Friday, August 22, 2008

Arizona Desert

After a summer hiatus putting in a leisurely 80 hours a week at architecture school, it is time to finally let you know how the end of our trip went. Before we get into it though, some of you have mentioned that only blogspot members can leave comments on our posts. That should be fixed now so we would love to hear from you regardless of whether you are a blogspotter or not.

As I mentioned in our last entry, Steve headed back to California once we reached Tucson but I stuck around a few more weeks to finnish out our research. I had heard that the Arizona desert was one of the deadliest parts of the border and wanted to see what that meant. In Tucson I hooked up with an organization called No More Deaths and volunteered with them for two weeks in order to see the Sonora desert firsthand.

No More Deaths is an organization that was started by several local churches in response to the rising number of migrants dying in the Sonora desert. They send out patrols through the desert to look for people who may be in danger and also leave out gallons of water along well traveled trails to help prevent severe dehydration. (Just recently one volunteer was cited for littering because he left several gallons of water in the desert.) The sole purpose of this organization (if the name did not tip you off) is to prevent deaths in the desert.

My first week volunteering I spent hiking on patrols in the desert just south of Arivaca. I had done some work with No More Deaths before so I thought I knew what to expect. I had no idea we would run into 40+ migrants, manage two medical evacuations, and then wait helplessly for days to hear from a migrant named Sergio after he took off into the desert with no water, food, or maps. (he made it safely by the way)

Our first morning in the desert I had been selected to stay at camp while the rest of the crew split up to go on patrols. After constantly being on the move I was looking forward to a leisurely morning of reading and reflection. Half an hour after the crew had left, I heard a pickup roaring over the hill. It was Jimmy, one of our volunteers and in the bed of the pickup was a migrant he had found along the road just outside our camp. His name was Pedro and he had been waiting all night along the road hoping someone would come by.

Despite his latino complexion Pedro looked quite pale. He was doubled over and could barely walk to the cot we hastily brought out for him. He said he had been vomiting all night and as soon as he laid down he began to dry heave. Immediately we called 911 and after a twenty minute conversation, the lady at dispatch figured out where our base camp was (apparently she was new). We tried to give Pedro some water but he threw it up right away. He complained of pain on his sides, an indication that his kidneys were failing. The look on his face betrayed the fear he was trying to stifle.

As we waited for the ambulance I started asking him about where he was from, his family, anything to keep his mind off his current situation. He said he had a wife and three month old daughter back in Mexico. We congratulated him on his new child and he began to calm down. After an hour of waiting, a pickup with a firefighter and a paramedic arrived. They started an IV of saline and within minutes Pedro's body began to look better.

We discovered that he had been separated from his group and after a day without water he drank from a cattle tank which is nothing more than a manure filled pool. That evening his body had reacted and soon he had vomited out more water than he gained. If he had spent another day in the Arizona heat, he most likely would have died.

Eventually a real ambulance arrived and took Pedro to the hospital in Nogales. He would soon recover and be sent back to Mexico.

This is just one of the many migrants I saw that week. Most were in groups and quickly went on their way after thanking us for the water and snacks we provided. Some had been separated from their groups and would have continued wandering had they not found our patrol. One woman had to be airlifted out by a Border Patrol helicopter. Some people were from Mexico but many had come up from Central or even South America. Each person had their own reason for crossing the desert. For some it was a calculated risk, some were simply ignorant of the risks before they left, still others had been overtly lied to by Coyotes (smugglers) who cared more about money than the cargo they transported.