Reflecting in the time of COVID-19

Sunrise in the time of global sheltering in place
Sunrise in the time of global sheltering in place
Warning: Long Post Ahead! I encourage a cup of coffee or tea and a nice fireside background. Lying in your underwear in bed or sitting in the car at the grocery store building up courage to go inside will do.

Imagine four white women. Two Irish religious sisters and two American lay people. Three senior citizens and one 20-something. Three morning people and one night owl. Two sarcastics and two non-stop workers. Four volunteers who are trying to run a shelter that contains only one family during the COVID-19 pandemic in the quiet city of El Paso, Texas sitting around a picnic table at 9:45am on a warm spring day. 

As I am sure is true for most households around the globe, we are musing about the impacts that the virus might have on our own community.

“I am happy to be cremated – spread my ashes wherever,” says one of the sisters, an 80-year-old going on 50. 

“Me too,” says another elder who says her children support her from far away. “You can spread me beneath the Franklin Mountains.”

“Um excuse me, that is not okay with me! I do not want to see you die and I do not want to spread your ashes anywhere!” I say, laughing and serious at the same time. The possibility of this is a reality that we have all been wrestling with for a few weeks.

“You can wrap my body in a blanket and dig a whole in the backyard,” says the eldest of us all, partially facetious, mostly serious.

“No!” I say, pleading with them that this is not necessary. I laugh while hoping this is not really the plan for these ladies. 

One of the volunteers (and my co-lay person) has buried her two husbands – she tells me she always liked “older foreigners” – and she started sharing about the ash-spreading ceremony she had for the later of her late husbands. 

“Isn’t that against church doctrine?” I say, genuinely curious since I have not really read up on the Catholic Church’s teaching on ash spreading. “I thought cremation was fine, but that the ashes should stay together?”

“I don’t believe in all of the church’s doctrines” she quickly replies. “I asked God and she said it was okay.” 

I start laughing. I am blessed to be in the presence of these three strong, experienced women – who are so close to God and so close to me and the present and the holy ground we walk on. Then the conversation moves to an unveiling; Apparently, in busy funeral homes, large numbers of the deceased might be cremated at once – meaning, the bag of ashes you get for your grandma may very well be the neighbor from down the road whose name you never learned. The conversation progresses.

“Do you believe in the doctrine of discovery?” asks the eldest of the group, conversationally. “That European nations had the calling from God to dominate new lands and ‘civilize’ heathens?” 

“Oh, I don’t believe in heathens,” she replies, a former Peace Corps member and Maryknoll lay missioner. I know that none of these ladies hold a Savior or Paternalistic complex. In fact, they have each been converted by the people they’ve worked with in Latin America, not the other way around. 

Then we turn to the third elder who is not responding to the cheeky conversation.

“Do you see all of these wrinkles on my arm?” she says, looking down at the evidence of decades of hard work and wisdom. We all burst into teary laughter.

These are my coworkers, my colleagues, my roommates during this quarantine. I can promise anyone on the outside that there is never a dull moment in this house.

Since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, things have turned eerily challenging around here. Many volunteers have gone home to protect themselves and the community from exposure and to be with loved ones. Visitors and all educational tours have been cut off, as well as community members who were previously donating their time. The border policy has changed yet again; every single person who attempts to cross the border between ports of entry (in other words, cross the river, jump the wall, or come through the desert) is being ‘expelled’ (which is neither deportation nor voluntary removal, but a third thing that does not require any length of “detention time”).  People’s fingerprints are taken in an open air facility, their criminal history (if any) is reviewed, and they are walked back across the border into Mexico. It does not matter if they are from Mexico, Chile, Guatemala, Cuba, China, Angola… because we are undergoing a global health emergency, we do not need to follow traditional international protocols. We say, once again, that Mexico can deal with it (which, by all of my accounts, is an absurd and irresponsible lie).

The reality of this pandemic is tragic and difficult for everyone (except, perhaps, Mother Earth); people of every age, race, class, and nation are being affected. Of course, not to the same extent (by any stretch), but it has got us all who do not perform essential jobs on lockdown. 

My heart is so heavy for all of the health care workers who are fighting so hard against this tidal wave of infection. I imagine that is so stressful, scary, and painful – seeing so much death in people who were once seen as healthy and safe from harm. It is also heavy for all of those around the whole wide world who do not have emergency funds at hand and who are hungry, in this very moment, because they were living paycheck to paycheck before losing their jobs. I think of all those who live with mental health conditions, as well as addictions, who found respite in group therapy, work, and community events, and are now stuck at home left to face their burdens alone. 

I have also reflected on the relative luxury that I am living in now! Perhaps before, people saw the living conditions of Annunciation House volunteers as something sacrificial, humbling, ‘not for them’ (which is exactly what it is supposed to be, of course). Now, I bet that so many of my companions are jealous, because I have work to do, a stocked fridge, no expenses to pay, and a lot of space to do yoga, dance, build obstacle courses in the backyard, and a community of beautiful, funny, life-filled people to share the days with. 

Similar to how it has always been, all of my current needs are met here, and I do not have to worry that they will be taken from me anytime soon. That is a privileged state of being which has me wondering “didn’t I come here to forgo some of my privilege?” It has found its way back to me…

But, where I am wanting to go with this (stay with me) is in the way of an invitation to everyone who shares a similar existence of “met-needs” with me. My relatives, friends, conocidos, who have the freedom and privilege to stay home and know that there are reserves for more food, electricity, and healthcare. I want to ask you something. 

How are you spending this time?

What are you choosing to do each day?

How do you feel about it?

Those of us who are in a state of waiting, who are not working tirelessly to slow this pandemic down and accompany those who are being affected by it, have an amazing opportunity to rethink our whole lives. We have the opportunity to re-imagine and reassess – to decide if the paths we walk are the ones we want to walk, or if we have somehow ended up on them, not remembering exactly how or when we came to be here.

We have the opportunity to reassess our relationships. How do we treat those who are close to us, and who are far away? How do we treat ourselves, and the creation that sustains us? Do we want to be different in our relationships, do we want to go deeper, do we want to be more forgiving or kinder or listen more?

As a person of faith and as a Catholic, I am always challenged by the invitation and call by God and the teachings of my own church that every day is an opportunity to ask for forgiveness, forgive, and start again for the better. This includes my participation in the suffering of others, my complicity in the destruction of the earth, and my own apathy to the injustices that abound. To me, self-improvement must exist in relation to others and to the earth, since my humanity is interdependent on that of others and the Creator. 

I have observed that so many of the neighbors around me do not see this invitation or calling, whether they are faithful or not. They spend their free time distracting themselves from pain, trauma, loneliness, an ever present need for mercy. It is really a part of our societal fabric to use the things around us – work, entertainment, and pleasure – to wedge a divide between us and our deepest-selves. We avoid asking ourselves how we truly are, or when we know, we are tempted to make it worse, believing we are unworthy of joy, peace, or healing. 

