Migrant Trail Walk #4

Tuesday 5/26/09 Getting Lost in the Sonoran Desert.

Wake up call was at 5AM just as it was getting light outside. Thank God for our sanitation team that had placed the eco-toilets for us to use near the campsite. Just before grabbing some breakfast (usually bagels with peanut butter or cream cheese), I discovered that the rear tire of the Rodeo appeared low. Tom gave me his air gauge (is there any tool he doesn’t carry?) and when it doesn’t register at all, we know we have a flat that needs repair. Although Kat has 195,000 miles on this vehicle, she is prepared with a full-sized spare tire which I am able to change with help from others – just in time for our morning “circle-up” where Erin leads us in some stretching exercises and we recite the Migrant Prayer again, this time in Spanish, led by a retired policeman from Phoenix who has walked this trail before. The rest of the logistics team had reloaded the trailer with all the camping and personal gear while I concentrated on the flat tire.

Mel, an immigration lawyer from Phoenix and I were asked to haul the gear trailer ahead to the next campsite for tonight and then rejoin the group with the Isuzu Rodeo which will serve as our emergency vehicle. Then I will remain as the driver for the day so Mel can walk with the others. (I had volunteered to help out with driving when needed.) Even with detailed instructions with odometer readings of when to turn and a map, we missed a turn and got lost on the BANWR. It turned out that the walkers also missed a turn and got lost and were about an hour behind schedule. We finally connected with the others thanks to the walkie-talkies which helped the three drivers coordinate with the security team members walking with the group. We are communicating on two different channels so a couple of people (Tom and Kat) are carrying two radios.

If we get lost in this desert/wilderness with maps and directions keyed to our odometer readings, can you imagine how hard it is to navigate on foot without these tools? Is it any wonder more migrants don’t die out here amidst the heat and the cacti? It got me thinking about the Hebrew slaves who escaped Egypt only to wander 40 years (!) in the desert/wilderness of the Sinai? No wonder they were a cranky group for Moses, Miriam, and Aaron to lead. I have much more appreciation for their plight after just hours in this wilderness.

And yet … the cacti blooms are marvelous! Also, this morning we spotted about 5-6 deer and almost a dozen large jackrabbits, some as big as a good-sized dog. I also saw a roadrunner scamper across the road but didn’t see a coyote chasing him. (We did hear the coyotes “singing” at night, however.) We haven’t seen any Pronghorn antelope yet but Kat tells us there are some in this area. I hope they enjoy eating mesquite and cacti since there isn’t much else beside some dried grasses. This wilderness is off-limits to the local ranches where the cattle seem to have eaten all the grass.

After we arrive at the campsite and get ready for lunch, I am told to try to get the flat tire repaired at a local town about 10-12 miles away after a quick lunch while the walkers are resting. We will also need to pick up more water as we had run low by lunchtime. Because of the wrong turn, we don’t get lunch until about 2 PM and it is refreshing to get under one of the pop-up canopies to lessen the effects of the mid-day sun. Since the sun is so intense, we’ve set up all five of them so people can sit or lie in the shade.

Not knowing where I was going, one of the volunteers who brought us our lunch offers to ride with me to give me directions for the tire repair place. Isabella, an older volunteer with Derechos Humanos tells me as we’re driving about meeting migrants at a center in Nogales who arrive with feet rubbed so raw there is almost no skin to protect them after blisters burst and peel off. One woman told her that her whole extended family saved up money for her to “go north” to try and find work to get money for her family. Even though her feet were raw, she couldn’t turn back to go home because of how shamed she would feel in failing her family.

Isabella has been part of this struggle for a long time. Her parents migrated to the US from central Mexico to better their lives. Isabella worked with Caesar Chavez in organizing farm workers. She told me she still doesn’t eat grapes in honor of him and the struggle for justice. In going to get the tire repaired, I heard a scraping sound at a stop sign. When I got out to inspect it, I noticed the front bumper which had been fastened on with a bungee cord had slipped loose from the rough roads we travelled and now held on with only one fastener. After trying to re-secure it without success, I removed it and put it in the back seat. After getting the tire repaired, the detached bumper was fastened to the roof rack on top of the spare tire for the gear trailer.

What trees there are are short scrub mesquite that are so low one can’t get decent shade and what shade they might provide is intermittent because they are not very leafy. There is no other shade for miles so you pray for some passing cloud cover to provide a respite from the broiling sun which bakes everything around here.

Almost Thou Persuadest Me to Become a Mennonite [Again].

Although I was raised in a church which called itself Mennonite until I was 14 (when the congregation dropped the “Mennonite” identity and reverted to the independent/fundamentalist/evangelical church it, in practice, had always been), the supper brought to the Migrant Trail walkers on Tuesday night made me want to renew my Anabaptist heritage!

Shalom Mennonite Fellowship provided the supper and the first thing I (and others) noticed was the incredibility colorful and even more tasty fruit salad. Not only did it include fresh mango, pineapple, watermelon, cantalope, grapes, and strawberries, but also fresh raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and topped off with fresh pomegranate seeds! There were tossed salads, tuna fish salad, several pasta salads, an apple/broccoli salad. Homemade cookies plus other desert-like treats wrapped in cellophane so they could be squirreled away until needed tonight or after the first few miles tomorrow.

It was evangelism through hospitality. People often referred to as “the quiet in the land” spoke eloquently through their service and generosity. You could physically see spirits lifted during and after the meal. Now, if only that hospitality was contagious – and metastasized exponentially to include our Mexican brothers and sisters and all other “strangers within the land”.

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