Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Baking with my family

Although I really enjoy cooking and baking, I don't get to help with that in my house very often.  However, in the past week I've gotten to cook twice!  Last Thursday I asked Zury if I could cook dinner for us, so while they were at karate I started cooking Aggkaka, a Swedish egg dish that's common in my family.  Well, nothing in Mexico ever goes quite as planned.  First, I couldn't find the measuring cups or the pan I was planning on using.  So I mixed up what I could and thought I'd wait for my family to get back to finish.  My family got home about 45 minutes later than I thought they would, so I didn't get going on dinner again until about 8:00.  Once Zury dug out my measuring cups, I discovered that we needed a little more flour.  So I went to the small grocery store around the corner from my house with Stefi, Humberto, and Maury.  The whole way there they were asking what I was making.  Aggkaka is a difficult enough dish to describe in English, so I didn't really want to attempt it in Spanish, so I told them they would just have to wait and see.  That didn't sit too well, so they started guessing everything they could possibly think of that might contain flour.
"You need flour, so you're making bread, right?"
No, no, no, and no.
Back to the kitchen!  I can never predict how things are going to turn out with a gas oven, so I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when it took twice as long as usual to cook, even with the heat turned up all the way.  This meant we didn't eat until almost 9, so the kids were practically falling asleep at the table.  I also never know how everyone is going to react to my recipes.  I bit into my dinner, and it just tasted like home.  Stefi, on the other hand, took two bites, and then politely picked at her meal before taking it to the kitchen and leaving for bed.  Humberto and Maury both apparently liked it, but were too tired to eat much.  More leftovers for me, I guess!
While walking to the store, Maury had also asked if I was going to use any of the pumpkin puree still sitting in our freezer (not for dinner, no).  But that was all the impetus I needed to decide to bake chocolate chip pumpkin bread yesterday!  All went well, except for needing two trips to the store because I didn't check my sugar supply well enough (turns out we only had powdered sugar, which wasn't going to fly with my recipe).  I used some of the precious chocolate chips I picked up in Arizona, and the bread turned out delicious!  Nothing beats homemade chocolate chip pumpkin bread, and it should be eaten all year long, not just in fall!
After sampling the bread, Maury ran into my room he was so excited!
"Kristen this cake is so good it's delicious what's the recipe when are you going to make it again!" (paraphrased, of course, since the original was in Spanish, but this is basically how it sounded)
I pointed to the recipe, in English, on my computer and told him we could make it again soon, which he was pretty excited about.  I also told Maury that he can help me make it next time, to which he responded, "te quiero, Kristen" and gave me a big hug.  Always nice to be appreciated!
On a somewhat related note, I feel like I'm finally starting to gel with all my relationships.  I have better relationships with my coworkers, and I'm able to joke around a lot more with my family.  It's a good feeling, and made even better by the note I received from Stefi, Humberto, and Maury last week:
Most adorable thing ever!  Life is good right now.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Border Immersion Part 4

Day 4: Ash Wednesday in the desert

As Andrea put it, Wednesday's activites were about hope, while Thursday's activites were kind of a downer for the end of the week.  We met in the morning with Ken Kennon at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson.  Ken was an instrumental leader in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1970s and 1980s.  During the U.S. supported dictatorship and wars in Central America, the U.S. didn't welcome refugees from Central America, so churches and other organizations declared their spaces to be "sanctuary" for these refugees and opened their doors, at great personal risk to themselves.  Thousands of asylum-seekers were housed in churches across the country: given a place to stay, meals, medical attention, etc.  Well, the problem came in the fact that individuals participating in this movement were committing felonies, guilty of 20+ years in federal prison.  It was pretty inspiring to be sitting in the church that started this movement in Tucson, and just really eye-opening to be learning about something I had never heard of before.
memorial for migrants who have died in the desert

each rock contains the name of a migrant who died in the desert, while those whose bodies were never claimed simply read "desconocido" (unknown)
In the afternoon we met with Gene from No More Deaths, a Tucson based organization that works to decrease the number of migrant deaths in the desert by putting water on migrant trails and providing emergency medical aid.  Gene spoke to us at BorderLinks for a little while, but then he took us into the desert to actually walk some of the migrant trails.  At one stop we pulled over by a freeway rest stop to duck through some barbed wire and gather items left behind by migrants: backpacks, empty water jugs, discarded items of clothing, all of it destroyed by the brutal sun.  We then drove way into the desert to climb a mountain on a different migrant trail.  An altar awaited us at the top, full of flowers, water (we also contributed two jugs of water for migrants), a migrant's ashes, a cross, candles.  We proceeded to have a short Ash Wednesday service.  
Receiving ashes in late afternoon on the top of a mountain in the middle of the desert was a powerful experience.  This key reminder of the frailty of the human experience, especially in the desert, helped to usher in the season of Lent.

Jesus also spent time in the desert.  He fasted and went through physical and spiritual trials, just like many migrants do.  Jesus walked the paths that these migrants walk every day.  I couldn’t help but think that Jesus must be on the side of the migrant – the wanderer searching for freedom from poverty or violence.  How is Jesus’ heart breaking at the injustice found in the borderlands?
altar on the mountaintop

our group with Gene after our Ash Wednesday service

some desert scenery along the migrant trails
 Day 5

Our last full day in Arizona was spent learning about some U.S. policies in regards to migration and immigration issues.  In the morning we met with an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer at BorderLinks.  It was an interesting meeting, both because of the the nature of the discussion, and also because another group staying at BorderLinks was there for that session, and they were very emotionally invested in the conversation.  After living in Mexico for 6 months, our group has had experiences related to the migration side of the issue: knowing people whose family members are living in the U.S., knowing people who have traveled to the U.S. legally and illegally in search of work, etc.  The other group consisted of high schoolers from southern California who are involved in leadership activities at their schools, and who have been around communities of migrants who have been personally affected by ICE agents and immigration laws.  According to the agent giving our presentation, there is a lot of personal discretion that comes with being an ICE agent in terms of who to process for deportation or not, which can create lots of grey areas that can cause questionable situations.  There is obviously more to discuss with this, but it's more of a sensitive subject, so if you want more stories let me know!

