A Glimpse of Desert Aid work

Originally, this week we were supposed to talk to people from The Florence Project and visit the Florence detention center. Due to the government shut down, that was no longer possible. I was looking forward to this visit, but to be perfectly honest, I’m glad it was cancelled because in its place we got to do something I’ve wanted to do since I heard about BSP. Our group met with Paula and John, both of who live at Casa Mariposa and work with No More Deaths, among other organizations. The two would be our leaders on a hike through a migrant trail in the desert.

The day would offer us an opportunity to ask questions about desert aid work as well as experience a little bit ourselves. We drove to Arivaca, Arizona, where we met Paula and John outside a national park. Our cars called the attention of a park ranger who told us that the park was closed, also due to the government shut down. Regardless, we drove to a lot that was closer to the beginning of the trail.

Each one of us carried a gallon of water and a can of beans. We started trekking through tall grass, when we quickly realized how lush the desert actually is. I imagined the desert to be pretty barren with a bush here and there, but in reality it is filled with sharp, pokey plants, lizards, vultures, grasshoppers, and centipedes, among other forms of life.

Paula and John told us we were on our way to a shrine that they had discovered some time ago, a shrine that was created by various migrants passing through the area. In a single file line we wobbled our way down hills of loose rocks, used our jugs of water to swing through the grass, and climbed over short barbed wire fences. As we walked through the not so marked trail, John told me that volunteers were often asked to leave the park. Technically, it is a recreational area that many use, but the activists from organizations like No More Deaths, Samaritans, and Humane Borders are asked to leave by park rangers or detained by Border Patrol. This was upsetting to me. We have heard some pretty absurd opinions on the politics of immigration, but this is not about politics. This is life and death, and people are cited or even prosecuted for trying to prevent death.

After a few stops, where we rehydrated and ate our granola bars, we finally made it to the shrine. It looked much different than I expected. To get to the shrine we had to climb up a dry creek. In one of the walls there was an eroded space where crosses, candles, and pictures sat. Some of it looked very old or rusty. Other pieces looked newer, as if they had been added over a long period of time. On the ground next to the shrine was a weather beaten pair of sweatpants and various jugs either filled with water or empty from use. The jugs had the dates they were placed there and encouraging messages written on them.

We all took a look at the shrine and then sat in silence. After some time to talk about where we were, Paula and Amanda passed out sharpies so we could write on our water jugs. On mine I wrote the date and “Me llamo Natalie, tengo 20 años. ¡Suerte!” I wanted to write something to let them know they were not invisible, that a white American was thinking about them and their journey. I wish I had the Spanish to be able to write something like that, but I hope what I did write will give whoever receives it an idea of who is looking out for them. Hopefully it will give them some sort of comfort or a little extra push to keep moving. In reality I feel pretty helpless in terms of what I can do to affect the lives of the people who pass the shrine. I know that the water makes a big difference, but in terms of the bigger picture I don’t know what I can offer other than some information about myself, and the fact that I care.

It was strange to think that we, an active group who had snacks, ample water, hiking boots, and sunscreen were feeling tired or worn. The hike was not even two hours. It was just that, a hike. But we were tired and the sun had beat on us. The hike made me feel even more that I do not know what it’s like to make that trip across the border. I thought about what it would look like for a family to be climbing through the desert, and realized how much people risk for a better life. There’s no way people would make that trip by choice; it’s likely their last option for survival.

The hike made me realize that there is a lot I don’t know about immigration and crossing the border. But now I have more questions. I’m hoping these questions will just get me a little closer to truly understanding this issue and the people involved.

– Natalie Ancona

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