Thursday, March 21, 2019

McAllen March 2019 #4

1200 Monday....and Tuesday....and yesterday I don't know. It was chaos.

We have so many asylum seekers being dropped off that we have had to find other places for them to sleep. When they first arrive, we help them contact family and arrange tickets.

So in the morning those with tickets for that day stay with us...and will be taken to the bus station at several times during the day. Those leaving the day after or two days after will be taken to other shelters to wait, and taken to the bus station from the other shelters.

Those with plane tickets, which is happening more, normally are taking taxis ($20, can be paid by families at the other end) but yesterday we had several smaller groups so we ferried them over ourselves. I took one group in our mini bus, which is a vehicle a LITTLE larger than I am accustomed to. Fortunately I virtually never hit moving objects. Sometimes, though, stationary objects pose a challenge. Also I really truly have no sense of direction but was proud of myself for getting there and back without getting lost. Ok, it's just ONE turn  but even then I am capable of making the wrong choice.

Anyway yesterday--and the days before and after, no doubt--was pure mayhem. We had one jefe (boss) calling people to the front reception area to be transferred to other shelters. We had another jefe calling people to the front to get on the bus for the bus terminal. The bosses were not communicating. My very competent assistant and I were trying to figure out who was who--transfers to other shelters just go; transfers to the bus station get food bags and blankets. And at the same time, all those who had registered and not yet heard if they have tickets were crowding the reception to ask if the tickets had come through yet.

And there are always bystanders, especially teens and sometimes younger kids. Just checking things out, watching, and so on. Well, also those coming to reception for headache medicine, meds for their kids who have fevers. Everyone has coughing issues, many with colds, and those who are leaving? They ask for dramamine so they don't get sick on the bus.

When I left around 5 yesterday (having been there since 7:15 a.m. without a break), all the busses had finally come through and everyone had been sorted into groups for registration. There were volunteers in the kitchen and we've been forced to cancel clean clothes and showers due to the huge numbers of people. We had run out of spoons for the soup--someone had to run out and get more. We had to make more than one grocery trip to make sandwiches for the bags of food we give them when they leave for the busses to join family. And we had run out of the blankets/throws we give them for the journey as well.

There will be people working until 9 or 10 at night with registration....people feeding our asylum seekers....people cleaning up....and likely, someone going to our off site storage to get more blankets, more snack foods, more  toiletries, more kitchen supplies....

truly it is a valiant effort:  a small staff plus a varying number of volunteers operating on a shoe string budget, begging for donations, making the best of what we have to give. Just wish we had the resources to do more.....

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

McAllen March 2019 #3

So we ventured out!

Starting by looking for the Native cemetery, where ancestors of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe are buried. The wall would cut right through the cemetery and some of the tribe have set up camp and are expecting reinforcements, perhaps from the Dakotas. We didn't find it.

We did find ourselves on a sort of dike right next to the Wildlife refuge so we followed and along the river. Just heavy vegetation, no wall. As we circled back, we were stopped by Border Patrol, which did not surprise us in the least, though we wonder if there are fixed cameras or drones being used.

We pleaded innocent, of course, said we'd gotten lost trying to find the Wildlife refuge, and the agent laughed and said of course and go back this way and turn right blah blah.

and then ended up returning to McAllen.

The next day we headed east and south to a place called La Posada Providencia, which is a similar facility but longer term. They take people who don't have family members easily accessible and help them until a sponsor or relative or friend can help. So the people typically stay a bit longer there. They have a dorm (trailer) for men, one for women, one with offices. A small building for English classes and offices, a kitchen, a playground. It's fairly remote. My friend loved the tranquility; I felt like it was too remote and too quiet--we didn't see any PEOPLE moving around!

Then we continued to Alamo where we visited ARISE, whose members sometimes volunteer with us. They are more of a resource source but they also will take the things we can't use--shorts, sleeveless tops, and so on. These are distributed for free to "las colonias", sort of neighborhoods of mixed documented/undocumented folks, all of whom are living in poverty.

On our way back we found the cemetery! And the camp! And chatted with the chief and a native anthropologist, quite illuminating. Asked about their wish list and their gofundme account and then came back.

