A Travellerspoint blog

Getting wrapped into Team Brownsville

(written July 6, posted July 7) It’s hotter than you can imagine. I am sitting in the little casita where I am staying; Abuelito Jesse is chillin in his recliner, resting his eyes with Mariachi tunes playing. My pick up truck is parked in the front yard. There are parts of this trip that leave me feeling like I might be on a movie set... Soon, I will pack up hot dogs, apples, oranges, bananas, hot dogs, chips, granola bars, and water and head to the bus station in Brownsville. Also, toothbrushes, shoe laces, coloring books, little jars of Play-Doh for kiddos who will be on the bus, literally for days. Team Brownsville (a wonderful organization if are looking to give - https://www.teambrownsville.org) provides 1-2 meals daily both in the bus station for people who have exited detention as well as across the bridge in Matamoros where there are lots of people waiting to cross the bridge. I don’t have my passport with me, so have been urged not to cross.

I went to the bus station last night to get the lay of the land for serving dinner before I volunteered to prepare and serve tonight. The scene is quite the same: families, mostly mothers and children. Arriving dead tired, dirty and hungry. Last night, one 14-year-old boy was clearly quite sick, and he was wearing a mask. I talked to three families, all from Honduras. All mom’s with their kiddos. An incredibly enchanting 12-year-old girl named Dixie-Nicole. :) She basically followed me around until I sat down to talk to her and her mom, Berta. I was there for awhile because I lent my phone to another mom who had not had a chance to talk to the family she was joining in Atlanta. I cajoled Berta and Dixie-Nicole into practicing “Hello, my name is….” Their hesitant voices and big smiles were so sweet; I am silly not to have recorded them, but at least I got a photo. Which Dixie-Nicole tagged herself in when I posted to FB. This mom and daughter duo are headed to Houston.
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Not sure if people want to know more about experiences in detention centers, but these families say much of what I have heard before: incredibly crowded, no chance to bathe, very cold, the food is terrible. The family with the sick boy was in for five days; that is the longest I have heard, but Berta told me there were people she met in detention who had been in for more than a month.

Maria, the mom who is on her way to Atlanta and borrowed my phone, was lovely and alive - helping others, seemingly relaxed. She and I communicated pretty well. She talked on the phone for 20 minutes or so. When she hung up, she was ashen. I asked if she was ok; she told me the whole story…which I got slices of. She left her husband and 10-month-old son in Honduras because her life was in danger (pretty sure about that part). Then, there is a big concern about whether she (or her husband) has a valid reason for seeking asylum. This squares with what El Pastor has explained to me. People can seek asylum for 4 reasons: persecution because of sex, race, creed, or because of sexual violence perpetrated by the government. (Again - anyone can correct me on the details if I am not getting this right.) And the people who are coming now are fleeing violence from gangs. Indeed their lives are in danger, but the government is not the perpetrator. It is political asylum - not just asylum from anyone who is out to get you. Maria told me: every step of this journey is hard and dangerous. She started crying a bit. We hugged; I got her sister’s number in Atlanta. I plan to see her when I get to Atlanta the week of July 15. Agree with me that she is beautiful:
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I learned something about myself which isn’t pretty. I feel more comfortable approaching more attractive people. This is a rotten thing to recognize. The mom of the sick boy was missing her front teeth and was clearly less educated than the other two mothers I was talking to. I had a hard time connecting to her. I did go get Nyquil and cough drops for her boy. (And then was terrified this morning that he could have been allergic to the medicine - which is something I didn’t ask!) So: give me courage to drop that bias. I am ashamed of it.

One of the oddly wonderful twists - and there are some every day: there is a group called Acupuncturists Beyond Borders. Of course there is! They came Friday night, and crossed the bridge to provide care and support to the people in Matamoros waiting to cross. They had a support dog with them, and pulled wagons full of chairs and tables for them to care for people.
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Lovelovelovelove. Did you all know about this? Sarah McLaughlin singing St. Francis' prayer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

Dios te bendiga - and all of us. Every last one of us.

sg

Posted by sarahglover44 17:03 Comments (1)

Love Action

Hi Wonderful Humans,

Will do a description of my day yesterday, and share with you some of the stories I gathered from the families I talked to. I spoke to families in the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen and the Good Neighbor Settlement House respite center in Brownsville. Brave and beautiful people from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, navigating unbelievable hurdles and dangers. The openness of their faces, their willingness to chat is so disarming - and lovely.

But for a moment: Many of you are telling me I am doing something great. Or that it is brave. Or that it is a sacrifice. All I can say is that it just doesn't feel like that at all. I hope I don't sound like a ninny, but it is 100% a gift to be here. 100%. I am soaking up knowledge, awareness, gratitude, love, pain, courage, disorientation - all of it.

