2015: New Year’s Goals (with bonus 2014 self-eval!)

It’s that time of year where everyone sets high-minded goals for self-improvement! As anyone who knows me well will attest, I tend to be a never-ending fountain of ideas for Being Better At Life, so this holiday is sort of naturally in my wheelhouse. But before we get to that fun task, I thought I’d do a bit of self-eval for last year’s goals.

First, I’d like to give myself a virtual high-five for achieving my Goodreads goal of reading 48 books. I’m upping that to 52 for this coming year, less because I care about achieving a specific number and more because I like being able to go to a website and see all the book covers together.

The theme of my goals for 2014 seems to be achieving the spirit of the goal, if not the letter. To wit:

  • Clear my print magazine backlog: I did not get down to one issue or fewer for everything, chiefly because I still have about a year’s worth of The Sun to get through. But, I read all my copies of High Country News, made the stack of Orion and Mother Jones a reasonable size, and kept up on a subscription to the Economist for most of the year too.
  • Listen to one good music album in its entirety each month: My final album total was closer to about 10, but I did buy a lot more music in album form and spent the first half of the year actively seeking out new artists. I’m going to try to keep that up and take advantage of my long-ass drive to Coeur d’Alene twice a week to listen to something other than my rotating Top 40 hits playlist.
  • Build a website: Success! I made rachewalexander.com into a mini data journalism project (really just like 3 things) before backing off because of my Fancy New Job. But nevertheless, there is now a website. And I learned a lot in the process, however short it might have been.
  • Put together a working professional website: I did revamp my Tumblr to function as such, and added some portfolio-like elements there. Between that and my data project, my online presence is in a better place, though I wouldn’t say I quite have  a portfolio site yet. Someday, maybe.
  • Participate in 365 in Focus, a group photoblog project: I succesfullly did this for about half the year before I just got sort of tired of it, so it was more like a 180 in Focus. In the process, I learned how to use some new photo apps and got more comfortable with mobile photography and editing, so that’s good. You can see my pictures here.

Given how last year played out, this year’s goals are going to be more holistic. Here’s what I’d like to do in 2015:

  • Make exercise, especially training for derby, a priority. I’ve been good about going to the gym a couple days a week on top of practice, but I’d like to have a workout routine specifically targeting building endurance for derby and strengthening the muscles I need most.
  • Get back outside. I’ve gone climbing once since moving here and am really excited to get back into that. I’d like to spend more of this fall and spring hiking, being outside, getting to know my new home and learning some regional ecology. (Summer I’ll be off on a crazy travel extravaganza.)
  • Read the news more systematically. Working at a newspaper, I tend to read a lot, and I’m pretty happy with the amount I read about what’s going on in the world. But I’d like to read more broadly and seek out international news sources other than the Economist. Basically, do more than just relying on random stuff from Twitter, the New York Times and stuff my friends send me.
  • Write more regularly. I’d like to journal everyday or close to it both because it’s been such a useful tool to hone my writing skills and because having a chronic of your life is an amazing thing for later. Blogging more would be awesome too, especially since I’m going to be traveling so much.
  • Get my online presence in order. This blog needs a makeover, and I’d like it to eventually be a WordPress.org install on a custom domain instead of a WordPress.com hosted thing. My data project also needs an update note, and I could always use better Twitter lists and Facebook friend groups. Plus, I want to get real about using some of the newer social networks that still confuse me – I’m thinking Vine and Pinterest specifically this year.

On sticking with the godforsaken profession of newspaper reporter

(Cross-posted to my journalism blog.)

I spent yesterday morning in a social studies class in one of the school districts I cover. The class is a new requirement for freshmen called Success 101, which teaches students about making life plans, career goals and budgeting for their future needs.

After I had finished snapping some photos, the teacher asked me to come to the front of the class and tell them about my job and the pros and cons of my work. My answer wasn’t a polished as it could have been with some forewarning, but it made me think about why I got into and stuck with this industry.

