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Day 1
Catalina State Park
Today wasn’t so much “Borderlands” as “De-issue Land.” We split into three task-forces for the day: One group went to the laundromat to wash our tonnages of dirty clothing along with our sleeping bags. Another group took all of the bikes and the van and trailer to a car wash to get everything gleaming like new. The last crew stayed at our campsite to wash all of the bike bags
and paddling gear. We made extensive use of the state park showers and by the days’ close our hands were wrinkled from so much washing. We convened for a grocery run as the sun set in all its blazing orange glory. Our campsite had a breathtaking view of towering mountains, and we watched the last rays of sunlight. The peaks up like fire as we cooked and journaled. At evening meeting, Zoe did her own long share, as she would be departing the following day. As I said, Zoe truly made our bikepacking trip possible and all our gratitude goes out to her. We glimpsed Orion peeking his head over the crags as we went to bed.

Poster at Borderlinks

Day 2
Catalina State Park
Strange and enjoyable are the words of the day. We are in this weird limbo time between bikepacking and Borderlands. To add to this, Zoe left early in the morning and Trisha left for Colorado to write our final evaluations. Liz, who will be spending the Borderlands block with us, arrived in the evening to shouts of joy and excitement. We had just finished a long day of skitwork and were well ready for a change of pace. We exchanged stories and received a more detailed itinerary for the next few days.

“Migrant World” sculpture by Michael Hyatt using items gathered along the Migrant Trail

Day 3
Catalina State park
We properly began our Borderlands block today. We drove into Tucson past towering palms and prickly pears with no pricklies (hah? Does that mean they are just pears?), and many tempting food trucks. We met our teacher and guide for the next few days, Magda, at the Borderlinks headquarters. Borderlinks is exactly what it sounds like: an organization with links to the border. They have a web of people, places and other organizations that they work with, and our time with them will be based around these connections. We were called “delegates”, and Borderlinks served as a bridge “linking” their connections and communities to ours. We spent the morning learning about the history of immigration and specifically the history of the US -Mexico border. We got a grasp on how US Immigration Policy has morphed over time and what it is today, as well as how visas, greencards, and citizenship work.

Most recent quilt from Los Desconocidos Migrant Quilt Project at the Arizona Historical Society

We rose from the wonderfully comfortable Borderlinks sofas to go on a little road trip to the Arizona Historical Society. We were there to see a display of quilts. One quilt was made each year and was covered in names of those who died attempting to cross the border in the Tucson Sector.  Most found bodies were unidentified and labeled on the quilts as “Desconocido/a”. Almost 4000 deaths in a little over 20 years. Awful. We spent a little longer in the museum before finding a patch of grass in the shade of palms for lunch.

Fancy Lunch on the campus of U of A

Right, lunch. Somehow I had neglected to mention a critical thing, and the cornerstone wheel of fall semester: Fancy Lunch. Tricia invented the meal sometime in the fall and has since made it a staple. Here is how it works: each person gets a can of fish, sardines or tuna, a hunk of cheese, and a piece of bread. You put these three together, and save some bread for cleaning the oil from the can. And once your can is clean, you receive a serving of nuts, usually cashews or pecans, followed by dry fruit ranging from apricots to dates or even apples. The final course is olives, of which you can eat a few before drinking the tasty salty juice from the can. So there, fancy lunch has been shared with the masses. My one suggestion: be VERY CAREFUL when opening the fish as people have been known to spill fish oil all over their clothing!


Fascinating mining exhibit at the AHS

We returned to Borderlinks for a debrief and final discussion on the day’s topics. On the way back to the campground, Liz asked if we wanted to listen to music. The resounding, unanimous YES! which issued through our lips seemed to shake the van. We hummed along through the dusk, volume turned up high, the lights of the city flashing by in a blur.

Day 4
Catalina State Park
When we arrived at Borderlinks this morning bright and early, we were informed that we would be driving down to Nogales, Arizona. But first we visited with Leslie at the Southside Presbyterian Church, the home of the Sanctuary Movement. This church, now beautifully renovated, has provided safety and sanctuary to undocumented people for decades. We toured the expansive grounds and sang in the chapel. It was beautiful.

Aidan at the Shrine of the Migrant at Southside Presbyterian Church

We sped through brown grasslands, towering mountains on either side. I must say, the landscape is not what any of us expected. There were times when it felt almost like Kansas. Nogales was a small, cramped but cozy town with small streets and little shops with odd names. When we got out of the van, Liz said, “Make sure we get the passports” or something to that effect. Wait, what? Aren’t we going to Mexico tomorrow? Evidently, plans had changed. We wound our way down to the Port of Entry and, after pretty much just walking down a hallway, we emerged into the sunlight.

