Statement of Purpose and Intent

On March 12th, 2011 I began a 400 mile trek along the Arizona-Mexico border from Agua Prieta to San Luis Rio Colorado, an adventure with a purpose I am calling BorderVenture.

Through BorderVenture I hope to raise awareness of border issues, expose exaggeration of border violence, combat the racial profiling, discrimination, and often outright racism that seems prevalent of late, and to record and recount personal stories of people living near or trying to cross the border. I will record my experiences and stories in this blog, and hope to have them further covered by supportive media, organizations, and other websites and blogs. I plan to aggressively publish my experiences through media outlets, interested groups, the Internet, and through whatever other avenues I am able. I will write tirelessly and advocate my findings to all who will listen, publish, and share them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Brief Interlude

Writing these blog posts in a retrospective fashion is strange.  My journal notes are essential (I have a terrible memory for the purposes of story-telling, I generally have no memory for details) but I do not write blindly from them.  They help to put a timeline to my memories and give them structure, but by just looking at what I’ve written- the handwriting, the words I used, the sparseness or fullness of the entry- all vividly evoke my thoughts, experiences, emotions, pains, and elation.  Looking back through my entries, I remember everything, vividly.  I thought that the days would blur together, trudging through the desert alone, but every day remains vivid in my mind.  These desert memories are different; they are as clear as the desert sky, and searing as the desert sun.  Perhaps that is why to this day my pulse quickens, my throat tightens, and my eyes fill with water every time I think about people trying to cross that damned desert.  I’m not an emotional person, and if you ask some friends and ex-girlfriends, they would probably tell you that is an understatement.  But I have seen what it is like out there, I have seen how unforgiving and uncaring the desert is, I have walked on migrant paths that have and will continue to take the lives of unknown numbers of people.

I’m on a plane headed for Phoenix right now, stuffed into the window seat on the left side of a Boeing 747, sitting in comfortable discomfort.  This is probably as uncomfortable as many people ever get (just behind the walk from the air conditioned airport through the Phoenix heat to their air conditioned car), the kind of stuff they will bring up in conversation with friends and family for the next few days.  The screaming babies, the kids kicking your seat, the fat old guy whose gut is spilling over into your seat, generally being stuck in close proximity to other humans you don’t know and don’t want to know.  I’m reading the book The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea. It is an account of a tragedy that occurred on the Arizona-Mexico border, a story of death and unimaginable suffering.  The Devil’s Highway is a notoriously deadly and heavily trafficked immigration route between Sonoita and San Luis Rio Colorado, using the Mexican Highway 2 that runs parallel to the border as the jumping off point to cross into the United States.  A group of approximately 30 immigrants and 3 coyotes departed from Sonoita one early summer afternoon, and only 14 survived long enough to be saved by Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies.  I’ll just quote here a bit from Urrea to describe how these men and boys died, describing the six stages of hyperthermia: heat stress, heat fatigue, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.  He writes,

“Heat Stress.  Everyone has been tired, or even dizzy, from walking in the heat.  Everyone has been sunburned, sometimes quite badly.  And many people have suffered the swollen fingers, feeling like sausages, and the stumbling at the tail end of a hot hike.  This is where it begins.  General discomfort, nothing heinous.  A little heat rash.  Headache from the glare. Thirst… The heat becomes personal.”

“Heat fatigue…Your head sweats, your neck, your skin blows a fine mist like steam to regulate your heat…Your scalp burns along the part in your hair… Your cheeks, your neck burn.  Your eyelids burn, too.  And the tips of your ears.  Your lips are not only burned by sun but by wind; they become dehydrated, and they get rough and flaky, and you keep licking them to try to wet them, and they get sanded until they crack and bleed…The desert’s air, like you, is thirsty.  It’s sucking up your sweat as fast as you can pump it, so fast that you don’t even know you’re sweating… Every breath dries out your nose, your sinuses, your mouth, your throat… Your spit turns to paste.  Your mouth tastes nasty, so you take another little drink…  Your lungs, now, are leaking moisture to the vampire air.  Your tears leak into the sky—eyes dry and scratchy.  The fluid in your lunges helps transport oxygen through tissues into the blood.  Less fluid, less oxygen.  You breathe harder, you get drier.”

“Heat Syncope.  You have a fever, though it’s a fever imposed from the outside.  Oddly, your skin is getting colder.  Your face, even if you’re a Mexican mestizo, turns pale.  It gets a little harder to talk.  When you go to lick your cracking lips, your tongue is dry and sticky… Suddenly your water is gone.  You can’t remember where you dropped the jug.  Dizzy.  Where’s the water?  … Your heart beats as though you’ve been running.  You think you’d better take a break… Desolation has begun to edit you.  Erase you.”

