terminals, we made it to our gate with about 5 minutes to spare. We figured something had to go wrong at some point on the trip and of course it was on our way home. Fortunately, we boarded the plane and arrived at our final destination.

UIndy team running through the airport
Running to catch our connecting flight

I’ve been having mixed feelings about coming home. It has not quite set in yet that I am not waking up tomorrow morning to search through the brush and sand for 8 hours of the day. In fact, all I have to do tomorrow is go to the dentist. I know this transition back into my normal life will be challenging and strange, but knowing I have my whole team going through the same feelings brings me comfort. I know that having this support system is essential to returning home and I couldn’t ask for a better team.