Migrant Trail Walk #5

Wednesday 5/27/09

I had a better night of rest and woke about 4:20 AM. I cleaned off with baby wipes (we are promised our “shower for the week” in Thursday!) and got to the eco-toilets before the 5AM wake-up call rush. We loaded the gear trailer at 5:30 and I helped Tom latch down the pop-up shelters and water jugs on his trailer.

The walkers hit the trail at 6:10 after our morning circle with exercises and the prayer:

Prayer for the Migrant
[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.

The original version of the prayer begins “Heart of Jesus …” but to make it more inter-faith and inclusive it is suggested we begin with “Creator”. Mel and I are once again tasked with leaving the gear trailer at the next campsite and then rejoin the walkers. It is challenging enough to drive on these roads in the BANWR with or without a trailer. We encounter numerous areas called “washes” where the water rushes through during heavy rainstorms that I’m told often come through here in late July. Locals call it the monsoon season. With the ground so parched and baked hard, the water often runs off quickly to those lower dry creek bed areas. If the rains came more frequently, some of the washes might be more properly called arroyos. In any case, the loose gravel and sand along with the potholes would challenge any driver.

Today, the heat seems even more intense than the past three but at least the humidity remains low. Last night about sunset there was a big storm cloud in the distance with thunder; we saw a beautiful rainbow – but we got nary a drop at our campsite.

Special kudos need to be given to Chandra and her sanitation team. They are responsible for finding spots that provide some screening from the road or campsite for a minimum of privacy – often behind a mesquite “tree” or shrub. They dig a hole next to the eco-toilet, leaving some dirt nearby for users to sprinkle on top of their excrement to keep the smell to a tolerable minimum. These “toilets” are carried on Tom’s trailer in 5-gallon buckets in the “unsanitary” zone. The black toolbox separates the trailer between the sanitary zone where the water jugs and medical gear is stored and the unsanitary area where the toilets and shovels are places. Once the toilets are sited (the women's usually to the left of the campsite and the men's to the right), the area is marked with an orange security vest or bright cone and a bottle of hand sanitizer and an extra roll of toilet paper.

Tom spots one of many red-tailed hawks flying close to the road. We’ve also spotted quail that often run along the road in front of the vehicles - occasionally flying in short stretches to keep ahead of us. We are often driving only 10-15 mph on the road surfaces in the BANWR, ready to brake on a moment’s notice for big ruts, potholes, or washes alongside or across the road surface.

Brother David, our brown-robed Franciscan needs to leave at the end of today’s walk to spend time with his mother. Father Bob, another local priest arrives to pick him up after the day’s walk is completed (a relatively easier 10.8 miles after yesterday’s 13.7 miles plus an additional mile and a half or so for the missed turn). Fr. Bob makes the transition of losing Brother David easier by bringing us some candy and two chests of ice to cool our drinks. Blessings abound! The Mennonites left their Igloo cooler/jug for us to use the rest of the week so we are able to make Gatorade for our rest stops.

Several walkers have developed blisters and/or heat rash. Many of the walkers wear “camelback” devices that include a bladder to fill with water that can be worn on the back as a backpack. A tube passes through the harness to the front so one can rehydrate as you walk. It certainly is easier than trying to drink from my Nalgene bottle while I’m walking.

Mel has brought along her guitar and several walkers sing along with her at the campsite as we await lunch or supper. With our relatively “easy” distance today, there is some “down time” before lunch. We arrived at the campsite on time, just before 11AM. Tomorrow promises to be a much more grueling trek and we need to leave much earlier in the morning to try to beat the hottest part of the day.

Each of the drivers carry a walkie-talkie while the walk is in process. Here is a typical exchange:
Kat (with the walkers): Steve, I see the Rodeo ahead. We turn right at the spot where you are?
Steve: correct.
Kat: Thanks. You can go ahead; do it now so we aren’t eating your dust.
Steve: OK. I’m heading out. There is a water no-stop just ahead.

We have two types of “stops” en route during the walking phase: a “water no-stop” means the walkers pass the vehicles on the right side and fill their water bottles (if needed) and continue walking. These are scheduled every 1-1/2 to 2 miles. The “full stop” (between the water only stops, again after another 1-1/2 to 2 miles) lasts 10-20 minutes and people go to the bathroom and get snacks to replace lost salt or sugar for energy. We have fruit, both fresh and dried, pretzels, salted peanuts, cookies or crackers, and Gatorade or water. It is time for some to re-apply their sunscreen; others use the opportunity to sit on the ground and rest. Several members of the food team ride ahead with the drivers to set up the tables and snacks so everything is ready as the walkers arrive. This walk is well organized! It is during these “breaks” that drivers and walkers can switch out if someone wishes and others can get into the van and ride for a stretch if they need a break. The organizers make it clear that peoples’ health and safety remain a priority.

We also use the walkie-talkies to make sure the walkers know when the support vehicles are coming up behind them so they can get into a single-file for us to pass. Later, when we are walking on the main paved highways, we must walk single-file all the time but while in the BANWR we can walk two-by-two and have some conversation easier.

It has become apparent that I am more useful to the success of the Migrant Trail Walk as a driver/support person than as a walker. I’m happy to contribute whatever way is best. While it may seem to be more “heroic” to be walking the 75 miles in the extreme heat, unless the walkers have reliable support in setting up the stops and hauling the gear and supplies, nothing would work as smoothly as we’ve functioned so far.

Our medical team is ready to advise and help –blisters, heat rash, aching muscles, removing cactus’ thorns. They remind us to have food in our stomachs before taking ibuprofen. Taking it in the morning sometimes certainly makes the walking easier for me. The food team sets up our breakfasts, making coffee as well as setting out the bagels that are our morning staple. Their mantra always is: “Sanitize! Sanitize!” Don’t touch any food without sanitizing first and don’t reach into any food container – use the tongs or scoops provided. We have a lawyer who walks with us and she will take charge with any potential contacts we have with the Border Patrol or migrants we encounter.

Each evening close to our suppertime a truck operated by Humane Borders comes to the campsite to replenish our supply. They often have ice as well. What a crucial role water plays in our lives this week!

Today the group decided to walk in silence for a mile and a half to take time to reflect on those who have died in this area. Also, today, during one of the stretches, names written on the crosses we carry are read aloud with the group responding with “Presente!” as a symbolic gesture of carrying that person’s spirit with us, or recognizing his/her presence among us.

Rain? In southern Arizona? Yesterday a cloud came over and I felt about 12 big drops. Then it stopped. About sunset there was another huge threatening cloud but it never came over the campsite. There are no clouds when I awoke close to 3 AM and the stars in the dark sky were incredible! Since our wake up time tomorrow is scheduled for 3AM with the walk starting at 4, hopefully we’ll get to enjoy them again. Meanwhile, threatening clouds moved in about 3PM today and people scrambled to attach rain flies to their tents or to get under the canopies but all we got was thunder and a few sprinkles again – not even worthy enough to settle the abundant dust. With the early departure in the dark tomorrow, we need to load and secure Tom’s trailer before 8PM tonight after we take down the canopy shelters and the water truck has completed filling all our containers.

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