This morning we went to Lowe's for a chain saw and a mini-fridge (they have a generator for electricity) and to a grocery store--the chief wanted blood pressure medicine so we got hibiscus tea, bananas and oranges, seeds, nuts, and berries. Those are all natural remedies for thigh blood pressure.

But when we delivered it everyone was either gone or we left the stuff and headed back to McAllen to wander downtown and shop for small gifts, have Mexican food for lunch, visit the bus station, and so on, We drove by the old respite center and were surprised to see refugees getting off a bus and filing in. Turns out they got 800 yesterday at the new place and are using the old place to house folks until their busses leave. So there were some 75 people inside who will simply wait until tomorrow for their busses, be fed, and sleep on mats.

I was told another 800 are expected today.,, after taking Lisa to the airport for her flight, I may go back to the center. I extended my stay here by a few days so will have to do laundry tonight--there are machines here at the hotel.  So it's quiet now but will get busy around 3.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

McAllen March 2019 #2

And I am behind by several days. It's been super busy, with five to six hundred asylum seekers each day. The first couple of days we had lots of volunteers, too many, really, The last couple of days hardly ay, meaning that we are all doing triage, multitasking, barely staying even in our efforts to get them registered (calls to families and bus/plane tickets), get them clean clothes, get them fed, and so on, AND we are low on some supplies--smaller clothes for men/women, underwear, socks, shoelaces.

and....sorry but I must go. Volunteers are non-existent early in the morning and folks need coats and hats and snack bags later I will write about the random shiz-tzu who showed up in the dining room....the fire alarm that brought bomberos right when we were dealing with 200 just-arrived asylum seekers....the missing children....updates on my favorite nun threatening to break arms....the diaper nazi....and more! btw the dog story has a happy ending....


Wow, it's just hard to keep up with everything. I take notes to remember what to talk about but never get around to it. So here goes.

The shiz-tzu.... I am moving quickly down the hall from the back to the front (btw I  ALWAYS move quickly. My nun assumes I am in a panic but really, I just operate fast when I know what I am doing)... I get to the eating area, a larger room, and stop dead at the sight of a somewhat ragged dog lying in the middle of the corridor scratching itself. It seemed sociable and was wearing a flea collar but no tags). I asked whose dog it was, having NEVER seen a dog at the center before. Someone said it was from the neighborhood so I said, well, it can't stay. It's a health violation, I assume, but also I do not like strange dogs around children who probably don't know how to treat them. So I shoo him out and take a picture and tell folks around the open door not to let him get in again.

Then I'm back working in front, at reception, where I can sort of see what's needed and get it done. Soon, there's a shiz-tzu lying in the reception area, scratching. He's rather cute and quite friendly. This time I pick him up (keeping his sharp little teeth away from my face, so little do I trust strange dogs, esp small ones) and I take him out the front and walk as far from the street and the center as I can before running into someone's house.  I let him go and call the local shelter, leaving a message. I also grab a tallish box and leave it at the front just in case....

Btw I called him Oscar. I call the little kids who nag or follow me Oscar, too. It just sounds good.

I go back in and get to work and suddenly one of our drivers taps me on the shoulder and says, hey! There's a dog in here! Oscar is sitting by the door scratching himself. Ah....but I have a box! So I pick him up and lo and behold a regular volunteer, whose daughter works with rescue, sees me and Oscar and offers to take him to a safe place. Whew.

Later I learn he is in a foster home but has mange, some pus filled areas, and scratches constantly in spite of the flea collar, and matted hair and so on. But he'll get cleaned up and hopefully none of his problems are serious, and being such a cheerful, though badly behaved pup, he'll find a family that will love him. Happy ending.