The newspaper reporters I’ve encountered, especially the younger ones, tend to be a particular kind of masochist. Every one of my coworkers has at times complained about hating the industry to me (as I have to them). And there’s plenty to hate.

We make no money. (We got a 2 percent cost of living increase for 2014, the first COLA or raise anyone in the newsroom has seen in about five years.) We’re supposed to be happy with this because at least we still have a reporting job at a newspaper, and really, it’s true—we could be doing a lot worse.

We work odd hours. I’ve had to put date night plans on hold to go to a three-hour long city council meeting, get home at 10:30 and then be at work at 7 the next morning to write a story about it. For an afternoon paper like ours, my work day becomes a de-facto split shift when I have to go to a meeting in the evening, which makes it really hard to have a life.

We’re supposed to be able to do everything. My beat (which is supposed to be half-time; the other half, I’m a web editor) requires covering schools, city and county government, business and anything else that comes up in two counties (each with its own main town) plus four other small towns spread over Washington and Oregon. Theoretically, this means I should be an expert in educational policy and laws governing public records, land-use planning and municipal government in two states. In practice, this means I’m usually playing catch-up.

Our jobs are high-stress and sometimes require us to confront the worst of human nature. We spend weeks on in-depth feature reporting projects or investigative pieces only to see them get almost no feedback from readers, and then we spend half an hour writing and posting a story about a dead body being found and watch it become the most-viewed article online that month. Any mistakes we make are instantly in the public eye, and our desk phone and cell phone numbers are intentionally available to anyone who asks, making us easy targets for people with a bone to pick.

But I wouldn’t trade this for anything (until I have kids at least, and need to start saving for college for them). As much as the pay sucks and the stress feels like too much sometimes, my job is one of the few I’m aware of where my day-to-day work is always different and rarely boring. Some days, I sit through school board workshops and learn how federal education policy passed 10 years ago is going to impact the students in my area next year. Sometimes I get to drive around wind farms with a biologist who cares deeply about bat migration. And sometimes, I sit in the office reading the New York Times online and waiting for the seven or eight people I’ve called to get back to me.

Being a reporter is a license to keep learning. It’s a license to stay in school indefinitely, except you don’t get graded, you can stick to learning about topics you’re interested in and the only papers you have to write are supposed to be in plain English without formatted citations.

Especially at a small-town paper, being a reporter means people look to you as a source of information. You get to find important stories and share them with your community, and hopefully help give voice to people whose concerns might not otherwise be listened to. You get to give people a platform to be heard. You make sure everything is working as it should by sitting through long, boring meetings so other people don’t have to.

It’s not an easy profession to stick with in 2014, and I think my brief speech to those kids made it sound like reporting is, on the whole, not that great. But when I’m able to make the pay work and see past the hours and the stress, I can honestly say there’s no job in the world I’d rather be doing right now.

How I accidentally developed an eating disorder

This is a personal thing I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while for a couple of different reasons. I may follow up later and talk about some of the other mental health stuff I went through last year, but I wanted to get this part out.

(Trigger warning: disordered eating/anorexic behavior)

Last year was my senior year of college. Like most academic years in my life, I started out wanting to see how far I could go before I broke myself. I’m a quintessential overachiever and I have trouble saying no to things, so I’m usually pretty busy and definitely enjoy having a hectic schedule. Generally I start a year off with a lot going on, figure out what I’m really enjoying and drop a few things once I decide how busy I actually want to be.

Senior year, however, I quickly veered into unhealthy territory. I was working at editor-in-chief of a college newspaper, which ate up at least 30 hours per week and often more than 40. More than the hours it took, it was one of those jobs that required you to be constantly available, on call, checking your email and just thinking about it, which takes a toll on your brain and can cause a lot more stress than just working long hours. On top of that, I started a 20 hour per week job at the daily newspaper in town, which required me to work early mornings after late nights of newspaper layout. With a full-time and a part-time job sucking up most waking hours, I also still had class—not a lot of it, to be fair, but I was writing an honors thesis, taking one of the hardest politics classes offered at my school, and doing a few other miscellaneous things that ate up my time.