“Heat Cramps.  Now you’re officially in trouble.  Your body has been dumping salts.  Without salts, your muscles can’t function… Muscle cramps kick in.  Your legs suddenly ache.  You get clumsy.  You tumble.  When you fall, you hit rocks, cactus, gravel.  Your hands are skinned, your knees abraded.  A little blood steams away.  If you cry, you make an infinitesimal investment in your own death… Your throat clicks when you try to swallow.  Your abdomen clenches on you… Eighty percent of lost walkers can still be saved if the Migra spots them.  You can recover with water and an IV.  Even the Migra’s famous air conditioning could save your life… But if the Migra doesn’t find you, you’ve stepped onto the lip of the death spiral. Your options for salvation wisp away like steam.”

“Heat Exhaustion.  Your fever is spiking now, and as with the flu, you have gotten more and more ill.  Headaches.  You get nauseous, you want to vomit.  If you vomit, you lose more fluids.  You are not only clumsy, but enervated.  Your body is weak, and your will is slipping.  Your tongue is wood.  You could give a damn.  Your heart pounds, loud in your ears.  Your breathing is shallow and fast, and each breath dries you further.  Eyelids scrape across eyeballs as dry as pebbles.  Your skin is icy; you might shiver… Your fluid level has dropped—there’s not enough to fill up the container of your body.  Your heart beats faster, trying to suck up some blood from the internal drought.  Cardiac arrest hits when the pump overstrains itself and blows up.  Those in good shape will, sooner or later, faint… First you get tunnel vision.  You might hear echoes.  Your body falls on burning ground… You can get second-degree burns from lying too long on the ground… You are confused; your memories are conflated with your dreams.  Walkers see demons, see God, see dead relatives and crystal cities.  They vomit blood… Sooner or later, you understand that you have to drink your own urine.  You piss in your hands, or in whatever container you might have… If you’re really lucky, someone might piss in your mouth… That first urine is pretty good, as urine goes.  It is still relatively clear… The next time through, that same urine has picked up more filtered impurities, and it is a little darker now.  Saltier.  By the third round, it is orange.  It smells bad.  Then dark orange.  Then pale brown.  Then a darker and more poisonous brown.  It looks like a foaming Guinness stout.  By the time your effluent is black, you’re doomed—even if you wanted to, you probably couldn’t drink it.  It stinks of fish.  Your body would retch.  There is almost more bio-garbage in it than water.  The last stage of hyperthermia begins.”

“Heat Stroke.  Your blood is as low as it can get.  Dehydration has reduced all your inner streams to sluggish mudholes…Empty vessels within you collapse.  Your sweat runs out.  With no sweat, your body’s swamp-cooler breaks.  The thermostat goes haywire.  You are having a core meltdown.  Your temperature spikes—you hit 105, 106, 108 degrees.  Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off.  You blush.  Your eyes turn red: blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimson.  Your skin gets terrible sensitive.  It hurts, it burns.  Your nerves flame.  Your blood heats under your skin.  Clothing feels like sandpaper.  Some walkers at this point strip nude… Once they’re naked, they’re surely hallucinating… Your muscles, lacking water, feed on themselves.  They break down and start to rot.  Once rotting in you, they dump rafts of dying cells into your already sludgy bloodstream.  Proteins are peeling off your dying muscles.  Chunks of cooked meat are falling out of your organs, clogging your other organs.  The system closes down in a series.  Your kidneys, your bladder, your heart.  They jam shut. Stop. Your brain sparks. Out.  You’re gone.”

Flying over the arid Southwest recalls memories of planning for BorderVenture.  Peering down from above, the aerial, birds-eye view is reminiscent of my days of staring at Google Earth imagery for hours. First pondering whether it was possible, then planning out where I could get water and food.  Picking out ponds, checking the dates of the imagery.  July 2006.  Was that a wet or dry year?  Was the water in that pond seasonal runoff or well-filled?  Was it only full from a recent monsoon storm or was it left over from winter rains?  It had been a very dry winter this year on the border- would any of these ponds and cattle tanks have any water at all?  And then there were the roads and the paths.  The roads are much clearer here from the plane- they are paved, and the landscape is lusher, there is more contrast.  Would the Border Patrol be patrolling all those borderland roads?  Would there be anyone out there at all?  Talking to people that lived and worked down there helped to give a clearer picture.  Sure, if you stay on the roads, you’re probably eventually going to run into Border Patrol out there somewhere.  But it is No Man’s Land.  It is one of the greatest, most terrible wildernesses remaining in our country.  There are very few places you can go that you can feel so alive and be so close to death.

When I was sitting there in the Papago Farms Border Patrol Station, Day 7 of BorderVenture, I thought about some of these things.