Fire Alarm!
Gotta admit I thought a kid had probably pulled the alarm....and of course it was LOUD. I was at reception getting ready to help the just arrived bus load of asylum seekers. I didn't want them worried so I tried to keep the situation light...explained that even after someone got the alarm to be quiet, the fire fighters would probably show up. There was a 9 year old boy at the front of one line and he perked up so I asked if he wanted to be a bombero one day and he said Yes! So when they showed up, as predicted, and came in in their big uniforms, he was impressed. Sadly, they were unable to figure out what triggered it--not a kid, but some electrical short most likely. But I got one firefighter to say hi to our eager kid and that was a hit. We went back to work and they left....but my friend pointed out that she expected them to say we were over occupancy, which we probably were by at least 300 people! But they didn't. Thank goodness. No idea what we could have done.

The Nun
who doesn't love me.....rather urgent to get/make sandwiches for food bags for families leaving.....she says "Don't panic" fully 5 times and I respond I am not panicking....each time. She has it under control. Ok. Back to front and eventually the cart with food comes down the corridor. No biggie....kinda stewed and teared up for a bit before finally regaining my balance.

Now I doubt myself. Do I really seem to be panicking? It doesn't feel like it to me,...

It does lead me to wonder if I should be working here or not.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

March 2019

and I am back....I fly in early afternoon, check into hotel, and head to the respite center. Always lovely to greet old friends--they are becoming a second family, just as McAllen is becoming a second home.

The center was quiet; many asylum seekers had left for various parts of the US and new ones hadn't arrived yet. There were a lot of volunteers, which is often a mixed blessing. I didn't know them, didn't know what they knew, didn't know if things had changed, and so on. There seemed to enough folks in the clothing rooms but part of my recon was to note what might be different and help where possible.

So I kindly suggested to the 3 young women in women's clothing that as long as they had no clients, perhaps they could fold and organize the shirts a bit....they seemed offended. Could be they thought the shirts looked fine, or they'd rather chat and can't do 2 things at once, or wondered who the busybody was telling them what to do. Ha. My feelings weren't hurt.

I spied a couple of new folks that seemed really on top of things so I will get to know them better. Part of triage, knowing you can connect with the welcomer and know she'll get her folks in line handing out toiletries and so on.

I saw Sister Anne. I greeted Sister Anne politely. I asked Sister Anne if she needed help (this is a bad idea, must remember not to ask her. She gets flustered thinking she has to assign me a task). She did not need help. I told her where I would be and what I would be doing and moved on with relief.

Several busses and 400 new asylum seekers later we were all at work. I took several kids to the dining area for a hot bowl of soup and some bread. They are so trusting! Take my hand, leave their parent, and go with me down the hall, where I turn them over to the servers and know they will get back to their parents soon.

A bit after 4, I had to leave--had gotten up early for the flights and was feeling a little bit sick. There was plenty of help so no problem. Now after a decent night's sleep I am ready to head back. Lisa arrives tonight and it will be great to work together this week.

Something new at the center.....not sure if I like this or not....

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Vietnam Experience....and slang

whoa! Mistake. Did not mean to publish yet, not finished!

So, a disclaimer for all the Vietnam War posts. I am aware that there are many different experiences, and that my posts reflect a middle class white upbringing. The African American and Native American experiences were different, as are individual experiences. Movies tend to portray bias, which is important to keep in mind.  There are a few that address the Black experience (I love Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On") and the film Dead Presidents. Others show mixed platoons and sometimes try to illustrate dynamics. I've not seen or read of anything dealing with the Native American experience. Feel free to enlighten me....but the concept of "warrior" is important.

Meantime history has erased things we'd prefer not to remember, but please let's not go into romanticizing and hero-izing that war. There is much to be learned still.

and slang....
I'm gonna just focus on the slang I like best, since there is so much of it!

bird dog --  forward observer, often in small fixed wing aircraft

blooper --  M-79, grenade launcher, for the sound it makes?

body count --  well, it wasn't about taking territory so it must have been about killing....

boonie hat -- soft, OD, remember Gilligan? worn by boonie rats out in the boonies

boo-coo --  many or much (from French)

boom-boom --  sex

brown water navy --  Navy ships, Mekong River

charlie -- the enemy

cherry --  new guy in unit AKA FNG, fucking new guy, newbie, fresh meat

CIB --  combat infantry badge, earned by being in combat. THE Vietnam badge to have

cluster fuck --  see FUBAR

C-rats --  C rations, food usually canned, eaten in field. Peaches!

