Tuesday, August 21, 2007


One of the more interesting things that you come across hiking the trails used for migration through the deserts of Arizona are the shrines that are set up. There are three or four that we see on some of the busier trails we patrol, including this one with its own shade structure set up. I returned three days later to find the tin of money overflowing, a new bible, and family photo left at the shrine

Edit: While at camp, a reporter and friend of NMD wrote a short opinion piece on the shrines, which articulates much better the importance of them than what I have done. This is from the Arizona Daily Star

http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/border/199349 (original article with photos)

Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr. :
'Sacredness of the journey' is clear at tiny religious sites

In a deep Arivaca ravine, less than 10 miles north of the border, the usual evidence of illegal border crossers can be found.
There are empty plastic bottles of Electrolyte, water and food tins. There are abandoned pieces of clothing and backpacks.
But there is other evidence, striking and rarely seen.

In a natural niche in the face of a rock wall, ascending about 40 feet, is a religious shrine.

Tucked into the crevice are rosaries; prayer cards to various images of Mary, mother of Jesus; crucifixes; St. Jude; and the Sacred Heart of Jesus votive candles. There is also a small prayer book, a pen, a key chain, a color photograph of a girl 5 years old or less, matches, medallions and peso coins.

Rivulets of dried wax from burned-out candles streak down the rock. Patches of black candle soot cover inside the roof of the nicho.

Next to the opening, two small rocks pin the top corners of a scarf with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Off to the other side are large blue and clear votive candles. Some are broken into shards.

This is a rest stop of prayers on a desperate path used by illegal border crossers.

Volunteers with No More Deaths, the humanitarian assistance group that has spent the past four summers rendering aid to hungry and injured border crossers, have discovered various shrines along favored routes like this ravine.

For the volunteers, the shrines reflect something meaningful and unexpected.

"I've never been a religious person," said Walt Staton, a volunteer with No More Deaths.

But the shrine created by the undocumented migrants has given Staton a different perspective.
"I can feel the sacredness of the journey," Staton said.

The shrines evolve as items are scattered by the rain and wind, and new items are placed on the shrines by border crossers. Some humanitarian volunteers also add items.

The shrines are not common, but as the volunteers discover new, more remote routes they are likely to find more shrines.
Juanita Sundberg, a cultural geographer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, examined the shrines this summer. She and local documentary photographer Michael Hyatt are working on a project documenting the shrines.

The religious way stations provide a wider glimpse of the people who walk miles in difficult terrain, risking their lives, she said.

"They are valuable because they tell us a lot about the people who are crossing, their spirituality, background and courage," said Sundberg.

The shrines serve as a reminder of hope to other border crossers, Sundberg said. The stops provide a place to pause and pray for family left behind or contemplate the unknown dangers that await them.

But not all the shrines are devoted to sacred saints. Some yards away in the ravine is another shrine in a larger opening, like a grotto.

Inside is a plastic-encased image of Jesus Malverde, the folk "saint" to drug smugglers. The image hangs on two thin branches behind a row of votive candles to the Virgin of Guadalupe and St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

But Malverde is not exclusive to drug runners, said James "Big Jim" Griffith, a longtime folklorist retired from the University of Arizona who has seen pictures of the shrines.

The Malverde shrine represents a general petition from border crossers who want to get their things and themselves to their destination, said Griffith, author of "Victims, Bandits and Healers: Folk Saints of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands."

There are other shrines elsewhere. One is at the bottom of a gnarled juniper tree. It contains a small mound of coins in a tin, a horseshoe, a bright-red wool scarf and religious images. There also is a booklet, "Introduction to Insight Meditation," left several months ago by a Buddhist monk who visited the shrine, said Steve Johnston of No More Deaths.

Southwest book author Byrd Baylor, a longtime Arivaca resident, said she has seen border crossers on her property carrying Bibles and candles. There are several shrines around her house.

The shrines signal powerful messages to border crossers who reach them, Baylor said.

"The shrines are a chain of hope and faith."

Final week at NMD

This week takes the prize for most intense and tiring week of my life. I headed back out to camp a week ago, along with my advisor visiting from L.A. We visited the new Tohono O'odham Cultural Center in Sells on the way, and travelled back to Arivaca along Highway 286 passing more B.P. than I have seen to date

On reaching camp we realized the wash was flowing due to recent rains, so we had to leave the car on the other side and wade in to camp. Later that week the washes were hit with some big rains, turning the entirely dry wash into a raging 8 foot deep river, carrying entire trees downstream

Our driveway become impassable

Towing out one of our neighbours and supporters of NMD

I was also (somehow) made coordinator this week, so my days involved getting up at 4.45am to wake everyone up, collecting new volunteers and showing them around, and dealing with German media, who supposedly will be running an article in German Playboy, so keep an eye out for my centerfold spread.