In our busy, non-stop, activity-filled days, it is very common to normalize behaviors that are selfish, toxic, and dismissive of our neighbors and the earth beneath our feet and the very air that we breathe – despite the reality that we depend on every single one of these elements to survive. We do not listen to the commands of prophets who have preached love, dignity, compassion, and justice for the oppressed. We do not listen to the Indigenous peoples of the world who have been saying for generations how we are destroying the world with our oil consumption and the pollution that results from a neo-liberal capitalist economy which does very little to protect the limited natural resources we depend on. We do not even listen to the silenced cries of our brothers and sisters who we pass by, asking us for food, money, or companionship. 

But if we go through history, if we go through religious texts, if we read the wisdom of philosophers and theologians and those who have dedicated themselves to going deeper, to understanding life and the fragile ecosystem we maintain, we know that our lifestyles are not in line with what we were created for. Our unbridled appetite for pleasure, for “better days,” for greater success and happiness is simply not good if the world around us has to crumble as a result. If the oppressed of all nations must work to provide us with the luxuries and pleasures of our lifestyles (which includes our produce, our coffee, our sugar, our clothing, our technology – I am not just talking about diamonds here…) and we are okay with that, then we are simply not in line with the God who created us, with God’s chosen people. 

You might be thinking, Brinkley, what the heck are you talking about? Or, what the heck do you know?

It is fair for anyone to think I do not know what I am talking about… I do not know much after all, and each day is a learning journey. But, from what I know, I am sure and certain that this pandemic can be a second chance for everyone of us to transform our lives (since a lot of us require something drastic to see that kind of change through). Starting with personal reflection, we have to work away our ignorance, we have to think through our choices, we have to use the privilege and resources we know to change our very lifestyles and plant seeds of renewal and hope and commitment to future generations every step we take. That is the way forward, I think, in case you were wondering.

If you are still wondering, wait, wasn’t I just reading about an 85-year-old Irish nun in a floor length red nightgown? Me too.

If you are still wondering after that, “how do I know what questions to ask? How do I know where to begin to change my lifestyle?” (I am a wishful thinker!), I have included some questions from the Examination of Conscience from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that may guide you (Catholic and Christian and Muslim and Jew and Agnostic alike) (and continually guide me) to find where the need for forgiveness is and where you might dedicate energy to seek change. These questions are in light of Catholic Social Teaching.

Am I committed to both protecting human life and to ensuring that every human being is able to live in dignity?

Do I live in material comfort and excess while remaining insensitive to the needs of others whose rights are unfulfilled?

Am I disproportionately concerned for my own good at the expense of others?

Do my purchasing choices take into account the hands involved in the production of what I buy? When possible, do I buy products produced by workers whose rights and dignity were respected?

Do I see all members of the human family as my brothers and sisters?

Do I litter? Live wastefully?  Use energy too freely? Are there ways I could reduce consumption in my life?

Are there ways I could change my daily practices and those of my family, school, workplace, or community to better conserve the earth’s resources for future generations?

I know that is so much to think about and so many questions to reflect on. It can be overwhelming to find a place to start. Some maybe are thinking, “I have my own problems to deal with. How can I begin to think about others?” That is fair – some of us are more free to venture out than others are. But wherever you can begin, even if that means considering how your own dignity needs more cultivating, is a worthy place to start.

I encourage you to pick two or three that strike you, and go deep on them. Journal, discuss, do more research, and commit to using this opportunity of having extra time. Rather than waiting for change to come, be a part of its coming. This is a question of love and of life, of self and of community. We are all together in this, which this pandemic may have helped some of us realize. If we make it out alive, I hope we can come out on the other side with a new vision for what life on this planet could be.

And, like my honest and cheeky and tender roommates, don’t forget to seek humor and laughter along the way!

 

I would love to be your companion in this journey! 

With love and gratitude,

Brinkley

An empty El Paso road in the time of global shelter in place
An empty El Paso road in the time of global shelter in place

P.S. From the words of the opening title “balance (mufasa interlude)” to the album “Lion King: The Gift,” (which I can’t seem to stop listening to….)

“Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance

You need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures

From the crawling ant to the leaping antelope

We’re all connected in the great circle of life”

Some more goodness from Beyonce and this album: “Spirit” + “Bigger” Extended cut from Disney’s The Lion King

“Let love be the water I pour into you and you pour into me, there ain’t no drought here”

I do love a dedicated life!

After spending the entire day today working on the computer, I sit down and read the second half of a book called the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I am determined to be all finished with screens this evening. I open up one of my notebooks hoping to journal, and I find a small reflection from sometime in the early spring this past year. It sings to me off the page and I decide I have to post it.

In this passage, I am briefly reflecting on my life here at Annunciation House – both the hospitality work and my job as the Border Awareness Experience (BAE) coordinator. The BAE is an immersion program that AH offers to groups from around the country to come learn about the border and immigration and I am one of two volunteers who coordinates it. My reflection is so super short and unedited, but I hope maybe a part of it will sing to you too!

All that I remember is that I wrote it during a reflection with one of the groups I was hosting. One of the participants (a college student) prompted some journaling time with some quote which I did not fully take down nor did I note the author. Forgive me, if that’s you!


To give sacrificially – To run barefoot towards it. The runway is a lot shorter than we think it is.

– amazing! I love that idea. I find myself very in love with the work I do here. Not because of the way I feel to put a smile on someone’s face or give them soap to bathe with, but because of all the in between moments of community and humanity. There is some kind of stability in knowing that we are here for one another amidst the chaos, confusion, despair. That we have some kind of common vision together. I think the way of life here is profound when I lean in and let it touch me and I kind of think that’s similar for the guests (the migrants & refugees). I feel particularly blessed to get to be with these college groups – what an amazing opportunity! I have to remind myself to be humble and intentional, even when I am so super tired, because this is not my land or my community from which to speak, but I do feel a part of the community for sure. I don’t know how to acknowledge this, but I ought to do better! And at least try.

I do love a dedicated life. A heart that’s all in. :’)

Despair and Hope

 

A Mural outside of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. "The Americas belong to everyone."
A Mural outside of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. “The Americas belong to everyone.”

On October 20th, 2019, the network of migrant & refugee shelters where I work did not receive any people. Not a single family nor individual was released to us from any of the federal border enforcement agencies. A year ago, we were frantically opening up shelters across town – in a seminary with the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, in budget motels. Each week we increased our network of shelters to accommodate increasing numbers of migrants & refugees who were being released to us from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The vast majority were families or pregnant women who were seeking some sort of refuge and were released because they could not be detained or turned away.

During that time, I remember working sometimes 12 or 14 hour days helping out with the various needs – where I lived, we would get daily arrivals and daily departures. We also had people calling from around the country offering us donations and wanting to help in some way – the office was constantly filling with boxes of diapers and bags of clothes and toothbrushes that we could hardly walk through the small floor space that remained. The days were so busy, but across the board we were only maybe getting between 250 and 300 a day here in El Paso. We had no idea what was coming.

When these families started coming in increasing numbers to our doors, I started to learn a lot about what kinds of things people were fleeing in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) through personal testimonies. I do not think I knew very much at all about these countries before I moved to El Paso (which is truly disturbing considering how much my country and government has been involved there), but it was not long before I started to hear stories of extortion, kidnapping, near-famine, corruption, and violence that so frequently led to death.