crispy critter --  burn victim

DEROS --  Date of Expected Return from Overseas Service; most army soldiers served for one year in Vietnam and knew the date they would be leaving.

deuce & 1/2 -- 2.5 ton truck. Fun to say, right?

di di --  go (from Vietnamese)

di di mau --  go quickly, get out of here

dinky dau --  crazy

ditty bopping --  walking without paying attention

expectants --  those expected to die, triage term

fragging --  killing an officer

free fire zone --  presumably a place where civilians have been removed or have left, so that only enemy soldiers remain Kill at will.

friendly fire --  killing your own troops, by accident

FUBAR--  fucked up beyond all recognition

gook -- an Asian (Korean)

grunt --  soldier

heads & juicers --  grass vs alochol

hump --  carry on march, like the over 70 lbs of equipment commonly issued

in country --  in Vietnam

Indian country --  controlled by the other side

jet jockey --  fighter pilot

jody --  person at home who's taken your girlfriend

John Wayne --  doing something macho & stupid, also a can opener

Kit Carson scout --  former enemy, now guide

klick --  kilometer

LBJ --  Long Binh jail, military jail

lifer --  career military, usually derogatory

little people --  ARVN, South Vietnam army soldiers. AKA Marvin the Arvn

LZ --  landing zone

MACV --  military assistance command, Vietnam (I just like saying it. Mack-V)

MASH --  mobile army surgical unit, used in Korea

NCO --  non commissioned officer, eg sergeant. Contrast with lieutenants, often arriving in country directly from military training,.

number one, number ten --  best, worse

number ten thousand -- really really bad!

OD --  olive drab

over the fence --  crossing into Cambodia, Laos

prick 25 --  PRC 25 radio

REMF --  rear echelon motherfucker

Remington Ranger --  like REMF, behind the lines at a typewriter

ROK --  Republic of Korea. Yep, we had Korean, Australian, and other allies in country

saddle up --  get ready to march

shake & bake -- soldier in country after finishing NCO training, ie non-commissioned officer

shit hook --  Chinook helicopter (two blades)

short, short timer -- soldier nearing end of tour; see DEROS

sit-rep --  situation report, useable in all sorts of life situations

slant --  Vietnamese person; see gook, dink

slick -- Huey (UH-1) helicopter used in combat

snake -- Cobra attack helicopter

strac --  prepared, by the book (Strategic Air Command)

t & t --  through and through wound

taking point --  in platoon, the person going first in line, danger of mines]

tee-tee --  very small

track --  a vehicle on tracks, not wheels

tunnel rats --  those unfortunate smaller soldiers sent into tunnels built by VC

VC --  Viet Cong, enemy in the south (North Vietnam Army --  NVA)

Zippo raids --  lighting the thatch roofs in a village, burning it down, crispy critters

Units --
101 --  Hundred and worst, screaming eagles, puking pigeons
82nd Airborne --  AA --  Almost airborne alcoholics anonymous
1st Infantry --  Big Red One, watch where you put the accent
9th infantry --  psychedelic cookies

feel free to contribute more....

Monday, February 18, 2019

McAllen Feb '19 #7

leftover from yesterday.....I discovered the kitchen was making coffee! I guess I've never gone in at the right time. Coffee! Three large percolator things. And when done, they add milk and sugar. But I got several cups of black before that. Yum. I can be a coffee snob for sure, but only when I can afford to be. If coffee is offered, I will drink it regardless.

I saw a bunch of guys wearing shirts with McDonald's on them. Went to check the men's clothes room and a) discovered  a couple of stacks of them. Must have been donated, lol. b) also discovered a young teenager sitting and waiting for clients, in the middle of a room with pants and shirts thrown all over. I suggested perhaps if he organized the pants, he could help people more quickly. He was surprised then agreed. Common sense, sigh.

I guess it was good to take the afternoon off yesterday. The Nun actually said they missed me yesterday, and my lovely Alma again called me her angel. A little gratitude goes a long way.....

