Thursday, February 27, 2020

Halfway across the bridge - Feb 27, 2020

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 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Seeing deeper and sleeping at night - Feb 24, 2020

A week has passed, a few people have joined our group, and a few have already left. We have settled into a routine, leaving the house around 8am to head to the center where some of our team will drive an hour to the border to distribute food and toiletries and some of our team will stay at the center with the people who were welcomed into the country, preparing and serving meals for them, helping them find a change of clothes, organizing the closet of clothes so it’s ready in case a big rush comes, preparing bags of food to distribute at the border, and cleaning the center. 

The center has a very empowering approach to volunteering. The pace is very self-guided, and if you don’t know what needs to be done, you might think there’s no work to do. As veterans, with a whole week behind us, we’ve learned not to wait to be asked to do something, just to jump right in. Often, the people livingu at the center can be seen helping as well: sweeping the huge shared living area and preparing bags of food to send over (perhaps having experienced how helpful those supplies are). 

In the camps, we have been able to bring chocolate milk a few times and see the grins on the kids faces as they come back for a second or third cup. Meanwhile, the parents wait patiently in a line by the food while diapers and toiletries are distributed next. The calm about the place is incredible. In a camp that has over 2,500 people, you’d expect a table with only 60 bags of food to be pilfered and overrun, but no one touched the food, or even tried, day after day, patiently waiting for the distribution. People walk right by getting their milk and toiletries, and not one person attempts to take a bag, instilling so much confidence that none of the volunteers are even watching the food. 

I read one article that described the Tents in the camp like “barnacles” on the tip of Matamoros. Another article helped me realize what I find so confounding about the camp - the quiet. It described: For a group of people who love music so much, all you hear is quiet chatter in tents. I think I find the calm exhibited in the line similarly perplexing. Articles have reported gang activity in the nights, many cases of rape, kidnapping, trafficking, and “disappearings”, but that seems like a different place than the calm of the day, or perhaps it explains it. For families who are on the run for their lives to escape this kind of violence, it seems unconscionable that the government is making this situation worse. 

But we leave each day after the food is distributed and look the government officials in the eye as we return to the US, hoping there will be no problems. We drive back to the center to prepare for tomorrow’s run so it can all begin again. 

At the end of the day, some days as early as 3pm, some days as late as 5pm, we drive the 10 min from the center back to the AirBnB that we rented in a ranch-style house in the middle of suburbia. We all stay together in one house, to enjoy community time in the evenings, a shared meal and prayer. 

Our team is comprised of five sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame (from Toronto, NY, Montreal, and PEI), two people from North Carolina, one from PEI, and three from nearby San Antonio (my mom, sister, and 8-year old niece). 

My mom joined us the first week, and graciously prepared a dozen meals ahead of time, so our evening meal preparation is simple. She spoiled us with enchiladas, lasagna, rice casseroles, and a special seafood extravaganza, culminating in a homemade cheesecake for the shared birthday celebration! She left, but we continue to enjoy her hospitality. 

A week into our trip, my sister and niece drove down from San Antonio to join us, and a day later my mom and niece left. During the 21 hours she was here, my sweet 8-year old niece played pool (billiards) with some of the sisters in the lounge part of the house, volunteered at the center, spending hours bagging food and practicing her writing skills labeling bags, and took a break to go dress shopping for her upcoming first communion. We really maximized our day together, spending our last hour at a local skee-ball, pizza party locale to celebrate my upcoming birthday. As mom and Layla waited for the bus to San Antonio, part of our team came bustling in for one last hug. The bus departed and those of us left returned to work after a very busy 24 hours. 

In the evenings at the house, you might see one of us occupying the ongoing scrabble game that started when I was at the novitiate and never seems to end, someone playing the guitar or ukuleles, someone taking advantage of the washing machine and doing laundry, or a happy soul enjoying a bowl of ice cream. We are pretty tired when we get home, but there is chatter for hours until the grand silence when people head to bed around 9pm, preparing for the noise to start again the next morning around 6am. 