When the new year began, the numbers across the city continued to increase, and it began to sink in that this “uptick” of asylum-seekers and other migrants was not going to end soon. Though every other week the U.S. president wanted it to end, the people were still coming. By May, across our network of shelters (which extended far beyond El Paso), we were receiving sometimes more than 1200 people per day. Our largest shelter, which has the capacity for 500, would sometimes be nearly full.

Now, everything has changed.

Around these parts, I can hear a pin drop. I can know the few remaining folks we work with by name. I can go weeks without being called on an emergency transportation run or a food-pickup or donation transfer or hospital visit. Some of us just sit around waiting for something to happen. Out of town volunteers have decided to go home.

But why?

Though the reasons people come and go in the first place are very complex, the drastic drop in releases of families and individuals into the U.S. does have some very clear causes.

It is not because these countries have run out of people. They are small, but they are not that small.

It is not because they have all found refuge in their neighboring countries, or in Mexico, so they don’t need to be here.

It is by no stretch of the imagination because the reasons they decided to leave home in the first place have gone away.

It is, in largest part, because we have created policies and practices that have closed any remaining doors that existed. Through metering, the Migrant “Protection” Protocols, and the countless attempts to deny people the right to even apply for asylum here, we have effectively sealed off the border from those who are seeking relief. We have pressured (*forced?) the Mexican government to work as a first line of defense for our border policies, demanding that they stop the people from coming or else their economy will pay a very serious price. We do not have any work visas for these people to apply for; for most, there are no legal pathways anymore. In the name of the American people, we have through various means shut the door on our neighbors who have come seeking refuge. We have said and are saying there is no room at this table for you.

I cannot think of a better, more accurate metaphor for this entire socio-political moment than that of the burning house. We have set our neighbor’s house on fire, and when they come to us for protection, for dignity, for work to feed their children, we dare tell them to walk back into that burning house and wait for the fire department to come. Which, for most, does not come in time.

I am not very good at writing. I always am self-conscious that I come off as too serious or too aggressive or too emotional or not emotional enough. I have so many things I’ve written up that I think are not good enough to share with anyone else. If you get me on the phone or catch me in person, I can’t stop going on! But there is something difficult about putting it nicely onto a page because there is editing ability and then it better be worthwhile !

But I will say that these days, I go through a wide range of emotions that are centered around moments. I still have joy in the moments shared with the few people that we still offer hospitality to; I have joy in the community of volunteers and the beautiful El Paso and the many great and miraculous and holy things that happen around here and in daily life. I have joy in God’s beautiful sunsets and sunrises and in all the daily resurrections and miracles I get to see.

I also experience a lot of anger and sadness and desperation when I stop and think about what is going on; when I read about kidnappings or disappearances or deaths in Mexico and Central America. I become anxious or sad when I hear from government representatives who speak untruths and wield their power for evil, or when I see the masses complacent with that type of behavior. I feel so desperate when I think about all of the people who we have not met who were turned back to Mexico and have decided to go home. It may be safe to assume that people who are willing to return home are not fleeing life or death situations, but I have heard of multiple stories of people saying they “would rather die at home than in a foreign country” or “be buried near their loved ones” which does not reassure me that they will all be safe. And it matters because so much of what these dangers and pressures and unlivable conditions are have come to be because of U.S. military interventions, trade policies, weapon exportation, and our drug consumption.

We have blood running past our hands, dripping from our elbows down to the tops of our shoes. We are standing in puddles of blood, even rivers of blood, as we tell these people they are unwanted and not welcome.

But the last word does not have to be so dark. It does not have to be so morbid, and it is not for me, even though I sound quite hopeless and cynical! It is so very important to acknowledge the wrong, the suffering, the complacency in injustice, but that is not where one should stop. To spend time contemplating the ongoing suffering helps me feel closer to God, because I cannot imagine God is feeling very good about the ways we have continued to disregard all that God and our faith leaders have said about how we ought to live with one another and the earth. But as a Christian, I still believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My faith is so renewed in sharing time with people who have had everything taken from them, who have been beaten and extorted and suffered tremendously from hunger and detention and fear, but then say to me “but thanks to God I am okay. Thanks to God I am here.”

In 2017, the Catholic Bishop of El Paso wrote the “Pastoral Letter on Migration to the People of God in the Diocese of El Paso” that has some really inspirational messaging for me. Though I am not from these or any borderlands, I feel quite at home here and I am very moved by the message he puts forth. The letter focuses on the issues of migration and border realities and how they have affected this binational community with special attention to the abundant response that has shaped the spirit of resilience here. He writes, “Our Chihuahuan Desert has been a powerful place of encounter, where a true culture of encuentro has taken root and allowed flowers of life, culture, and faith to bloom even in the driest of sands… We are servants on the patient journey towards the civilization of love that the Spirit is preparing for all of humanity.” To me, that is so beautiful – to think of myself and my neighbors as servants on a patient journey towards a love that includes everyone. I know that is for some a lofty, “pie in the sky” type of idea, but God requires nothing less, and if I really want to call myself a “practicing Catholic” as I do, I hope I can even in the smallest ways strive to be on the right path of that journey. He also talks about how Catholic teaching is very clear on how we ought to respond to migrants, refugees, and those who are very much part of our communities but do not have legal status: “There is no distinction between documented and undocumented when together we receive the Bread of Life in our chapels and churches.”

For me, these ideas are affirming in the light of the suffering and destruction that is occurring for many people across the world. To me, the response to the increasing woes of climate change, gang and cartel rule and impunity, poverty, drug use, and violence is to inform ourselves and make individual and collective choices to address these harms not just for the sake of the people who are directly impacted but for the sake of all of humanity. Living my life in ignorance to all that has been revealed to me, especially these teachings and commands, would hardly be living at all.

So here I am, blabbering on and on with not very much to show for it. I am a very convicted person, and I pray frequently that God use my whole body and soul in someway that builds up and continues this work towards a civilization of love. I haven’t done anything very remarkable, though. I make little kids giggle and paint walls different colors and look people deeply in the eye but there is so much room for growth. Though we volunteers, among many others who work with some kind of similar framework, are constantly despairing over the general direction of our global community and where we believe we are headed now (to abandon our souls for money), there is something about this space that allows us to continue exploring what might be a better way. For that gift, I am eternally grateful.

Though the Bishop’s letter was written specifically to the Catholic Church community of El Paso, I believe it applies equally to all communities everywhere. Moved to action with disdain for human rights abuses, exclusion, and infatuation with neoliberal consumer capitalism and all of its false promises, “May we take up new and prophetic actions to bring about the Kingdom of justice, truth and reconciliation in order to transform this desert, so that the burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.” Why shall we strive for springs of water to nourish the displaced and dispossessed? For me, it is because I “trust that God did not create a world without room for all at the banquet of life.”

sunset sky

A love letter to the toddler in my arms

Dear Sergio Enrique,

On October 24, 2018 I held you in my arms at the Greyhound bus station in El Paso, Texas. Both of our buses had been delayed about three hours (not too bad!) and so we were looking for ways to pass the time. I had gotten up out of my seat to buy some coffee, stretch my legs and look at the departure and arrival screens from close up. As I slowly approached the row of chairs where you were playing, you ran to me and put your arms up to say “please pick me up!” I looked around nervously to see if anyone was looking, but they were all lost in conversation, so I swept you up. You immediately started giggling as you held a toy car in your left hand and a rubber road runner in the other. Your front teeth were growing in, I think – only halfway there – and you had all kinds of baby goo crusted to your mouth and cheeks. I can’t remember your clothes, but I remember asking you why you had blonde hair, as I just so rarely saw that from Guatemalans.