I had a great conversation with buenisima amiga Sarah Driscoll the other day. In describing some of the good I am seeing, she said "It goes to show you that there is good in the world." True, true AND: good is not passive. It does't happen; we make it. You, every day. Good happens when we create good. At the end of something, don’t have the conclusion that there is good in the world. Or bad in the world. Be in the situation to make it good. Brene Brown (and Theodore Roosevelt) would say "get into the arena." It's fine if the arena is your home, your neighborhood, the next time you let someone go in front of you in a long line at the grocery store.

I am dosing on episodes of On Being (thank you to Kiame for introducing me, and to Andy for it becoming an indirect conversation between us). Two things that stood out recently from two different interviews: it’s the micro actions in our every day that make up the whole. (Maria Popova). And Richard Rohr - “I pray for one good humiliation a day.” I love this! We should all pray for one good humiliation a day. Anything that keeps us all on the same playing field, and vulnerable enough to keep making offerings of goodness.

I am here for many reasons, but the most specific reason is Bryan Stevenson’s call to “get proximate.” I initially interpreted this as needing to be proximate in order to be effective at solving problems. I am not the only one. An article in Fortune summarizes Stevenson's call for proximity similarly: "...Bryan Stevenson, the law professor, anti-death-penalty advocate and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, called on a rapt crowd of executives to 'find ways to get proximate to the poor and vulnerable,' the better to solve social problems." (https://fortune.com/2018/06/26/bryan-stevenson-ceo-initiative/)

That, my friends, is privilege. Because I think what Stevenson is really saying - and what I figured out by hanging out with recent immigrant kids at Somerville High School and the families here - is that proximity is for our own humanity. It's not to fix other people. It is for the transformation of each of us. And, when we are transformed in this way, we have the experience of being one family. One family. Who would leave their family members to a life of desperation? None of us. Proximity gives the opportunity to affirm, grapple with, and begin to be blessed by the mystery of all of us being one.

The reality - and expansiveness - of being one family began to be revealed to me after reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. My learning from that book (and from all the work I did around that book - some of you know that I basically tasked the entire city of Bozeman to read that book) was that the whole world is our family. The whole world is our family. All children are our children. We are family to one another. And, thus, we must care for and will be cared for by one another. It just is. It doesn’t have to do with duty. For me, it very much has to do with God, though I invite those of us who don’t believe to lean into the notion of family. A mystical, all encompassing family. If you look for it, it will be there.

Being in a family also means you show up - to feed, clothe, house, play with, teach, celebrate - with each other. So, the next person who asks for a sandwich or a dollar, imagine that person as a sibling. And go to the sandwich shop and buy a sandwich. Ask first if she eats meat or avoids pork, because this food needs to feed her soul as much as her body. Put food into people’s hands, and if you have time, sit and eat with them. They might decline to want to be with you, and that is ok. There are a million reasons why that might not be their choice. But consider shaking hands, introducing yourself, asking if they have children or siblings, ask their birthday, ask if they are from the city you are in. Honestly, these conversations are poetry. If you have anger, tension, fear, anxiety in your heart, a piece of it will melt when you do this. If you have no time (because I know people are crazy busy), buy a 6-pack of socks the next time you are at Target and put a pair of socks in your jacket pocket each day. Give socks to the person who asks for a sandwich. Shake his hand, look in his eye, say hello.

I venture to say that most people who read this blog (all 12 of you! haha) are opposed to "the wall." I am trying to think of the wall in more metaphorical ways. What walls do I have to my own understanding, to empathy? Where do I let my "knowledge" (which is white, upper middle class, Americana, female knowing) impose walls that I think at the moment are immovable?

I am down here just doing every day. I promise, there is nothing brave about it. It's just where I happen to be in this glorious, and my wonderfully blessed life. I am a sister who happens to be here, and I am not alone. You are brothers and sisters in other places at this moment.

People I have worked with have heard me say many times that there is a quote from a Billy Joel song that motivates me for new beginnings. The quote is actually very sad: "Life is a series of hellos and good-byes. Now it's time for a good-bye again." And to me, this is a call to show up for the hellos. Show up in a big way; open your heart. Listen, laugh, embrace. Be alive for the hellos. It makes a hell of a difference.

Gracias a dios y mucho amor a todos,
sg

Posted by sarahglover44 08:32 Comments (3)

Helping Hands and Hearts

Hi All - I would love to know if you have any questions I can answer. The news is kind of overwhelming, so let me know if there are things you particularly want to know. I don't know much, but I can share what I see.