Sharing a house has been a wonderful experience, especially participating in prayer each night, led by a different person each with their own style if giving thanks for the joys of the day, and centering ya in our purpose for being here. We’ve also discovered our rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem in parts and rounds could put us on the map if thus volunteering thing doesn’t wasn’t work out. 

As comfortable and grateful as we all are to have a lovely, safe place to sleep each night, the people we serve are never far from our thoughts, sleeping in tents on the ground, scared for their security amid the “disappearings” and gang activity not seen during the day. It is unsettling to think about the hardships they are experiencing, hoping for a better life, especially while we go about our evenings together. 

We are here for the anniversary of MPP  - the policy that made it legal to keeping people from specific countries out of the USA. 60,000 people have been excluded this way, in the hopes that they return to their country rather than live in the camps. Many families have left the camps, and more still have been deported after an unsuccessful asylum hearing. It has been reported that many of the people who return (voluntarily or not) are killed by the gangs they were fleeing. Bringing 60 families meals each day in a camp that has at least a thousand people is not enough. We as a people need to do more. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Making a Better Life - Feb 23 2020

From guest contributer Sister Maco Cassetta

Be doers of the word and not bearers only...  Those who peer into the perfect law of freedom and persevere, and are not hearers who forget but doers who act, such as they shall be blessed in what they do…  Care for orphans and widows in their affliction and keep oneself unstained by the world.” Saint James 1:19-27 

Since our arrival a few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised by this reading that came up in prayer on one of my days in McAllen, TX.  Yet, as one of the doers, the blessing received is the realization of my place of privilege since my situation is far from what I witnessed.  For one full day, eleven of us including a child in our midst (Lindsey's daughter and Libby’s niece, Layla) gathered at the Respite Center in McAllen as our completed team to be doers of action.  Some of us made our way to cross the border to support the families who are waiting in tents before being processed to cross over, while the remaining of us have helped feed and clothe the migrants who arrived at the center for support.  We have sorted clothes, packaged food and supplies, and made meals. Most importantly, we have been taking some time to be a presence, to play with the children and rock babies to sleep.

Many of the families that I have met to date come from Central America, the Congo, Brazil, and Haiti. I was even able to put my French to use to communicate with some of the families.  While all of us have come from different parts of North America, the “doers” and “blessed” are the men, women and children who have risked their lives to leave their homeland so they can begin anew.  I am reminded of my parents who left Venezuela, via Italy, with two babies, myself and my sister, to make our way to Canada for a better life.  In those days, migrants’ actions and desires were no different than what I witness today except it is more difficult to be accepted and encouraged to start anew.  Like then, it took courage to leave one’s homeland behind and risk displacement for the sake of many blessings.  As a nation of privilege, my hope is that we become more welcoming and encouraging without blocking migrants from their deep desires to act and make a better life for themselves…  

Monday, February 17, 2020

Return to the Border - Feb 17, 2020

This blog begins our next epic journey. This particular camino is to the southern tip of Texas, to meet the people who live in tents between the US and Mexico. Their temporary home is a make-shift camp, as they await their court date to see if they will be granted asylum. 

Last year, a group of us went to El Paso, at a time when 1000 people were being released  from US government custody each day. Our aim to help the travelers find their way to their sponsoring family members across the country. We spent the two weeks organizing which guests will stay in which room, (as the turnover was constant), who is headed to the airport at which time (and showing them the ins and outs of the airport terminals), and trying to meet the needs of the people who are waiting for their bus ride or flight (it could be days or even weeks). Last year was spent helping huge volumes of refugees and asylum seekers. 

This year, a 15 hour drive further south in Texas, the political landscape has changed, requiring asylum seekers to wait outside of the US for their court hearing. A team goes across the border into Mexico each day with basic food supplies in zip lock bags filled with: corn meal, beans, sugar, coffee, salt, oatmeal, and a water bottle refilled with cooking oil. 

