Sunday, June 30, 2019

June 2019 Respite Center

and lots of misc, covering past several days, not necessarily in order.

Met Miss Plus Rio Grande Valley. She came to volunteer. Very nice young woman.

We had two women who'd just had C-sections and been released from the hospital. We were told the baby of one was still in the NICU and I felt so bad for her, not being near her baby. Turns out that was a cover story. The baby had been stillborn. How awful to carry a child to near term and have it die.....

Josh Norman, Washington "Redskins" player...came and donated $18,000 to the respite center. Looked him up and he does many good things. Met him last spring when he first visited and he remembered me! Got a selfie but I look dreadful so I cropped it. Good person.

Noted yesterday a lack of one seems to know who the young woman is who proclaimed that she is the asst. volunteer coordinator. Our 2 drivers mixed up who was taking who to the airport when....our boss and one driver were at odds over how many snack bags to keep by the exit door. The occasional staff meeting would be good, ha ha.

Yesterday pm went upstairs for diapers. Woman with nametag practically accosts me (in my volunteer t-shirt) and announces to me that SHE is going to make everyone wear a name tag (I, obviously, was not). She continued: "Y'all aren't doing what WE are doing!". I should have asked what that was supposed to mean...but instead gave her a dismissive look and slight head shake and moved on. Wonder if she will be there today....

Not OCD but like tidy and organized, and the area behind the bar counter is a mess. Most of the mess is under the counter, at least out of the way. But stuff spills out and it's hard to walk and not only a mess but a hazard if we need to get out from behind there in a hurry. The rotating volunteers tend to do whatever so although stuff moves around, it is pretty reliably always a mess. I want to organize it this coming week. Wish me luck.

Still on the counter. WHY a bin of large containers of baby powder? We don't give it out, except maybe in doses in small cups. So we sure don't need a bin full. We're avoiding soap, since it clogs the drains (they get body wash in hygiene kits). But there are more than one bins full of bar soap. And they are heavy. And they need to go upstairs, which means smaller and more containers and someone to haul them. 

Was called on to meet and assist a delivery of 3 pallets of hygiene products at 10 on Thurs, I think it was. I was there at 10. At 1020 I left but kept checking back to the delivery door on the alley. At 1230 I went to lunch and of course that's when UPS showed up, in a semi, in the alley.....I got back and it was one pallet, not three. And it was cubicle walls, not hygiene products. And the driver complained about being late on his route. Not MY fault! And we had to get two guys each for one cubicle panel because they were so big and a bit heavy. All stored safely upstairs now. The semi blocked alley traffic for well over half an hour and there were donors lined up behind. Glad that mess is over.

We now have an "isolation room" upstairs, AC, place to rest etc. We've already had one chicken pox in there....And the clinic is being set up, very nice, we've had a couple of moms with 2 or 3 day old kids there.

We ahd a couple of days where we got folks out and new folks hadn't come. Volunteers get out a jump rope and harmonica and lots of playing and fun ensues. Coloring books, books to read corner, even a soccer ball! Time to braid and work on each other's hair. Singing! So awesome to see.

and a couple of reunions. We only see if people are actually picked up by family. I love to greet them, hug our detainees, wish them well, see them off.

possibly more later. It's 7 am and about time to start my shift.

Friday, June 28, 2019

June 18 at the new center downtown

Flights were fine, got the rental, drove to the new place and walked in just after 2 full busses had arrived. Big central area with staff working at one wall/chairs lined up for clients; a line for the kitchen/dining area; a rather impressive curved bar area where volunteers were giving out tolietry tote bags and misc--diapers, hair ties, extra toothbrushes, and so on. I didn't see anyone I knew and wasn't wearing my volunteer t-shirt so had to explain who I was as I checked things ok, small room for sandwiches and snack bags, limited dining space, all the clothing now behind make shift counters with volunteers behind picking clothes for folks. Slim pickings, it looked like. Then I saw a person or two I knew and then more, checked out upstairs where all the sorting will be done, lots of room for storage and they'll set up a clinic space there too.

Guards at the doors to keep folks from leaving and wandering all over. I was naturally put to work almost immediately--folks at the first respite center, 3 blocks away, needed to be walked to the bus station. Since the new place is kitty corner to the bus station, it's no big deal. So I did that and then other requests people with questions...I'd contacted Megan and she came around 430 with the key and showed me plans for the storage and sorting upstairs. I was tired from getting up early for the flights and being immersed in 100+ degree heat so didn't stay much longer. But I'll be there in the morning....

