All posts by Alyson Schreck

Living into the reality

A symbol of peace and love on the wall in downtown Nogales, Sonora

I rely on trust a lot, probably too much. Trust in my decisions and myself, trust in God, trust in those I surround myself with. I find myself thinking, “It’s all going to be okay, it’ll all work out,” definitely more than once a day. Fortunately, with most things I’ve experienced in life, everything really has worked out, and usually even better than I had anticipated.

Thinking back to earlier this year when talk of the 2016 backpack first began, I remember initially being disappointed that this year’s trip was to southern Arizona. With past trips including destinations like Africa and Alaska, Arizona sounded unadventurous. Looking back, I realize a) I was doing the trip for the wrong reasons and b) I was ignorant of the severity at what was happening on our border.

But, back to what I was saying about trust. I trusted that this trip would be beneficial to my learning in someway, and now after returning and having time to think about it, I realize it was more than I could have ever imagined. And with this, I realize that this trip is so much of what being educated at Creighton is about. As I go into my final year of undergrad, I am astonished at how my understanding of education, learning and being successful has evolved.

In talking with a fellow classmate and friend on the trip who recently graduated, she made a note on Jesuit education that stuck with me. “Having a Jesuit education will take you apart and put you back together in whole new way.” It made me think of earlier this year, watching the speeches at the funeral of Creighton’s former president, Fr. Schlegel. In one of the eulogies, a man made note of one of Fr. Schlegel’s favorite quotes, “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

At the time I could grasp the concept, but I couldn’t fully relate. After this experience, I think I get it. I will never be able to un-see what I saw, and thus I will forever look at immigration through a new lens. This experience is just an example of what learning and education should do. Beyond becoming more knowledgeable on a subject, you should be challenged to critically think about complex issues with difficult solutions. You should meet with those who have less than you. You should leave your reality, and put yourself in the reality of the world. You should ask yourself how you define success.

Throughout college, my idea of success has always involved getting good grades and having a solid internship. But in the theology portion of this course, we watched a commencement speech given by Jon Sobrino. The theologian said, “Being successful in life is being human. And being human means I will say first of all, to live in the real world in which we live.”

So more than anything, to educate yourself you should leave your reality, and put yourself into the reality of the world. And that’s what Backpack Journalism does.

As humans, we easily forget. We forget moments, feelings and stories. I want to remember the sadness I felt listening to Daniela talk about her father coming to the states and watching her live out a dream he never could. I want to remember the guilt I felt as I watched migrants treated as criminals in the courtroom. I want to remember the joy of being in an unfamiliar place with optimistic people who wanted to learn as much as I did. I want to remember the discomfort of hiking in the desert. I want to remember the names, the faces, the handshakes of the migrants who made the concept of migration more than just a concept to me.

When I hear them called illegal aliens, I will speak up and remind them that they are humans. To my congressman, who wants a concrete wall at the border, I will a write a letter, expressing other solutions to border security. But more than anything, I will work to live into this reality. This reality that there are more questions than answers, more injustice than peace, but always more hope than despair.

And with this, I have trust that it’s all going to be okay, it’ll all work out.

Creighton Backpack Journalism  group 2016 on day one.
Day 1.
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Last day.

Nuggets of Knowledge

On our first day back in the classroom we watched and transcribed the interviews from the various people we met along our journey. It struck me that we had met and interacted with a variety of very knowledgeable people who were clearly passionate about migration. We were told to search for little “nuggets” of the interviews that really packed a punch. It became clear pretty quickly that we didn’t need to do much digging because we had hit the jackpot. We were in a goldmine of succinct, well-spoken ideas that really struck a chord with the interviewee. Here are just a few of my favorite “nuggets” of knowledge from the trip.

“The only law is love your neighbor. You tell me how putting up a wall is loving your neighbor. You tell me how deporting women and children back to a place where we know they will be killed is loving your neighbor. It may be loving yourself because you want to hold onto your thing. But we are making decision based on material things not on human beings and that is no way, shape or form something that we can tolerate as American citizens.” – Rev. Peter Neeley, S.J., Assistant Director of Education at KBI

Group picture of Backpack journalism crew and Daniela Vargas
The Backpack Journalidm group with Daniela Vargas outside our home away from home.

