Sitting inside one of the thin, nylon tents in the camp, I could hear the wind whipping by, coursing through the rows of tents, causing the metal poles holding the outer circus-like tent shade above to shake and shiver, emitting metallic clangs, and spooky resonance. The occasional metal clasp raps against the metal pole, thrown about by the wind, and making me wonder how sturdy the massive outer structure is.
It's the middle of the day and I've gone into our supply tent, camouflaged in a sea of other bright green Colman camping tents. We are running out of masa (corn flour), so I came into the supply tent where we mostly store the tables we use each day to see if we had left any masa behind on another day. As I was searching through supplies, fear began to creep in and surround me in the tent. The noise of the crowd was amplified, from what I knew was a quiet murmur between companions, transformed into a mythically loud, scary, raucous roar of an uncontrolled riot.
Though I was only 20 ft from my team, I realized I was all alone and vulnerable. Someone easily could have come into the tent, and my voice would have been silent, muffled by the wind. I started to feel the many scary things that must creep into the tents as darkness falls, scary realities, amplified by the imagination.
Each day we've been to the camp has been dramatically different from the next. The first day was dusty and dry, the next was cold and windy. Then we had rain for a day or two, then blindingly got sun. Today was windy and cool, bullying it’s way through the camp, sending the empty cups waiting to be filled with chocolate milk onto the ground, still empty and now dirty. During these two weeks of February, I’ve worn sweaters and coats and sweated through short sleeve shirts. It’s been so hard to keep up with, I can’t imagine how volatile the seasons are for people in tents.
Today was also filled with uncertainty about reentry. Through a series of circumstances (Ash Wednesday mass and running an errand for a team member), my sister and I got to the center later than usual. The team for Mexico left only fifteen minutes before and they needed more cart-pullers. So were high-tailed it back to the car and tried to catch up, arriving just as the carts were full and ready to depart. Happy to have two young “pullers” join the ranks, we joined the cheering group and headed off to pay our dollar to cross the bridge.
Halfway across the bridge to Mexico, while relaying my exciting adventure to another participant, I realized I left my passport in the car! I was stuck between two countries with a car full of food for Mexico! Luckily the bridge guard had seen me each day and kindly bent the rules, allowing me to return (definitely not allowed on the one-way bridge). I sprinted to the car, sprinted back, prepared to pay my dollar again but was welcomed in instead, and caught up with the team. My ashes were now bathed in sweat from running, but the coolness of the air was gone. I can’t say that i was scared at any point, but looking back, I should have been.
On the return journey, halfway across the other bridge, one of our Canadian teammates was stopped and forced to wait in the very long line of non-US passport holders. Last week, there was the threat that this might happen, and today it did.
I must confess. I have neglected to tell you something, friends. Every day, when we return to the US, there is a long line, going at least halfway across the bridge, sometimes as long as the whole bridge, filled with Mexican citizens waiting to enter the US. You see, there are two lines. One for US passport holders and registered SENTRI card holders (a line that never had more than 2 people in it), and a line with hundreds of people that can take 4 or 5 hours to get through. Every day, our team walks by hundreds of people to the front of the line, with our empty carts in tow. It must be so frustrating for the people to watch this, and I feel so filled with the opposite of patriotism. I feel shamed and privileged. I rationalize that we probably wouldn’t be able to go across each day if there were a 4 hour wait, but it’s one of the hardest parts of the day.
Today, our teammate, who didn’t have a US passport but instead a Canadian one was forced to experience the “long line”, while her driver and carmates waited patiently in the US “witnessing” on the street corner. Luckily, she speaks Spanish and was able to learn what the others stood in line so long. They went to the US to shop for a few hours. And they did this a few times a week! Can you imagine the patience or necessity to do this so often! Our teammates made friends in line and once out of the eyesight of the one bully agent, she was able to move through faster, to exercise her privilege because of the kindness of strangers.
It was a strange day, needless to say, and with the trip ending in a few short days, my emotions are getting heavy. It’s so hard to leave when there’s work to be done, and harder to leave such a dedicated team of friends and family. Tonight, as I lay in bed writing this, I imagine myself inside the tent and the fear that I felt, that I knew wasn’t real at the time, but it is very real tonight for many .