Friday, July 23, 2010


She was a girl on a wagon train, headed west across the plains, the train got lost in a summer storm, they couldn't move west and they couldn't go home, then she saw him ridin' through the rain, he took charge of the wagons and he saved the train, and she looked down and her heart was gone, the train went west but she stayed on....

The train comes through almost every thirty minutes. For five long excruciating minutes the horn blares incessantly. At first it was no big deal. I didn't notice it. But now every time the horn goes again, my eyes roll and my anger grows.

The train tracks are a block and a half from my bedroom. They cut downtown and the border off from the newer commercial side of town. There is one bridge that passes over the tracks. All the other streets make you wait for the train to pass.

Today the train didn't move. It rolled into town and decided not to move out.

Maybe it's foreshadowing my decision.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

At the table

This week I found myself sitting down to share a meal with many different people at many different tables. I was always struck by the hospitality and openness of my new friends. I mean, I have been here all of two weeks and yet they were more than willing to share their lives with me. Whether it was a group of Methodist ministers, on a couch squished between two anxious dogs waiting for leftovers, or at a table full of women who spent their free time finding things to do so as to keep from worrying about their border patrol husbands and whether they would come home safe. Sitting at these tables lets me listen, and boy the things I have heard!

I spent days sorting clothes and caulking windows. Tearing up linoleum, and handing out donated food. Camouflaging supplies so they could be smuggled into Mexico, and working on my limited spanish. It's been an exhausting week. I have new jobs and have met a gazillion people. I've gotten really good at asking for people's names... again....and again.

I'm still fascinated by this world down here. Spanish is heard more often than English and one of the most interesting things is that most will just start speaking spanish to me, whether it is in the checkout line or at the church. I follow along fairly well, but when it comes to responding it's like jump starting a car. I sputter. I laugh. I choke out some awful concoction of spanish that probably makes no sense, and then resort to english.

I have yet to cross the border. (yes mom, I listen...) But I have heard some interesting stories of what has been going on. Another interesting thing here is the amount of information that doesn't make it past the border. I hear the true stories from the border and the violence occurring there and they are nothing like the stories that are actually being reported. The government has a very strong hand in what is said down here and they have gotten really good at covering a lot of things up. Mexico is on the verge of imploding, and it is so clear when you hear the stories, and yet no one further north can say anything more than Drug cartels and gang violence.

I have a new job. I am the official point of contact for the Eagle Pass Long Term Recovery committee. Sounds official no? The flooding caused by the swelling of the Rio Grande has caused this committee to be formed, and I get to be the person who sends out all the information to everyone else, as well as tracks down more people. I think I got the job because I am young and savvy and may be the only one comfortable enough to use excel. Who knows but it'll keep me busy, force me to meet new people and teach me first hand about emergency response. Let's just say I've gotten really familiar with the phone book down here.

The real reason I'm down here is of course for the Women Shelter and it is still coming along. We are waiting on tile and a toilet and then we'll be ready to be up and running. Things run differently down here. We call it Eagle Pass time. When someone says meet me in ten minutes, you better give them thirty. And if something is going to be done in a week, you probably should give it two. So there's no saying when we'll be up and running, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, July 12, 2010


In Eagle Pass, life revolves around the border and it takes all conversations with it. The conversation started over coffee, continued through a Mexican buffet, past the chocolate cake and then through a second round of coffee. It covered the border, the gangs on both sides, and the recent captures of 200 lbs of marijuana by the Border Patrol until finally it landed on talk of the new Arizona Law. I was wary to interject my opinion, because I didn’t know where my two companions stood on the matter, but it was very clear that they weren’t happy.

I got the impression from their tone that they felt the people in Arizona need to suck it up and deal with it. I’ve had a hard time reading people politically down here. One woman feels strongly against illegal immigration and yet has a bumper sticker that reads, “NO BORDER FENCE.” The mentality down here is totally different than I’ve ever experienced. It’s one based on doing what it takes to survive, and yet following the rules at the same time.
The conversation heated up when talk of Washington suing the state of Arizona came up, I heard, “We can’t even leave town without being asked if we are legal.” The comment smacked my perceptions in the face and before I knew it, I was lost again in stories of captures at the checkpoint.

The checkpoint is about twenty miles north of town and staffed by Border patrol, complete with big ferocious looking dogs and semi-automatics. It’s just another stop for residents leaving town, but for someone from the Midwest it’s another new experience. The checkpoint is a set up in hopes to catch whatever made it through the border that shouldn’t, and they do, but it means you add an extra twenty minutes to your trip out of town.
This is life for Eagle Pass. For now I’m sweating it out whenever I see Border Patrol or the Police, soon enough, much like those in Arizona I’m sure it will become just another part of life.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lonesome Dove

The house was set off from the street about ten feet and protectively shaded by a limby tree that has spent its life surviving through the scorching, relentless heat of the desert. The steps that led to the house gained elevation gradually so that you nearly didn’t notice the short climb to the strong wooden door. Standing sentry were two gorgeous clay pots with creeping vines that spilled over the edge, reaching for whatever freedom they could find from their prison. The door opened as we reached out to knock and behind it stood a shockingly gorgeous 91 year old women. She stood tall and strong despite what age and adventures had done to her body. Her hair gleamed silver in the fading sunset as she ushered us in. If it had been let down from the knot at the nape of her neck it would have reached the floor, but it was put in its place and expected to stay much like the contents of the house and the perfectly groomed garden.
Stepping into the house was like being taken back to a glamorous Western movie. I expected to see John Wayne step in from the backyard, hang up his hat, remove his boots and start in on how he saved a calf on the ranch that day. It was glamorous and yet rustic. It smelled of hardwork and ginger. The house was full of classic antique furniture from the ranch across the border, including a table made from a horizontal slab of a tree that would have been a sight to see when it was still standing.
We were ushered into the kitchen with windows that opened up to the beautiful garden. The window sill was full of multi-colored jars filled with cuttings from the garden. The table had more of the glass jars, blue, green, white, and opaque all filled with a single tapered candle.
After a brief conversation we headed back towards the door, but a picture caught my eye. It was a picture from ages ago she said. Her husband used to take out his friends, doctors and lawyers to the ranch. It had four cowboys in various activities. Two held shotguns and looked slightly uncomfortable in their new boots and pearl snap shirts. Another stirred a pot boiling on the fire and the final one stood in the middle of the crowd with a cigarette and a striking blue shirt. His cowboy hat sat comfortably on his head. He was striking. Handsome and capable. He could have been the Marlboro man. That was her husband. She explained that he had died in the 50’s in an airplane crash. It made sense now why she stood so straight and strong.
I took one more glance back in to the dreamy home as we walked out the door. As I scanned the living room, full of pictures, books, and treasures, my eyes settled on the desk chair. On the back hung a cream colored worn-out cowboy hat. The one that was in the picture. The one that had been missing an owner for over fifty years. As we walked under the shade tree my dream of John Wayne turned to the mysterious man in the picture. The one who was missing his cowboy hat.