Prema and Anna walk along the wall in Nogales, Sonora

“Are we in Mexico?” I asked Liz. She nodded and smiled. Oh, that was easier than I was expecting. Once we overcame the initial shock of being in Mexico, we began to take in the sights. There was color everywhere, and sounds and smells and people and music. The city was alive, wild, unregimented. Crooked streets, funky buildings, mildly austintatious advertisements, and street food. We found a place where we could walk up to the wall itself. I find it very difficult to write about the emotions that washed over me as I touched the rough iron. It feels like a type of thing that you need to understand, so visceral and powerful was the experience. There were phrases painted onto the steel slats: “Without justice there can be no peace;” and “All walls must fall, this wall shall fall.”

Owen and Jaimini at the wall in Nogales, Sonora

We stood for a time at the very epicenter of this massive conflict that is the border. At the end of the day, despite the horrors of crossing, the political and humanitarian mess, and its ability to destroy the lives of so many people, the wall is just 8 inches of metal followed by 2 feet of razor wire. I think that even as I write this, I am still in the midst of processing the experience and I may be for some time. After Magda treated us to paletas we passed back into Estados Unidos, a short and mostly painless process, and began to drive back to Tucson. There was a reverent hush over the van as people thought about the events of the last few hours. To say that today was profoundly impactful is an absurd understatement.

One of many pieces of art on the Mexican side of the wall

Borderlands Day 5
Catalina Park to Gilbert Ray Campground
Today, in the opinion of many, was one of the best days of semester. We met Magda at Borderlinks, per usual, and began driving south to The Border. We met Gail–white haired and firey–our second guide for the day, at a gas station. A dozen feet back from the parking lot was a wooden cross adorned with a dot of red paint. Gail explained that there were thousands of such markers around the state and that each one represented a place where human–meaning migrant–remains had been found. The rest of the ride down to the Port of Entry was flat and desolate, though we could see mountains rising to both the Southwest and East. Crossing into Mexico was once again fast and easy. Our tires bumped and slammed over the various humps in the road and we found ourselves in the small town of Sasabe.

Alma, Blanca, Magda and Gail with Semester

Jackues wrote this journal entry about the experience: “Instantly, the contrast hit us. We drove a short distance to Casa de la Esperanza, an old restaurant turned into a shelter for recently deported migrants. The smells of real Mexican food wafted into our noses. Dogs, which were all about, came to investigate, along with a single sheep who thought she was a dog. I scratched their heads and whispered to the one with a deformed leg. We all filed inside, greeted by a dimly lit kitchen and Alma, one of the ladies who ran Casa de la Esperanza. We walked through another doorway into what used to be the seating area of the restaurant. Booths and tables with chairs. Double doors at the front led outside to a fence then road. It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, as if I was barging in there. I sat down anyway at a booth nearest the bar. A TV glimmered behind me, playing the contents of a Mexican cooking show. A family sat in the corner opposite me. We all sat in various places and Gail introduced Alma and Blanca, and explained a bit about Casa de la Esperanza.

Jackues glowing with gastronomical delight

Alma began talking in Spanish, pausing to let Magda translate. She explained how Casa de la Esperanza helps recently deported immigrants get back on their feet. Some food, a shower, clothes, are all gifts they offer. All free of charge of course. Blanca passed around a paper which records all the names and ages of people who pass through. Alma explained how everyone writes they’re from Mexico for fear of being deported back to Central American countries. Blanca said she knows a lot of them are from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc. Everyone wrote “gracias” in the “Notes” section. Throughout Alma’s speech, Blanca brought forth different foods for lunch. Alma continued and the emotions kept hitting me. Even though we were in a town mostly controlled by cartels, I felt safe in the presence of these women with smiling faces and gapped teeth. Soon, lunch was ready. Tacos with chicken, two different soups, soda, refried beans. Oh Lord! It was the best Mexican food I have ever tasted. Everything just melted in my mouth. We said goodbye. “Muchas gracias, adios,” I said. We took a group photo and picked up trash around the property. A little boy came and looked through the fence at us as we were about to depart. Finding out that he had not eaten yet today, Alma and Blanca immediately got him a bowl of food and we all kicked the soccer ball around.

The crew at Casa de la Esperanza

We drove through town led by Gail and Magda. “Don’t stop driving, don’t get out of your car, and don’t take photographs,” Gail told us. We didn’t. A litter of puppies was in an alley. A horse, dressed for a show was at our left. Soon we found out why: People watched as others rode around on well dressed horses in an arena. A Saturday afternoon rodeo in Sasabe, Sonora. Armed National Guards patrolled the streets looking for deportees and stood guard outside the brightly colored Dulceria.We soon encountered a graveyard full of every color imaginable. It shined in the gloom that rested over Sasabe. Coming back into the US was an easy process. Our passports were examined and we were let back through. We convened at the a wildlife conservatory where we walked. Gail left us. We asked her what can we do to help. “Spread the word of your experience,” she replied, and then we drove to Borderlinks to debrief.