“When you stop asking questions, that’s when something’s wrong because you’ve become complacent with the situation. But when you continue to ask the question: ‘Why is this happening?’ I think that continues to change perspectives.” – Daniela Vargas, KBI volunteer

“Because you are made in the image and likeness of God, you have inherent dignity. As a human being, you have dignity, you have certain rights. These aren’t rights that a government can give or take away. These are your rights because you are you, just because you were born, just because God created you.” –Joanna Williams, Director of Education at KBI

“Migrants as the human person have something to teach us. And yet, they are marginalized. They are pushed aside, they are not seen, they are not heard, they are not valued, the are pushed outside.”Rev. Sean Carroll, Executive Director at KBI

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Maria talking with Isabel Garcia.

“It’s what we really do to the least of us that defines us.” – Isabel Garcia, Immigration lawyer

“It’s a lot of suffering. One suffers a lot. there are people who say ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. He’s illegal,’ or this or that. But there’s people like me who do it for their families, for their brothers, for their kids. We are all taking this journey, and this is a journey where a lot of people fail and are left behind.” – Jose “Pepe” Guillen, deported migrant

“Many of these people who have decided to take on this migrant journey are not doing it because they want to, they’re doing it because they have to. Part of the need also is the dream, and the dream is that someday they will be able to provide for their families what they’re currently not able to provide and give to them.” Daniela Vargas, KBI volunteer, daughter of migrant

Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.
Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported.

“Make a friend on the border. I think you’ll learn so much more about the border by knowing a person in depth than you will a concept and having to read a lot about it.” – Natalia Serna, Singer/songwriter

“What gives me hope? That’s a hard question to answer. I have faith that the goodness of God is stronger than any greed or any desire for money in this world. We have to do the little bit we can every day with faith and hope. And more than anything, what gives me hope is the faith of the migrants. A faith that doesn’t fade even against everything they have been through.” – Sister Maria Engracia Robles Robles, M.E., Education/Advocacy at KBI

 

Lil John showing us the migrant trail.
John showing us the migrant trail.

“The wall that’s a few miles from here would not be there if there weren’t walls between our ears. We have walls. We’ve built walls. We don’t even know they are there, cultural walls. And until those walls are taken down, the other ones won’t fall. They will someday, those walls are coming down. But the ones that put them there in the first place have to come down first.” – John Heidt, Activist

Obviously the Outsider

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Photo of cacti.

Being uncomfortable is the worst. That desire to crawl out of your skin and go hide somewhere no one can see you.

As I reflect on the trip, a lot of good memories and feelings come to mind. But when I really take the trip apart, and think about everything situation we were in , I’m reminded of the number of times I felt out of place.

In a sense, crossing the border each day was like entering into Narnia. Walking through the wall was like walking into the wardrobe. We very seamlessly went from one world into another.

The signs changed from English to Spanish, instead of McDonalds we saw fast food chains like Pollo Feliz, little pastel houses sprinkled the hills, men wondered the streets selling gum and cold treats.

Bienvenido a Mexico.

The first time I felt uncomfortable was at the comedor. As migrants walked in, the Kino volunteers welcomed them each with a handshake and hello, and then sat them at a table. As the small room quickly filled up, volunteers scurried to put food on the table and make sure everyone had a place to sit.

Saying I felt uncomfortable at the comedor feels silly, because the comedor really was a place that welcomed everyone. But I felt awkward in the sense that I didn’t need to be there, I was helpless, I was in the way.

I realized very quickly how poor my Spanish was. All I wanted to do was have a small conversation with the some of the migrants, make a small connection, get to know them and their story. After all, that’s what we were here to do. It was difficult watching them laugh or talk with each other, and to not be able to understand what it was they were laughing at.

I again felt this sense of being out of place in walking through the streets of Nogales, Mexico. We might as well have tattooed “American” on our foreheads and worn Hawaiian shirts because of how much we stuck out like cookie-cutter tourists. With our cameras, tripods and adventure pants, caravanning together up and down the streets, it was very clear that we weren’t locals. Heads turned, storeowners welcomed us into their shops and one man sitting on a bench yelled out “Americans! What are you doing here? Are you lost?”