The journey to the people begins an hour away, where the bags are prepared (filled from larger volumes of supplies). Then there is an hour's drive, parking near the border, filling 8 beach carts with 60 portions of each item, and then we wal. First we pass through a toll booth that requires exactly 4 quarters. Then we cross over a wall, the Rio Grande River, and a checkpoint into Mexico. After they inspect our goods, we cross a street that feels like a parking lot, filled with cars waiting to get into the US. 

Immediately you can see the tents in the distance. The tents are all covered with plastic bags, because the dust is constant. (I have a false tan, composed of dust). The outside temperature is in the 80's (in February), so I can only imagine how hot it is inside the tent and plastic covering. 

We walk then length of the camp to the opening, whose mouth seems to be a few city blocks away, then back that same distance to a known gathering space. Through all of the up and down slopes, we pull the hefty carts, filled with precious cargo. 

Children appear once we enter to encampment and help push the loads from the back, hoping we have chocolate milk with us (which sadly we didn’t). We pass latrines and clothes washing stations, clean water supplies and tents turned churches. There is a barber and a hair-dresser busy at work, their salon open to the sky, sitting on the concrete steps. There are tents everywhere. If you didn’t know better, you’d think this could be camp for the summer. Clothes hang on the line. Adobe stoves are made out of mud. There are piles of sticks nearby, fuel to the cook the food. And there are children - everywhere there are smiling faces, giggles, and eyes filled with curiosity. It seems the surprise of what might be in the carts is too exciting to miss. 

The camp has 4 distinct sides: concrete Mexican streets, the parking lot of cars headed to the US and on two sides the Rio Grande, with the wall and the US beyond. 

I have no more impressions to share as I was so overwhelmed by the familiarity of what could be a summer camp and yet the surreal-ness that this isn’t a fun vacation, it’s a semi-permanent home, where many people have been living in for over four months. 

I never felt unsafe, and wondered where these supposed ruffians (according to one side of the political spectrum) that we keep hearing about must be. I saw a very calm group of people, patiently waiting, trying to survive for their day in court. 

After distributing the food, one sweet six-year old girl launched herself into my arms, gave me a bear hug, removed my sunglasses to inspect the color of my eyes, and delicately replaced the glasses with precision. She smiled and ran off, leaving me  filled with a fantastic fuel for the walk back to the car and hour’s drive home.  

Today our team was 6 people, and tomorrow we grow by 3. We hope to bring you different impressions of our journey over the next two weeks. Via con Dios!

Monday, February 4, 2019

Final moments from the border

During our last hours in El Paso, we visited the border that so many people struggled to make their way across. It was hard to smile, but definitely an important moment. The juxtaposition of the American flag that normally brings a patriotic swell in my heart with the barbed wire and chains was truly haunting. We hunted for a spot to get to really see the existing wall, and at one point, there were charming houses on the US side, then a highway, train tracks, the Rio Grande, and finally Mexico. 

We continued to hunt to find the part of the wall that we are used to seeing, with slats, and when we eventually found it, we all had an unsettling feeling that we were too close. It was menacing and scary, even to me with all my paperwork, clearly on American soil, very legally in the country. I can't imagine the unease that the undocumented people live with daily, if this border could effect me so hugely. Also - I want to clearly distinguish that the people we worked with are not undocumented, they are part of the "system", many self-surrendering. 

The process, as I understand it, is that people take a bus or flight across Mexico, then either cross at an official border crossing (more rare) or walk through the desert (again, many looking for someone to surrender to). Then they remain in border control detention centers, only because border patrol isn't equipped with an appropriate place to house them until they can go through the official asylum process with ICE (Immigration Control and Enforcement). The people we spoke with called the border patrol holding centers "Ice Boxes" because of the menacing conditions, and almost everyone told us they stayed at 3 different sites until they were delivered to us. That is likely because the border is very big, so it takes a few centers to get them over to where ICE can process them, but we really aren't sure. 

Because ICE cannot continue to house so many people, the families are released, 300-500 a day in the El Paso sector alone. The single men stay in holding until their court case, some for years. The ICE processing is when they get the ankle monitoring bracelets (we think), all of their information is taken down, passports and birth certificates confiscated, their sponsor is called once to confirm they are in fact the person's sponsor (often in the middle of the night and they only have one chance to answer), and the asylum seekers are given an appointment at an ICE center to report to closer to their sponsor's home (most appointments are within a week). 