On Friday we also managed to get one of the trucks stuck in a wash, taking 5 hours to dig and tow it out, so there were no patrols that day

Just before leaving camp a family was found waiting alongside a road. The family comprised of two children under 10, and the mother was suffering from spinal pain and severe blisters, unable to walk any further, and needing possible evacuation to a hospital. To see an entire family close to death, lost, and incredibly distraught has been one of the toughest experiences, but knowing that I am not the one who has spent 5 days lost in the desert quickly puts your privilege in perspective, along with the ability to simply drive back to Tucson

And so ends two months with NMD, I hope to be back next summer, and that one day none of this is necessary (this year is heading for a record death toll).

No Human Being Is Illegal.

Flagstaff/Grand Canyon/Sedona

With some of my favourite folk from NMD this summer, we took a few days off and drove up to Flagstaff, Grand Canyon and Sedona, using the ever trustworthy PT Cruiser with zero ground clearance for driving off-road. Here are a few photos from the trip, camping in random areas of State forest, or certain people's parents houses in the middle of the night

Grand Canyon:


We woke up to this, after driving up the side of a mountain in a highly unsuitable car in the pitch black

I hit the trails around Sedona with Tom on some rented Giants, the trails were amazing and had been a place I'd wanted to go riding since I was a teenager. Other than getting lost and having to haul to get back to the store in time, it was amazing fun...oh that and a broken rib

The swimming hole at Budha Beach

Waking up to hot air balloons in the middle of nowhere made a night of food poisoning, sleeping on cacti, and getting lost worthwhile

Monday, August 20, 2007

SBINet tower in Arivaca

During my time in and around Arivaca, I had heard a good deal mentioned about the new 'spy tower' located in Ruby, a few miles south of Arivaca, and about 10 miles north of the border.

The towers are part of Project 28, which plans for 9 towers to be deployed along the border between the Tohono O'odham reservation, Sasabe, and Arivaca.

Though the towers are currently 'non-permanent' and are being tested, the Environmental Impact Assessment report, states that:

"Project 28 towers and associated equipment will be moved to new locations in or out of the Project 28 area based on CPB decisions that are driven by feedback of tower performance and the desire to increase system performance...After Project 28 is complete, it is likely that the mobile towers will be replaced with permanent towers, however, the locations of the permanent towers are currently unknown and will be based on system performance"

The towers have created plenty of controversy in the town of Arivaca (and elsewhere, such as on the Tohono O'odham reservation). Though locals are perhaps concerned about the towers for reasons other than the low-intensity warfare upon those crossing undocumented in the deserts nearby, it is hoped that their resistance to the towers, based largely on concerns of privacy and environmental impact will be enough to stop the towers being erected. This is combined with community pressure to have the permanent internal border checkpoint placed on the I-19 near Tubac stopped

Combined with the already proven inefficiency of the towers, the technology put into the towers by Boeing and another group from Israel involved in 'securing' the new wall of death there, seems virtually useless, given the mountainous terrain surrounding the tower. It comes equipped with surveillance cameras and 4 ground sensors buried around it to reduce chance of damage to the tower.

Environmental concerns have centered largely around the fact that the area is a popular corridor for migrating birds, and that the large flashing red light on top will disorient them. The CBP answer? A large air-horn that will be sounded when the camera operator (located many miles away in Tucson or on O'odham land) sees a bird approaching...

The CBP also suggests that the fragile environment in the region, including the Buenos Aires wildlife refuge, will benefit from increased border patrol, as it will reduce the numbers of people crossing by foot in the area

Along with all of this, my time in Arivaca has led me to become almost used to the police-state that is situated there. On top of the local sherrifs constantly deployed along Arivaca road and Highway 286, the Border Patrol is a constant presence. Whilst driving along the 286 for less than 20 miles, over 40 B.P. vans, cars, trucks, and ATV's were spotted. Few bother to leave their cars to enter into the desert, but instead wait at the roads. Along with this are the Wackenhut buses, located at various points on the highways waiting for BP agents to hand over detained persons to be transported to processing centers and deported into Mexico, or flown further south to their home towns, or to other countries in Central America through the 'Repatriation' program

Meanwhile, you can constantly hear fighter jets flying high over head, deployed from the nearby military bases that dot the landscape throughout Arizona. Every way you turn its one form of enforcement or another, with local and global ramifications.