Lastly, sitting in the courtroom to witness Operation Streamline in action felt very abnormal. I mentioned in a previous  post how it was difficult to have the shackled migrants look you in the eye. You could sense they were confused as to why we were there, watching them as they were prosecuted. I assume they were humiliated that we were watching.

I guess that a lot of the discomfort in these situations stemmed from very unmistakenly being the outsider. It made me think a little bit about how the migrant must feel when they first come to America. Unwelcomed, unfamiliar, obviously the outsider.

I think an even greater part of the discomfort came from feeling like I was there to view these people and their lifestyle for my entertainment. So badly I wanted to express that I wanted to help them. That we weren’t the bad guy. That we understood where they were coming from, or if we didn’t fully, we wanted to.

Thoughts you had during Backpack Journalism 2016

“I don’t know you, but I’m about to be with you everyday for the next five weeks. Let’s be friends.”

Creighton Backpack Journalism group 2016 on day one.
Creighton Backpack Journalism group 2016 on day one.

“I have no idea how to work this camera. Maybe if we take a selfie with it, it will look like we do.” 

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“We’re really doing this. Turn down for what?”

Carol: Known for her admirable skill behind the wheel and stellar dance moves.
Carol: Known for her admirable skill behind the wheel and stellar dance moves.

Arrived in Nogales: “Wow. We’re here. Now what?”

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“How many people does it take to set up an interview?”

Members of the CU backpack team set up cameras for an interview.
Members of the CU backpack team set up cameras for an interview.

“Shoot. My Spanish isn’t as good as I thought it was.”

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Maria Watson sheepishly smiles at the camera.

“That’s okay. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.”

Lil John showing us the migrant trail.
John, a migrant activist, took us on a migrant path in the desert.

“Wait. We need to be up at 4 a.m.?”

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Cat looks confused.

“Worth it.”

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Sunrise in Nogales.

“Did you say burritos?”

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John O’Keefe peers over his glasses.

“What’s that? You’re full? No worries, I got you!”

Mathew points to the camera.
Mathew points to the camera.

*Walks away from shooting b-roll* “This footage is Pulitzer worthy. I should quit my day job.”

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*Looks at footage on big screen* “How am I going to explain to Nico why all of this b-roll is out of focus?”

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Cat ponders into the distance.

“I’m so happy.”  

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Cat, Maria, Aly, Natalie and Maria smile.

“Backpack Journalism 2016. We did it!”

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Maria holds tripod in the air motioning victory.

“This group of people is awesome. Hashtag blessed.”

Group picture of Backpack journalism crew and Daniela Vargas
The Backpack Journalism group with Daniela Vargas outside our home away from home.

Where do you want me to serve you?

Women's Shelter Nogales, Sonora
Women’s Shelter Nogales, Sonora

Several nights following dinner we would have reflections where we were invited to share whatever it was we were feeling or thinking after our various interviews and experiences from the day.

During these reflections I often struggled to find the right words because I felt like I was taking in so many new perspectives and I didn’t have time to process everything I was feeling. I always wanted to say something really important, really well spoken. I wanted my statements to match and justify everything I was feeling, but they never seemed to.

A lot of times as I sat there though, racking my brain for what to say, I kept coming back to the same question for myself: Now what, Aly? What are you going to do to fix what you’ve seen?

As a college student, I spend so much time looking into possible job opportunities for the future and focusing on finding the best internship that will help me land the perfect career. I have been so driven throughout my whole college experience to be a successful student, hoping that in turn, someday I’ll be a prosperous employee.

But once you see injustice and it strikes you, there’s no unseeing it. During one of the reflections I remember literally being stopped in my tracks and in my thought process. I realized that when I returned back to Omaha everything I had planned in my upcoming future did nothing to help the injustice I was witnessing.

I would return to my summer internship. I would study for the LSAT. I would prepare for my sister’s wedding. And when the summer came to a close, I would dedicate my time and energy to school and enjoying my senior year.

For me, this was a really tough pill to swallow. All of a sudden, all of my priorities seemed so stupid and meaningless and selfish in comparison to the reality so many others were facing.

This concept is still something I’m really struggling with. How does one continue with their daily life and pursuing their goals, while not neglecting the world’s suffering?

I’ve been trying to figure out how I’ll answer this question. Each time I think about it the Servant Song comes to mind.

