Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring break in the desert

Last week was my spring break and off I went to the desert to get back to the things that I love doing the most. It's going on 4 years since I've been involved with No More Deaths. I remember the first time walking in the desert in Southern Arizona looking for people that needed help. It was so strange. Normally, I hike with my dog, have a picnic, take a nap under the trees, in the shade, and read a good book or do some journaling. It's been many years since I've done that sort of hiking.

My first time in the desert with No More Deaths was a transformation of sorts. I have never been the same since. It was the summer of 2004 and it was a hot day already, probably well over 100 degrees by early afternoon. I had just returned from spending a month in Peru, traveling and meeting amazing people, visiting ruins, temples and the old city of Cuzco and Machu Pichu. So, I came back ready to do some volunteering in the desert; looking for migrants that needed help during their journey into the US. At that time, the death toll for migrants was getting higher and higher and we were finding more and more people needing help, desperately.

So, we started our day bright and early, around 5am. It's cold in the desert in the early mornings and in the evenings. I woke up with dew around me; on my sleeping bag and on the tall, brown grasses surrounding our camp. It was beautiful and we were bundled up drinking our coffee, cereal and preparing for the morning ahead.

Now, 4 summers ago was very different than what we have now. No GPS's, no 4x4 trucks, no maps, no real idea of where we were going each day. We traveled familiar routes, ones that were known areas of high traffic, ones where we had seen people travel before, and ones where the local community told us to go. We drove into an area that I now know is called Las Guijas Mountains.

We were equipped with only a backpack containing migrant food packs, water, medical supplies, and a cell phone. We walked for hours, it seemed. We walked on well-worn paths, paths that the National Parks and Rec. could have made if I didn't know better. Instead, these paths were made by hundreds, thousands of pairs of feet walking North. I looked around me and saw a beautiful landscape; mesquite trees, flowering brittlebush. The smells of the desert: of creosote and the upcoming monsoon storm. It was an incredible hike. I could have easily forgotten what I was there for; I could have easily put out of my head the other reality that was evidenced all around me.

This apparent calm was routinely interrupted by our leader, or coordinator, who would call out in Spanish for the invisible migrants just out of our eyesight "tenemos agua!, tenemos comida! podemos ayudar!" "we have water! we have food! we can help you!"

To me, what was a beautiful hike was someone else's struggle for survival; their journey of hope, despair, and the unknown. That same day, at that same moment, people were walking for survival; leaving their homes to feed their families. Every year, thousands walk these trails with guides/coyotes and make it North for a promise of better wages, better living conditions, and opportunities for their children. Unfortunately, hundreds don't make it. I don't remember how many bodies were found at that point in the summer of 2004, but it was over 200 since October. In Arizona alone; and mostly in these same mountains that I was hiking; people who walked the same trails I was admiring.

We stopped along the trails to pick up trash. There were plenty of empty bottles along the way, along with other random things: a jacket on a tree branch, a shoe, food wrappers, aspirin containers. It was constant proof that we were on the migrant trail. We walked for what was probably 2 hours, resting to drink water, have a snack, get in the shade.

Finally, we continued until we came upon a "rest stop." A place where migrants would stay and rest or sleep before continuing on. These stops were nothing more than the shade under large mesquite trees. What I saw there left me speechless and drew me to tears. We walked upon a grove of Mesquite trees and underneath each and every tree were reminders of groups of people who had just left. I felt as though I had just walked into someone elses house and they had just left out of the back door as I entered through the front. I don't know how else to explain it except to say that the spirits of those who was there earlier was all around us. Literally.

Hundreds and hundreds of backpacks, sweaters, jackets, shoes, pants, shirts, socks, bras, underwear, hats, tampons, food, electrolytes, water, toothbrushes, playing cards, a school book, a Bible, a rosary, a prayer card, photos, photos of girlfriends and boyfriends, photos of husbands and wives, photos of entire families, photos of their children and written in the back "te amo, papa," ID from their home country, plane ticket stubs, foot powder, medicine, presents or recuerdos, a glass rose, love letters, baby shoes, baby socks, diapers, baby formula and Gerbers baby food containers.

I was devastated. All was left behind. And there were children, little babies. Somehow, I didn't realize that there were children. I know that children cross, but seeing all the little shoes and diapers was almost more than I could bear. I can't imagine doing their journey at all, let alone with a little one to care for. I can't imagine how bad it must have been for those families to finally have no choice but to move North.