I am a god in Argentina

A good friend of mine (refer large grin in photo) sent this to me, apparently one of the teams in Argentina has a player who goes by 'Budge', but for now I'll just picture people in Argentina referring to the mysterious Australian figure...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Roscoe Williams and Joseph Jarman @ Ford Ampitheatre

In September 2006 I attended the Roscoe Williams and Joseph Jarman show, put on by SASSAS at the Ford Ampitheatre. Roscoe and Joseph were members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, but this was a special performance probably 40 years after the inception of the AEofC.

The Ford Ampitheatre is an amazing venue and space, set outdoors, with the stage set into the back of the Hollywood Hills. This was one of the most intense, enthralling, and at times difficult performances I have seen

Kamau Daaood performed a spoken word piece from his work The Language of Saxophones

They both peformed a solo piece, along with two long improvised sets.

You can watch the performance at:

More info on the artists:

(all photos taken from SASSAS)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bahia Kino

Last Friday I headed down to the Nogales site for No More Deaths, basically a tent located just inside Mexico at the Port of Entry at Mariposa, Nogales. Volunteers provide food, water and medical aid, for up to 600 people a day recently deported there.

After that, we drove two hours south to Benjamin Hill, where a local church prepares daily meals for people train-hopping from Central America and southern Mexico. The train lines converge here, so everyone gets off to then make their way to the border towns. The trains are incredibly dangerous, gangs often rob those riding the trains, and many people have been known to fall from the trains, losing limbs or their lives.

From there it was off to Bahia Kino, a short holiday planned by Dereka and Rocio. Bahia Kino comprises 'Old' and 'New' Kino, the new part being a thin line of holiday housing along the coast, whereas Old Kino is the traditional fishing community, comprising around 5000 people. We managed to find a car camping spot on the beach for $5 each in Old Kino. For the first time since visiting Indonesia in 1996 I found water that was too warm. There has been a recent outbreak of dengue fever in towns along the Sea of Cortez, so it was interesting (and somewhat discomforting) to see trucks driving round spraying buildings with some form of insect repellent at dusk

Car camping in Old Kino

Local fishing boats

In heaven my truck will be totally sweet...

Sleeping on the beach

Gone Baptizin'

The busier 'public' beach popular with families from Hermosillo

Driving back from Bahia Kino, in Magdalena, nearby to where the Zapatistas recently held an encuentro, you can spot the massive Virgin of Guadalupe in the hillside (as seen from the back of a fast moving truck)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mobile Camp

Another aspect to No More Deaths is the Mobile Camp, a smaller camp where longer term volunteers focus more on mapping new/previously unknown trails using GPS, to later be mapped and the coordinates distributed to the other camp to then place water and conduct patrols along. There has also been some attempts to start bicycle patrols which I am excited to see happen, though often the trails are just too inaccessible for bikes to be useful

Mapping new trails often means coming across a lot of unexpected things. Some trails fade out to nothing, others continue on for much further than expected. Some are incredibly narrow and dangerous, passing through hill ranges, or along the tops of ridges. Sometimes its clear they havent been used for years, but others are different. Occassionally you come to a rest spot or 'dump site' (a waiting area before being picked up by car) where there are mountains of trash - clothes, backpacks, water bottles, toothbrushes and so on.

While out in the hills and remote desert areas you come across some pretty random stuff, either contributed to by the local meth-addicts, or by bored people hiding from the Border Patrol

Theres a bunch of abandoned mines about that are fun to explore, or use as refuge from the monsoon rains

Random wind-chimes near squatted buildings at an abandoned mine shaft

We also discovered a ghost house one day, I guess someones parents had set it up for a party, but it was wayyy out in the middle of nowhere

Occasionally I spotted a bicycle used to cross, this one was in bad shape and still many miles from Tucson

This 4 plot cemetary was literally in the middle of nowhere. While standing to take a look at a tombstone my foot fell about 10 inches into a grave because of some gopher holes underneath, scared me kinda bad...

You also come across a lot of random wildlife (at least for me) such as the local tarantula population

and then just random things like this...

Ruby - Population 1

Some of the NMD volunteers visited the ghost-town of Ruby, about 30 minutes from Arivaca. Ruby is now managed by a guy called Sundog, who is the kind of guy youd expect with a name like that. The town was for mining, and after the mine closed the pit was filled with sand, burying a house with it. This resulted in an artificial beach forming, next to an amazing lake where you can swim

Right on sunset you can also witness more bats than youve ever seen before. 10's of thousands of bats live in a mine shaft and all depart at dusk, taking around 20-30 minutes to get out. There are so many swirling around to get out that it creates a draft, and the burning smell in your nose from the sulphuric-type scent becomes a little much to take