I asked you if your mom was the lady in the red shirt, and you told me something in toddler speak (I wasn’t even sure you could understand Spanish, since many of the kidlets had Indigenous languages instead), but I could tell by the way she laughed and looked at me and you every few minutes that she was your mom. I hoped she recognized me from the motel like you did, and that she didn’t just trust you holding me because I was some nice-looking white girl, although I think the real truth is that those things together brought you to me and left her looking the other way.

I bounced you on my hip as you giggled and coughed in my face. You kept burping in that baby burp kind of way where I was certain any second you were going to throw up all over me, and considering I hadn’t even left El Paso yet, I was nervous to have your belly contents on my sweater. But, I had resolved in my head that I would wash it off in the bathroom. You kept burping and I would say “salud!” in a really high-pitched voice and you would laugh.

At one point I put you down and squatted next to you because my arms were tired. You leaned yourself between my legs and sort of sat on my left thigh, and you snuggled your head on my chest and neck in the most soft and tender way. I’m not sure what I did to deserve that from you, but it made all of my worries melt away. One of the dads sitting among the many migrant families looked at me and said, “Is he yours?” – that’s how strangely comfortable you were in my arms.

Sergio, I want you to know that I want this for all of the persons I’ve met and helped provide hospitality to during this hopeless time for many of your people. I hope that you learn so much during your time in the United States. I hope your family can find legal representation and that you can build an asylum case that holds up in whatever court you and your mom will be in. I hope that there are good and friendly people who meet you, who embrace you, who help you access the resources you need to grow and thrive. I hope your mom stays strong and that you are met with kindness and encouragement in all of your days. I hope your family in Guatemala stays safe.

I hope that very soon, the bright thinkers of your country and neighboring countries will come up with solutions to the devastating poverty and political violence that is causing a mass exodus of your people. And I hope and pray that things can change in all of Central America and Mexico so that littler toddlers like you can go to school and have full bellies and some toys and good healthcare and not be at risk to be recruited into gangs or have to leave home before you finish high school to work in a foreign land.

Sergio Enrique, thank you for sharing your love with me on that day, as it brought me back to life. I hope you know te quiero mucho – and I hope to see you again.

Finding words in ordinary life

“Let’s get growing in El Paso” a sign reads on a table in front of me, advertising the free seed program that the library offers to encourage patrons to grow plants (!). People with library cards can get free seeds to start gardens in their homes, and seeing this sign makes me think about the garden that is my soul, the spiritual cultivation that I have experienced over the many recent days and weeks of my life.

I have been having a hard time making any effort towards outwardly expressing my thoughts and observations onto paper. Recently, every time I sit down to record even the slightest detail of a day, the forces of self-doubt and discouragement tell me that not only is it a waste of my time, but that I have nothing worthwhile to say. In theory, I know that’s not true at all! And yet, I have the hardest time coming up with words to put on a page, possibly because there is no professor asking me to do so. If any of my former professors are reading this, feel free to send me a writing assignment so that I can sit myself down and get the words flowing again! 😊

The view as I type this.
The view as I type this.

Last night, around midnight, I hopped onto a call with a dear friend who I met two years ago during a week spent in the French countryside. My friend and I have an incomparable connection; I believe we might have been soulmates in another life. I was telling him how I recently was reading journal entries I made for a creative writing class during my study abroad, which were simply observations of daily life. Here is an example of one:

The children, running around with futbols, scooters, and puppies, do not need the same thick, fluffy coats as their strolling parents.

Another one of my favorites, which I share because of the !!Halloween!! season:

For the first time in my young adult life, a young man who looks near my age washed my hair. I have come to get my hair trimmed for my trip to Lisbon, and after only a simply exchange of words I am seated in a shampooing chair and this boy, with face makeup like a ghost (?) and his hair slicked back, gently massages my scalp with hair products. Happy Halloween to me!

That last one I think is quite silly, and classically me 😊 And as I told my friend how much joy and depth I enjoyed focusing on these small details of life, he said something along the lines of “oh yes, there is so much to enjoy in the quotidian.”

Quotidian is a French word that literally means “occurring every day” and refers to the things of daily life – the commonplace, the normal, the ordinary. My creative writing professor in France used to use it all the time, and suddenly I was brought back to the posture I used to have of noticing the texture of pastries, the sounds of water fountains and whispered French, the richness of the colors of stone pathways. And I started to think about why maybe I have somewhat disconnected from those observations in my day today.

Sitting at San Jacinto Plaza whilst reading The New Jim Crow and drinking some caffeine.
Sitting at San Jacinto Plaza whilst reading The New Jim Crow and drinking some caffeine.

The challenge about writing about my days living in Annunciation House is, I think, connected to the fact that much of what I experience on a daily basis does not fit into what is normally “quotidian.” The intensity of many moments makes piecing them together a new challenge which I have yet to face. The phrase “never a dull moment” serves well here, but the encounter with so many difficult situations also makes the arrival of dull moments so much more appealing.

To just give a few examples (which, I hope you’ll forgive me, are quite striking), I once had to call the police on a woman who told me she was planning to kill a man who had kidnapped her child. I’ve met so many women who are fleeing sexual violence. I’ve given medicine to so many children who caught colds and coughs in custody of ICE and CBP because their holding cells are uninhabitably cold and the children are there for too long. I’ve sat with people as they told me about the deaths they’ve known in their own nuclear families, and I’ve seen single, 8-month-pregnant women walk to the bus station to board multi-day bus trips in a foreign land with nothing but a bag of snacks and a sweater to accompany them on their journey.

I don’t mean to share these things to sensationalize their lived realities or to make myself seem like a hero. I hardly do anything for any of these people besides look them in the eye and smile and try to be my best self for the moment we share together so that they know that they are loved. Most of the time, my tendency to be a warming and controlled presence overrides any emotions I might feel in the face of this immense suffering and chaos, and so I am usually just fine. But, as I try to put these experiences into words on a page, I find it difficult and even painful. The quotidian here isn’t necessarily mine to share, since most of these hardships are not happening to me, I just happen to witness parts of them.

The more I learn about the reality of global migration, the pervasiveness of violence against people robbed of their dignity, the inability of polities to stop the spreading of policies and practices that prioritize profit over people at every turn, the more my hope lies in the other-worldly, the place of rest that I believe every soul will come to know when we reunite in eternity with God. The faith of the people I meet teaches me that everyday.

And when I think about what we can do here in our time, while remaining civically engaged in our communities, I am convinced more and more that the antidote to everything is love, care, and kindness. The bigger my world view becomes, the more I believe that intimate, compassionate relationships are the thing which will sustain that which is Sacred and Holy, that will bring renewal, healing, and hope into the traumatized and suffering human family.