Friday, June 14, 2019

May-June 2019

haven't written anything in a while....having coffee with a friend reminded me that for my own sake, I want to record events.

The center runs on fumes, not enough staff, not enough volunteers, not enough resources in general. Once again have to move, this time to a larger downtown location. Just heard that the move has gone on the past few days and is largely complete. I will be there next Tuesday.

As one of several long time volunteers, I know the systems and priorities. Of course they aren't always followed, depends on who is there to keep things in line. With large numbers of detainees it has been hard to keep things going in a reasonable matter.

Tote bags with toiletries. The idea is to greet each family with a tote bag for their papers etc, and some toiletries. Some times we don't have tote bags & have given toiletries in baggies. Other times we have tote bags and have a small assembly line: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, comb, whatever we have.

Some times we are really lucky and have toiletry kits already made up. Then we just toss one in each tote bag and ready. These come in as donations, from the Red Cross and others.

So last trip we had some pre-made toiletry kits, pretty full ones. A boss comes in and says Four toothbrushes? we rarely have more than 2 in a family so let's take out 3 (we then go down the line giving toothbrushes to others in the family). Ok, I'm ok with that. I don't like waste and it's easy to open the bag, take out 3, toss the bag in the tote.

Then the boss says....there are two hand towels in each kit. Two aren't needed, let's take one out. I weigh the time required to remove the 3 toothbrushes, 2 folded towels, extract one, put kit in tote. Also do we need that extra towel? It's not a bath towel and we don't use hand towels for anything. So I think no, leave the towels. Time is more important.

Then the boss says....why a bar of soap? We keep soap in the showers. Let's take that out.

so it's grab a toiletry kit, remove 3 toothbrushes, 1 towel,  and a bar of soap. Hmm. Do we need those bars of soap? We're moving to a new location--what we have has to be moved. Do we NEED bars of soap? Actually we have many hundreds of bars of soap already that are just taking up space. So my deal is ok, take out 3 toothbrushes, leave the rest, toss in tote and ready.

I go on to other tasks and the next morning come in to check on totes. There are many ready for the asylum seekers. There's a big tote of hand towels and another of bars of soap. Sigh. But ok, so what.

Except later, we have volunteers and the boss puts them to work with her guidelines. I stop by, checking on volunteers, suggest my way. Oh, the woman laughs, too many bosses! But I explain and she agrees and we agree that if Boss shows up, do it her way. Otherwise, do it mine.

Later that afternoon.....lines of asylum seekers waiting to be processed....all with tote bags....and the Boss going down the line and TAKING OUT soap and towels from their totes. omg. Really?

So back to the original--we need more bosses but we need better bosses, too. There were two full afternoons when I was the only person at the main desk. I do what I can--hand out razors, extra with sending folks to the buseta to get to the train station or airport....answer what questions I can. But I'm just a lowly volunteer and there are plenty of problems needing attention. One family--dad and son had papers, mom was released from detention without any. These papers, from ICE, give them legal standing and allow them to travel. They are absolutely vital. I don't know what to do to get this woman her documents from ICE. Where is a boss?

and here's a guy whose bus leaves in 15 minutes....leave the desk unattended? I guess so, gotta get this guy to the station. Come back and find a woman whose plane leaves in 40 minutes. Run her out to the airport (as the minibusses are going back and forth but there's no time to wait for the next one). Desk is unattended.  Discover people are not taking mini-bus on time because Boss is neglecting to call them on the loudspeaker. Bus drivers plot a boycott.....disappear for a while, Boss wonders where they are and finally starts calling people to the front. Wow.

Next move, btw, we will be across from the bus station but still need to drive folks to the airport.

Out of order, but speaking of the airport....time to head back to Iowa & as usual, run into asylum seekers waiting for the same flight, or so I thought. Love buying them good coffee! and we chatted. One of the other things we do, as a priority, is create bags of food for them for the journey. I notice one has a bag of snacks but no sandwiches and the other (each mom with one kid) has no bag at all. So I've got a few snacks I don't expect to eat and so distributed them. One woman, so sweet! says But what about you? What will you eat? Very kind of her but I didn't really need anything.

We find another small family waiting and scoop them up. At boarding, turns out the two moms and kids are on the NEXT I'm glad I gave them something to eat. I added a $20 to each, knowing they will transfer to a larger and final flight in Dallas and likely won't need much.

