by Jodi Read
It happens every year. I finish the Migrant Trail (75 miles walking in the desert), am dirty as a rat, emotionally and physically exhausted after remembering people who have died and I get the question, "How did it go?"
How do I sum up the experience of the Migrant Trail in a few words? For me the Migrant Trail is not just a one-week walk, but rather an event which requires months of planning, attention to one detail after another, lots of meeting facilitation and people-to-people interaction. On the trail itself, I continue to think of one detail after another and go from facilitating ventures one day to the next. So, when folks ask me how it went, I can readily answer about the organizing part. "We got along fairly well as an organizing team, had no major disasters and were able to provide a relatively healthy and safe environment for the walk. Further, this year's group of mature walkers created a synergetic camaraderie that made life at camp and walking more enjoyable," I say. I will also readily say that I appreciated not having an MCC delegation that I was responsible for. The organizer in me responds quickly to the question and the answer is easy. However, there are deeper truths in my experience on the Migrant Trail which I rarely have the opportunity to share.
I pray more during the Migrant Trail than any other time of the year. I walked in silence to pray for Ricarda's grandchildren. Ricarda Macedo Zaragosa was a 53-year-old woman from Mexico, found dead on May 26, 2005 in Yuma. She died of exposure and heat exhaustion. I carried the cross with Ricarda's name for the seven days of the trail. I tried to imagine her family being okay, her children and grandchildren being taken care of by others. I prayed that her family would know that she was being remembered and honored. I prayed that the death she died would not be repeated by others. Sadly, I know it will.
I prayed for Santos' family from Honduras, his wife Esperanza, and their two children. I thought of Mark and Lynne Baker, Mennonite Brethren professors in Fresno and close family friends of Santos who went to search for him. Santos was lost/disappeared and is presumed dead somewhere in the state of Texas. I prayed that Santos' children would find comfort in their daily living despite the absence of their father.
I prayed for the people who were walking through the desert as we were walking. I couldn't see them but I knew they were there. We saw a group of men with backpacks before we left Sasabe, Sonora on Monday. I prayed that they would find access to water and didn't have to walk too long or get too many blisters. I prayed for the policymakers in Washington, DC to see the human impact of deadly policies that force people into the harsh desert instead of allowing them to pass through ports of entry.
I didn't pray for the Fish and Wildlife Commission that is collaborating with Border Patrol and now arresting people for leaving unopened jugs of water in the desert. The Fish and Wildlife Commission is calling this transgression "knowingly littering". And yet the humanitarian groups and religious leaders that are entering the reserve are picking up trash and leaving jugs of unopened water. Perhaps my prayer should be that more people from the borderlands would leave unopened jugs of water in the refuge so that people would have water on the journey and that the government would realize how inane this policy of death is.
I also don't think that I prayed for the migrant we encountered along Highway 286. When we came upon Juan (I didn't actually find out his name), we stopped to offer water and to see if he needed medical attention or assistance. Christie, another walker from Michigan and I were returning from picking up the Porta-Potties with my mom's Highlander when we saw him walking on the road. Juan had dozens of cuts from spines of cactus on his face and arms. He asked for a ride, which I promptly indicated was not possible. He asked to borrow a phone, which I granted him. We also gathered all the water we had in a bottle and handed it to him. After ten or so minutes, and his repeated requests for a ride even in the stalls of the Porta-Potties, I tried to get the phone back but Juan was not ready to return it. After a few more minutes Juan gathered his stuff and ran off. I was angry that he ran away with my phone.
So, while I didn't pray for Juan in this instance, I do hope that he arrived to his destination safely. I felt kind of foolish for losing my phone. And yet, upon further reflection of the Biblical command to provide water for the thirsty, food for the hungry and liberation for the oppressed, I knew I would do the same thing again. And then I wondered if sharing my phone was kind of like what Paul in the book of 2nd Corinthians called foolishness for Christ? Could it be that the power of the Gospel, the power of radical change is evident in simple gifts of water bottles and cell phones offered to those in need? What radical change could happen as a result of thousands of God's children providing for others in the desert?
In striking contrast to a vision of such change, a walker from Los Angeles used the words "killing field" to describe the Sonoran desert where so many have died. My understanding is that the term "killing field" was used during the Vietnam War and the conflict in Cambodia where so many lost their lives. Is what happened there all that different than what is happening here? Over 5000 people have been found dead in the surrounding deserts in the last 10 years. I think "killing field" is an accurate description.
I return from the killing fields to the city with a heavy and also healing heart. The Migrant Trail is a prayer walk for me. A time to remember individuals, a time to remember the impact of government policies, a time to renew my commitment to care for individuals and to policy change.
For more information on the Migrant Trail, see <http://mcc.org/us/washington/issues/immigration/walk/what.html>.