El Pastor's daughter works in one of the detention centers, and he is in communication with people in the detention centers pretty regularly. His sense is that the conditions in the detention centers here are not awful. Mind you, the food is bad, the centers are too crowded, and people don't have much chance to bathe. I think sleeping conditions are pretty much on floors. But it is not the horror we are hearing about around El Paso.

Today, I went to Iglesia Bautista in Brownsville. They are one of two organizations operating respite centers for refugees who are paroled from detention, but have hours or even a day before they can catch a bus to their next destination. An awesome woman named Gabi Zavala is running the show at Iglesia Bautista. I think this respite center just kind of organically grew - not totally sure. They are open 6AM-2PM every day, and get about 6 drop-offs of people during that time. I delivered baby food, paper plates, napkins, coloring books and crayons. There were about 30 people there when I was there. They rigged up this pretty awesome outdoor shower in the parking lot, using tarps to create "walls" for privacy. I saw a little guy getting washed by his mom. I know many of you are using words like "heartbreaking" to describe what is happening - and there is much that is. But I have to tell you that it is actually very heart-warming to see people taking care of each other with warmth, care, and dignity. And that is happening here - through the work and attention of lots of volunteers. They are very dedicated. IMG_1025.jpg

Yesterday, I went to the Good Neighbor Settlement House respite center in Brownsville, which has been around for a long time primarily as a shelter for homeless people. The city called GNSH to open and host a respite center because of the inflow of people and how their needs were not being met at the bus station. Since March, GNSH has served 6,500 people. This is a small operation! Fueled by small donations and lots of helping hands. I delivered about 15 pair of women's pants, belts, baseball hats, toilet paper and paper towels. While I was there, a mom and daughter brought in a box of pastries and a small tray of hot food. This is a serious loaves and fishes situation. The GNSH wishlist as of yesterday is here: IMG_1021.jpg

I had a tiny exchange with one boy named Abner today in Iglesia Bautista - a sweetie with a warm smile. But I haven't talked to any other refugees since the mother and son I wrote about a couple days ago. I have been talking to people who are organizing delivery. I have been in three respite centers, but am not taking photos of the people who are waiting. It feels intrusive, and they are on the journey of their lives. What I see: they are tired, dead tired. They have children. They have these tiny bags, provided by the respite centers, and nothing else. The respite centers are mostly overflowing with clothing - but it is very hot here. Long pants and long sleeved shirts are not so awesome. And people don't want to carry alot, I don't think. I have gotten warm and thorough tours of the centers from the people who run them. I don't know where these wonderful people find the patience. Raise their names in your hearts: Gabi Zavala, Marianela Watson, Andrea Rudkin.

Here is a photo of a very dedicated volunteer at GNSH in Brownsville:
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Tonight, I plan to go to Brownsville to serve a dinner at the bus station, provided by Team Brownsville. (https://www.teambrownsville.org/)

Peace to all of you - and enormous thanks for your support! Every "like," comment, response is fuel for me. Every donation you all are giving is so welcome and so needed.

Much love,
s

Posted by sarahglover44 12:10 Comments (1)

Awesome ways to help

If you are trying to figure out a way to be present for refugees and for the many, many children caught up in this, here are some really impactful ways to help based on what I am seeing here:

1. Of course: donate. Based on where I am and what I am seeing, I recommend Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries (http://swgsm.org/) (where I am working) or the Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen (https://www.catholiccharitiesrgv.org/Donations.aspx). I will probably come up with others, but can 100% guarantee that anything you send to either of these places will go straight to food, toilet paper, shoelaces, belts, bus tickets, medicine, etc., etc.

2. You could send supplies. You could do a 1-click Amazon order to either SWGSM or Catholic Charities, and these supplies will be used readily. Here is their Amazon wish list: https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/JJVAJFS3VIIQ/ They need shoelaces, belts, toilet paper, wipes, feminine products, travel size soaps and anything that would make someone more comfortable on a very long bus ride. My guess is coloring books and crayons for children would be a huge win; some children's books in Spanish would be awesome, too.

3. Go find a place near you where these refugees are arriving. In Boston, we actually have an ICE detention center. Most people don't know that. Find where the actual people are and help them. They need food, spending money, help finding work (if they have permission), access to learning English. They need legal assistance. They need help not falling into dangerous situations. When you start digging, you will find that there are organizations that have things you can support. Get yourself close to people who need help. Learn about their lives. Have a meal with them.

4. Show up at a protest. Put a sign in your window. Wear a button of support. Pray, pray, pray.

I can't wear the wonderful sweatshirt mi hermanita gave me for Christmas (because it is H-O-T mucho calor here), but if I could I would wear it every day. It reads: ===Measure your life in love.=== Yes!