A bountiful dinner that Beto O'Rourke dropped off at the shelter one evening after meeting with a group of recently released families :)
A bountiful dinner that Beto O’Rourke dropped off at the shelter one evening after meeting with a group of recently released families :)

As the quotidian for the average person who is tuned into social media and news outlets (which remind us of how horribly we’ve gotten everything wrong) is painful, confusing, and promotes feelings of helplessness, anger, and desolation, I hope that everyone can find their own ways to recharge, whether by sending loved ones postcards, taking note of the colors of the sky, smelling candles at the local HomeGoods 😉, or planting seeds in a garden. After all, even if it feels like the world is crumbling, we still have the power in our souls to laugh and to grow, and that is a miraculous and unchanging thing.

 The spirit of love is always on the horizon...

The spirit of love is always on the horizon…

Playing soccer with reunited families

“Aca! Aca!!” Yells a ten-year-old Chinese boy, standing in an open position and trying to summon the ball from his teammate who is head on with the opposing side. Standing straight legged and marveling at the moment, I just start smiling and laughing, thinking to myself this is the best day of my life.

Just yesterday, I got the idea in my head that I really wanted to take the guests to the park for a soccer game. There’s a small but mighty field about ten minutes and five blocks away, so I went up to some of the guests and asked if they wanted to play a game of futbol tomorrow at the park with the grass. The energy and enthusiasm I was met with was so beautiful – so much gladness!

I got a few more people on board – well, mostly all of the youth in the house – and some of the other volunteers. Our house coordinator had the idea of inviting all of the men from the other shelter that we have in downtown El Paso (Casa Vides) and decided as the evening approached that she would pick them up and we could all meet at the park to play!

When we finally rallied the troops, complete with large orange cones and a backpack full of water bottles (and two moms who were along for the ride), we started our trek to the park. The energy was so high and the skies were so breathtakingly beautiful; it felt like a dream. I had put on my exercise shorts (for the first time in three weeks lol) and running shoes and was ready to get back in the game.

When we arrived at the park, we were met with twelve (12!!!) guests of Casa Vides, some of whom were jogging around, the rest standing with arms crossed, as if they’d been waiting for us for years. “I better start stretching!” I said out loud in English, so no one understood me. I started remembering those stretches I used to do before soccer practice, and suddenly I thought I might be forfeiting pretty quick because, well, it had been years since I’d played a real game of soccer, not to mention that I was the only female and the only blanca on the field.

Dusk in El Paso
Dusk in El Paso

My body impressed me so much! Most of us played for two whole hours, with just a small break in between. There were kids, teenagers, and dads, and everyone was so so sweaty. Halfway through, somebody (who wasn’t with our group) turned on the stadium lights; we rallied and played some more. There were so many countries represented – China, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala. I think there were even more but I had never met the men from the other shelter so I did not know anything about them, except that some of them were parent and child and had been recently reunited after being separated for many months.

As we were running around on the field, I couldn’t help but think about the other players who were with me. Some of them had been imprisoned by the government for months, separated from their loved ones. Some of them had crossed treacherous terrain to arrive here. Still others came to this field in ways I didn’t get to learn. And yet, here we all were, running and jumping, our hearts pulsing and shirts getting soaked through. I think we even all smelled bad, but in the best way – not because we hadn’t showered in days, or had worn the same dirty clothes for weeks, but because we got to play a game together in the warm dusk of downtown El Paso.

I hope that maybe those two hours brought some relief from the trauma that they’ve experienced, even if just so they could take a full breath again.

The backdrop to our game
The backdrop to our game

My other thoughts on the field were that I was probably the best player because nobody could touch me! Or was it that nobody would touch me.. because I am a lady, I’m not sure ^.^ But when we finally got home, one of the teenagers said to his friend who wasn’t able to come, “Ella sabe jugar!” FIFA here I come!!

This night was absolutely one of the highlights of my whole time so far. I love playing soccer, especially with people like the ones tonight who play really hard and so impressively. There was so much joy and laughter even amongst a group of strangers.

As the Casa Anunciacion team walked home in the darkness, one of our teen guests started playing really loud reggaeton music from his speaker. Leading the way was a young mom from Honduras and her 10-year-old son, followed by two teens (one from Honduras and one from Guatemala), followed by one white grel from the U.S. (dats me) and one Guatemalteco father (grown man, youngest & freest spirit), a 6 and 10 year-old, brothers, from China (speaking Spanglish most of the time, yelling aca! Aqui!! When summoning the soccerball), and in the caboose, their mom, a young and brave and strong woman. We look hilariously non-threatening, even as the boys yell the lyrics into the empty parking lot next to the house. It’s adorable and funny and so special – my friends would probably laugh at me for being in this situation (it’s a cultural thing?) but they’re not here so I laugh at myself and try not to burst with the gladness I feel inside.

The south side of Annunciation House
The south side of Annunciation House

What a wonderful, holy evening, I think to myself as we settle back into the sala, everyone enjoying otter pops and asking when we’ll go back and play another game.

A Place to Start

It is Tuesday, August 14th, and I am shadowing the intake and transportation process at Loretto or Casa Nazareth, one of the temporary shelters that the Annunciation House network has been operating on and off for the past few years. Located in a former nursing home, Loretto has the luxury of wide hallways, cool air, and office spaces for private phone calls. This location is superbly organized, with charts in the office spaces and specific protocols that are not too laborious to learn. There are volunteers that come in from the community each day to provide the most basic support of the operations, like taking guests to their assigned rooms or (the much more intimidating) calling their family members in the United States to ask them to buy a plane or bus ticket and helping coordinate that.

The primary function of Loretto, as well as a handful of other temporary shelters that are part of the Annunciation House network (mostly churches) are to house and support families (and occasionally individuals) who have been released from ICE. Nearly all of these families have at some point in the past few days, months, or years, presented themselves at a port of entry and asked the United States government for asylum. The procedures of ICE in recent years has been to detain these people during the duration of their court proceedings, but because the detention centers are overflowing with detainees and there are not very many that can house children with their parents, some of those families are released to Annunciation House, usually with ankle monitors that will keep them in check throughout their process.

As far as I understand, these individuals and families who are detained or being tracked by ICE are not criminals nor did they cross the border in an “illegal” way. They traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, knocked on the front door (after sometimes many failed attempts at crossing the bridges due to being turned away by custom officers), and were thrown into prison. The sort of tale that a lot of people tell about coming to the United States the “legal” way, as far as I understand it, is a tragic farce. The truth is that a lot of people who work in the government, as well as the civilians who support them, just don’t want these people here. There is no justice in this process. We treat people like they are animals and then wonder why some people don’t like the U.S. or critique it all of the time. For many people who flee to the United States from Latin America, the first thing they encounter is state-sponsored cruelty. It’s heartbreaking.