The mom/dad/toddler board with me & at the end of the flight, we find out they have to go to a different terminal for their final flight. That requires the train....but I have time so we navigate the airport, take the train, and I deliver them to their gate before heading back to my own. And then having my usual Time to Breathe, sad to be leaving, hope they all make it without trouble moments. It's actually a tough time because I know how much is needed, yet I am leaving. But of course I know I will be back....

Couple of hospital incidents. We had a nurse volunteering and she thought a woman's ear infection required the ER and was looking for someone to take her. I did not, because I don't know the town and it was late enough that I didn't want to get caught driving after dark. I don't know who she found. But later I got a text from like THE best organizer/volunteer/local...she asked if I had been the person who took the woman to the hospital, because they were trying to find her. I said no, but as I thought about it, who would take an asylum seeker to the hospital and just drop them off? Yes, there are likely Spanish speakers there. But it's a completely foreign place, she doesn't know rules/routines, what to say, etc etc, how to get back to the Respite Center...and someone just dropped her off! I think that's very unkind and one reason I didn't take her is because I knew I would stay to see her through--and perhaps get stuck driving after dark (I have macular degeneration and can't drive at dusk or night). Good grief. All the people working there are supposed to care!

Another event was a woman and daughter at the desk....they'd been released from detention but her husband had been taken to the hospital from detention. She didn't know why, what was wrong, where he was, how to find him, etc etc. We put a staff worker on the job and she followed through. I wish I knew the end to both stories....

Thursday, April 25, 2019

McAllen April #8?

definitely not a good day for driving. Got lost twice.
Actually, found the Target, which felt like home, but couldn't find my way back. Then got lost on the way to the bus station with two refugee families. It's TWO turns. Obviously I made one of them wrong. Had to use the gps.....sad!

Some sort of confab yesterday at the Respite Center. Sister Norma, head of CC RGV, another nun or two, bunch of guys...learned later they were Border Patrol/ICE. Not sure what the conversation was but I can report that there was plenty of chaos for them to observe.

We put out the usual calls for folks needing to go to the bus terminal or airport, and we had the usual last minute folks who apparently didn't hear the calls and let us know 20 minutes before their busses left that they had to get to the terminal. So I made two trips, one in which I managed to get lost. But all ended well.

We had good volunteers so all the clothing rooms were open, the shoes room was open, and there were folks sorting through the mounds of donated stuff--mostly clothing--which was a huge help. ICE/BP again sent us 3 busses at a time.....twice, in the afternoon. We had already gotten one in the morning.  Really long lines waiting to talk to staff....but we had a new hire so hopefully the wait wasn't too long.

We've had more intact families than usual....two parents with 1-2 kids. More than a few pregnant women traveling alone. Fathers with teen daughters--we wonder if this is a safeguard against rape, and mothers with teen sons, similarly. We've seen a young man drag one foot behind him, a boy with just one arm, a girl with Down's. And the faces of the adults....lined with care, aged before their time, exhausted yet moving forward. It is truly inspiring. takes a village, right? so when kids come up asking for a toothbrush, shoe laces, or hair ties, I always ask them What are the magic words?  most of them get it. Yesterday a little boy cocked his head and then whispered "abracadabra", ha! Of course I gave him the toothbrush....

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

April McAllen # 7 or so..the giant bunny

sort of cute but my pragmatic side wonders what do we do with it now?

Yesterday a well intentioned woman brought some lunch bags with sandwiches, chips, and a can of soda in each one. We typically have some 300 or more people around that time; of course not all are children but still, she didn't bring enough for everyone so of course I had kids coming to ask me for theirs...which I didn't have.

And what do you imagine a 3 year old with a full can of soda will do? Yes, I had to go get a mop. Sigh. No 3 year old needs soda anyway.

About midday Border Patrol brought a woman with a 2 day son. Wow. Mom was clearly sore. We got her a chair, of course, and I saw that the baby was wrapped in a mylar blanket. I immediately found a soft, warm, dark teal one and in less than a minute, the mylar was in the trash and the baby wrapped in blue. A terrific improvement.

As she sat in the reception area, waiting to be registered, contact family, and so on, many of us paused in our chaotic days to admire the newborn. Old, young, male, female, staff, refugee, volunteer--we all shared a few moments of joy that in the midst of so much sorrow and uncertainty, new life arrived to remind us of hope and the future. It was lovely. And I hope her family buys her a plane ticket rather than a bus ticket. Maybe I will check this morning and see, perhaps if they only planned a bus, I can help upgrade to a plane.

and Eli sent me to get lice treatment for a little head itched immediately. Shudder. So contagious....