Even though we didn't find anyone that day, the impact of what I saw has stayed with me since. So now, 4 years later, I sit as the coordinator, showing a group of new volunteers the desert surroundings. This time, we have maps, GPS's, 4x4's and a wealth of experience and stories to help us on our own journey.

that's me in the corner, kneeling.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Unitown...reflections from my student

I just came back from spending 5 days in Prescott, leading a diversity leadership camp for 60+ students from my school. I absolutely love the experience and find that I learn so much from the kids...just as much as they learn from us, I think. The best part of the week is talent night, where the kids step up and share some talents they have (or talents they don't have and just have a good laugh). One of my students read a poem that he wrote and shared it with the kids. It's absolutely beautiful and am posting it here for others to read. The talent in our children is amazing...
The students name is Tyler.

Who are we?

Who am I, you ask
I am the one who knows of good times
The expert on sad times
I am one who will be happy.

Who am I, you ask
The performer behind the curtain
The director, producer, stunt double, makeup artist, hair dresser and song writer
I prepare you for the ignorant world.

Who am I, you ask
The toy soldier you play with
A piece of plastic stamped “Made in China”
I was the one you shot down.

Who am I, you ask
I am the one marked “other”
The unknown, “who cares” guy
The toilet cleaner, janitor, garbage man, taxi driver, coffee guy, and store clerk.

Who am I you ask
I am the one who dances for thousands
I am paid 14.3 million by you to catch a football
I am too good for words

Who am I, you ask
I am a survivor
I watched thousands die for my faith
I am Jewish

Who am I, you ask
I am the solder who saved the above
I am one of many names on a stone wall to remember
I remember the above.

Who am I , you ask
I am one who believes
I stop;
Seven times a day and pray.

Who am I, you ask
I am one who worships once a week
Sunday I pray “In the name of Jesus Christ”
And I cry for those without faith.

Who am I, you ask
I am a philosopher of fate
A student of Buddha
And I will live again.

Who am I you ask
I live in deserted desert
No cable, internet or telephone
I am Iraqi, without.

Who am I, you ask
With everything,
I have nothing
I am the spoiled American.

Who am I, you ask
I live in the city with millions
Riding my bike home
I am the working Chinese.

Who am I, you ask
I am a father of kids who play with dirt
With nothing,
We have everything.

Who am I, you ask
I dress in uniform everyday; gun included
Shooting for what I (my country) believes is right,
I am the glorified bully.

Who am I, you ask
I work in a factory
Where we stamp “Made in China”
On everything leaving.

Who am I, you ask
I am the nonexistent leader,
I am the group of humans, not countrymen
We are supervised, not led nor taught.

Who am I, you ask
I am the leader of the greatest nation
The people who live happy; and lead
I am in reasonable control.

Who am I, you ask
An absolute leader
With all power I reign
Millions listen, learn, and do on my word.

Who are we
We are the hopefuls
The fans
And the competitors,

Who are we
We are ones who seek true happiness
We are the ones who smile for nothing
We wish on all the stars.

Who are we
We are the best of the best
The ones who care
We are everyone, and we, together, make the world go ‘round

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Anti-Valentine's Day Dinner

Coming home from the farmers market on Wednesday and getting ready to prepare my dinner for 12 friends. This is my second annual Anti-V Day gathering, an intimate night with singles, couples, and good friends. Last year involved chocolate, wine, fire and burning of past memories. This year, it's a celebration with good friends and an opportunity to cook for my favorite people. I think I'll keep this tradition going, since I hate all things Valentines. And since being single sucks on this day, I thought I would make the best of it! Plus, it's better to spend the evening with good friends, drinking and enjoying each others' company. I've learned that, often, the relationships that last the longest are the it's a perfect time to say I love you to everyone that I cherish. And, being Italian, food is the best way to do this :)

I picked up bags and bags of veggies from the farmers m
arket which made up the menu for the dinner. I love this picture because about 80% of the food was made using local, organic vegetables and food.

Having a dinner party is much more difficult than it seems. First, there is the menu. It took me a few days to come up with something delicious, but not too difficult. And all vegetarian. It turned out to be a 5-course meal! The trick is doing all the preparation a day ahead (with the help of a roomate and good friend who's willing to chop for hours).

Here is the menu breakdown:

Appetizers/ Antipasti:

Bruschetta with Olives, sundried tomatoes tapenade

Tomatoes with mozzarella and basil

Potato Leek soup with Kale

Mixed greens with spinach, snap peas, tomatoes

First Plate/ Primo piatti:
Cannelloni (crepes) - stuffed with ricotta and spinach over Tomato sauce

Second Plate/Secondo piatti:
Green beans with Zucchini and fresh sweet corn

Followed by decadent chocolate, berries, ice cream, and red wine...yummy!