One result of this was that I rarely had time to eat. Mornings were get up and go—I might have an egg before I ran off to work, but as I got busier, even that was hard to do. I started eating most of my meals at our student cafe, which basically serves fries and burgers. Being a vegetarian, I ended up having fries and onion rings for dinner a few nights a week, and grabbing a sandwich at the local sandwich shop once of twice on top of that. Between those purchases, haphazard snacking and getting invited to dinners all over campus, I could survive without ever really cooking.

Gradually, my body got used to this kind of diet. I considered it a good day of food when I had two eggs for breakfast and a large sandwich for lunch and dinner (half for lunch, half for dinner), plus maybe a snack sometime in the evening. It was not uncommon for me to work sixteen hour days on under 1000 calories. I still got hungry, but my body stopped screaming for food if I didn’t feed it. After an hour or two, it would quiet down and let me work in peace.

As my body adjusted, I started associating my diet with strength. I took pride in being able to get so much done without eating as much as I knew, somewhere deep down, that I should. And I convinced myself it wasn’t a problem (certainly not a capital-D Disorder), because I would gladly eat whatever was in front of me if it was convenient—four slices of pizza on newspaper production night, something full of calories while out with friends. The fact that I had lost about fifteen pounds was something I saw as a nice side benefit. My cheekbones looked great, my stomach was flat, and I wasn’t even trying.

I’ve never had an issue with food, really (which I think makes me a rare 22 year old woman), and I’d never thought of myself as having issues with my body compared to just about every other woman (and some men) I knew. And because of that, I didn’t think I could have an eating disorder. I read young adult books about anorexia and learned that eating disorders meant dropping down to 90 pounds and having heart irregularities. Fifteen pounds in four months didn’t seem worth worrying over. Nothing I was doing fit my image of what an eating disorder was, and because of that, I thought I didn’t have anything to worry about.

Anyone rational who stopped to put the pieces together could tell you that what I was doing wasn’t healthy or sustainable. I knew I couldn’t live my life like this forever, but figured I’d hold out until the end of the year and be fine. Everything I was doing became part of a marathon, a death-march of endurance towards graduation, with me constantly betting my health and sanity that I could walk across that stage with a diploma before I collapsed. I did have friends who tried to remind me, gently, to eat, but since I didn’t have a roommate and didn’t spend a ton of time with any one person, it was hard for people to keep tabs on me. Even my boyfriend, who I slept with just about every night, would only see me for one or two waking hours on many days and with his own schedule being busy, he couldn’t be expected to keep track of whether I was eating.

My eating disorder started out functionally, as a way to compensate for my busy schedule, but it quickly took on a life of its own. Like so many other problems and health issues, it became self-reinforcing. And I was so caught up in the idea of suffering until graduation that I didn’t even notice this was happening.

My first clue that I wasn’t okay should have been when my already fussy stomach became impossible. Between the stress of my jobs and my lack of food (and often water), I would wake up with stomach and back pain at 6:30 or 7 a.m. almost every morning. I had random stabbing stomach pains, duller aches and vague feelings of nausea and unsettledness which I woke up with and which made me literally terrified to eat breakfast. Some mornings, the thought of trying to decide what to eat for breakfast would make me start hyperventilating with panic, which meant that I more or less stopped eating more than two bites of breakfast ever for about a month. That panic extended to attempts to prepare food for myself. Even when I had free time, I would come home to discover a fridge full of random items acquired on a whim, half of which were rotting and none of which could be combined into a suitable meal. I couldn’t justify shopping and buying more food when I had so much, but I could rarely put the puzzle pieces of ingredients together into something that sounded edible. More often than not, I had a taco or two and called it good.