Though I was shadowing for most of the time I was at Loretto, I got to do a few other cool things during the moments in between that feel especially close to my heart. There was a young 20-year-old man from Guatemala who had stayed overnight at the house with his 1-year-old son when I arrived and I spoke with him very briefly just to say hello. He was going to be taking a 6 am bus the next morning which meant that he had to stay the night at the station because there would be no one able to take him there at 4 am. Even though we had just told this young guy that he would have to sleep at a bus station with his baby, he just nodded in compliance and gathered his things to wait for the volunteer driver.

Around 8pm, these two Guatemalans and one other family of two who needed to go to the bus station gathered by the door and their volunteer driver started to lead them out to her car. She turned around, came into the office and said “we need a car seat, right?” and so I offered to take it out to the car for her. When we got to the car, she looked at me and said “do you know how to buckle that in? I don’t have any kids so I have no idea!”

I told her I would try my best, because it seemed like out of the six of us, I was the best bet. I buckled in the car seat and then waved over the dad to put in his baby, and then I asked him (in Spanish) if he knew how to buckle the little guy in (Well, I think all I actually said was “Sabes como…” with a hand gesture, which translates to “do you know how…?”) but he nodded his head, so I took the small bean into my hands as I wiggled him around to find the buckles and adjusted him to be comfortable. He started to cry because his dad had disappeared to the other side of the car and also it is possible that he probably had never been in a car seat before and was quite frightened by the foreignness of it. He was so small and so beautiful and I was so touched by the relationship I saw before me between this parent and his child, only 19 years apart and in search of a better life.

As I walked away, I smiled and sighed in joy and kept saying out loud, “Wow.” That could’ve been me, my younger brother, one of my friends. I can’t remember the name of this brave young dad or his son, but I think of them all the time and hope someday we can meet again.

After all of the families had gone through intake and transportation, I went into the office and asked the shift coordinator, Sister Teri, what she wanted me to do next. I had missed dinner but my technical duties were finished, so she told me I could go back to Annunciation House or I could find some food in the kitchen and reheat it for myself and for two guests who, for some reason, had missed dinner too. I chose the latter and headed into the kitchen, which had been shut down for the night.

Where are the lights in here? I thought as I looked all around the walls of this commercial-grade kitchen practically the size of the whole first floor of Annunciation House. I traced all of the edges of the room and then resigned to using my phone light. I found a platter of rice from the day before and a Ziploc bag of refried beans and I set to work on looking for microwaveable plates. Hmm, everything in here is locked up. I checked the pantry where all of the food was. Nothing.

I bet they are right in front of me, but I’ll ask sister Teri anyways. I went back into the main building and found her; she told me where to look and how to turn the lights on. It was almost 9 o’clock and everything was quieting down quite nicely.

Back in the kitchen, I searched and searched but could not find plates. I was beginning to feel embarrassed, like my mind had tricked me into thinking a stack of plates was a box of cereal. After all, I was so tired and feeling quite hungry too. After my third return to the office, she and another sister accompanied me to the kitchen, assuming that I was missing them by just a hair. But we quickly went where I hadn’t looked, into a walk-in refrigerator that was being used for storage.

“Oh, I just assumed this was another fridge, I’m sorry!” I said, feeling like I could have tried a little bit harder. She also showed me where a tray was and gave me some water bottles (cold!!!!) to give to the family.

I got to work in spooning out the beans and rice and ended up running three microwaves at the same time. Once I finally got the centers of the food to feel hot, I stacked the plates onto the plastic tray and went back across the street. With a water bottle in my pocket and another two squeezed underneath my left arm, I came across a locked door and no one in sight. Knock knock. No answer.

The tray was beginning to feel painfully heavy in my stick-like arms. Ah, why did they forget about me, I thought. Luckily, there were cell phone numbers posted on the front door and the first one I called was Sister Margaret who came and got the door for me. I stood around the office for another three minutes before asking where the family was and where I could put the food. Throughout the day, I had noticed that it was important to the sisters, in most instances, to finish the conversations they were having, even if there was someone waiting, confused, at the doorway.

Soon, I was directed to a room with a large statue of the crucifix of Jesus, an oval shaped table, and a shelf where an orange-gatorade-cantina was perched next to a stack of cups and a trash can. I pulled up two chairs and sat down, deciding to start eating right away because I wasn’t sure how long this mom and daughter might be.

I recognized the mom and daughter when they came into the room because I had been the one to check them into Loretto. The daughter so preciously had a few bites and then started to wander around the room. Her mom told me about how she had gotten medicine in Mexico for her daughter’s persistent cough but it didn’t help. She told me about how, while detained, she was fed at the most random times of day, sometimes long after the children had already fallen asleep. She told me how they were only allowed to spend five minutes in the shower, and how the ICE officers would thrust open the doors even if you were not finished. She asked to see a doctor with her daughter and they said no.

“No me gusta mi gobierno” I said, trying to communicate to her that I did not think she should have experienced that treatment. She immediately responded by telling me some officers were kind to her and it wasn’t all that terrible. She reminded me of the complexity of everything that goes on in this system, that there are things that we call good and bad and everything in between. What she experienced in detention might be paradise compared to that which she is fleeing. I just wish we would try better to not incarcerate every person who doesn’t have the resources to advocate for them self.

When I finally made it home after that intense evening, I hung onto the bravery of the people I encountered. There is no way I could ever truly come to know the depth of their experiences, but I think being there along the way to offer a smile and a warm plate of food is a place to start.

I like to drink ice cream juice

I hope you’ll forgive me for the length of this combined with the mixed up verb tenses and also the length! If you read until the end, I applaud you.

Sitting down to write reflections on my experience at Annunciation House feels quite strange. I feel so much discomfort around the idea of creating something entertaining or inspiring to read about my voluntary decision to work in a migrant and refugee shelter, even though I know that is probably a normal thing to do. I can’t help but feel that I am somehow taking advantage of the reality of the people I work with for my own benefit, whether that be my skillset, my resume, my character. I know the guests would never see it this way, but once you begin to look at things from a wider perspective, it just becomes more complicated. I want to tell the world about the holiness of this place but I also don’t want to lose site of the fact that my existence here in the first place is because of a very very hurting and broken world: a country that fails to care for (or even persecutes) its most vulnerable guests (asylum seekers and the undocumented) paired with the violent, impoverished conditions that these people are seeking refuge from.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not something I wonder about and feel constantly, because there are usually so many other things on my mind, like.. “how do I say this in Spanish?” 😊 But when I sit down to write about it, boy does it become more complex. It makes me realize that life is very complicated. My living here with guests exists in a complex way; at any moment, I can change my mind, throw in the towel, decide to go back to my family and try something else out. The guests here, however, usually do not have anything resembling that choice; perhaps their survival depends on them being here, apart from their families, risking persecution and even death to find a better life. I think maybe part of the reason why most people of privilege do not reach out to and accompany others whose lives are so dramatically different from their own is because it is painful and there is very little that can be done to fix the problems that make it so.

Even though I’ve only been here for a week, I care about my coworkers and the guests so much. Because they make me smile and laugh, because they are so resilient and strong and patient with my minimal Spanish, because they face adversity, heartbreak, and uncertainty quite often and still manage to wake up each day and get out of bed.