We got lots of folks asking for cold remedies; they blame the far too cold detention centers. I imagine the heat of the center feels good. No a/c and hundreds of people makes for a very warm place.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

April #4 sad stories....

A woman and her son needed to get to Chicago. Her brother-in-law said he'd let them stay at their house but he wouldn't buy her tickets. I checked on prices and it would be about $520....which maybe I could help with but it didn't sound like a welcoming situation, and that's a good chunk of money, so I turned her over to one of the staff. They decided to call La Posada, a longer term place, a lot smaller, but they work to find sponsors and assistance and so on. So the woman was at the desk several times asking when she'd be transferred.

I thought I had photos but can't find them. It's in a rural setting, with trailers and a few larger buildings, garden, play area, classroom space for English classes, and so on. My friend loved the tranquility. I felt like we were miles from anything and it made me nervous--although I live in a rural state, ha ha.

I hope her story ends well.

We have had a volunteer, a Texas native with a cowboy hat...he was tapped to drive the buseta during the day. We have two, and M., one of the long term volunteers, was also driving. Cowboy was waiting for passengers and told me he avoids M because she is one strong willed woman. After he left, M said she was avoiding Cowboy because he turns a 5 minute drive into 20 minutes, drops off refugees without going in to help them, and doesn't speak Spanish so has no idea what they are asking him. I had to laugh. I think yesterday was his last day,.

We had family of 4 come to help and they worked on toiletries bags. We have cloth or similar recycling style bags and we add toiletries and give them out when newcomers arrive. We ran out of bags so the dad decided to use the plastic bags we use for food bags that we give them on their way out. That caused a lot of consternation from Sister Anne....though what else to do, I don't know. But I really really hope there were some at our off-site storage facility and that they have been brought to the center.

It's Easter and I don't know what to expect re staff or volunteers. I know ICE will bring as many detainees as usual. I'm going incognito today, not wearing the volunteer t-shirt, in hopes of getting some things done before anyone realizes I work there, ha ha.

I am sort of also pushing for a get into the rooms so I don't have to keep asking. I have tried being annoying, bribing, and asking outright. We shall see.....

and here's a cultural question:  for some, we take a photocopy of the adult's destination info and then write the names of spouse, kids, etc. We always ask how old the kids are. Quite quite often the adult will answer "she's going to be 12 in August" or something similar...and I pause....say, ok she's 11? and write that down. When I am tired, I think "I don't care how old she is goinng to be! I asked how old she IS!" but it happens enough that I wonder if there's something cultural there. I'll have to ask my informants....

Saturday, April 20, 2019

McAllen April 2018 #6 stories you wonder about

Did that woman get her taxi? She had to be at the airport by 4 or 430 in the morning...we don't start our buseta runs that early so I helped her set it up. I only picture people sleeping on mats everywhere while she tries to make her way to the front door....

And what about the woman with family in Houston? They were going to drive down to pick her up and she wondered how late they could arrive. I was told it's a 6-7 hour drive. Did they come? How late? Did she finally get to stay with family that night or next day?

This one I know the end of. A mom and daughter arrived on an early bus and had been told the husband/son would be released the same day. So she waited....a few hours later, a new bus but no husband. A second bus, no husband. A third bus arrived--I was at the front desk when a young boy crowded past me, then approached the counter where his mom was on the other side. She saw him and shrieked with joy. The reunion was touching......

but it turns out that a woman I'd been working with for a couple of days had left kids home in Central America. The family reunion totally triggered her and she fell apart....we comforted her (no sub for having your kids with you) and sent her home. A happy/sad story, as are most of them.

notes on culture: our cultures are so deeply ingrained that we believe them to be the only cultures, the "right" cultures. We see other behaviors according to our own cultural filters. When we ask our refugees to line up and it looks more like a crowded circle, that's cultural. Why SHOULD they have the same ideas about standing in line that I do? When I ask them to move and they don't....havenn't they been ordered around enough? When do they get to be autonomous beings again? My personal space, like many Anglo Americans, is perhaps 10 or so much of Latin America it is much closer. I react by feeling crowded or trapped. But that's my filter. It's so important to keep in mind. My culture is not superior. Their culture is not superior. Our cultures are simply different and we need to learn to respect those differences without judging.