What do you want of me, Lord?

Where do you want me to serve you?

Where can I sing your praises.

I am your song.

Jesus, Jesus, you are the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, you are the way.

Operation Streamline: inefficient and ineffective

Two weeks ago, there was a lot about migration across the U.S.-Mexico border that I was unaware of. After spending two weeks on the border, I understand more, but I realize there is still so much more to learn.

Operation Streamline is one such concept I was ignorant of. Operation Streamline began in 2005 under the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. It requires almost all undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to be prosecuted through the federal justice system.

Last week, we had the opportunity to witness just this. Inside the federal courthouse in Tucson, we sat in the back of the large courtroom, notebooks in hand.

Roughly 70 migrants with handcuffs shackling their wrists, and a chain snaking around their torso, continuing down to their feet. Headphones cupped their ears, as a means for them to hear the Spanish translation of what the judge said. They looked scared, confused. As I watched them, I felt awkward. Knowing if I were a defendant, about to stand up in front of a crowded courtroom to plead guilty, I would be so humiliated and angered to have strangers watching me.

Five at a time, the migrants walked forward to be prosecuted. To each migrant the judge rattled off questions: Do you understand the rights you’re giving up? Yes. How do you plead? Guilty. Do you understand the consequences of pleading guilty? Yes. Are you a U.S. citizen? No. Are you pleading voluntarily and of your own free will? Yes.

In the U.S., each first-time offender is prosecuted for misdemeanor illegal entry and a six-month maximum sentence. Those who have tried crossing previously, are prosecuted with felony reentry and given a two-year maximum sentence, which can be more if the migrant has a criminal record.

I was unaware that this happened at all, and shocked to discover it happens every day of the week. Here were my main takeaways after witnessing Operation Streamline and doing some research.

Operation Streamline:

  • Deters the attention of lawmakers away from fighting violence on the border. Law enforcement must focus on the prosecution of migrants who have entered illegally for the first time. Meanwhile, drug smuggling and human trafficking is occurring at the border.
  • Fails at reducing undocumented immigration. Petty immigration prosecutions are increasing, while the number of migrants attempting to cross the border is declining.
  • Is unconstitutional. Migrants are not given due process. Many defendants don’t receive probable cause determinations within 48 hours of their warrantless arrests, as the Fourth Amendment requires (see attacked article below).

After we walked out of the courtroom, a Magistrate Judge who was off duty followed us out and asked if we wanted to talk about what we had just witnessed. After answering a lot of our questions, it was obvious that he too was frustrated with the current system.

“Everyone wants to be tough on crime. No one talks about being just in crime,” he said.

He encouraged each of us to reach out to our state congressmen, voicing our concern with the process. I hope to do just that, as well as educate others that this injustice is occurring. For a more thorough explanation of Operation Streamline, I strongly encourage you to checkout Berkeley Law School’s review of the system.

Complicate

It seems like as each day passes, I’m left with more questions than answers.

On Sunday we traveled to Arivaca for mass. Through the windy roads, passing miles of mountainous desert,  we arrived at little Arivaca. A church. A bar. A cafe.

Inside of the small country church, the locals chatted, welcoming the new faces as we walked in, inviting us to join the empty choir. Our group of 20 consisted of almost a third of the people. With two baptisms and a First Holy Communion, this was a larger crowd than the church saw most Sundays.

Arivaca. A town surrounded by miles of land, about 20 miles from the border. Cattle roam freely, border patrol always watching. Some came here to retire, to get away. Others owned or ranched acres upon acres of land handed down over generations.

Following mass we were invited to join the parishioners in their weekly potluck. Through conversation, it didn’t take long for me to realize the people here felt differently about immigration than many of the others we’ve talked to. Phrases like “Build the wall” and “increase border patrol” rang in the conversations. One woman looked at me, tears in her eyes, and said “I’ve seen one too many bloody murders on my land.”

After the potluck we drove five minutes to the home of two of the parishioners and local ranchers, Sue and Jim. Their western style home sat on 50 thousand acres of land.

We were greeted by several pairs of camo-printed slippers lining the walkway to the front entrance of the home. We later were told that these were the carpet slippers drug packers wore to cover their tracks. These were just a small sample of what Jim and Sue had discovered on their land.