Then they (300-500 people each day) come to us and stay at an Annunciation House site until their family can buy them a ticket, and we can get them to the airport or bus station. Then when they reach their families, with their ankle bracelet, they report to the ICE center on the assigned day, and may have their ankle monitor removed (though we are not sure). They are put into the court system which usually takes between 1 and 3 years for their case to come to court, where they provide proof of a need for asylum. Unfortunately the rate of successfully proving their life is in danger is small - maybe 10%, but until then, they may be able to find work to send money home before they are deported. Some people arrive at our sites with a deportation warrant already attached to their documentation, but it's unclear when that is implemented. 

This is a dry, fairly pedantic account, but I wanted to record it as it's taken two weeks to figure it out. A bit about my last day has more "feeling" words though:

My last day as shift coordinator (for the 7am-10pm shift) was tough, both emotionally and physically as I am very near "too tired", but I was glad to be able to help train the people who will be replacing me. It was a "final push" of exertion, fueled by the knowledge that the other volunteers were staying on and I was leaving. After receiving 45 more guests, Maco Cathy and I were able to escape for a quick supper together, a community moment, before I went back to work and they went off to pack. 

This morning, we filled in here and there, trying not to get ducked into the problems, happy to train the 3 replacements who came from Vermont, and brought a family with us to the airport for one last transfer. After we went to the border and saw El Paso from a high overlook, Maco took us through the airport that she probably spent more time in than the first hotel. We connected with many volunteers and families we knew who were in the airport, and spotted an additional woman with a baby, clearly a refugee too. She boarded the plane with us and we said goodbye to this exhausting, wonderful, important experience. 

I learned a few things. First - no matter how many urgent tasks there are to be done, none are more important than the people you are doing them for. While I already forget the dozens of phone calls, hundreds of room assignments, and infinite infitessimal tasks, I do remember dropping to my knees to play peek-a-boo with a little kid in the hallway, a silly, unexpected act that made the dozen people waiting in line smile and relax a little, too. Getting to hold a baby while the mama was on the phone with her loved one. Being recognized in the airport as a familiar face. Laughing through a strained conversation about "belts or maybe they meant a diaper, oh wait they just want more toilet paper!" I noticed this in Kenya, and was able to really put it into practice here: not to let the people see me rush and instead smile, play, and comfort. Our actions and manner in carrying out those actions truly say more than our words or intentions possibly can. Our community has a name for this - "visitation moments" as when Mary and Elizabeth met together, sharing the excitement of their pregnancies. (I am nearly certain peek-a-boo was around in 3 BC Isreal.)

Next - my body is 10 years older than it was when I went to Kenya, and realistically, I could not maintain the same energy level as I did ten years ago. I have so much more respect for my "elders" who kept nearly the same schedule and were decades older than me!

Finally - I realized my interactions with some people were different, purely because I am a Sister, a monjita. For some people, that gave comfort. For others, (mostly the volunteers) they cleaned up their language and were shocked if a harsh word or mocking statement escaped my lips. Moreso, I saw how the other sisters had 'nearly' the same schedule, but they took breaks, naps, and ended early or started late. It's not to say they did less, but they definitely went "gentler" than I did. I find I am an "all-in" kind of person, and I think that last year, I was supposed to shed much of that manic commitment and find a better balance, but clearly I need this second year to put that into practice. It's hard!! 

When the need is there, I want to respond, especially because the other volunteers were so much fun to be around, but looking back, a better balance could have been beneficial. I am not sure it would have happened though, because I did spend more time "hanging" and trouble shooting in the office than I did "chilling" with Maco and Cathy in our room. As it was, I slept with the pb&j and medicines so my crazy hours wouldn't disturb them (at my insistence, not theirs). I found friends in the office, and had a lot of fun trouble-shooting with them. Realistically, if they were boring, I probably would have taken more breaks and worked shorter shifts. 

