Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Walking the Migrant Trail

By Lucinda Douglas

It was hot.  It was dry.  It was dusty.  The wind was blowing.  I was tired.  I didn’t want to walk anymore.  It was only the third day.  My mind kept wandering toward cold, cool, water with ice cubes. 
Wait, I had water; lots of water, but it wasn’t very cold.  Someone yelled “car”, we all moved over to the right of the road.  Then I heard, “okay” and we all moved back over to the white line on the road.  We kept walking.  Someone yelled “hydrate” and I heard “hydrate” all along the line, reminding us to drink water to keep hydrated.  Someone yelled “border patrol” and a white pick-up with a green stripe rolled by us going way too fast, then another one and another one pulling ATV’s and then a dog unit went by us on the road.  We heard “okay” and we all moved back over to the white line.  Where were all those border patrol people going?  They must be looking for someone.  Then I saw a helicopter.  Yep, they are looking for someone.  I said a silent prayer.  When are we going to have a water stop, full stop.  Oh for some nice cold ice cream.  Oops, better not think of ice cream!  Then we heard “Lillian Ramirez Garcia” and we all shouted “Presente`”, “Mendoza Estrada”, “Presente`”, “Desconcido”, “Presente`”, “Fancisco Renee Garcia Torres”, “Presente`”, “Desconcida “, and we all shouted “Presente`” on down the line until we shouted out all the names on the little white crosses we carried. We finally came to a water stop, full stop!  Oh joy! Rest for a few minutes, some more gator aid and a snack.  I can take my shoes off and check my feet.  No blisters!  Good! ...

I talked with others about what I saw as I walked.  I talked about the beauty of the sun rise, beauty of the cacti, the beauty in the desert and the mountains to the North.  I thought about how hot the desert is during the day and how cold the desert is at night.  It is amazing the temperature variances.   I marveled at how hard this was for me.  It was so hard walking in the desert, feeling hot and hoping for another breeze.  It was the kind of heat that saps your energy and makes you feel so tired.  I thought about the fact that I had water.  I had food.  I had a tent.  I had companionship.  I had someone to look after me and ask about my welfare.  I had a support team for when I felt too hot to walk, I could ride.  I thought about those who come walking through this inhospitable desert without all of those safety measures and wondered how do they make it through?  How does anyone walk through this desert land without much food or water.  The desert doesn’t discriminate.  If you get a blister, this can cripple you.  If you get a heat rash or suffer heat exhaustion, you die.  If you run out of water, you die.

Why did I want to take this walk?  I wondered that so many times.  Yet, I did know why I wanted to take this hot, dry, dusty, walk in the desert.  I wanted to remember and highlight those who attempt this walk through the desert and die trying.  The names we shouted out that were written on the little white crosses were the names of human remains who had been identified and who had died trying to cross the desert.  The desconsido and desconsida were male and female remains that could not be identified.

We walked to remember and lift up those who have died.  The Sonoran desert is one of our forgotten and unrecognized national cemeteries.  It is so sad and shameful. Over seven thousand human remains have been recovered along the border and in the desert in the U.S.A. since the military build up in 1994.

While we were walking our group was contacted by the group No More Deaths to ask if four volunteers could come to help search for a young man who was lost in the desert.  Four of our group, who had experience walking in the desert and who could speak Spanish volunteered, as did the lawyer.  We continued walking while those five went to search for the young man.  The young man had a cell phone and was able to call for help.  No More Deaths have good electronic equipment and GPS which they used to try to locate this person.  While we walked we prayed for the ones searching for him and we prayed for the young man.  We prayed that the outcome would be good.  We arrived at our stop for the day and we hadn’t heard anything.  Finally, word came back that the young man had been found and the outcome was good.  The young man was alive and given water and food.  I don’t know if he needed medical attention or what happened after he was found, but we rejoiced to know that he had been found alive.  It was a relief for those who went searching and for those of us who continued to walk.  We celebrated with the five who went to look for this young man that evening when we gathered for our talent show.  In contrast to this joyful end we learned at the beginning of the week that there was a mother and child who was lost in the desert.  We thought about them the whole week wondering if they had been found either alive or dead. 

On our last day, we walked into a camp that was known as “Hell Camp”.  It was known as Hell camp because we had to camp on gravel and broken glass.  It had been a long, hot walk that day and to arrive at the camp with gravel and broken glass was rather disheartening, to say the least. We put up our shade tents, we chose where we would either put up our tents or sleep out in the open.  My mind reminded me that I wanted ice cream and a cool shower! After lunch, I heard a shout: “The shaved ice is here!”  Someone who supported our walk brought out a Tucson treat of shaved ice.  There was strawberry and mango shaved ice!  Oh how yummy on such a hot day. Later while we were having our team group meeting, in drove an ice cream truck! cream truck? Here? Yes, ice cream truck.  We were told we could each select an ice cream treat from the ice cream truck given to us free of charge!  Wow!  I had been wanting ice cream all week!  What a cool treat.  I heard another shout.  “The water truck is here.  Come and get cooled off from the hose.” Yes, another impromptu shower!  I was so full of shaved ice and ice cream from the ice cream truck, I could barely eat supper.  I borrowed a tarp and slept out in the open that last night and it wasn’t so bad.  I woke up thinking, I will be home tomorrow!

What a journey. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to the mother and child who were lost in the desert, too.  We hadn’t heard if they had been found.  We think they died. We grieved for them during our blessing service on our last day of the walk. A prayer was said for those still out in the desert walking, making an attempt for a new life in a new land.  A bittersweet ending to an amazing walk in the desert.   I learned so much about walking in the desert.  It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done besides birthing my babies.  Would I do it again?  Maybe!

You might be wondering why (migrants) continue to come when the journey is so hard and uncertain.  They come for many and complicated reasons.  They are coming from many countries.  Countries where they flee from war, persecution, and death.  They come because climate change is threatening their way of living.  They come because they want to re-unite with family.  They come from South and Central America as well as Mexico and other countries farther away.  Our border polices are inhumane and deadly.  Our immigration polices need to be revised to reflect the changes that are happening in the greater world.  The United States has meddled in many countries leaving things in disarray and causing migration and fleeing.

What can you do, you ask?  You can educate yourself on the issues surrounding immigration.  You can call for better legislation on immigration policies.  You can learn about the hardships of the refugees and immigrants.  You can get involved in your local community.  You can write your Senators and Congress people.  The people who attempt to come to the U.S.A are people with hopes and dreams just like you and me.
I’ll close with a Prayer for the Migrant which we prayed together in the morning before we started our walk for the day:

Loving Creator, full of love and mercy, I want to ask you for my Migrant brothers and sisters.  Have pity on them and protect them, as they suffer mistreatments and humiliations on their journeys, are labeled as dangerous and marginalized for being foreigners.  Make them be respected and valued for their dignity.  Touch with Your goodness the many that see them pass.  Care for their families until they return to their homes, not with broken hearts but rather with hopes fulfilled.  Let it be.

Douglas is an ordained Church of the Brethren Chaplain at St. Lukes/Unity Point hospital in Sioux City. She is married with three grown children and one Grandchild. She’s been involved in the Northern Plains District Church of the Brethren for about the last eight years.  I have served on the District Board, currently serving on the call committee and on the Church Development and Renewal committee, and I serve as one of the area Ministers. One of my interests and passions is immigration and the issues around immigration. I felt compelled to walk on the Migrant Trail Walk in light of our current administration and all the changes with the Borders.

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