I am honored and privileged to get to be here and accompany the guests of Annunciation House in the smallest of ways. I am in the presence of Holy people who put their faith in God and I really do hope to be like them in my life.

El Paso / Juarez from a beautiful look out point!
El Paso / Juarez from a beautiful look out point!

And now, for some small vignettes:

Señor, ten piedad
On my first full day at Annunciation House, there was an all staff meeting on the second floor of Casa Theresa, one of the houses owned by Annunciation House which contains office space and a retreat for volunteers to find when they have a day off. We celebrated Mass together in this small living room, sitting on chairs and futons around a small desk that was turned into an altar. We were each handed an 11-page packet that contained all of the readings and Mass parts as well as a photo from a recent Annunciation House event.

Now, before I came to El Paso, when I was telling everyone where I was going and what I would be doing, I got a wide range of responses. Some people, knowing very little about this city or the border region in general, expressed enthusiasm and excitement for a year that would be “so fun” and would look good on my resume. Others responded with confusion and worry, asking me why I would go to such a hot place near such a violent city (Ciudad Juárez). Still others expressed open appreciation for me coming here and doing this work, and then others expressed a combination of all of that and more. I understand why many people did not respond to my decision in a way I would have loved…how can you ask that of people who can’t read your mind? It is also true that this place tends to make the news only in negative ways (but then again, isn’t it seldom when the news does not focus on that which is negative?).

Anyways, to get to the point, I found a paragraph on that day in the living room of Casa Theresa that calms all of my worries and that I hope can offer clarity on why I believe it is so important for people of faith and of good will to go where there is risk and no promise of reward; where there are weather conditions that are deemed “less desirable”; where they are called by the God of goodness and mercy.

Before the first reading, we read a “call to conversion” written by the director of Annunciation House for the purpose of this liturgy. Here is the final paragraph, which moved me beyond compare:

“God, forgive us for calculated efforts to serve you only when it is convenient for us to do so, and only in those places where it is safe to do so, and only with those who make it easy to do so. And may almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”

Three blue bowls
“Are you hungry or thirsty?” She asks in Spanish as they walk through the sala into the office. A few staggered “si”’s follow shortly after. There is a very young man, age 19, who is wearing a hat and a worried expression on his face. Then there is a 10-year-old boy wearing a button up long sleeve and pants with his hair slicked up. He is very patient. Finally, a young woman with her hair tied into a bun, only a few inches taller than her son, enters the room and takes a seat with a small bag in her hands. They wait quietly and patiently as I prepare them Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds in three differently shaded blue bowls. Then I grab them cups from the cupboard and fill them up from the cantina, and the new guests quietly eat the cereal and drink the water and me and my supervisor put away the half of the fridge that we previously unloaded to clean the refrigerator shelves. The young boy is the last to finish his snack, I take his bowl and cup, and we get settled to begin the intake interview.

El techo
El techo

Why did they think you work here?
“What about you made them think you worked here?” I ask my supervisor as we are walking to the car after a brief visit to one of our temporary shelter locations located outside of downtown in a former nursing home. She had to reload the shelter’s phone cards with more minutes and invited me to tag along to see the place. It was luxurious in comparison to the house I work in but was chaotic and a bit disheveled since ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) had just dropped off dozens of families. While I was inside, I noticed that all of the volunteers could be easily spotted amidst the congregating groups of families waiting to complete the intake process. They all wore nametags, clean clothes, and, to no surprise, were all the same race, which was different from the guests.

As we were leaving, one of them spoke to my supervisor as if she was a coordinator there, something about locking the kitchen.
“It’s probably because I’m white,” she replied to me in a bashful, sort of joking tone.
“No, you’re totally right, that’s exactly why!” I said, realizing that nearly all of the volunteers I saw were white and most of the volunteers at Annunciation House are too.

As we get in the car and start off back towards downtown, I am thinking about the complexity of this and wondering why it is so. Even though it is unsettling and there is much more to investigate, I am comforted that at least the migrants who encounter AHouse and its’ shelters know that there are people who share the racial privileges of those in high power but who resist the lies about immigrants of color that are paraded by our administration and who defy acts of racism and exclusion that make people feel unwanted, unseen, and unheard. That to me is worthwhile to note.

In the basement
On my fourth day in El Paso, my grandmother died. I had seen her six days before, drinking a blueberry and banana smoothie with a spring in her step. I was shocked to find out, even though her health had been challenged for a long time. Hadn’t I just seen her less than a week ago, happy and hopeful? At the very same time, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I did get to see her, because I hadn’t in almost seven months and it was just a really lucky day for me that I did see her right before I left.

The day after she passed, I was working shift in the evening and we received a whole bunch of donations. There were lots of food donations, as well as personal care items like toothbrushes, diapers, and lotion. Because of the donations, I frequented the basement where we store them all, and got to see the overwhelming abundance of materials for our guests that were mostly donated in response to media attention around the shelter and its involvement in the reunification of families separated by the government.

Looking at the abundance was so consoling to me, because it reminded me of my grandmother’s generosity. I know if this place was down the street from her house, she would be bringing fresh fruit and new underwear all the time. She would ask for what was needed and provide. She might have been in support of the political individuals and party who are largely responsible for these separations, but I know she would have also given so much for the comfort and care of the most vulnerable who reside at Annunciation House.

As I stood before the overflowing crates of deodorant and shampoo, I was filled with love for my grandma and the spirit of generosity she expressed with every step. I felt that she was with me then and I think of her each time I go down there.

Cleaning muchos huevos frescos
“You can either wash them all now and then refrigerate them or leave them unwashed and they will be good on the shelf for about a week,” said a man who had delivered us roughly 125 eggs fresh from his farm.
“Wow, thank you!” I said. “How do you wash them?” I asked, realizing I had never handled fresh eggs before. After he left, I committed to hand washing the eggs even though I would have to do it after my 8-hour-shift.
“It will be a fun project… and satisfying!” I said to my supervisor, who gave me a okay, if that’s what you want! sort of look.

As the clock struck 2, I decided to take a twenty-minute break sitting in our new office chair, and then I googled how to clean eggs. It was a bit different than what the man had said, but I felt more comfortable with it because it involved bleach and these eggs were for a large group of people, after all. I set up the bowls, grabbed some clean rags, and began hand-washing and drying each individual egg.

About halfway through, I had a thought. What if I just accidentally break some of these…this is taking forever… But then I focused on the fact that this act of labor was an act of love, that each egg represented the blessing of nourishment that we have in the house. I also thought about the possibility that the eggs would somehow all break after I was finished with them, and I decided that I would be okay with that. I thought to myself, my attempts to reach detachment and indifference (in a spiritual sense) are going pretty well!

By the time I finished, three hours had passed, and I was burned out. I did the math (in the most inaccurate way, using time) to figure out how many eggs I had just washed and dried by hand. Though it is a rough estimate, I handled about 125 eggs that day. And I only broke two. 😊

Muchos huevos sucios
Muchos huevos sucios

I like to drink ice cream juice
Every Monday evening, there is a junta where all the guests from the house come together in the sala and we share names and go over announcements. Each person introduces themself with their name, where they come from, and then there is a fun question to answer.