Perhaps this will be a life-long struggle to find balance between my enneagram 3-ness and need for contemplation. (Though come on, how much contemplation can there be when 3 of us shared a room???). 

I leave El Paso with many new friends, a better understanding the motivations of people, a bit more Spanish, and areas for personal growth. I am touched by the number of you who reached out and prayed with us, journeyed with us through these blogs, and sent messages of your presence. Hopefully we can all continue to make this world a bit better, one interaction & "visitation" at a time. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Operation: ready, go

Moving into the operations side of refugee hotel hospitality has been energizing, and yet exhausting in a way that my brain is tired, but my body less so. Since coming to the hotel, my shift has been at least 16 hours long each day, and I find it invigorating in a way that I want to be the first one in and the last to leave, walking 3 doors down to my room at night and crashing into bed - a room that doubles as the medical unit and contains the PB&J sandwiches, so my nose is filled with peanut butter and each breath with the air shared by all the sick people in the hotel. And the funny part is that both of those things just make me smile, as I am surrounded by two aspects of hospitality we can offer to a very tired, hungry, and ill people.

There has been a necessity for adaptions, being in a new city. For example, the local bus station, only a 15 min drive, is staffed between the hours of 7am-1pm and 6pm-10pm, unless the system is down or they can't find someone to work the shift, in which case the office is closed. It resides in a gas station... "Chuckies" to be precise. Our guests need tickets to ride the bus - seems like an obvious thing, but because of the way their sponsors buy the tickets, the multiple last names of people and character limitation on the ticket, e-tickets are nearly impossible, so we rely on a printed ticket, which we cannot obtain between the hours of 1pm and 6pm, when our most popular bus goes by. It makes it tricky to say the least, and we didn't know how good we had it last week, just having to deal with getting people to the station. It has worked out only because of the amazing support of the Las Cruces community and drivers who drop everything to go to the bus terminal in Las Cruces, or an hour away in El Paso. One volunteer even drove all the way to Deming to try to catch up to a bus that departed and wouldn't let our client on because she did not have a printed ticket. Oh - and the closest airport is an hour away. That's fun!!

So needless to say, adaptations and ingenuity have been essential. What makes this so fun is the staff. 

This year's marks 10 years since I started going to Kenya, and being here with a familiar tired feeling in every cell of my body and yet complete satisfaction and joy, it all just seems like an appropriate way to mark my 10 year life changing moment. Ten years ago, I decided to quit my job as a systems engineer working on satellites and move to Canada, to take a break for a year and devote time to helping the people of Mikinduri Kenya, somehow, and take a breathe to find myself. It was the start of my journey, my first experience of 'community', mission, and complete joyful purpose. I remember crying so hard on the way home, devastsd to leave the group. 

While these 2 weeks weren't as intense as Kenya, there has been a familiar communal sense of purpose, drive, and love to serve the people who come to us, true visitation moments. I am grateful for my experiences with operations of satellites in space, medical clinics in Kenya, and hotel refugee hospitality in the southwest US, and I have to smile at the similarities, mostly the love and drive of the people that serve together. 

We have welcomed 200 people into the 26 rooms over the last 4 days, and that means also getting 200 people to an airport or a bus station, feeding them, providing toiletry welcome bags, travel bags with food, meals in between, and the whole process of registration. It has been all-encompassing. 

I won't get into too many stories, but here are some updates we learned about the treatment of the people before they come to us. One day, a woman and her 7 month old infant arrived from the bus and was immediately whisked away to the ER by one of our drivers because her baby had a fever - 103.6  according to the hospital, and he has been admitted for the last few days. (And the guards knew the baby was ill but did nothing for him on the 1 hour drive here). A child came with a burn on his face from the cold of the air conditioning in the holding centers - actually burned like frost nip you'd see way up north. We are told that the cold undercooked burritos were provided for adults, and children are given animal crackers and juice 3 times a day. They describe the feeling of longterm starvation, and being taunted as in one instance, an obese guard sat in front of the children eating a hamburger "at them" - the children! I could go on but don't need to. 