With all this, it took until I blacked out in my friend’s shower (I’d been up for four or five hours with no food and no water, and the heat from the shower made me woozy) for me to realize that I had a problem and needed help. I had friends sign up to eat meals with me for an entire week, because the idea of cooking anything or planning food was so terrifying at that point that I couldn’t handle it. I had more or less forgotten how to feed myself, and if told I had to eat lunch or dinner and couldn’t just go buy a sandwich, I’d end up staring at the food in my fridge in confusion, then sitting on the kitchen floor almost crying because I just didn’t understand how to make a meal. I felt weak constantly and rarely had a day where I didn’t feel lightheaded as soon as I stood up. My body seemed frail to me in a way it never had before, and the idea of exercising or doing anything physical genuinely scared me, because I wasn’t sure I was in a condition to do anything challenging without hurting myself further.

I got better, with some real talk and tons of help from my friends. My stomach got better at eating normal amounts of food instead of being full after three bites of lunch, and I re-learned (with some stress in my life removed) how to cook, go shopping for food and take better care of myself. I stopped feeling like I was always on the verge of collapse, and starting playing tennis again. I got better, though it took months for me to feel that my body was really back to normal.

Looking back, what stands out to me is how much my ideas about what an eating disorder is and should be ended up hurting me. I assumed that, in order to have an anorexia-type eating disorder, I had to be consciously trying to lose weight or eat a certain (small) amount of food. I thought that if I didn’t lose tens of pounds over the course of a month or two, it didn’t count. After reading accounts of people who had been rushed to the hospital with heart failure from lack of food, I didn’t think symptoms like general weakness, exhaustion, stomach pain and constant lightheadedness counted. I thought if I knew that what I was feeding myself wasn’t enough, it wasn’t an eating disorder. I thought it couldn’t be real if I wasn’t in it to lose weight. I thought I was just genuinely too busy to eat.

I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, and I think whether I “officially” had one is beside the point. I know many people struggle with anorexia, bulimia and other disorders for years, and that what I experienced last year is relatively mild by comparison. Whether you’d call this an ED or not, though, it’s clear to me in retrospect that I was eating in a disordered and unhealthy way, and in a way that could have had a lot of more serious consequences.

I’m sharing this, I think, because I want people to know that even if your suffering or struggle doesn’t fit the diagnostic criteria in a textbook, or your image of what a problem looks like, it doesn’t mean that it’s not real or important. I want to remind friends out there to take care of each other, and to know that even if someone is okay or thinks they are, an offer to cook a meal and share food with someone who’s struggling can mean so, so much. And I want to thank everyone in my life who gave up an afternoon to make sure I was fed, and who helped me get to a place where I can write this all down.

Back from hiatus, pondering the ethics of thesis research in Tucson

Hey everyone. The blog has sort of been on temporary hiatus since this summer, both due to general busy-ness and the fact that a lot of my writing energy has been channeled into other (better-paid) places. So I apologize for the long dry spell. But, I’m back in Tucson, Arizona now to finish up the field research portion of my thesis. Since it’s likely I’ll be writing while I’m down here, I thought this would be a good time to write something explaining my thesis in a way which (hopefully) makes sense to non-politics majors.

Basically, and super-broadly, my thesis involves interviewing people who consider themselves “environmentalists” who have also engaged with migrant aid work on the U.S.-Mexico border. Migrant aid means something like putting water out in the desert, often with an established group like No Mas Muertes/No More Deaths, the Samaritans or Fronteras Compasivas/Humane Borders.

I don’t want to explain my research goals in too much detail right now, just because some potential research subjects might see this and I don’t want perceptions of goals to influence what people tell me. But I’m hoping to get an idea of how people who’ve engaged with migrant issues talk about nature and the desert. The thesis itself is going to be a fun theoretical mix of critical race scholarship and American wilderness and environmental history.