As some set up cameras for the interview, Jim showed the rest of us footage he gathered from the three cameras randomly set up around his property, moving them every couple of weeks. We watched as caravans of men dressed in camo carried  large square shaped backpacks past the hidden cameras. These were drug packers. Jim and Sue’s land was prime territory for drugs to pass over as for 25 miles there was no wall on the border of their land.

In Sue’s interview she shared a number of her views according to her experiences over the years. Sue explained the drug cartels as a multi-billion dollar market.

“The ones coming over aren’t looking for jobs, the have jobs carrying drugs with good compensation,” Sue said. “There’s always been contraband, but it hasn’t always been blood thirsty drug cartel.”

Sue’s solution:

  1. Put a wall up, get it highly secured and get a road parallel to the border. Communication needs to be increased. You can have all the border patrol in the world, but if it’s in the wrong locations, it’s not effective.
  2. Get a worker permit program and a legal worker program that is readable and doesn’t take five years to get through.A big amnesty program isn’t the answer.

Sue explained they’re land isn’t a safe worker entry. People need a safe port of entry. If workers were legal and had documents, they would have rights as a worker. Without these documents, they have no rights and therefore no way of acting against their mistreatment.

I knew immigration was a complex issue, but the more I learn, the more complicated it becomes.

 

 

 

 

When did we forget how to cry?

Painting by migrant in Nogales, Sonora
Painting by migrant in Nogales, Sonora

On our first morning here, we walked across the border and into Mexico. No one asked to see my passport, not a single question was asked. I saw the wall, snaking up and down the terrain, drones and cameras watching everyone and everything that approached it. I didn’t see the cartel members in the trees at the top of the hill, but I was told by a number of people that they were there, watching for migrants.

Prior to going on this trip, it seemed like everyone I told left me with the same warning: “Be careful, the border is dangerous.” I guess if I was afraid of anything, it was the drug lords and cartels I had heard about in the media. However, when we crossed the border, I didn’t feel unsafe at all.

Nogales is unique because it’s one of the only cities split by the wall. About 25,000 people live on the America side, while 250,000 live on the Mexico side. In 2011, the wall was built to replace a wire fence. Prior to this, Americans and tourists flowed freely between the border, heading into Mexico for a cheap authentic dinner or a night on the town. However, following 911, as talks of threats to national security skyrocketed, people began to avoid the border at all costs because they were afraid. In walking through the town, you see what’s left of what used to be a lively town for tourists, now clearly in a depression.

Throughout the trip, the idea of the wall continues to come up, literally and figuratively. It’s pretty hard to miss the structure that stands 18-30 feet depending on the location. I’ve learned it takes two minutes to climb over it. About four million dollars per mile to build it. Drugs and money can still be passed between the it. In fact, other than stirring fear in people, the wall does very little. When we put walls up, we assume it’s up to keep something out. It really struck me when Fr. Peter Neeley, a Jesuit priest who has worked with immigration for over 20 years asked us, “How is putting up a wall loving your neighbor?”

Creighton students observe the wall up close.
Creighton students observe the wall up close.

A train track runs through the center of Nogales, perpendicular to the wall. Ironically, the first train we saw pass through was a Union Pacific, carrying Ford cars. Everyday 2,500 Fords manufactured in Nogales are brought into the U.S. We watched as the wall opened so the train could pass through, closing immediately after the last car. This is just one example of the many goods that pass from Mexico into America. In addition to this, we saw an abundance of factories in the city, all producing American goods.

Again, I was struck by Fr. Neeley’s words. “America depends on so many material goods from Mexico, but when it comes to the people, it wants nothing to do with them.” America relies on the world for so many of its possessions. We don’t live in a little cocoon.

Fr. Neeley talked about how 20 years ago he would tell Mexicans he worked with how wonderful he thought America was. He would ask them why they hadn’t wanted to try and find jobs in the United States, where they would make a better wage, to which they would respond, “Why would we go to the U.S. Father? We have everything we need here and we’re happy.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American moves 12 times in his or her lifetime, over 80 percent of these people move within the same state. The reasons include leaving for college and job opportunities. The point is, most people don’t move unless they have to, especially to places far from their families with unfamiliar languages and cultures.

