Agua Prieta, Sonora
DEC 2011, US/Mexico border 

"The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul, finding there capacities which the outside didn't indicate or promise, and which the other kind couldn't detect."  
MARK TWAIN, Joan of Arc


Gil Gillenwater, Founder, RANCHO FELIZ
"Walls don't work -What works is providing people the opportunities necessary for them to live and raise their families with dignity in their own country." 

"The image of the US/MX border being used as a volleyball net is so poignant. No matter how high or far we build the wall, people will find a way to connect. It’s our nature as human beings. History should have taught us that by now. There are much more intelligent and humane ways to stem illegal immigration than wasting money building an ineffectual wall. Hopefully our politicians will “Wake Up” soon to some more operative solutions. "


A personal reflection on the week:

It was a few days before Christmas and Dkish and I crossed the US/MEXICO border to document  a Rancho Feliz Volunteer Exchange.

Rancho Feliz  is a  24 year US non profit providing opportunities for families in Mexico. It is a hand up not a hand out - a redistribution of opportunities providing a cultural  exchange rooted in service through education, health and community care.  

It is hard to look through a little hole in the fence and see one's own country from the other side.  It looks the same - but it's different the very moment you cross. I can't exactly put my finger on it -  it just is different - el otro lado -from either side shares the same air space, same land - but it's just different . 

We cross in Naco and headed east - we got directions to the gym at a stop light from the next car over.  Next morning a crowd of over 1500 Mexicans from a barrio in Agua Prieta, Sonora,  waited patiently outside in cool desert blue of smoke in the barrio of the Rancho Feliz Community. Founder, Gil Gillenwater and long time friends and supporters gather at Casa Gringo over coffee with Mexican vanilla and cinnamon begin a day in service.  Let the celebration begin !

There was no mob scene- no pepper spraying incidents over high dollar shoes - Everywhere signs of Christmas where in Mexico the Virgin of Guadlupe reigns supreme over plastic Santa Claus and Bart Simpson. An artist in disguise as  Santa and his helpers in sporty blue hosted and hand off the full bags consisting of food staples -people, families and kids move through the Rancho Feliz neighborhood and poured onto the basketball court. They joined  more volunteers with Buddhist eyes blazing on orange bright shirts like eastern monks overlooking everything - trucks and people unloaded ten tons of food into boxes and  bags,to be donated to a thousand families who like the sea waits along the shore of the borderlands.

 Brassy and sassy , distorted Norteno music warmed people up as they stood in the crisp morning air  - kids played games - jumped rope and bounced around hanging onto the legs and arms of their loved ones giving the ambiance of the scene the silence almost like a church gathering into a spirited carnival of celebration -  the corn and hot dog vendors were already in place - this was not just another  day in borderlandia. 

Three countries; Canada, US, and Mexico - A Canadian's Woman's volleyball ,  the  Ryerson RAMs, the Rancho Feliz Community compromised of Arizonans and Mexicans - and the  local Sonoran volleyball teams overcame borders - borders of "fear" ; Through their own personal language, backgrounds, each person contributes their own experience and like cluster of bubbles on a stream, merge and become one; each discovers a new depth of  gratitude, acceptance, and an appreciation of the service of  compassion together worlds apart from the headlines. 


To help build a community from the foundation up is made up of the examples of  working together - trust;  balance ; elbow grease; sport, laughter, hard work and fun -  these same principles in the appreciation of the little things that are at the heart of  a healthy community - These are the stories that make a house a home and that is what memories are made of. Cement was mixed, blocks hauled, carried and placed with care. One families dream became the dream of everyone involved.  


There is the warmth emanating  from within this circle on this 2000 mile line drawn in the desert - A circle of strong young women stood proud together with the winds of change in their hair -with  determination and inspired vision into the storm towards the future. The team grows closer; a huddle of sisters who explode with energy and force. Moments of  sincerity  and new friendships are forged through the language of sport ; hand gestures; and some 8th grade spanish. Volleyball shoes and face book names are exchanged; hugs and kisses ensue saying hello and good bye; proud to be a fan - and the gran corazon that is Mexico grandly and humbly welcomes and tells you to come back soon - “ Bienviendos’ y “Volver Volver” - 

The  worn faces of grandparents seen in classical paintings and black and white photographs are wrapped in Disney inspired towels and baby blankets; their soft shoulders under a drapery of folds replace traditional rebozos, draped over head and wrapped elegantly in an earthy form gestures that express the long waiting - their smiles are like long roads of unimaginable journeys -from faraway they came to this urban island of pallets and cartons to follow a dream beyond the fence. 

The bright eyed children look deep into your own. Boxes and bags are handed off - little ones and old ones weeble wobble down the sidewalk - the smiles grow and replace weariness and hesitation of being a stranger in a strange land - more smiles are volleyed -passed back and forth - the lines disappear -something like food in the belly  replaces the emptiness of the street.

We shake hands like they do when offering ‘the peace’ in mass - but this isn’t religious or a church but rather a spiritual moment on a dirt street strewn with the detritus of fast food and one use plastic bags flutter like strewn flowers paling in the elements where so many abuelas give their blessings. 'A Dios Bediga', murmured  softly and breaking into warm smiles that melt you like homemade fresh tortillas do; there’s a touch on the shoulder; a soft hand- a tug on a shirt and a reciprocated gesture from a brown eyed little girl who looks up at you and gives you a piece of candy.
PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE -Compassion beyond Borders

There is over 2000 miles of border fence dividing our countries- yet , ' They look through your smile and see you for who you truly are ', Brianna expresses, her voice soft, a sentimental clarity deeply felt in the winter light, a shimmering tear of understanding something so BIG  in  the small gesture of a girl, one of 1500 faces in the crowd gives us all the greatest gift  of this tender and fearless story once upon a time in the west -

How do moments like this transform a life? our life? the lives of others?  the world ? 

 I look to the west a golden band the grey military fence actually looks beautiful - a golden thread between earth and sky. It is like an art installation made of  recycled airstrip material used in wars from before I was born... no wonder it doesn’t work it has a violent past - painful beauty because of the light - I look east - storm clouds - dark, brooding - clouds part and a golden beam of light spills in a rainbow cascade - somewhere in Chihuahua - Home where the Zuni Baby Rainbow lives - ancient trade routes fascinate me ; current immigration policies are at odds of human character - and here we are on the other side in humanitarian service - 

The black and white headlines are replaced with the timeless magnificence of the desert- brutal, naked truths and hard realities soften with the touch of a woman's heart and the compassion of people working to making a little right in the world - I was inspired to see them as Luchadoras- Heroines like Joan of Arc - at the helm of these changing times - the vibrancy of youthful athleticism and agile minds - the energy of wild colts honing their skills and their heart -  Like the landscape of our Souls it too unfolds and shines forth a multi colored ray of hope that can not be fenced -   the light turns radiant against the storm. A sign for the times to follow. 

FELIZ NAVIDAD and here's to a transformative 2012.

GRACIAS GIL for having me document your projects these past couple of years : , Thank you Dkish for finally coming back to Mexico- driving and being my good road buddy,lighting gal and bbf  - 
 Gracias  to the wonderful people of Rancho Feliz and the Volleyball women's teams- may we continue to follow the path in a state of grace - 


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