Partially, I arrived at this topic as part of my personal journey over the last year or so. I’ve gone from being an ardent, save-the-polar-bears-and-rainforests environmentalist to focusing much more on human issues–social justice, environmental justice, and the U.S.-Mexico border and immigration policy in particular. While these two types of issues aren’t always opposed with each other (and often seem like they should be well-linked), there’s less crossover between humanitarian/social justice issues and environmental issues than it seems like there could or should be. I’ve found over the past year or so that a lot of that has to do with the environmental movement’s long, and often bloody, history of racial exclusion, from the removal, massacre and genocide of indigenous and non-white people which paved the way for “untouched” American wilderness, to the forced relocation and/or criminalization of traditional foresters and hunters in areas designated as critical habitat by American NGOs in the Global South. Looking at this history, it’s been hard for me to retain faith in the mainstream environmental movement, which remains overwhelmingly composed of middle and upper class white people, at least in the U.S., and remains willfully blind to much of its own history. And my doubts are especially strong when the issues in question relate to wilderness or other forms of land preservation.

So this thesis, as much as anything else, is an attempt for me to see how other people who care about the same issues I do view their place in the world, and in the two often contradictory movements they’re part of. It’s also an attempt for me to write about a subject I’m really interested in, and do work on the border, without contributing to the academicization (not a word, I know) of people’s lives and struggles. (I say attempt because it’s completely not up to me to decide if I’m successful in this endeavor.)

There’s a tendency in academia to research marginalized groups of people (undocumented migrants, for instance, or homeless queer youth) and publish things about their lives. The resulting papers get treated as insightful, and people read them and say, “Oh look, we didn’t know anything about these people, and now we do!” Often when this happens, the same group of people have been writing about their own lives and experiences for a while, and fighting for rights, recognition, etc., just not in a way which was visible, intelligible or meant for the consumption of academics. So then academics who aren’t part of said group get credit for studying them, and most likely, essentializing or inaccurately portraying or simplifying their lived experience. And those academics become noted and get to talk over the people they claim to be representing.

I’m not saying there can’t be benefits to this type of research: some researchers focus on advocacy or solidarity/reciprocity work as part of their research, and awareness, as well as tangible benefits, do come through this. (Whitman’s State of the State for Washington Latinos project strikes me as an example of this type of project done well, with ongoing connections to established groups, research needs dictated by community groups and half of the class time dedicated to advocacy/publicity). But tons and tons of white college students and white professors (and some non-white folks as well) have studied the border and immigration and undocumented migrants ad nauseum, and the benefits back to those groups and populations are often small if not zero when a college senior comes and visits for a few weeks to do a project and then leaves again with no further contact. I hope, that by studying individuals, rather than advocacy groups specifically, and by focusing on how a largely white population talks about environmental and immigration issues, I can at least do a thesis where I’m not trying to summarize the lived experiences of marginalized people. And I’m going to keep this issue in mind in my future career as a journalist, where I think those lines get even stickier and easier to cross in ways that can end up hurting people.

While I’m terrified about the prospect of getting all the legwork done in the next week and a half, I’m looking forward to chatting with some cool people while I’m in town. I’ve managed to drag Spencer (my boyfriend) down here with me, and he’s graciously agreed to hang out with me and drive me around town while I do interviews.

Stay tuned for more research updates, and also fun things that sound more exciting than “research updates.”

Welcome to my new and improved website!

Hi everyone! You’re looking at the brand spankin’ new rachelwalexander.com. I decided it was time to get a site with a bit more functionality that would allow me to create pages and brag about my journalistic experience while keeping a blog on the side. After a couple of weeks playing around in WordPress, I finally felt that this guy was ready to be unveiled, and after a totally unproductive phone call with GoDaddy’s obnoxious support staff, I have now redirected my WordPress domain to here and unlinked my Blogger account.

What this means for you, dear readers, is very little. Any bookmarks you have of my posts and such should remain the same, and all of them have been transferred to WordPress with comments intact. I still need to go back through my old posts and delete some extraneous code that got added in, but aside from some wonky paragraph breaks, everything is more or less the same. I also need to double-check that my internal links are functioning properly.