Over the past four days every migrant we’ve talked to was running from something or to someone. From trying to avoid danger, to hoping to meet his or her child for the first time, each migrant we’ve met didn’t leave their home just because they wanted to; they had to.

Yet, we continue to dehumanize them, we continue to criminalize them and we continue to build walls instead of looking at the human on the other side.

Pope Francis asks us: “Where is your compassion? Have you forgotten how to cry?”

Processing a new perspective

The entrance into Mexico in Nogales, with the Kino Border Initiative Comedor located to the bottom left underneath the sign
The entrance into Mexico in Nogales, with the Kino Border Initiative Comedor located to the bottom left underneath the sign

It’s one thing to have knowledge about large-scale issues, but it’s another to see the face of those affected by the issue up close.

I can recall vaguely how my understanding of immigration has evolved over the years. When I was younger, I remember hearing the term “illegal immigrant” and thinking of all of the negative connotations that went with it. Immigrants broke the law, and then they took American’s jobs.

As I grew a little bit older, I was better able to empathize for illegal migrants, as I gained a better understanding of why they wanted to flee to America. They wished for a better life, they ran from poverty, they had family in the United States, etc. However, even with these insights, I lacked the capacity to get a solid grip.

It has never really occurred to me that migrants felt guilty for what they had done. I didn’t know they were stigmatized by other Mexicans after being deported and returned to Mexico. I had no idea the level of brutality migrants faced and the dehumanizing measures they suffered after being captured. Worst of all, I didn’t stop to consider that deported migrants accepted this treatment because they thought they deserved it.

In the last three days I’ve seen the passageways, resembling cattle chutes with the one-way turn staffs, where deported migrants are pushed through when they’re returned. I’ve heard stories of families being separated. I’ve stood in the spot where one Mexican was shot merely for throwing rocks over the wall. I’ve seen the faces of newly deported migrants, sad, defeated.

With each interview we complete, we learn so much about the overall challenges with immigration, along with what it looks like on a personal level. I think I need some time to let it all process.

But for now, we’re learning, we’re laughing, we’re crying and we’re sleeping very little.

A Community Unfolds

Several Backpack group members sitting on the wall behind our guest house in Nogales, Arizona
Several Backpack group members sitting on the wall behind our guest house in Nogales, Arizona.

*I wrote this yesterday but I am posting it today due to lack of Internet access*

May, 22. Nogales, Arizona. 10:24 p.m. 70 degrees.

When you can’t think of what to write, start by looking at what’s right in front of you.

I, along with five other students, sit around a table for 10, staring aimlessly at mini iPads and attempting to think of what to write. Two, 12-hour days in a van has left us delirious, giggly and definitely not focused enough to write a blog.

But as I look at all of us, sitting around this table, I realize how analogous this is of the trip, or pilgrimage, so far.

Through conversing and sharing around this table, we continue to discover community at a gathering place. I’ve felt this community throughout the trip a number of times.

I experienced it first in the reflection before we left, and then in the car on the way down. To be honest, I thought the drive down here was so much fun. It was full of good conversation, beautiful scenery, long naps, good reads, lots of dancing and well-spaced bathroom stops. It was a time of bonding and getting to know one another.

When we arrived in Nogales, Ivan, a Jesuit priest, greeted us and gave us a tour of the home we’d be living in the next two weeks.

The basementless house splits into two wings, each wing offering large empty bedrooms filled with mismatched air mattresses, all dressed in a blanket and pillow. In the center of the house you’ll find the common area, the big table I’m sitting at, along with the kitchen.

I’m not really sure what feng shui is, but I feel like this house has good feng shui. It is here, in this house and at this table, where the theme of community has continued to unfold. The space is designed is such a way that it promotes community, while allowing for seclusion.

Initially, the thought of being in the same small premise with 15 others for two weeks was worrisome to me, someone who needs time and space alone. However, while I know there are times in the next two weeks when I might get uncomfortable or annoyed, these will be growing opportunities for me.

Uncomfortable situations and moments are inevitable in a person’s life. The learning comes in when you have to evaluate why you’re uncomfortable, and what you can do to overcome it.

So far, the group’s dynamic has been one of rooting for one another, working together and learning about eachother’s backgrounds. The reflections, road trip, gathering table and living space have only helped foster this naturally growing community.