Speaking of the so-called national emergency, shortly after I arrived this morning at 7, someone had organized an army of refugees to clean, empty trash, put up mats, sweep...some were even covering the grounds outside picking up trash. And lots of women were helping with breakfast. I was even able to recruit one refugee woman & child to work the coat room. Impressive how much they want to give back...and this admin treats them as less than animals. Makes me so angry.

There were still some 400 or more people in the center when I arrived, out of the over 700 that arrived yesterday. We got as many ready and out to the bus and/or bus station (one company sends a bus directly to us) with blankets, bags of food, hats if possible, toys for the kids. But at noon, when a break might have been nice, the first ICE bus arrived, with a second close behind. We had so many people milling around in the central reception area that we had to triage lines here, there, for this, and for that. We got that settled and got through registering (calling families/busses/arranging itineraries) when another ICE bus came....closely followed by a second. Repeat scenario except this time we still have first 2 busses people along with people leaving.

It got to the point that we had to start taking people to the bus station even if they weren't leaving until this evening. And the decision was made, since the sandwiches are ham & cheese, to NOT give out the food but instead, keep it refrigerated and take a boat load over tonight. That might have been feasible had there not been another 2 busses...and another 2....and another 2. What do they think we can do with all these people? ALL staff were called in; we had volunteers but they were stretched thin. They will be working, literally until after midnight, helping these refugees. So I am not sure how a boat load of food bags will get to the bus station but....

I am flying home tomorrow, in between Sunday's heavy snow and tomorrow night's predicted 7 inches. Hoping the flights are ok.  Looking forward to seeing Maggie and Rafa and Cris and Sam and Ella and Ranger and Eve and Elwood and Blue and Timmy and Amelia and Reggie.''

At the same time, I am sorry not to be able to stay and help. They sorely need it. And I've become somewhat useful since I know a lot of the tasks and can speak Spanish, which is not apparently a common skill among the Winter Texan volunteers. I love speaking Spanish--and I'm getting better. Where I used to simply avoid the subjunctive, and therefore not say it incorrectly, I'm starting to add it to my repertoire and it is fun!

I'll be back in March....seriously think I should just rent an apartment.....

Sunday, February 17, 2019

McAllen Feb '19 #6 afternoon off!

But I went in even earlier this morning and was the only one there save the guard....he'd gotten a large group ready with food bags so I distributed blankets to each family, scarves for the women NOT going to Houston or New Orleans, a small pack of pens/crayons/paper to each kid, and, since we had great donations yesterday, a plush for each child. The guard then took them to the bus station and I stayed at the main desk until a couple of staff members showed up.

Sandwich room, 2.5 hours alone making sandwiches and then snack bags. When a woman showed up, followed by a teen, I turned the task over to them. Down the hall, capable, smart, energetic volunteers had arrived and were organizing and staffing all the clothing rooms. A boss was at the reception desk and 2 staffers were assisting refugees.

I thought hard about what I should do....everything was covered. So I found my counterpart volunteer and told her how well everything was covered and that I was taking the afternoon off. This is my 6th trip, each 7-10 days long, and I always work all day every day. Time for a break, since I am not needed. 

Although I can always go back in if I get bored, lol. Or lonely.

I drove out to the National Butterfly Center ( in Mission, TX, just 15-20 minutes away. It was sort of drizzly and overcast, breezy and cool so not a great day to see butterflies. But I checked out the exhibits, avoided buying a t-shirt, and then went out on the trails. How restorative.

part of the garden area

I saw a couple of sets of birders and thought well, that really isn't my thing. Then I started hearing the songs.....then I arrived at the birding center and sat and watched the green jays, woodpecker, northern cardinal, a few that I didn't recognize, and the ubiquitous squirrels. And I realized I could very easily be a birder!

birding center

Green jays

Chart of birds

I also checked out the butterfly conservatory, the nursery of native plants, and a few other trails. I loved learning that Texas does have beautiful places, and places worth preserving.


native flower, grasses below

There were no active protesters, but the website (above) describes the effect a wall would have on this and other areas of refuge for plants and animals. Flooding and  habitat destruction are just two.

On my way back to the visitor center, I noted a tree leafing out. I guess spring comes early to the Rio Grande Valley!