You might have noticed my new Pages menu to the left. Here, I have static content I can update, including a portfolio of my best journalism and an about me page. I hope to someday get a photography portfolio up there, as well as my resume.

There’s also a Categories menu on the left, which allows you to just look at specific posts. Right now, I’ve done life (personal stuff), Ecuador, Semester in the West and news commentary/reporting, which I’m still working on categorizing.

My ability to customize the template I’m working with is somewhat limited right now. I may make minor changes in the near future, and I’m considering buying some more options which allow me to play with CSS, upload more content and make a few other changes.

If you’re hungry for my old BRIGHT GREEN AND VEGETABLES OMG layout, you can still see the old blog here, though I won’t be updating it any more.

Douglas in photos

I tend to mostly to text-based stuff on here (print journalist, people), but one of my goals for this trip is to get more photos up to accompany the text. With that in mind, I took a walk this morning, with the intention of documenting a bit of what life is like in Douglas and showing you all where I’m actually spending these two weeks. This isn’t really accomplishing my goal, since I’m just doing photos and not text, but I’ll get there eventually.

My bed in the trailer where I live. Hard to see here, but it’s essentially three mattresses stacked on top of each other, and consequently very wobbly.

Trailer kitchen! Thus far, it’s cockroach free, but appears to have at least five other species of relatively large insects crawling around. I get to cook, since Jeff, my Unitarian minister roommate, doesn’t really know how.
Our trailer from the outside. It’s owned by Fronteras de Cristo, which runs the migrant center, hence the giant cross on the screen door.

Trailer park! Many of our neighbors are fond of mariachi music, but sadly none of them have unsecured internet networks for me to mooch off of (I’m typing this at the migrant center, which does have wi-fi).

My daily commute along the Panamerican Highway. It’s about a mile from our trailer park to the Mexican border–we can bike or walk.

5th Avenue, 5 blocks from the border. Almost all the businesses in Douglas are giant chains or  small shops catering to Spanish-speakers. I haven’t seen any local businesses that had signage in English, even on the U.S. side of the border.

A lot of the fast food places have peso exchange rates on the sign, and the Mexican food places I’ve been to in Agua Prieta are all happy to take dollars as well.

Douglas used to have a Safeway, but it closed down. So here are the ruins of Safeway.

A stop sign at the end of 5th Avenue. It says “Chino Road,” which left me wondering if that’s a reference to the area’s mining past (a lot of Chinese immigrants worked in copper mines in Cochise County, chino means Chinese in Spanish) or just a coincidence.

Landscape outside of town looking south. You can just see the border wall in the distance.

An old no trespassing sign. The small print on the bottom says it’s from Phelps Dodge Co., which was the big mining company in Douglas back when it was a copper smelting town.

The official surveyed boundary of the United States, as seen through the border wall.

Douglas’ wastewater treatment plant, out in the desert to the west of town, just a few hundred feet from the border fence.

The wall once again. I got Border Patrol called on me twice for walking too close to it–I set off their cameras, and they had to go check. The agents responding were excessively nice and apologized to me for interrupting my walk. Don’t think it would have gone so well if my skin were a different color.

Wal-Mart is like five blocks from here, but apparently has a shopping cart return right before the border crossing  because so many people cross just to go shopping. Phil, who coordinates the migrant center, said it’s been estimated that 80% of Douglas’ sales tax revenue comes from Mexicans buying stuff.

The migrant resource center where I’m working. It’s literally right after you cross the border, so you can’t miss it.  Can’t decide how I feel about the “may we live always as brothers” text–good aspiration or cruel irony.