In the afternoon we met with Heather Williams, one of Tucson's public defenders for Operation Streamline.  Operation Streamline is a federal program that aims to criminalize undocumented immigration in the U.S. by putting captured migrants through the court system and charging them with either a misdemeanor or a felony in a zero-tolerance policy as part of a larger plan to deter immigration.  In Tucson 70 migrants a day are processed through the court system, each one meeting with a lawyer for 30 minutes in the morning to discuss the case before pleading guilty before a judge in the afternoon.  Reactions to Operation Streamline are mixed, with many Republicans advocating for an increase in the size of the operation.  However, it sounds like the public defenders and many of the judges feel like it is a waste of their time and that Arizona's resources could be better spent elsewhere.  After breaking down the costs of the lawyers, courtrooms, and incarcerations, Heather Williams informed our group that Operation Streamline is costing Tucson alone well over a billion dollars every year.  What else could be done with this money?

Closing worship and reflection were held at this sculpture on the U of A campus

I'm clearly still reflecting on this intense week on the border, even a month later.  Some things that are still sticking with me:
-Operation Gatekeeper, which pushes migrants into the desert
-NAFTA, which has screwed up the Mexican economy and threatened a lot of livelihoods that could help to give Mexicans a livable wage in Mexico so they wouldn't migrate
-Operation Streamline, which criminalizes migrants for entering the U.S. and ultimately costs us billions of dollars in legal and prison costs
-the continued deportations of migrants who have lived in the U.S. for close to their entire lives, splitting up family after family
-drug use in the U.S., which encourages drug cartels by giving them a business, which in turn adds to the violence on the border
-American vigilantes who feel it's their duty to protect U.S. borders by shooting migrants crossing through the desert
-the legal system that has prosecuted Americans working to stop migrant deaths in the desert (both those giving medical care, and those who leave water in the desert so fewer migrants die of dehydration)

-the power of hearing migrant stories in their contexts, seeing the landscapes they are crossing, and attempting to understand the life they will have if they ever make it to the U.S. 

Well, that's the end of the border saga for now.  I have so many more stories and experiences to share, so let me know if you want to chat sometime!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Border Immersion Part 3

A continuation of previous posts...

Day 3

Most of the day was spent in the desert. After a brief visit to CRREDA (Centro de
Rehabilitacion y Recuperacion Para Engermos de Drogaddicion y Alcoholismo), we headed out into the desert with Agua Para la Vida (Water for Life). Agua Para La Vida is an organization that leaves water in the desert on known migrant trails in an effort to reduce the number of migrant deaths due to dehydration. In 2012 over 10,000 gallons of water were left in the desert, largely on the Mexican side due to threats of vandalism. Not only do migrants have to worry about all the dangers of the desert – extreme weather, Border Patrol agents, wildlife, drug cartels – they also have to contend with American vigilantes who want to decrease the number of migrants crossing the desert. There are stories of vigilante groups keeping watch over the border with guns, shooting any migrants they see (google the Minutemen, it’s shocking what news stories appear). There are also reports by migrants of vandalized water jugs and poisoned water. Some of the migrants we spoke to at the migrant resource center and CAME spoke about avoiding water jugs as a precaution. In recent years Agua Para La Vida has placed the majority of their water on the Mexican side of the wall, where it’s less likely to be tampered with.

We drove west along the highway from Agua Prieta before turning off into private land.  Agua Para La Vida has an arrangement with some of the ranchers in the area, so we drove through a ranch, past surprised looking cows, down pitted dirt roads, through empty stream beds, bouncing over rocks and plants for well over 30 minutes. Eventually we arrived at our destination: two 55 gallon water jugs within sight of the U.S.-Mexico border. After watching the guys fill the water jugs, we sat down for a quick picnic lunch before walking towards the wall.
Sarah and Joca examining the water jugs
It’s incredibly difficult to walk through the desert. Spiky plants that catch at your pants and stab your feet through your shoes. The unpredictable weather: one minute it’s warm enough to take off a couple of layers, the next an icy wind blows through. Pockets of snow left over from the night before. Knowing that the Border Patrol is possibly (likely) watching you arrive on their cameras. Continually running across items left behind by previous migrants. Then finally arriving at the fence. The sheer absurdity of a 20 foot wall in the middle of the desert.

some of the desert landscape

one section of the wall
 A Border Patrol agent drove by to see what we were doing at the wall, and we ended up having a fruitful conversation with him. He told us about some of the new techniques drug runners are using to get their goods across the border (they were probably the source of the small plane that kept flying above us), about how sections of the fence are opened during the rainy season (so the fence doesn’t get slammed with debris) and farmers have responded by putting up barbed wire to keep their cows in when this happens, about how excited new agents are when a group like ours walks to the wall, thinking that the Border Patrol is going to catch a big group of migrants, that the wall isn’t working like it’s supposed to.

the prickly plants that make walking in the desert difficult*

another section of the wall - you can see the floodgates with new barbed wire
 The one downside of this time in the desert at the wall is that we missed the weekly prayer vigil that Healing Our Borders hosts at the Douglas port of entry. I had been looking forward to this event the most, so it was kind of sad to miss it. But the rest of the day was pretty remarkable.
our group walking on train tracks to get to the wall*

part of a ladder left behind by migrants*
*Pictures taken by our fearless leader Andrea