Some fun stories to leave you with, as it seems to be a constant paradox here - the interplay of suffering and laughter. One day, Sister Cathy asked if there was an extra person to help her in clothing. As much as we wanted to give her support, there was no one available. The next thing I know, there is a bilingual woman in Cathy's room - a friend of a friend that she made here in Las Cruces! Only Cathy could be so resourceful! 

A second story - as the people were getting off the bus (and we were quickly responding to the sick baby), one of the women asked about my cross and I could her them whispering something about "religioso hermana" and I confirmed it. Later on, one of the volunteers heard someone tell their family member on the phone that they were in a lovely place with the "little sisters" - "monjita". 

It has been an emotion time, with lumps in my throat and an emptiness in my chest, to see some people so overwhelmed with finally talking to their family member, hearing about the cruel conditions before they came to us, and hugs goodbye as they head off for their new lives. It will be hard to leave in just 36 hours and I dread my last day - tomorrow, hoping the shift will never end. Luckily, it begins in 5.5 hours so I should rest before the fun begins again and hopefully we welcome a new crew of people on a rest stop to their new home. 

Friday, February 1, 2019

The nature of our border experience

I am excited to offer you another perspective from the border. Tonight, our guest blogger (and my novitiate director) Sister Maco, CND reflects on the nature of our experience:

Today, here at the border, I was invited by Libby to be a guest blogger. To be perfectly honest, Libby's reflections of the many experiences at the border have given you all a great overview of what has been happening and there is no need for me to add more or really to repeat. The truth is, my heart is filled with much gratitude which I know will take a while for me to unpack. However, today, I agreed to share some highlights that came to mind and will remain with me.  (I'm actually following Libby's orders to be a guest blogger today.  After all, she is the shift coordinator! So, I better do what I'm told!)  Anyhow, Cathy and I were able to sneak out and visit a retreat center in the area.  Our couple of hours' respite and a walk along a labyrinth after several very long days gave me the opportunity to pause and tap into the many graces I was gifted with. I was grateful simply for the opportunity to reflect on the walk along the side of our migrants
Since we arrived, I have had several tasks.  I have been one of the designated drivers. I oversaw the toiletries department, and I have given out medicines. And, yes, I too made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!  I helped set up a new hosting location and went out to purchase needed supplies. However, what's been most impressive to me are the many visitation moments with the families. While I speak some Spanish, I've been able to understand and get by with simple terms thanks to my Italian and French. The truth is, too, the migrants are very forgiving of my broken Spanish and for whatever reason, we have been able to communicate and understand each other. The deep eyes of a child, an adolescent, a mom or a dad spoke to me of resiliency, courage and strength. The many hugs and sign languages have humanized compassion.  
There have been moments when I was moved to tears and my empathic side kicked in! I heard stories of their long and horrific journeys or how they have been treated at the border or seeing their monitors tightly placed around their ankles where they couldn't remove their pants unless we helped them cut the ankle cuff of their only pair of pants.  In addition, their shoelaces were confiscated (really, not sure why, even from shoes of young children!) Many trips we made to get new shoelaces so they could continue the journey. I guided each family through security and offered explicit instructions on what would happen once I left them to wait to board a bus or plane. And let me tell you, there was a lot to explain and a lot that they went through just at the airport or bus terminal.  As I would hug each one of them on their way, I remember most of their strong grip of not wanting to let go.  With tears in my eyes and my parting words of "Buena suerta" and "Que Dios te bendiga", I have been aware of the need to let go of the outcome because what's most important is the recognition that each short visitation moment held the seed of love and this seed of love is God deeply rooted in each person. Yes, it will take awhile for me to unpack the many gifts. But gratefully, having made the journey with Cathy and Libby, we will have many opportunities to make meaning of our shared experiences in the future.

The sheer beauty of the area on this winter day, the song of birds, the mountains and desert trails with cacti plants offer a paradox of the lived reality of our migrants' journey as thy continue to walk North.  May our passionate God of love guide our migrants to the promise land. May it be so...