Migration from the Mexican side

I like to think I’m pretty good at seeing the complications of issues, of looking at things from a variety of angles. I’ve realized, though, after my first day working in the Migrant Resource Center here in Agua Prieta, Sonora, that my thinking on migration has been missing a huge chunk of the picture. I’ve spent time thinking about the border wall, U.S. immigration policy, drug wars, deportation proceedings and racism. What I’ve really forgotten to think about is what happens to migrants once they’re repatriated to Mexico.

The intricacies of U.S. immigration law are really complicated, and I still don’t fully understand them. Some people who enter the U.S. without papers are legally deported, meaning they’re barred from re-entering the country for a certain number of years (5, 20, life) and will face criminal charges if they disobey. Some people are charged criminally for unauthorized entry to the U.S. and serve jail time before being deported. Some people simply sign a voluntary departure form. Regardless of the method by which they return to Mexico, though, the process is pretty much the same. People spend time in a detention facility, usually run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and then they’re bussed to the border and dropped off, often without their stuff.

This means that Mexican border towns—Nogales, Naco, Agua Prieta, Ciudad Juarez—have had to come up with an entire infrastructure to deal with the busloads of Mexican nationals who come through them. Most Mexican migrants to the U.S. are from central and southern Mexico, and taking care of everyone and getting them home is a huge logistical challenge. There’s a Mexican federal agency, Grupo Beta, which provides assistance to migrants. One of the big things they do is help people pay for bus tickets home. They’ll cover 50% of your bus fare home, and can also provide transportation around the border towns if people need to get to shelters or the hospital. They also run a public service campaign telling people not to try to cross into the U.S. through the desert (No vaya usted—no hay suficiente agua). The Mexican consulate can also buy you a bus ticket home, but this only works once per person in your entire life.

The Migrant Resource Center here tries to provide people with the things they’re most likely to need once they’re repatriated. There’s free food (bean burritos) and drinks, basic medical care, clothes and shoes, free phone calls to both the U.S. and Mexico, assistance locating belongings and family members, and assistance with bus tickets. Phil, the guy who runs the center, said that traffic really varies. From May 2010-December 2011, the center didn’t serve any migrants, because ICE had stopped deporting people through Agua Prieta for whatever reason. Then, in January 2012, they had a trickle which picked up to thousands of people per month by March. It’s started to slow again now, and we might go this week without serving more than a dozen or so people. But the plan is for me and Jeff to work 8 hours a day at the center this entire week, then take Saturday off. (I’m thinking about just taking my camera and a ton of water and walking along the border wall until I get bored.)

I’m looking forward to talking with the center’s regular volunteers, almost all of whom are Mexican. I had a long conversation with Sergio yesterday, a man who volunteers every Sunday. Besides being nice Spanish practice (those parts of my brain are slowly waking up again), it was a great way to learn about Agua Prieta and Mexico. I always have to remember to take conversations like that with a grain of salt, to remember that no one person is speaking gospel truth and that anyone I’m talking to in that context is usually going to be middle or upper middle class.

One thing I’d like to learn more about, though, is why Agua Prieta is a relatively safe town when so many other border towns have become increasingly violent. Not that the media narrative of border violence isn’t overblown, but Agua Prieta in particular is, by all accounts I’ve heard, perfectly safe. Sergio told me that if you want to get into trouble, you can do that, but if you stay out of bad activities, you’ll be fine. Phil and Tommy, another church guy, have dismissed most of my safety questions by telling me it’s fine. Yes, I can walk around Agua Prieta at night by myself. The worst problem they’ve had with female volunteers solo is getting catcalled, and that’s something which is hardly unique to here. I did end up walking through town by myself last night, because we went to a minor league baseball game and I didn’t want to wait in the hour-long car line to cross the border in Tommy’s car, so I just walked about a mile and a half back home (mostly on the U.S. side). And nothing felt sketchy. I know my anecdotal perceptions don’t mean much, but everyone I’ve talked to has consistently told me that violence in Agua Prieta is way, way lower than in Nogales, much less Ciudad Juarez. Anyway, if I do figure that one out, I’ll be sure to write about it.