Posted by sarahglover44 18:26 Comments (3)

Walk in their shoes-but be sure to bring your own shoelaces

Buenas - I wasn't able to get to Internet Friday or Saturday, and yet I have so much to share. I am going to do a major dump, and if it is too long...just skim ahead. (My book club knows I think every book since the invention of word processing is 1/3 too long. And now these entries are going to fall into the same trap!)

On Friday, I went to McAllen with El Pastor and three people who are living in the small apartments he has built adjacent to his church to house people who are seeking asylum. The abuelita (grandmother) is Elsa; I am guessing she is about 40. A daughter, Astrid. And a granddaughter, Tatiana (that's not quite right...but I didn't understand this chicita when she told me her name. She is about 3 or 4). They are from Guatemala. A short version of their story is that Astrid was abducted while walking to class. She was taken out of the city by bandits who planned to sell her into a sex trafficking ring. She escaped; got back to her house. Before she and her mother were able to flee, they were both captured and held against their will. Lots of abuse by many men. Astrid became pregnant from the abuse. They escaped. They made their way across Mexico and crossed the border into this country at Brownsville. Astrid gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Tatiana. They have been here for 3 years, and are struggling to get papers (for working, for asylum, maybe other things...I am still learning so much). One of the hurdles is getting a birth certificate for Tatiana.

El Pastor and I took them to the Guatemalan consulate in McAllen. A whole bunch of talk, the crux of which is they have to go to Houston for some other kind of paper or certificate.

After this visit, we went to the bus station in McAllen. There is a detention center for families in McAllen; once people are processed through the detention center, INS delivers them to the bus station. The only places they are allowed to go from the bus station are the destination they provided the INS (to get released at all from detention, they need a physical address to be released to) or the Catholic Charities Respite Center, which is adjacent to the bus stop.

At the bus stop, we came to briefly know the stories of two families. One from Venezuela - mom, dad, two boys. Parents in mid-20s at the most. They had been in the detention center for 4 days. They were on their way to Orlando, FL where the father's mother lives. They looked good, and were clearly healthy, though they had not changed clothes or showered once in 5 days. The mama said the detention center was packed and the food was awful. Her younger son was sick (vomitting) while they were there, and there was no assistance for him. They asked us for Pedialyte. This whole family had slip-on shoes; this suggested they had pretty good knowledge about the detention centers and resources to come with those shoes. The detention centers take away shoe laces and belts upon entry, and do not give them back. After speaking with this family for about 10 minutes, El Pastor looked at the rest of us (me, Elsa, Astrid, Tatiana) and told us he would be back. And they were off. And there we were at the bus station!

So I started talking with a small family of a mother and son, Marni y David. David is 13 years old, and too skinny for a growing boy. Marni and David had no shoe laces; I watched them get laces from someone and put them in their shoes. There are so many parts of this that are humiliating, and I have to say that watching these two people bend over to put brown laces in their white sneakers so carefully is an image I won't ever forget. I can't put my finger on why it was so symbolic. This mother and son had nothing. The clothes on their backs and 4 Mexican pesos. Immigration had a suitcase of hers, and had not released it to her when she and David were taken to the bus station. She had a small piece of paper with a long number printed on it. This was the only thing she had to try to claim the only thing she brought with them. These two people were lovely. David has a quick, shy smile and big eyes. This is what love does, because their trek was harrowing.

They were waiting to catch a bus to New York, where they would then go to Fairfield, CT. Marni has a sister-in-law in Fairfield. The bus rides would be at last 48 hours, and they literally had nothing. I bought them Subway sandwiches from a restaurant in the bus station, and as she told me her story (which of course, I barely was understanding), I came to understand they literally had nothing. I gave them $20. I gave them my phone number. Here they are:
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Should I have given them $100? $1000? Should I have gotten Marni's sister-in-law's phone number in CT? (um - a resounding yes to this last question. I can't get these two out of my mind. I wonder if they are arriving today.)

Marni led us in a long prayer before eating sandwiches. She asked me for a "vasito" and I heard "bolsita." I went to the counter and got a plastic bag. Then I watched her pour some of David's Coke into the bag. Aaack!! I realized my mistake and went running for a cup. I was able to explain to her and David my misunderstanding and told them I was embarrassed. They laughed with me.

David wants to be an engineer. Marni wants to open a pastry shop. These two fled El Salvador 1 year ago and made their way across Mexico very slowly. They were in detention for two days.

May our hearts and our minds and our souls be with Marni and David and really take in what it could be like to give all that you have to protect your son in this way. When I told her she was brave, she shook it off. Reading this brings tears to my eyes - and also my heart swells with hope for them.

Amen.

Posted by sarahglover44 12:50 Comments (2)

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