Peppers, okra and onions that some of us helped harvest the day before from the nearby Arivaca Community Garden simmer in a huge pot in the No More Death’s camp kitchen. Moths swarm around kerosene lanterns and volunteers sit talking with migrant travelers at the long wooden tables.
We anxiously glance over toward a circle of chairs where several volunteers and a couple of travelers perch. One man is leaning back, leg propped up, a blanket covering his muscular arms. He was supposed to leave with the group of five men heading out after dinner, but he won’t be going anywhere tonight.
Earlier that afternoon D. was finding a place to urinate on the periphery of camp, as we all do (there is a bucket with a seat over it for going to the bathroom but the buckets fill up quickly with 20 people in camp so oftentimes you just go and find a bush). He made his way into the shrubs of appropriately named “Rattlesnake Ridge” where he met a rattler, shin to fangs.
D., a firefighter and paramedic in his home country, had traveled for two months from Central America to reach the border. He saw a friend shot and killed by the cartel. He saw another man cut in half by a train. He had crossed the border and walked for days to make it to camp. And at the “safe-haven” of camp, perhaps only days from making it, he was bitten by a rattlesnake. He immediately refused evacuation to a hospital for the anti-venom that could save his life.
After discussing the options, the more experienced volunteers made a deal with him. They circled the bite marks with a marker and D. agreed that if swelling increased and other signs of envenomation presented themselves, the volunteers could take him to a hospital where he would most likely be apprehended, processed, possibly incarcerated and inevitably deported after his life is, ironically, saved. But until then he would wait to see if his bite got worse. Volunteers set up a schedule to take his vitals every hour during the evening and night.
The realities of the desert come rushing in. That could have been any of us, but it happened to be a man who cannot simply call 9-1-1 and have an ambulance meet up with the truck in Arivaca without severe life-changing consequences. This man is literally risking his life today on the chance that he can keep walking (and that with no guarantee of safe passage) tomorrow.
The privilege we volunteers have is painfully clear.
We quietly eat dinner. Everyone is tired but hyperaware of all that is happening. On other nights, we have sat in a circle and shared thoughts and feelings about the events of the day. Sometimes it involves laughing, sometimes crying. It is a safe space for all of the swirling emotions that accumulate like tangled brush in the washes during the desert floods. On other nights we have sat around the campfire and sung songs in Spanish and English, “Jolene” or “Como Quisiera” rising with the smoke from burning cardboard boxes and mesquite branches. On other nights, when the camp has not been filled with travelers, we have ambled back into our tents without the fragility of life weighing so palpably on our psyches. Tonight we will think of those out in the desert, walking under the stars without a blanket or full belly or medical attention that they may desperately require.
We finish our dinner, wash our plates, and get ready for the departure of a group of migrant travelers, their names, faces and personalities now known to each of us, into the night.
Parts 1 and 2 of Goff’s journey appeared in the Oct. 10 and Oct. 24 issues of Beach & Bay Press. Find them here and here.