This past Monday, the question we got was “Cual es su bebida favorita?” All kinds of answers came out. Jugo de jamaica, Coca Cola, agua, te. Then, it came around to this 6-year-old Chinese boy who is learning English with a little bit of Spanish mixed in.

“I like to drink ice cream juice,” he said in his adorably squeaky voice with a big smile on his face. Those of us who understood English burst into laughter, so endeared by the innocence and cuteness of his reply. Our supervisor explained in Spanish to the others what he said in English, proceeding to further explain that what he meant was he likes milkshakes.

It was the cutest moment I have experienced in so long and it brings me laughter every time I think of it. It is moments like these that color each of my days here with discovery, compassion, and gratitude for life.

La Sala
La Sala

Hungary & Austria

from Aug 3 -10 2016

Woo!! So mom and Delaney were here (a surprise that I learned about when I was in Europe already, what a blessing!), and we saw the cities Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg. In Budapest, we took a bike tour, wandered through the shopping streets, took an evening cruise down the Danube River, and began the journey of eating gobs and gobs of gelato. It took every second of each day to learn to say thank you in Hungarian, and I am certain I still cannot pronounce it correctly.

Danube River Cruise sillyness :)
Danube River Cruise sillyness :)

Bike Riding in Budapest
Bike Riding in Budapest

Going to Vienna was my mom and Delaney’s first European train experience which was just exciting as it was a first 🙂 We arrived in Vienna only to find that our air bnb had fallen through, so sitting at a cafe, we ordered some food and got back on booking.com. This might have been one of my favorite meals of the trip because it was so surprisingly authentic!!I had no intention of ordering creamed spinach, but I did and it was delicious. A traditional Viennese meal of sorts?
Viennese meal!! :)
Viennese meal!! :)

We made our way to our new accomodations and then I stayed in to work on some homework (from my Ireland Creative Writing course). For dinner I had a cucumber salad – refreshing! The next day we went to a church service, which I think was missing a whole chunk of Mass (Catholics call it the liturgy of the word) and so we were out of there in a minute and it was probably the most unfamiliar service I have ever attended because it was in German and did not follow the expected structure.
Since it was a Sunday and Vienna is almost entirely closed on Sunday, my cousin and I took to walking the streets and running into little gems of architecture or street art. We went to a natural history museum (super rad) We eventually found a film festival that had food trucks inspired by cuisine from all over the world!!

Silly finds in Vienna!
Silly finds in Vienna!

Something very popular in this part of Austria was to eat fried sardines, whole, by the plateload. We were too chicken to try it out.

Vienna, Austria
Vienna, Austria

Then we headed over to Schönbrunn Palace which was breathtaking in every way. The gardens outside were fantastic and the rooms inside the palace were, again, I could not do it justice with an attempted explanation. It’s enormous and a must see if you ever go to Vienna!
Schonbrunn Palace
Schonbrunn Palace

Making our way to Salzburg was abeautiful journey as the landscape in Austria is lovely. We stayed a bit out of town at a quaint hotel and took the bus into town where we visited the fortress at the top of the hill (featured in the Sound of Music!!) and walked through the cute streets of shopping. I think this city was my favorite to visit with my mom and Delaney, as it was filled with nature and spontaneity. We went to a café and I tried to ask the Austrian waiter if he wanted to hang out with us the next day (at my mother’s request lol) but he declined. We still had a blast anyway!
Beautiful Salzburg from the fortress
Beautiful Salzburg from the fortress

We found ourselves in the pouring rain hiking up the Maria Plain hills. It was peaceful and we were steps away from a deer!! After a day of soiled shoes and shivering shoulders we made our way back to town where we went to an apple struedel cooking class. Johann, the chef, was so kind and gave us free goulash! We learned to bake apple strudel, which is a less unhealthy version of apple pie 🙂 He was kind and funny and it was so refreshing to spend time with a local after being in tourist mode for a week.
Maria Plain in the rain <3 Maria Plain in the rain <3[/caption] The next day we took a train to Munich and boarded a plane to Venezia, Italia!!

From World Youth Day to World Traveler

Hello one and all 🙂 I am so grateful for patience that I have forced you to have with me as I retroactively write about my Summer experience. Time goes by so so fast and it is not always the best time to pull out my iPad, but wow have I seen and done so much!

My World Youth Day experience, which was so much more extensive than my speed blog post could offer, ended on the most high note. I had a day to myself because all of my fellow pilgrims were already off to their next destinations and I had a night train to Budapest, Hungary. During this day I picked up my train ticket at the post office in Krakow center, and made my way around town to discover a burger restaurant and an amazing tea place in the heart of the Jewish Quarter. Ironically, the tea place was English/American themed, but the workers were so kind and the tea delicious.

View of the Castle in Krakow!
View of the Castle in Krakow!
"Hands that help are far better than lips that prey." Cytat Cafe in Krakow.
“Hands that help are far better than lips that prey.” Cytat Cafe in Krakow.

The narthex in the Jesuit church located in the city center. Beautiful paintings!
The narthex in the Jesuit church located in the city center. Beautiful paintings!
I was able to catch up with my father, and soon after I wandered my way back to the Jesuit Church next to the center where my bags were stowed away with the Jesuit coordinater for the U.S. chapter of Magis. I arrived about an hour and a half early, so I made my way into the church, and within fifteen minutes, a mass started! it began with a moment of adoration, which caught me so off guard but was so exciting (Adoration is when the Blessed Sacrament – the Eucharist – is exposed, and Catholics pray and worship in its presence, which we believe to be Jesus’ presence!). Then there was Mass, 100% in Polish, which is lovely to listen to, but I can’t tell you anything that was said to me.

The best part about going to Catholic services around the world is that they all share similarities, so even when there is a language barrier, I know what us going on and what responses to give and what is coming next. It’s a universal church, and so radical to experience!!

Afterwards, I got my backpackand made my way to the trainstation. My train did not depart until 10:30 pm and got into Budapest at 8 am so I wandered around and ate a quesadilla in the mall that is connected to the rain station. There was a random Polish man who walked up to me with his World Youth Day backpack and started talking to me about the next World Youth Day which will be in Panama! I absolutely plan to go, and he said we could meet in california as he wants to do a month long pilgrimage through North Central America. He then gave me a clay bell souvenir from a nearby Polish town which I have since had to part with because I broke it. I had nothing but wonderful experiences with all of the Polish poeple I have ever met – their spirits are radiant!

Adam & I at the Mall in Krakow!
Adam & I at the Mall in Krakow!

My experience with the night train was inexchangable though it was difficult. The train cars are incredibly tiny, like little sardine cans. Gratefully, in my car there was only me and a middle-aged Hungarian man who spoke only a bit of English. I woke up throughout the night to the realllly loud crackling of the wheels on train tracks right out of our window and the group of French folk next door who were having a grand ole time, booze and all. I also was certain that the ticket I purchased was supposed to come with breakfast but I did not receive any – however, it was no worries! I made it to Budapest and would be seeing my mom and cousin in nine hours!!!

Ma & Delaney make it to Budapest!
Ma & Delaney make it to Budapest!