Learning blues fusion dancing at Floor Polish dance studio in Tucson

The night began then. We first went to get Sonoran hot dogs. We were each given $10 for dinner. I chose to get one dog, a horchata and a grande quesadilla. I preferred the Sonoran hot dog. After dinner we went to a blues fusion dance. The first thirty minutes was instruction. Yaara and I were partners. We got some more instruction in a separate room before dancing. Anna was by far the best. After the last song, we left, tired and happy, and drove to our new campsite. We set up in a light drizzle and tucked into bed. The day was a good balance of emotion. It started heavy and important, and ended light and fun. Maybe my favorite day on semester. I will remember this day and this entry. After all, it took me 3 days to write.”

Blues fusion dancing fever…Jaimini and Aidan keep dancing in the parking lot while we fix the trailer

Day 6
Gilbert Ray Campground
Our final day with Borderlinks. We went on a pleasant walk through the mist and occasional sprinkles down to a gazebo, stopping en route to visit the shrine to “El Tiradito,” a local legend and Saint of sorts. We studied murals and saw the gentrification of a barrio turned convention center.

Learning about one of the very many murals in Tucson

We sat, protected from the elements, and read a packet on not being a “savior ally” in the border discussion, one who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. The conversation that followed was a wonderful way to wrap up what we had learned and the experiences we had been through. It took all of our thoughts and condensed them into a singular goal: action. I can only speak for myself, but I walked down the gazebo steps feeling empowered. I had tools, and some degree of knowledge.

Final debrief with Magda

It was my civic duty to use and share these with the world. We thanked Magda for her time and teaching, clambered into the van, and set off to do… something. We had not yet been informed of the plan for the afternoon. Turns out we would be participating in “The Great Tucson Race,” as dubbed by Liz. We split into pairs, were provided with a map and a list of tasks. We had to sing a carol around a christmas tree, obtain five facts about the area or its people, locate ten murals and discuss them, and find out the world cup scores and matchups for the last few days. We were then to make our way a few miles up to the University of Arizona’s Main Library, the finish line of sorts. We had a great time and all had fun and interesting stories to tell.

Day 7
Gilbert Ray Campground to BRN dorms, Patagonia, AZ
Our morning and early afternoon was spent with Flowers & Bullets, a community farm in the outskirts of Tucson. They work to grow food for the neighborhood, provide milk from their goats, eggs from their chickens, and a safe place to hang out and learn for their community. We talked to Silvia, Brandon and Jacob, the three full-time employees. We got a tour of their facilities, heard about their mission, and their plans for the future.

Thinning carrots at Flowers and Bullets Midtown Farm

We were gifted figs straight from the trees and marveled at their banana tree in the greenhouse. We helped with some carrot weeding and thinning to finish off our visit. The vibe and energy of the place and its people were infectious and we left feeling excited and inspired. We drove an hour and a bit down to Patagonia (I know, funny, right!) where Liz introduced us to our next assignment. We were to make a collaborative mural and writing piece about our experiences on the border for the book of wisdom. Many focused hours were spent plugging away at this through the afternoon, while the sun set bathing the hills in soft light, and late into the evening.

With Jacob and Brendon at Flowers and Bullets

Day 8
BRN dorms
BRN stands for Borderlands Restoration Network. This is the organization that we would be working with today. They graciously let us sleep in their dormitory, only a 30 minute walk from their seed nursery. We followed the A2T, as it’s known in the far southern reaches of its journey nearing its end at the border. We met Purrin and George, two of the workers, and they gave us a rundown. BRN has a few branches, one being the “Rock Crew.” These people devote their time to building water catchments out of loose stone. These allow the water to sink into the land instead of running off the slopes, eroding along the way. Another branch educates people on the flora and fauna of the area, and yet another, our leaders for the day, focus on native plants and seed saving. They gather, catalog, grow, and experiment with plants native to their biological region. They then provide these seeds to other organizations, individuals, and government agencies like the Forest Service and the BLM. We spent many hours transplanting and moving numerous types of interesting plants, chatting all the while. It felt great to have our hands in the dirt. We headed to the dorms for a lively game of soccer followed by more academic work. Liz had left for home early in the morning, so Samuel was soloing us rambunctious people. Much thanks and a few apologies are in order! Trish returned from Colorado in the evening and we prepared to set off for Kroka the following morning.


Naima bringing the universal language of soccer/futbol everywhere we go

This brings me to the end of the final Fall Semester 2022 blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing some pieces of our grand adventure with all of you, despite the handful of times I have stayed up awfully late finishing an entry! I hope you have enjoyed this little window into our lives these last months. I thank you for your vocal support of my writing; it has truly been a pleasure. I would like to thank Zoe for typing up a few of these and Liz for being a great mentor and editor. I have learned a lot about writing and especially writing with a deadline, skills that I am sure will help me immensely in the future.

Live life to the fullest,